Since we were children, our society has made it obvious that indecent acts will not be condoned. A society is largely responsible for what is termed or considered to be “indecent”, however, there is a general agreement that certain acts are globally considered to be indecent. Acts that fall under this category usually involve children or the general public.
Although what may be considered indecent to Ali may not be to Simbi. Despite this, it is pertinent to draw the line to maintain a certain level of decency in a Society. An example of this is urinating in public. While there may be some people who take no issue with it, another group of people would consider this act highly indecent. Certain areas have imposed fines for people caught acting in such manner and this can be seen as the line drawn by that area to maintain a certain level of decency within that area.
It begs the question, is it a crime in Nigeria to actually act in a manner termed as indecent, which is largely subjective?
This has resulted in multiple arguments and questions as to where our law stands regarding this issue. In order to know the position of the law on this issue, it is important to first understand what Indecent Act is all about.
Table of Contents
What is an Indecent Act?
When can an act be said to be indecent?
An indecent act is one which right minded persons would consider to be contrary to community standards of decency. Examples of Acts that can be said to be indecent include but are not limited to;
- Exposing yourself in front of a child or in public; and
- Sexting a naked photo of yourself to another person.
Are Indecent Acts Punishable under Nigerian Law?
A critical examination of the main criminal laws in Nigeria, i.e the Criminal Code and Penal Code, reveals that indecent acts are punishable under Nigerian Laws and we will now treat them under both the Criminal Code and Penal Code.
Indecent Act under the Criminal Code
Section 231 of the Criminal Code states that:
“Any Person who;
- willfully and without lawful excuse does any indecent act in any public place or;
- willfully does any indecent act in any place with intent to insult or offend any person is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.”
By this section, it is clear that Indecent Acts are punishable under the Criminal Code and whoever is found guilty of such offence under any of the States in Nigeria that operate the Criminal Code, is liable to imprisonment for two (2) years.
The provision of Section 134 (1) and (2) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State is exactly the same with the provision of Section 231 of the Criminal Code as stated above.
Indecent Act under the Penal Code
The Penal Code in trying to curb indecency provided in Section 200 that
“whosoever to the annoyance of others does any obscene or indecent act in a public place shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or both.”
It is clear that also the Penal Code, which governs States in the North, makes provision for the punishment of Indecent Acts in Nigeria.
The provision of the Kaduna State Penal Code law has a provision similar to that of the above stated Section 134 of Criminal Law of Lagos State. Particularly, Section 168 captioned ‘Obscene or Indecent Acts’ provides;
“whoever to the annoyance of others does any obscene or indecent act by whatever means to the public shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than two Years or with a fine of not less than Two Hundred Thousand Naira or both”
Also the above in no way makes a crime a personal decision to put on any clothes of choice even if tagged indecent.
Under Sharia Law
It should however be noted that by the provision of the Sharia Law which is only applicable in 12 Northern States which are: Zamfara, Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, Bauchi, Borno, Jigawa, Kebbi, Yobe, Kaduna, Niger and Gombe, Indecent dressing is frowned at and the punishment for its contravention ranges from a couple of months imprisonment to an option of fine.
It should also be noted that the said Sharia law is only applicable to Muslims and does NOT apply to Non-Muslims unless such Non-Muslim decides to be guided by the Sharia Law.
To corroborate the above stated, the various Sharia Courts have jurisdiction only if the persons concerned are Muslims or decides to be governed by Sharia Law and if not the law does not have jurisdiction.
What Constitutes an Indecent Act?
For an act to be termed as indecent, the following should apply;
- That an Act was committed to another person or people without their prior consent;
- That the Act committed is Indecent;
- That said Indecent Act was committed to insult or offend.
Which Court has Jurisdiction?
An aggrieved person who is a victim of an Indecent Act can file a case before the Magistrate Court of their domicile State through a lawyer.
Now, considering the various provisions stated above, it can be deduced that the law has created specific laws to criminalize Indecent Acts in Nigeria. This is their attempt to “draw the line” in order to create a society that maintains a certain level of decency.
It is however, not considered a serious offence but a misdemeanor accompanied by 2 (two) years imprisonment. As it is more of a societal issue, people should act in a more decent manner putting into consideration how the general public would view their actions.
E.I Onanuga Esq (Olojumeta)