On Monday, 1st February 2021, the Lagos State House of Assembly passed the Unlawful Societies and Cultism (Prohibition) Bill 2020 into law. The bill has ‘punishment’ for parents of convicted cultists as one of its components. Principal partner at Eminence Solicitors, Ifeoma Ben, joined Tolu and Olisa on #NCBreakfastCentral to discuss the legality of this new law.
She first established that the new bill is not consistent with the provisions of the Nigerian law that states the circumstances under which someone can be convicted for an offense: committing or aiding an offense are the only circumstances for being convicted.
“We can’t say that because you are a parent or because you gave birth to a child, you are now guilty of an offense. It has to be analyzed if you aided the commission of an offense. The fact that you gave birth to a child and the child started misbehaving and involving in cultism, does not in itself make you guilty under Nigerian law. Hence, the provision has to be examined and brought into context. In what context will the parent or guardian of a cultist be pronounced guilty? It shouldn’t be general, it has to be narrowed down in order for it to be LAWFUL.”
Ifeoma further threw her weight behind lawmakers like Rotimi Alao who opposed the bill seeing as it is more or less limited to school students. “Looking at the realities of our environment, you will see that it’s not just students that involve in cultism, cultism is the order of the day even in various Lagos communities. It is very important that this bill is all-encompassing and extended to society; beyond students in educational institutions.”
But for primary school pupils involved in cultism, it was agreed that the proper thing would be to look into the law to make sure that there is adequate provision for rehabilitation of young offenders.
As regards the penalties and punishments, the extent of the person’s involvement and the role they played in the offense would determine their category in the crime. And in her opinion, the aim of the penalty is to deter persons from getting involved in such a crime. For example, imprisonment without the option of a fine would discourage a lot of people from engaging in acts that would constitute cultism.
Conclusively, the government has a vital role to play in the prevention of an increased rate of cultism. Most of these people are unemployed; they take to the streets to harass people and commit crimes because they have time. Their sponsors also need to be looked into. If the younger ones are sponsored and given guns by big people in the society, they should also be held liable for aiding the offense.
“The root cause of the problem needs to be looked into. Society is not doing enough. The government needs to do more in addressing the problem of employment, while parents should also do more in bringing up responsible adults. Everyone is involved in this process so that this menace can be reduced to the barest minimum.”