Harlem Solicitors’ Ibukunoluwa And Rhoda Discuss Key Issues In Pivotal Nigerian Laws On ‘Stalking’- And There’s Video

Rhoda Odediran
Graduate Intern
HARLEM Solicitors

Like domestic violence, stalking is a crime of power and control. Stalking can be defined as a series of conduct directed at a specific person or persons which involve repeated visual or physical proximity, non consensual communication, verbal, written or implied texts, or a combination thereof that would cause a reasonable person fear.  Stalking is an unwanted or repeated surveillance by an individual or group towards another person. Stalking behaviours are interrelated to harassment and intimidation and may include following the victim in person or monitoring them.

Stalking is defined by Tjaden, Patricia and Nancy Thoennes in their illuminating book, Stalking in America: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey as “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated (two or more occasions) visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear”. Stalking may also include persistent pattern of sending of unwanted items or gifts to the victims, following or waiting for the victim, damaging or threatening to damage the victim’s property, defaming the victims character or harassing the victim using the internet by spreading rumours or information about the victim.

Anti-stalking laws typically defines stalking as the crime of following another person against his or her wishes and harassing that person. Stalking is known as a form of harassment. The status of stalking as a criminal offence is relatively new, having emerged in the early 1990s.

Anti-stalking laws criminalize specific behaviours in an effort to protect victims and prevent stalking from escalating into serious violence. Typically, anti-stalking laws define stalking in terms of harassment (following, making frequent unwanted contact by phone or online) that is perceived as threatening and is intended by the offender to frighten the victim. The offense must come to police attention—usually through a complaint by the victim. Due to the fact that anti-stalking laws vary, the evidence required before police can make an arrest varies as well.

The designation of stalking as a form of crime has another consequence. Instead of viewing an episode of stalking as a personal problem, victims are encouraged to see it as an instance of a crime. Activists and law enforcement officials can advise victims on strategies for dealing with stalking. In addition, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, who identify the causes of stalking in offenders’ mental disorders, can develop methods of treating offenders.

Stalking in Nigeria

Under Nigerian laws, only the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015(herein after referred to as VAPP Act) and Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention Etc) Act 2015 make provisions for stalking. Section 17 of VAPP Act 2015 provides as follows:

Section 17(1) of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 provides that “a person who stalks another commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding N500,000 or both.”

Ibukunoluwa Ajala
Graduate Intern
HARLEM Solicitors

Under 17(2), a  person who attempts to commit the act  of violence  provided for  in  subsection  (1) of section commits  an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment  not  exceeding  1  year or to fine  not exceeding N200,000.00 or both. Section 17(3) provides that a  person who incites, aids,  abets,  or counsels another person   to  commit the  act  of violence  as provided  for in  subsection(1)  of this section  commits  an offence  and  is liable  on conviction to a  term  of imprisonment  not  exceeding 1  year  or to a fine  not exceeding N200,000.00  or both while 17(4) says that a person  who receives  or assists  another who,  to  his  or her knowledge, committed the offence  provided for  in subsection (1)  of this  section is an accessory after  the fact  and  is  liable  on conviction  to a term  of imprisonment not  exceeding 1 year  or to a fine  not exceeding N100,000.00 or bot

Also, an attempt to stalk another person can earn the stalker a jail term not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding N200,000 or both.

In addition, inciting, aiding, abetting, or counselling another to commit the act of stalking is also a crime and the culprit will be liable to not more than one year in prison or a fine of N200,000 or both. Aiding a stalker makes one an accessory after the fact and such person is liable to jail term not exceeding a year or a fine not exceeding N100,000 or both.

It was on this understanding that an Upper Area Court in Nasarawa State sentenced a 25-year old painter to five months’ imprisonment with an option of N7,000 fine for enticing another man’s wife. An arrest was made after the husband of the victim reported to the police that his wife is being stalked on phone.

Cyberstalking

Stalking is not limited to physical contact; it may be done on the internet. This is referred to as cyberstalking.  Cyberstalking involves but not limited to spreading rumours, posting personal information about the victim and harassing the victim on the internet.

With the advancement of information technology and the increasing popularity of social media, stalking has drastically moved from a physical offence to a web offence as many stalkers do not need to physically trail their victims in order to follow up their every move. This however does not rule out the existence of physical stalking because in fact there are more stalkers on the web than in real life.

