What the Nigerian Constitution says about prostitution [Explainer]
Understanding the legal framework surrounding prostitution in Nigeria.
The attitude of the Nigerian Police Force and state government agencies towards sex workers continues to validate the belief that there’s a specific section of the constitution that prohibits prostitution in the country.
In a viral clip that surfaced on social media on Tuesday, September 26, 2023, officials of Delta State Government raided a building suspected to be a brothel and arrested many young women labelled as sex workers.
In the video, one of the officials asked the 'prostitutes' to face the camera while more ‘sex workers’ were brought out from a building suspected to be a brothel to join others being paraded outside.
This is not the first time government officials would arrest women on the grounds that they are prostitutes.
In May 2019, officials of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) raided a popular night club, Caramelo, and arrested 34 women.
Two weeks later, another set of 70 women were arrested from different night clubs in Abuja and detained at the Utako Police Station.
Some of the women were later released while many others were charged to court.
It is against this backdrop that Nigerians curiously question the legality of the arrest of women accused of prostitution.
What does the Constitution say?
Contrary to the actions of the police and government agencies that go after prostitutes, the Nigerian Constitution does not outrightly criminalise prostitution.
There’s no actual law that bans prostitution in Nigeria, but the constitution criminalises the procuring of women or girls for sex work purposes.
Sections 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.”
Whoever is deemed to have committed any of the offences above may be arrested without a warrant according to the constitution.
From the foregoing, prostitution is not an offence that is punishable under the Nigerian law, but the constitution criminalises the activities of pimps and the ownership of brothels.
However, it is imperative to note that these laws mainly apply to Southern Nigeria. The Penal Code of the northern part of the country forbids prostitution, especially in states that subscribe to Shariah Law.
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