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.
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.
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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