Cyberstalking is the use of technology to stalk victims, it has common characteristics with real-life stalking. It involves the pursuit, harassment, or contact of others in an unsolicited manner through the Internet and e-mail. Cyberstalking can be intense in chat rooms where stalkers systematically flood their victim’s inbox with hateful, or threatening messages as well as images. A cyber stalker may further assume the identity of his or her victim by posting information (fictitious or not) and soliciting responses from the cyber community. Cyber stalkers may use information acquired online to further intimidate, harass, and threaten their victim via courier mail, phone calls, and physically appearing at a residence or work place. Although cyberstalking does not involve physical contact with a victim, it constitutes a serious crime. The increasing ubiquity of the Internet and the ease with which it allows others unusual access to personal information, have made this form of stalking more accessible. Potential stalkers may find it easier to stalk via a remote device such as the Internet rather than to confront an actual person. Conducts that falls short of the legal definition of stalking may in fact be a precursor to stalking and must be taken seriously.

The Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act, 2015 provides for an effective, unified and comprehensive legal, regulatory and institutional framework for the prohibition, prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment of cybercrimes in Nigeria. The Act also ensures the protection of critical national information infrastructure, and promotes cybersecurity and the protection of computer systems and networks, electronic communications, data and computer programs, intellectual property and privacy rights.

Cyberstalking is one of the offences prohibited by the Act, Section 24 of the Act provides for cyberstalking and its subsection 1 provides as follows: “Any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network that- (a) is grossly offensive, pornographic or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character or causes any such message or matter to be sent; or (b) he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such message to be sent: commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment”

Section 24(2) of the Act provides for the punishment for the offence of cyberstalking by any person who knowingly or intentionally transmits or causes the transmission of any communication through a computer system or network (a) to bully, threaten or harass another person, where such communication places another person in fear of death, violence or bodily harm to another person; (b) contains any threat to kidnap  any person or any threat to harm the person of another, any demand or request for a ransom for the release of any kidnapped person, to extort from any person, firm, association or corporation, any money or other thing of value; or (c) containing any threat to harm the property or reputation of the addressee or of another or the reputation of a deceased person or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime, to extort from any person, firm, association, or corporation, any money or other thing of value. The Act considers the above as an offence and in the case of Section 24(2)(a) and (b) prescribes imprisonment for a term of 10 years and/or a minimum fine of N25,000,000; and in the case of Section 24(2)(c) it prescribes an imprisonment for a term of 5 years and/or a minimum fine of N15,000,000.

The court sentencing or dealing with a person convicted of an offence in Section 24(1) and (2) of the Act may also make an order for the purpose of protection of the victim(s) of the offence from further conduct which amounts to harassment or will cause fear of violence, death or bodily harm; prohibit the defendant from doing anything described/specified in the order. Also, any defendant who does anything which is prohibited by the order of the court commits an offence under Section 24 and will as such be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N10,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both fine and imprisonment. The order of the court may have effect only for a period or until further order and the defendant or any other person mentioned in the order may apply to the court which made the order for it to be varied or discharged by a further order.

Apart from the courts, the Act empowers all law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies to develop requisite institutional capacity for the effective implementation of the provisions of the Cybercrime Act.

There is really no difference between cyberstalking, cyberbullying and trolling, although cyber stalking tends to be called cyber bullying when it involves adolescents, teenagers and young adults. A very common example cyber stalking/bullying occurs when readers/viewers are being compelled to like or share (or both) messages to a number of persons to attract favour, miracles, credit alerts etc. and usually, these messages contain consequences for failure to share the messages. Majority of these messages are based on religion, sentiment and ethics. By these messages, innocent and unsuspecting readers have been subjected to fear of bad luck and many other adverse consequences, when really they don’t mean anything. All these constitutes bullying or stalking in disguise.

The Violence Against Person (Prohibition) Act 2015 although an enactment of the National Assembly is only in force and applicable in Abuja and not throughout the federation, other states must domesticate it for it to be applicable throughout the federation. However, only Ebonyi, Anambra and Oyo States have domesticated the Act. The Director, Gender, Adolescent, School Health and Elderly, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Christopher Ugboko, who represented the Minister for Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole appealed to the remaining 33 states to domesticate the VAPP 2015 at the opening of a two-day training workshop for healthcare providers on standards and guidelines for the medical management of victims of violence developed by Federal Ministry of Health with support from a global non-profit organization, IPAS, which was held at Ibadan, Oyo State.

Until the Violence Against Person (Prohibition) Act 2015 is applicable to all states of the federation of Nigeria, stalking cannot be regarded as an offence in the country. Sadly, there are little or no judicial authorities on stalking in Nigeria. This mirrors the pathetic reality of zero conviction rate of stalkers in Nigeria.

Check out Ibukunoluwa Ajala‘s video on Stalking below:

Odediran Rhoda and Ibukunoluwa Ajala (Graduate Interns) contributed this piece from HARLEM Solicitors.

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