Overview of the Crime of Rape Under the Nigerian Criminal Law

Rape is a heinous offence that has become an epidemic all over the world. It is a form of sexual assault against the body and mind of an individual without their consent. In Nigeria, this offence is on the rise despite the various laws in place that state and stipulate the punishment for such an offence. These laws have however not deterred would-be rapist and sexual offenders; thus, it is important to explore the causes of the rise.

This article will attempt to look at rape as an offence in Nigeria, the provisions under the legislations and how effective they have been so far. It will also highlight the shortcomings of the legislations if any, and explore what seems to be encouraging the rise of this offence within the Nigerian Society while suggesting sustainable solutions to help curtail this epidemic.

Rape under the Nigerian Criminal Law
The crime of Rape is a sexual offence that involves having sexual intercourse with an individual without their consent. It may be carried out by force, threat or against a person incapable of giving consent such as a minor, an unconscious person or disabled persons.

This violation significantly affects a person both physically and psychologically. In 2011, it was reported that about 2 million Nigerian girls experience sexual abuse yearly,¹ and this was confirmed by the Nigerian Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development at the 2019 International Day for Elimination of violence against women.²

In Nigerian, rape is covered under two Criminal Law Codes, covering two different jurisdictions; the Penal Code Act covers the Northern region while the Criminal Code Act covers the Southern region. According to the Criminal Code Act of Nigeria, rape is defined as “having unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm, or by means of false act, or, in case of a married woman, by impersonating her husband.”³

Similarly, the Penal Code Act states that rape occurs “when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent, against her will, or with her consent or where consent is obtained by putting her in fear of death or of hurt; with her consent, when the man knows that he is not her husband and with or without her consent, when she is under fourteen years of age or of unsound mind.”⁴

However, The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPPA) departs from the general position, and it states that “a person commits rape if he or she intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with any other part of his/her body or anything else without consent, or the consent is obtained by force.”⁵

The current position of the Nigerian Criminal Codes interestingly portrays the illusion that only a woman or girl can be raped as they both specifically state that rape is the unlawful carnal knowledge of “a woman or girl” without her consent. This definition is quite myopic and restrictive in these current times, as sexual offences like rape are not gender based.

Although, it is noteworthy to mention that there is the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015, which is applicable only in Lagos, and it states that anyone who has sexual intercourse with a child commits a felony and is liable to imprisonment for life upon conviction.⁶

This suggests that a child, be it male or female is capable of being raped as it does not expressly state only a particular gender can be raped. In addition, the VAPPA also reaffirms the position, as seen from its definition of rape, as it gives the offence a wider scope, showing that both male and female can be raped. Consequently, this Act is only applicable in Abuja and the states that have domesticated it. Unfortunately, majority of the states have not domesticated this Act, thus the general position still stands.

Causes of the increase of rape in the Nigerian Society

1. The Current Position of the Law
The starting point in trying to understand the reason behind the rise in rape is to look at the Law itself and the society we live in. As we have seen from the definition of rape from the Codes above, one can say the law itself is the beginning of the issue. The Codes poorly define rape and it rests on the presumption that only vaginal penetration constitutes rape thus discriminating against individuals raped by other objects aside the penis.

This archaic position of the criminal laws in Nigeria can be said to be a contributing factor for the rise in today’s society. The VAPPA for example has an updated a universally accepted definition of rape but majority of Nigerian States are yet to domesticate it. The current position of the Law allows for grave miscarriage of justice as it only views women and girls raped by penile penetration to be the victim of rape, thereby neglecting women raped by other means and/or male victims of rape.

The current laws fail to view rape as a gender-neutral criminal offence. However, Senators like Oluremi Tinubu is sponsoring the bill to amend The Codes in order to recognize the Men too movement, that aims to recognize men as victims of rape too.
Another area that shows how defective and archaic the current criminal laws are, is the fact that the Codes do not consider spousal rape as an offence. Currently, marital rape is not recognized under the Nigerian Law, thus, makes no mention of it in the Codes as both do not believe that a man can unlawfully rape his wife.

This loophole gives husbands the ability to assault their spouses as the Laws do not view it as a crime. Conversely, jurisdictions like the United Kingdom have duly considered it and long added it to their Laws.

