27.09.2023 Explainer Is Prostitution a Crime in Nigeria?

Published 27th Sep, 2023

By Abimbola Abatta

“Did they actually commit a crime?”

That was the question on the lips of many Nigerians when a video of some women reportedly involved in prostitution in Delta State surfaced online on Tuesday.

FIJ’s findings revealed that the video was a product of Mabiaku Omasan, the state’s senior special assistant on human trafficking and illicit drug’s visit to a hotel in Sapele on Saturday.

In what was described as a raid, Omasan and his team forcefully ejected a group of women from the hotel and publicly paraded them afterwards.

A video recording of the incident showed some men bellowing questions and orders to the women who stood in clusters: “What are you doing here?” “How old are you?” “Come on, look here!” “All of you stay here?” If you cover your face!” “Look am na.” “What are you girls doing here?” “My friend, this way!”

When some of the women attempted to conceal their faces, the men hit them.

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The video would spark a lot of outrage and debate, with many Nigerians wondering why the women were treated like criminals because they were into prostitution.

According to an article published by Metro Lawyer, a legal news website, the Criminal Code Act which is applicable in the southern region of Nigeria and the Penal Code Act applicable in the northern region of Nigeria do not expressly prohibit prostitution.

A portion of the article reads: “The Criminal Code and Penal Code have been too cautious not to stretch the law too far. This could be perceived from the wordings of the relevant provisions.

“What the Acts did was to criminalise acts supporting, facilitating and promoting prostitution such as; procurement of persons, pimping, running a brothel, abducting persons for the purpose of prostitution, etc. prostitution was not in nowhere defined by the acts neither was its elements highlighted.

“This alone is a sufficient basis upon which prostitution does not amount to a criminal offence in Nigeria. Prostitution is however, abhorred in Nigeria from inferences by the relevant laws.”

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When FIJ interviewed Monday Ubani, a former vice president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), for comments on the matter, he said he had never seen anyone get prosecuted for prostitution before in Nigeria.

“There is no law that applauds prostitution. But what I know is that all over Nigeria, prostitution is not encouraged by any government,” said Ubani.

“Even in Lagos here, they raid them, but I have never seen anyone who has been persecuted.

“I am yet to see anywhere that the police have actually taken any of these persons to court because the people who will effect their arrest are most times guilty of the same offence because they sleep with them.

“They also “settle” the police and then they are back to business.”

Ubani also said the police would not keep arresting those who engage in prostitution if it was not a crime. He added that soliciting for sexual favour is equally a crime.

“If you check our criminal code, it is criminal to solicit for sex openly in public space. Solicitation for sexual favour is not a civil matter. It is purely a crime,” said Ubani.

“Apart from moral implications, it also has legal implication. However, I am yet to see where people have been arraigned in court for prostitution.

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“From reports, many of those who arrest them take their turn to sleep with them or even collect money from them before asking them to go. And tomorrow, they are back to the same business.”

Tailorson Nwani, another lawyer, told FIJ that the extant laws did not criminalise prostitution in the southern part of the country. He, however, said it was a criminal offence in the north under the penal code.

He also mentioned that many questions about whether prostitution is considered a crime or not are often tied to moral beliefs.

“Here in the south, what is criminalised in the criminal code, section 225A is persons trading in prostitution,” Nwani said.

Subsection 1 of section 225A of the criminal code states, Every male person who (a) knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution; or (b) in any public place persistently solicits or importunes for immoral purposes, is liable to imprisonment for two years, and in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, shall, in addition to any term of imprisonment awarded, be liable to caning.”

Subsection 2 of that same section also notes that, Any magistrate who is satisfied, by evidence upon oath, that there is reason to suspect that any premises or any part of any premises are or is used by a female for purposes of prostitution, and that any male person residing in or frequenting the premises is living wholly or in part of the earnings of the prostitute, may issue a warrant under his hand authorising any constable to enter and search the premises and to arrest that male person.”

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The lawyer told FIJ that the police in Nigeria arrest ladies who are into prostitution based on section 225, subsection 1a and 1b and because of the clause that states that “knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution and in any public place persistently solicits.”

He explained that the police often arrest and parade the women when they are found in flats to deliberately solicit customers.

“They sometimes even abuse the ladies. When they arrest them and sleep with them. It is only those who refuse to compromise who end up being paraded. This shows how unserious we are as a society,” Nwani said.

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Published 27th Sep, 2023

By Abimbola Abatta


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