VAPP Act yet to take roots in North-Central – NAN Survey

Domestication of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act has yet to fully take off in the North-Central, as many states in the zone have not effected the law.

A survey by the News Agency of Nigeria(NAN) revealed that while Benue has domesticated the Act, some others were still in the process of doing so.

The survey found that the Act was domesticated in Benue in 2019, according to the State’s Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mrs Ngunan Addingi.

Addingi disclosed that the bill for the domestication of the Act was sponsored by her, when she was a member of the State House of Assembly between 2015 and 2019.

She said that the enactment of the law had helped in the prosecution of offenders that were not captured in the Penal Laws of the state.

A legal practitioner in the state, Mr Polycarp Aande, gave the background of the Act, saying that the document was signed into law on May 25, 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan, and that the law was aimed at eliminating violence both in public and private spheres.

Aande said that the Act had commendably covered most of the prevalent forms of violence that could be categorised into physical violence, psychological violence, sexual violence, harmful traditional practices and socio-economic violence.

The former Secretary-General, Makurdi branch, Nigerian Bar Association(NBA), said the Act had comprehensively dealt with one of the most vexed forms of sexual violence – rape.

” The existing penal laws protect only females and limited to vaginal penetration.

“The Act has expanded the scope to protect males and include anal and oral sex as well as protect the identity of rape victims.

“Prohibition of several offences not previously considered as crimes such as emotional abuse, abandonment, forced eviction amongst others.

“A minor can apply for protection order without assistance of a parent, with a supporting affidavit and clear acknowledgement of International law section.38 (1),” he said.

He said the act further recognised the role of service providers and acknowledged that government alone would not be able to provide all the services.

Aande said the Act also made provision for the appointment of a coordinator on domestic violence, who would ensure information on implementation including statistical data.

Also, some lawyers and lawmakers in the state said the Act came into existence as soon as Gov. Samuel Ortom assented to the bill.

They, however, faulted the missing information link in the Act and said it was responsible for many citizens not taking advantage of the law to file charges against offenders.

Mr Mike Asoh, a former Chairman of the NBA, Makurdi branch, said that the non awareness creation was the only missing link in the law.

Asoh regretted that few people knew that the law criminalised certain conducts and those who felt aggrieved by such acts considered offensive by the Act could actually resort to the law to seek judicial redress.

“Certain conducts such as Gender-Based Violence, Spouse Abuse, Rape and others could be complained against where they exist, but not many people know that a law exists which criminalises such acts, ” he said.

Another respondent, Mr Tertsea Gbiseh, member representing Kwande East in the Benue House of Assembly, also said the law did not receive adequate publicity.

Gbiseh, who is also the Chairman, House Standing Committee on Information, said the government needed to sensitise the people to the benefits of the law using the mass media instruments.

In Nasarawa State, however, the Act has not been domesticated, and this prompted a call by Hajiya Habiba Abdullahi-Sani, President (Amirah) of the state chapter of Federation of Muslim Women Association in Nigeria (FOMWAN), for the domestication of the Act.

Abdullahi-Sani said the Act was a law that guaranteed protection of the rights of victims of all forms and sexual and gender-based violence in the country, which if domesticated, would drastically reduce cases of child abuse.

She noted that the Act was not only about women but also about males and females.

She decried the lack of awareness about the Act, particularly in the local communities, which according to her, had led to increase in gender-based violence, especially incest.

“It is highly regrettable and disheartening that we are hearing cases of a father raping his own four-year-old daughter; or an uncle defiling his three-month old niece; one begins to wonder what could lead a man to commit such crime.

“I am sure if the Act is fully implemented by states it will address some if this ungodly acts, because perpetrators of the dastardly acts know there is penalty for anyone who tries it,” the president said.

The president added that although the state had yet to domesticate the act, a strong advocacy was going on to ensure its domestication.

Similarly, the Act has yet to be domesticated in Plateau, and as such, the state chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), has been calling for its urgent domestication.

The Chairperson of the chapter, Mrs Mary Izam, who made the call, expressed the need for the State House of Assembly to pass the bill toward its subsequent domestication.

“This should be done without any further delay as the Act, if domesticated, will take care of the gap in the penal code concerning rape and gender-based violence.

“The legislators said that they were working on many bills and would get to the one of VAPP Act, very soon; so, we are still waiting, ” Izam said.

On her part,Mrs Olawunmi Okupe, Media Advocacy Officer, Women Voice in Leadership in Nigeria, disclosed that the bill for the Act had passed the public hearing stage at the house toward its domestication in the state.

“Presently, the bill is left with the legislature to hasten the process to domesticate the Act as it is long overdue, ” Okupe said.

In Kogi, the Chairman of the State House of Assembly’s Joint Committee on Women Affairs and Judiciary, Mr Cosmas Atabor, said the bill for the Act had passed the first and second reading, adding that its public hearing had been conducted and “By God’s grace, the bill will be passed soon”.

Atabor (APC-Igalamela/Odolu), explained that legislation on the bill suffered a setback as a result of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent #EndSARS protests which culminating into violence.

According to him, the bill came in the earlier part of the year with the COVID-19 issues springing up about the same time, resulting in the inability of the House to sit for some time.

“When eventually the pandemic eased and we sat, the bill was committed to my committee and we were just lucky to have done the public hearing on Oct. 10, before the #EndSARS problem came.

“So many memoranda were presented during the public hearing and so, it took the technical committee a while to put everything together to amend the bill and to get to the point we are now.

“By next week, the report will be laid and it will be given the third and final reading for eventual passage, by God’s grace and hopefully, it will be assented to by the Governor,’’ he said.

Ms Eunice Agbogun, Executive Director, Challenged Parenthood Initiative (CPI), a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), also said that the report on the public hearing was ready for presentation.

“We have held the public hearing and the bills is now at the stage of third reading. Once passed, a clean copy of it will be sent to the governor for his assent and for eventual domestication.

On the hiccups that delayed the passage of the bill, Agbogun said her organisation, CPI, with support from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) had been following up on the document till the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic affected the speed at which we were going. The public hearing which was earlier scheduled for March could not hold as a result of the pandemic,’’ she said.

Mr Idris Miliki, an activist and Executive Director, Conscience for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution (CHRCR), Lokoja, called for speedy passage of the bill by the House.

“Now the bill is still at the legislative assembly. So, as it is now, we can only call for its speedy passage because many other States have passed it’’.

Mr Friday Ogungbemi, a publisher and rights activist presented a memorandum during the public hearing.

Ogungbemi described the general principle and intent of the Act as “beautiful and excellent’’, but noted that its applicability would be an uphill task to accomplish.

He, however, observed that the bill was an interesting one and was capable of addressing major challenging issues, especially violence against vulnerable persons and vices against the female gender in the society.

The situation is the same in Taraba where a lawyer, Mr Tanko Ayuba of Ayuba Chambers called on the State Government to domesticate the Act in the state.

Ayuba said that the implementation of the Act would go along way in addressing all violent crimes against persons.

According to him, the Act that was enacted since 2015, had yet to be domesticated in the state.

He also said that the law, if domesticated, would address crimes such as rape and injuries on persons.

Similarly, Mrs Helen Aboki, Executive Director, Advocacy for Women and Child Rights, urged the state government to domesticate the Act.

Aboki said that her organisation would not rest until the state government domesticate the Act.(NAN)