A CHRISTIAN WIFE AND THE NIGERIAN LAW
by: Olakunle Bamisile
In law, sometimes, there are defenses that exempts the defendant from liability because of some circumstance. In some cases, the defendant may have actually committed the crime but may not be criminally responsible for it. These defenses includes, but not limited to, involuntary intoxication, duress and insanity. One carefully placed excuses in the Criminal Code Act of Nigeria is that of the Christian wife. Yes, the Christian wife. The status of the Christian wife is not limited to the Bible (or laws of the Bible) as the laws of our land equally weighs in on the Christian wife. It is therefore of utmost importance to cruise into the Criminal responsibility of the Christian wife viz a vis her husband and the Nigerian Law.
Section 32 of the Criminal Code Act of Nigeria had enunciated some circumstances upon which a person is not criminally responsible for an act he does or omits to do. Section 33 then weighs in on the Criminal responsibility of a Christian wife as it provides that: “a wife of a Christian marriage is not criminally responsible for doing or omitting to do an act which she is actually compelled by her husband to do or omit to do, and which is done or omitted to be done in his presence, except in the case of an act or omission which would constitute an offence punishable with death, or an offence of which grievous harm to the person of another, or an intention to cause such harm, is an element, in which case the presence of her husband is immaterial”.
The provision of the above stated law is to the effect that when the husband of a Christian wife compels her to do an unlawful act or omit to do something (when omission to do is unlawful), the Christian wife is not criminally responsible for the act or omission of the act as long as
(i) act or omission of the act is in his presence;
(ii) the offence is not punishable with death;
(iii) the offence does not constitute grievous harm; or
(iii) there is intention by the wife to commit such act.
The inclusion of this law as it relates to a Christian wife, knowing fully well that Nigeria is not a religious state, is worth pondering. The rationale behind this inclusion remains unclear and debatable, though it could perhaps be an agreement to the Christian principle that the husband is the head of the wife. Criticizing this inclusion, weighing in on this debate or investigating the rationale is however not the purpose of this piece as it only aims to enlighten the public on the Nigerian Laws.