Over the years, the Nigerian Police force has engaged in indiscriminate arrest of wanderers in the streets, prosecuting them without fair hearing. These victims of vagrancy are not given the chance to explain their plight and the circumstances of their actions. This has caused the poor to feel neglected and abandoned in the society.
This work tends to familiarize the masses on the vagrancy laws and the laws in the country.
Who is a vagrant?
A Vagrant can be defined as a person without a home and means of livelihood.
Vagrancy Laws are laws made to criminalize a person from wandering from place to place without visible means of support. They are laws enacted basically to criminalize being homeless and jobless.
Vagrancy laws historically was introduced by the defunct British colonial regime for the purpose of criminalizing wandering from one place to another with no apparent means of financial support.
These laws eventually translated into criminalizing homelessness and joblessness.
Today, most states are trying to repeal or revise vagrancy laws, as they are seen as a way to harass people living in poverty. Being purposely unemployed, when you have a family and other obligations is a crime.
In a display of class bias, whenever rich people were found on the street taking a stroll, it will be regarded as an exercise of their fundamental human right to freedom of movement. But whenever the poor were seen displaying such act it will be regarded as wandering and loitering.
This public outcry of the masses led to the promulgation of the Minor Offenses Act(CAP M16) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, which abolished the provision of vagrancy laws in the criminal and penal code.
(a) A person shall not be accused of or charged with:
i) The offense of wandering (by whatever name called) or
ii) Any other offense by reason only if his being found wandering (by whatever name called)
It is sad to note, not withstanding the above provision and also the constitutional provision of right to freedom of movement, the Nigerian Police Force has engaged severally in indiscriminate arrest and prosecution of poor people who have no means of livelihood, under the pretext of ameliorating the criminalities in the country.
Prosecution and conviction of the said victims of vagrancy is in gross violation of their fundamental human right to personal liberty and right to fair hearing.
Vagrancy laws are discriminatory because they tend to punish the poor. Apart from their discriminatory nature, enforcing vagrancy laws have largely contributed to making our prisons congested.
Everyday, the police indiscriminately arrest people on streets and lock them up, accusing them of wandering. Some of those arrested end up spending years in detention.
As Nigeria Marks 62nd today, I call on the Nigerian Government, the Attorneys General of the 36 States to embark on a review of their criminal laws to amend it and eradicate the colonial era discrimination and bring laws into conformity with a modern society.
Happy Independence day, Nigeria!!!
A reform we seek!!!
About the Author
Okeke Chukwuemeka C., is a Law Student of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Igbariam Campus. He is a law enthusiast, avid writer and legal researcher.