How do I seek criminal law remedies?

A case or event can have both criminal law and civil law elements in it.

For example, assault (physical application of force or threat of same) is both a civil law and a criminal law matter. Also, sexual harassment is both a civil law and a criminal law matter.

While an individual may approach a court to seek civil law remedies, an individual cannot approach a court directly to seek criminal law justice. Rather, in search of justice over a criminal matter, an individual must report the matter to a law enforcement agency for the agency to investigate the case. Where a law enforcement agency investigates a case and find merit in it, the law enforcement agency may then prosecute the suspected offender.

Where necessary, an individual can obtain a fiat (approval from an Attorney General) to prosecute a criminal state on behalf of government. This is the processes of seeking and obtaining criminal law remedies in cases of sexual harassment in workplace and in any other criminal case.


Who can bring a criminal complaint?

Where there is sexual harassment in a workplace, there is a crime. Sexual harassment is a criminal offence and not a family dispute or mere employment issue.

The victim of workplace sexual harassment, the employer, fellow workers, family members of the victim, friends of the victim, the harasser and any other person is free to make a formal report/complaint at the nearest law enforcement agency.

If your employer or others hide or attempting to hide sexual harassment or to frustrate investigation they are commiting a criminal offence.



Who should be investigated and prosecuted?

Sexual harassment in workplace is a criminal offence in all parts of Nigeria. Once there is a workplace sexual harassment, aside any internal workplace policy and procedure, a report/complaint of such to a law enforcement agency would be made against the harasser.

A law enforcement agency will need to protect the victim from the harasser and then investigate the case.  Where there is merit in an investigation report, the harasser will be prosecuted (charged to court).

An investigation may reveal any other person that promoted, supported, or concealed the harasser in his/her sexual harassment and such person or persons will also be prosecuted, too. This may include the employer, especially where the employer was complicity, irresponsible, supportive, condoning or aiding sexual harassment.

Note that negligence on the part of an employer that might have led to sexual harassment may be a criminal negligence and the employer can be prosecuted for criminal negligence.


What should be included in a criminal complaint?

Articulating stories or recounting past sexual harassment experiences is always challenging for victims. However, law enforcement agencies will always need evidence of sexual harassment for them to investigate and prosecute any case of sexual harassment. It is advisable to always engage the services of a lawyer, at an earlier stage, for consistency in case and to avoid being overpowered by administrative bottlenecks in law enforcement agencies.

Criminal complaints of sexual harassment should contain facts and evidence to establish sexual harassment, including proof like documents, video recordings, audio records, emails, text messages, clothes and information of persons that are willing to testify against the harasser.


Criminal law remedies for victims

As we analysed previously, there are various criminal laws that apply to different areas in Nigeria. Each of these laws has a sanction or penalty for sexual harassment.

Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011

Section 262: (1) “Any person who sexually harasses another is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three (3) years.

The Criminal Code

Section 360 — Any person who unlawfully and indecently assaults a woman or girl is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for two years.

 The Penal Code

Section 285. Whoever commits an act of gross indecency upon the person of another without his consent or by the use of force or threats compels a person to join with him in the commission of that act, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.

Also, laws on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in states in Nigeria have also created punishments for sexual harassment.

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