Sex-related offences like rape, defilement and pedophilia, sexual harassment and violent crimes have slowly become a strong part of contemporary conversations, with modes of eradicating them taking centre-stage.
For a long time, sex-offenders have been shielded from feeling the full weight of the law by victim shaming, suppression of testimonies and hiding accusations behind the wall of ‘it’s a familiar affair and we shouldn’t spread our dirty laundry in public.
We cannot deny that sexual violence is a problem in Nigeria. Daily, we read stories of how little girls are raped and molested by parents, guardians or by neighbours. The frequency of sexual violence against women and how many of them are hidden under the radar has led to a demand in some quarters for a sex offenders registry.
What is a Sex Offenders’ Registry?
Wikipedia defines a sex offenders’ register as, “A system in various countries designed to allow government authorities to keep track of the activities of sex offenders, including those who have completed their criminal sentences. In some jurisdictions, where sex offender registration can, registration is accompanied by residential address notification requirements.
“In many jurisdictions, registered sex offenders are subject to additional restrictions, including on housing. Those on parole or probation may be subject to restrictions that do not apply to other parolees or probationers.
“Sometimes, these include (or have been proposed to include) restrictions on being in the presence of underage persons (under the age of majority), living in proximity to a school or day care center, owning toys or items targeted towards children, or using the Internet.”
These registries currently exist in many countries like the USA, the United Kingdom, Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, and so forth. However, the registry is only public in the United States of America.
The registry has a register that aids documentation in case of another offence or for the purpose of research and other things.
Sex Offenders’ Registry in Nigeria
Section 1(4) of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 provides that, “A register for convicted sexual offenders shall be maintained and accessible to the public.”
But currently, only a few Nigerian states like Lagos State and Ekiti State have a Sex Offenders’ Registry. In Lagos, it was established November 2014 after then- Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, signed an executive order that includes the compulsory reporting of suspected and actual child abuse at the Lagos House in Ikeja. As at September 2015, Lagos had 140 offenders in the
In September 2018, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons led by Director-General, Ms. Julie Okah-Donli said proposed during a stakeholders meeting on the implementation of Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act in Abuja, the establishment of a Sex Offenders’ Registry.
Due to the sparse and scanty implementation of Section 1(4) of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 across Nigeria, The Consent Workshop, a “Youth-led movement deconstructing rape culture through awareness and consent education,” has started a petition on website, change.org to an National and State implementation of the Sex Offenders’ Registry.
As at 2:09 pm on March 6, 2019, the petition has about 1,559 signatures. The accompanying statement to the petition reads;
“In Nigeria, there are only two (2) known sex offenders’ registers i.e. the Registry in Lagos State which was opened in 2014 and a “Black Book” for sexual offenders which was opened in Ekiti State.The Lagos State sex offenders register is said to have 140 registered convicted sex offenders to use shame as a deterrent.
“These registers are irregularly updated and this poses a plethora of problems including accountability because it is not enough for there to be a sex offenders’ register if such a register is not updated regularly or referred to.
“Therefore we, The Consent Workshop - a foundation that seeks to deconstruct the rape culture that exists in our nation and in the minds of our people, propose a structure for the creation and maintenance of a Sex Offenders Registry at a Federal level, and within all 36 states, beginning with Lagos. As there is already a law requiring it in place, and an existing one in some states, we call upon the government to enforce the system of sex offender registration to be abided by at federal and state level.
“The Sex Offenders’ Registry is highly required in Nigeria for the sake of transparency and awareness. There are situations where registered sex offenders in other countries come back to Nigeria and commit other sexual crimes to a fresh set of victims. They open businesses which put people at risk of being violated sexually and they take up guardianship roles. This needs to end
“The Consent Workshop is a youth led movement aimed at deconstructing rape culture through consent education, provision of resources and raising awareness. The Consent Workshop network is committed to building an efficient structure for this proposal. We urge on the Federal Republic of Nigeria and its supporting ministries to consider this important step in ending rape culture.”
How much do we need this registry in Nigeria?
Probably, yes. Nothing is perfect. The widely accepted purpose of the prison system is reform before integration back into the society, from the egalitarian principle of Natural Law that everyone deserves a chance. This tenet is behind concepts like parole and the eradication of the capital punishment – punishment by death.
Thus, as both a punishment for sex offenders and a way to reintegrate them back into society after their despicable act, their steps need to be trailed.
Whatever worries to the registry are understandable, but there is no way to prove change than through actions. A presumption of change for convicted sex offenders is a risky move. While some might have changed, a lot of sex offenders also won’t change.
A truly changed sex offender will prove society wrong, despite all the stigma. While it’s unfair for changed persons to be constantly reminded of their moment of madness, victims of sex-related offences also never really recover from the dark moments of their abuse.
Thus, in truth, it’s not about the minute wrongs a sex offenders’ registry does, as the perpetual nature of such register could also serve as a deterrent to potential offenders. Equally, the rights, in eradicating and preventing sex-related offences far outweigh the problems.