2. Lack of Basic Medical Facilities and Economic Restraint
The stringent law cannot be the only factor attributed to the rise in rape cases in Nigeria. A sad reality is that most hospitals in Nigeria lack adequate medical facilities to be used when trying to confirm rape. This lack of basic amenities has consequently aided in the lack of conviction of rape and sexual assault allegations.⁷

According to reports complied by Mr. Kunle Adebanjo, there have been fewer than a 100 cases of rape convictions between 1973 to 2019.⁸ For example, in Anambra, an NGO once recorded 155 incidences and complaints of rape but 12 were taken up by the police however none led to a successful prosecution.⁹ This shows that there is a stringent burden on the prosecution to prove rape while also show a lack of reporting and convictions.

Furthermore, the economic and political conditions in Nigeria makes it difficult for the prosecution to ensure fair trials in court. Proving rape is difficult not only on the prosecution but on the victims because of the harsh reality that victims go through. For example, the medical test which are used to connect offenders to the crime are very expensive and victims must carry them out at their own expense.

These tests are important as they are used not only to connect but to identify the offenders when the victims cannot, therefore they are essential for prosecuting and convicting persons found guilty. Currently, such a test cost about 150,000¹⁰ Naira therefore, proving rape puts the ordinary person/victim at a huge disadvantage as it is an expensive expense for most people, making victims forfeit the hassle of going to court and making it impossible for proper investigation.

3. Stigmatization in the Nigerian Society
The Nigerian environment aids stigmatization of victims instead of finding ways to proffer proper justices. These stigmas play a huge aspect in the reporting and conviction of this crime. Nigerian families have a cultural belief or fear that once a person is raped, they find it difficult to find suitors for marriage as they will be viewed as damaged/soiled good.¹¹

Thus, some families sometimes opt to protect the family image, and they choose to not report these crimes. Likewise, victims out of fear prefer to keep this crime to themselves and sometimes from family because of the fear of how they might be viewed.

In the Nigerian society, sometimes the victim gets more of the blame based off of our lack of awareness. This has crippled the morale of many victims and consequently continued to embolden rapists and rape in the society. All these along with the laws in place have aided in the encouragement of rape culture in Nigeria, as a result emboldening rapist to continue such abuse.

Curtailing Rape Culture in Nigeria; Recommendations

1. Amending and updating the current laws

The first step in curtailing the increase in rape in the country is by amending and updating the current Laws. The Laws in Nigeria need to first be amended to include every person and not only the female gender as victims of rape and sexual assault. Secondly, the definition of rape itself must be expanded to reflect the different ways one can be penetrated and violated, therefore penetration must not be too concise.

As mentioned above, The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPPA), 2015 is the only law that has a universally accepted definition of rape. It is the only Law that recognizes male rape. Unfortunately, majority of the States are yet to domesticate it. Therefore, the Legislature must take steps to revise the current Codes to reflect the new definition and also remove the gender restrictions. This will allow for inclusion and do away with the socio-cultural beliefs pertaining to male victims and rape as a whole.

Also, the law must be made in such a way that any form of sexual intercourse without consent should be considered rape. The age of consent must also be updated to be the same as age of majority. Moreover, the law should consider martial rape as an offence and be revised to reflect it. These would prevent or reduce the freedom that rapists have of getting away with such a heinous crime while ensuring that the laws develop with the rest of the world.

2. Victim support and Awareness creation
Support will go a long way in helping rape victims both physically, psychologically and financially. Updating the law will not go a long way if the cost of assistance remains high as it puts the poor at an obvious disadvantage.

According to the Violence against Persons Prohbition Act (VAPPA) 2015, victims of rape should receive the necessary materials, comprehensive medical, psychological, social and legal assistance through governmental or non-governmental agencies providing such assistance.¹²

However this provision won’t be observed because only 5 states have domesticated this Act, not to mention the nonchalant attitude of responders and also law enforcement agencies. According to a sibling of a victim, the police asked for “mobilization fee” to begin an investigation into the rape of her sister.¹³

This shows the level of indifference on the part of the police to such a sensitive matter. Thus, it is the government’s responsibility to ensure ease and access of necessary medical materials and facilities to cater for the needs of victims. This will go a long way in supporting victims while ensuring the prosecutors and law enforcement agencies have evidence for successful prosecution of rape cases.

In addition, awareness creation must continue. Firstly, for the victims themselves on how to go about reporting the crime. As it is, sometimes the court is left with little to no evidence to link and charge perpetrators. It is therefore important that victims are aware of what needs to be done in such unfortunate times.

