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Punishment For Assault Under Nigerian Criminal Law

Punishment for Assault in Nigeria; Here we will discus assault under Nigerian Criminal Law: Menace, Definition, Consequences and Punishment.

The world as it is would be a very cold place if human beings were to live apart from each other, unable to interact or share the same space.

Thankfully, this is not the case as the sheer population of the world and the humanity   inherent in each human being make living together unavoidable.

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Punishment for Assault under Nigerian Criminal Law
Nigerian Criminal Law – Photo Source:

Thus, because living together is unavoidable, interactions are unavoidable too. These interactions sometime gets heated and come to a head.

The law recognizes those situations and indeed seeks to regulate human communication especially in those moments when these interactions  get heated.

Thus, when the otherwise friendly handshakes extend beyond the elbow or the normally   neighborly   hug becomes too tight  or out rightly descends into a shoving match,the law steps in to protect bodily integrity.

This is what the law seeks to protect   in criminalizing assault: Bodily intergrity

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Assault Defined and Distilled

The 7th Edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner `s Dictionary, International Student`s Edition, at page 74, defines “assault” thus:

“The crime of attacking somebody physically. ”

The Deluxe Ninth Edition of the Black`s Law Dictionary, at page   130 defines “assault” as:

 “ The threat or use   of force on another  that causes that person  to have a reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact; the act of putting another person in reasonable  fear or apprehension of an immediate battery by means of an act amounting to an attempt  or threat to commit a battery”

Assault and Battery

At this juncture of definitions, it is critical to the  proper  understanding of assault, to point out the distinction between assault on the one hand and battery on the other hand.

They more often than not go manus in mano with each other. However, there is a fine line of distinction between them. Once again, we turn to the dictionaries.

The 7th Edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner `s Dictionary, International Student`s Edition, at page 74, defines “battery” thus:

“The crime of attacking   sb    physically.”

The Deluxe Ninth Edition of the Black`s Law Dictionary, at page   173 defines “battery ” as “ the use of force against  another, resulting in  harmful or offensive contact .”

Further, it says of criminal battery:

“Criminal battery ,sometimes defined briefly  as the unlawful application of force  to the person of another ,may be divided into its three basic elements:(1)the defendant`s conduct(act or omission);(2) his ‘mental state,’ which may be an intent to kill or injure,  or criminal negligence, or perhaps the doing  of an unlawful act; and (3) the harmful result to the victim, which may be either bodily injury or offensive touching.”

 At page   131, the Black`s Law Dictionary says on “assault and battery” thus:

“Although the term assault and battery is frequently used   when a battery has been committed, one who commits a battery  cannot also be punished for committing an assault ,since the lesser offence of assault blends into the actual battery.”                                          

 Like we said earlier, it is a very thin line. Simply put, assault and battery are essentially the same. However, while the term “Assault” can also be used to describe threats which naturally precede physical touching with violence, battery is actually the physical touching.

It is also important that we note that assault can also be sexual. Sexual assault, for example, rape is a grievous  crime punishable under the Criminal Code Act with life imprisonment under Section 358.

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The Law punishes Assault                

The law looks with gravity and severity on   the crime of assault. This    is  essentially because the law exists to guarantee and protect  firstly, the rights of persons, and then their property.

The whole legislative wisdom behind the punishment for the crime of assault is a particularly poignant   effect of Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria(As amended) which guarantees the right every Nigerian has to human dignity.

When this dignity is infringed upon unlawfully, with or without fatal consequences, the law does not falter in hastening to reassert it. It often leaves behind penal sanctions for offenders.

Part 5, particularly  Chapter 25 of the Criminal Code Act,  contains sections which define assault, declares assault unlawful and stipulates those situations in which  there could be some justification or excuse for assault. The Criminal Code Act leaves it until Chapter 29 to stipulate the punishment for assault.

Section 252 of the Criminal Code Act defines “Assault.”It provides thus:

“A person who strikes, touches, or moves, or otherwise  applies force  of any kind to the person of another, either directly or indirectly ,without his consent, or with his consent ,if the consent is obtained by fraud, or who by any bodily act or gesture attempts or threatens to apply  force of any kind to the person of another without his consent, in such circumstances that the person making the attempt or threat has actually or apparently a present ability  to effect his purpose, is said to assault that  person, and the act is called an assault.”

The term “applies force” includes   the case of applying heat, light, electrical force, gas,odour, or any other substance of thing whatever, if applied in such degree as to cause injury or personal discomfort.

Section 253 declares “Assault” unlawful. It provides thus:

“An assault is unlawful and constitutes an offence   unless it is authorized or justified or excused by law. The application of force by one   person to the person of another may be unlawful, although it is done with the consent of that other person.”

Section 351 of the Criminal Code Act punishes “assault.”It provides thus:

Any person who unlawfully assaults another is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is liable to ,if no greater punishment is provided ,to imprisonment for one year.

Section 352 pronounces any assault with intent to commit unnatural offence  a felony and punishes it with fourteen years imprisonment.

Section 353 pronounces any unlawful and indecent assault on males a felony and punishes it with three years.

Section 354 criminalizes any assault on persons protecting the wrecks of a ship and stipulates an imprisonment of up to seven years for them.

Section 355 criminalizes   any assault occasioning harm and punishes it with a three- year jail term.

At this juncture, we find it critical to point out that it is not every act amounting to assault that is criminal and punishable by the law.

In this wise, Sections 254 to 299 of the Act justify and excuse assault in many instances. These instances include:Execution of a sentence of court; Execution of  process; Execution of warrant; Suppression of riot; Provocation; Defence of dwelling-house; Self-defence against provoked assault; Exercise of right of way or easement; Correction of a child, servant etc.

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Always Remember:

a. That as a Nigerian citizen under Sections 25,26 or 27 of the 1999 Constitution, your fundamental rights are guaranteed under Sections 33 to 46 of the same Constitution.

b. That  the Constitution guarantees you equal rights, obligations, opportunities  before the law  and easy accessibility to court under Section 17.

c. That com      works with a team of lawyers to inform you of your rights, obligations and opportunities under the law.

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Kenechukwu Obiezu

Kenechukwu Obiezu is a Legal Practitioner and a Content Developer at InfoGuide Nigeria is a team of Resource Persons and Consultants led by Ifiokobong Ibanga. Page maintained by Ifiokobong Ibanga. If you need a personal assistance on this topic, kindly contact us.

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