Over the years, many people have debated over whether or not prostitution is a crime in Nigeria. Most will lean towards, yes and this is largely due to the religious and moral nature of our society. Today, however, we focus not on what society believes or thinks but what the law states as facts. To understand the position of the law, we will use the scenario below;
Miss A charged Mr. P the sum of N10,000.00 as service fee for an agreed night of intercourse at XYZ hotel. Unknowing to Miss A, Mr P was an undercover agent of the Nigerian Police Force. On the agreed day, as Miss A walked into the hotel room, Mr. P handcuffed her and stated that she was under arrest for being a prostitute, afterwards drove her to the station.
Two options are available, viz:
A) Mr P took the right step by arresting Miss A- the prostitute.
B) Miss A was wrongfully arrested and can sue Mr P for breach of her fundamental right to freedom.
Do you mind picking one option before you continue reading? Good!
It will be behooveful at this point to consider a simple definition of the basic term on which this topic stands – Crime. Crime simply is legally defined as an activity that involves breaking the law.
Litany of debates have been entertained both online and on inter-personal spheres, squaring on the legality of prostitution in the society. The scale keeps tilting to the right and to the left depending on which side the heaviest argument lies. But then, what does the law say?
When Can an Act be said to be a Crime?
We recall that an act becomes a crime if the law prescribes it so to be. In other words, where no law prohibits an act, such is not considered a crime. Section 36(12) of the Constitution Federal Republic of Nigeria clearly stipulates that:
“No person shall be convicted of a Criminal offence unless the offence is defined and the penalty therefore is prescribed in a written law.”
Let me share with you the facts of the interesting case of AOKO vs. FAGBEMI. In that case the accused was charged, tried and convicted in 1961 for adultery by a Customary Court. On appeal, the High Court quashed the decision of the lower court on the ground that the offence of adultery was not defined and penalized by the Criminal Code.
Is Prostitution a Crime in Nigeria?
Regarding prostitution, no Federal law in Nigeria defined or penalized it. If morality is severed from legality, one would observe that prostitution could only be ascribed as a ‘sin’ and not a crime. Worthy of note, prostitution is prohibited in the Nothern states of Nigeria that operate the Sharia law.
Back to our scenerio. If you chose option B, you were right! Prostitution is not a crime in Western and Eastern Nigeria. Therefore, Miss A can maintain fundamental right action against Mr. P.
Moreover, let us consider a twist of plot. Assuming Mrs. T procured Miss B who is 17years old to sleep with Mr. Q; or Mrs. T mobilizes many girls from ABC University in Banana State, to sleep with some Senators who just arrived town, what will be the possible legal outcome of these events? Any attempt? Very well! I will help.
Are Procurers and Brothels Owners/Keepers Enemies of the Law?
A quick perusal of Sections 223 and 225B of the Criminal Code Act 1990 will be nice. Thus, Section 223 of the Criminal Code states that:
“Any person who procures a girl or woman who is under the age of eighteen years to have unlawful carnal connection with any other person or persons, either in Nigeria or elsewhere;
“Or procures a woman or girl to become a common prostitute, either in Nigeria, or elsewhere;
“Or procures a woman or girl to leave Nigeria with intent that she may become an inmate of a brothel elsewhere;
“Or procures a woman or girl to leave her usual place of abode in Nigeria, with intent that she may, for the purposes of prostitution, become an inmate of a brothel, either in Nigeria or elsewhere; is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.
A person cannot be convicted of any of the offences defined in this section upon the uncorroborated testimony of one witness.
The offender may be arrested without a warrant.”
Section 225B on the other hand focussed on keepers and managers of brothels. The provision states that:
(a) Keeps or manages or assists in the management of a brothel; or
(b) Being the tenant, lessee, or occupier or person in charge of any premises, knowingly permits such premises or any part thereof to be used as a brothel or for the purposes of habitual prostitution; or
(c) Being the lessor or landlord of any premises, or the agent of such lessor or landlord, lets the same or any part thereof with the knowledge that such premises or some part thereof are of is to be used as a brothel, or is wilfully a party to the continued use of such premises or any part thereof as a brothel, shall be liable-
(i) to a fine of one hundred naira or to imprisonment for six months, and
(ii) on a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine of three hundred naira or to imprisonment for one year; or in either case, to both fine and imprisonment.”
These provisions speak for themseves. In simple terms, anyone who procures a female human into prostitution, keeps, owns or maintains a brothel with intent to make earnings etc commits a crime. Thus, procuring prostitution, owning/keeping a brothel etc are crimes because they are defined in a Federal Law and their punishments were also prescribed therein. Recall we learnt earlier that prostitution is not a crime (except in Nothern states) because no Federal law defines it or presribed punishment for it.
A little detour before we end the session. While reading, did you query your mind why the law awarded the act of prostitution to only women? If you observed, the provisions of Section 223 of the Criminal Code repeatedly employed “a woman or girl” to describe persons capable of engaging in prostitution. Does it mean a man or boy cannot be a prostitute? A topic for another day.🤗
I sincerely hope you enjoyed this topic, and learnt some things as well. Do leave your questions in the comment section below. Thanks for reading.
Writer: Desmond C. Otikpa, Esq.