Furthermore, preventing the stigmatization of victims in the society will go a long way in the successful reporting and prosecution of sexual offenders. Most victims do not want to go through the shame twice, thereby fail or do not wish to come forward. It is every person’s duty to be sensitive to victims and ensure that they are made to feel safe and protected enough to report these heinous crimes.

Additionally, parents and the society at large are said to play a vital role in rape prevention, as such guardians must be vigilant at all times about the whereabouts of their wards. According to The United Nations Children Fund, one in four girls and one in ten boys under age 18 are victims of sexual violence.¹⁴

It is also important that parents do not try to protect their wards by failing to report this crime, while society does not stigmatize. Parents and society must always point the pistol at the right person to ensure that justice prevails.

The prevalence of Rape in Nigeria and the world at large is hard to measure due to the socio-cultural beliefs and unescapable stigma, as a result many cases go unreported and very few get the help they need. Nothing justifies rape and abuse is a daily reality for many, thus, every child and individual must be protected, even though one cannot fight such a pandemic alone. Therefore, individuals, associations and governmental bodies must work together to win this battle.

In Nigeria today, the government must create victim sensitive response protocols to help, as well as providing the necessary medical resources for the prosecution and prevention of this crime. The society must also play their part in providing the necessary support and not stigmatize. Victims and their families must also have the courage to report incidences to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. I hope with this article you have been enlightened on rape and it will enable you spread awareness and help victims you come across.


1. Kunle Adebayo, ‘Fact check: Are 2 Million Nigerian raped every year? Here’s what we know’ ( December 3, 2019 < https://www.icirnigeria.org/fact-check-are-2-million-nigerians-raped-every-year/> accessed 27 uly 2021

2. Anifowose David Iyanuoluwa https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344326858_AN_OVERVIEW_OF_THE_CRIME_OF_RAPE_UNDER_THE_NIGERIAN_CRIMINAL_LAW_BY_ANIFOWOSE_DAVID_IYANUOLUWA/citation/download accessed 4 August 2021

3. Criminal Code Act 1916, ss. 357 & 358

4. Penal Code Act 1960, s. 282

5. Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPPA) 2015, s.1

6. Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015, s.137

7. Halimah Yahaya, ‘Nigeria’s new anti-rape law still can’t help victims much’ (November 12, 2019) https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/362308-nigerias-new-anti-rape-law-still-cant-help-victims-much.html accessed 7 august 2021

8. < https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.icirnigeria.org/fact-check-no-it-isnt-true-nigeria-has-recorded-only-18-convictions-in-rape-cases/amp/> accessed 3 June 2021

9. Juhttps://www.intechopen.com/online-first/characterizing-rapists-and-their-victims-in-select-nigeria-newspapers accessed June 3rd 2021

10. Halimah Yahaya, ‘Nigeria’s new anti-rape law still can’t help victims much’ (November 12, 2019) https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/362308-nigerias-new-anti-rape-law-still-cant-help-victims-much.html accessed 7 August 2021

11. GWG, ‘Rape Turns Into National Debate As Nigerians Kick’ (June 4 2020) accessed 15 August 2021

12. Violence against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPPA), 2015, s.38

13. Linda Ikeji Blog https://www.lindaikejisblog.com/2020/6/justiceforuwa-police-demanded-for-mobility-money-before-taking-up-my-late-sisters-rape-and-murder-case-vera-uwaila-omozuwas-sister-speaks-video.html Accessed June 4 2021


Criminal Code Act 1916, ss. 357, 358
Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015, s.137
Penal Code Act 1960, s. 282
Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPPA) 2015, s.1, s.38

Online Sources
accessed 3 June, 2020.
Adebayo K, ‘Fact check: Are 2 Million Nigerian raped every year? Here’s what we know’ (December 3, 2019 < https://www.icirnigeria.org/fact-check-are-2-million-nigerians-raped-every-year/> accessed 27 July 2021
GWG, ‘Rape Turns Into National Debate As Nigerians Kick’ (June 4 2020) accessed 15 August 2021
Iyanuoluwa,A.Dhttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/344326858_AN_OVERVIEW_OF_THE_CRIME_OF_RAPE_UNDER_THE_NIGERIAN_CRIMINAL_LAW_BY_ANIFOWOSE_DAVID_IYANUOLUWA/citation/download accessed 4 August 2021
Yahaya H, ‘Nigeria’s new anti-rape law still can’t help victims much’ (November 12, 2019) <https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/362308-nigerias-new-anti-rape-law-still-cant-help-victims-much.html


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