In one of his final official moves before ceding power to recently elected Muhammadu Buhari, outgoing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a measure that criminalizes the controversial practice of female genital mutilation.
Many are hopeful that Nigeria’s groundbreaking legislation will start a sweeping new trend across the continent.
“It sends a powerful signal not only within Nigeria but across Africa,” noted J. Peter Pham, the director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council. “The measure effectively criminalizes a significant percentage of female mutilations on the African continent. One cannot overestimate the impact of any decision by Nigeria [on the continent].”
Those found guilty of this violation face a maximum punishment of four years incarceration and a 200,000 naira ($1,000) fine.
Currently, an estimated 20 million Nigerian women have endured this practice, causing an outrage among human rights advocates who are hopeful Nigeria’s unprecedented decision motivates a majority of the motherland’s countries to follow suit in abolishing the procedure, which many consider to be primitive.
Reports reveal that more than 125 million females have undergone some form of genital mutilation globally, with the majority of them concentrated in 29 countries. Only two of those countries are outside of Africa.
Jonathan was defeated by Buhari in March’s elections, making him the first Nigerian president to be unseated at the ballot box. Buhari was inaugurated as Nigeria’s fifth executive president at the end of this past May.
“It took a lame duck president and lame duck legislators who don’t have to face voters to undertake something that goes that much against the cultural norms or practices,” Pham told the International Business Times about the timing of the law.
Pham suggested that Jonathan had even done a favor for Buhari, who won’t have to face a future voter backlash on the controversial issue. “It’s already signed, and Buhari can say he’s simply enforcing the laws,” Pham stated.