Nigeria: 3 Months After, States Yet to Domesticate Anti-Rape Law

12 September 2020

About three months after governors of the 36 states of the federation agreed to declare a state of emergency on rape, most of the state Houses of Assembly are yet to pass the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill for the state chief executives to sign into law.

LEADERSHIP Weekend recalls that in June this year, the governors under the auspices of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) had agreed to declare state of emergency following the public outcry over growing cases of rape in the country.

Investigations by this paper revealed that 23 out of the 36 states of the federation are yet to domesticate the VAPP Act five years after the Act was signed into law.

Although the Rivers State House of Assembly passed the VAPP Bill 2019 into law in January, 2020, Governor Nyesom Wike is yet to sign the bill into law.

In July 2020, the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) prompted the governor on the need to sign the VAPP Bill into law.

Speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend in Port Harcourt, the director of Programmes, CEHRD, Steyvn Obodokwe, said rape and other gender-based violence have continued to increase on daily basis in the state.

Obodokwe said, "The passing of the VAPP Bill by the State Assembly is highly commendable. We wonder what the governor is waiting for to append his signature to it for it to become part of the state laws.

"Having said that, I don't think rape and other gender-based violence in society are on the decline. Rape occurs on a regular basis. The challenge, which can sometimes create the wrong impression that it is not happening, is that the incidences often go unreported in the media.

"Many victims often are ashamed of reporting that they were raped as a result of the social perception of rape victims. Sometimes, those who muster the courage to seek redress hardly get justice and this discourages others from reporting."

Also speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend, South-South zonal chairman of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Chinedu Karl Uchegbu, said in the past two weeks, there had been reports of rape cases involving three minors, a married woman who was drugged and raped by her pastor and a widow who was raped by a police officer.

Uchegbu lamented that on the contrary cases of rape and other forms of violent sexual attacks have continued to increase instead of declining.

He continued: "In the past two weeks, we have had reports of rape cases involving three minors, married woman who was drugged and raped by her pastor and the Ogoni widow who was raped by a police officer.

"Also, many cases go unreported out of fear of stigmatization or intimidation. So we believe that the early assent to this law and its enforcement may stem the tide of this scourge."

In Abia State, despite the fact that indigenes have been voicing their worries over the rising spate of rape in the country, there has been no visible action by either the state government or the State House of Assembly to end it.

Surprisingly, this is not as if there have not been instances of the societal malady, which even both aged and underage have not been spared of the menace in the state.

LEADERSHIP Weekend findings showed that cases of such misdemeanors are pending in courts, while there have been instances where reports of such abuses are still being investigated either by the communities or the security agencies.

Recently, both the state chapters of the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) and the International Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA) organised a peaceful protest against the scourge in the state capital, Umuahia.

Speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend about the continued increase of the scourge, NAWOJ secretary, Comrade Ifeanyi Ashikodi, condemned the rising cases in very strong terms, urging government at all levels in the country to stand up against it.

She said, "Going by the way it is becoming a daily occurrence, it could degenerate to a situation where it could happen in public as daylight robbery. We all must stand up now to be heard."

Meanwhile, the domesticated Violence Against Person Prohibition bill passed the second reading in the Jigawa State House of Assembly on September 3, 2020.

The bill was, however, sent to the state assembly by Governor Muhammad Badaru Abubakar as an executive bill after generating public inputs facilitated by a coalition of civil society and media headed by Village Development Initiative (VILDEVI).

The state governor expressed dismay about the increase in the rape cases and other violence against vulnerable persons in the state, describing the situation as unacceptable.

He added that all hands must be on deck to tackle the problem.

According to the state director of VILDEV who championed the campaign for the domestication and adaptations of the bill, Comrade Lawal Ya'u Abdullahi, although the VAPP law is a national law, it was amended to be in tandem with the religious and good cultural belief of the state populace.

During one of the stakeholders meeting attended by Islamic clerics, traditional rulers, legislators, members of the judiciary and the executive, they expressed concern about rampant cases of violence against persons in schools, markets and homes, saying most of these cases were suppressed by both parents and the public.

The meeting also urged the state government to establish sexual assault referral centres in all general hospitals and deploy trained focal persons to properly handle all reported rape cases and prefer report for legal action.

The stakeholders, however, called for strict adherence to laws against perpetrators to serve as a deterrent to others that derive pleasure in such heinous acts.

More so, the meeting maintained that the VAPP bill, when passed, will reduce the rampant violence against persons and punishment of offenders would be made effective.

In Delta State, as part of measures taken to address the issues of rape and violence against persons, the state government has legislated into law a bill seeking to domesticate the VAPP Act.

The executive director at International Centre For Women Empowerment and Child Development (ICWECD), and senior special assistant to the Delta State governor on Child Rights, Barr Bridget Anyafulu, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the bill has been passed by the State Assembly and is awaiting governor Ifeanyi Okowa's assent.

She added that the fight against child abuse had been intensified in the state, noting that by the end of this September the state will inaugurate community ambassadors in all the wards to serve as child rights implementation committee members.

She lauded the VAPP Act for specifying the violence against persons.

Correspondingly, as part of efforts to curb the incessant incidences of rape and pedophilia, Bauchi State government has adopted and domesticated the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill.

Assenting to the bill passed by the State House Assembly, Governor Bala Mohammed assured that no rapist will be spared in the state.

"With the passage of the VAPP Law, I want to assure the good people of Bauchi State that my administration will not forgive rapist", the governor said.

The state government has equally formed an action committee for implementation of the VAPP law which was domiciled under the office of the First Lady, Aisha Bala Mohammed.

The state action committee, among other things, will provide prosecution fees and support victims with legal backing.

The first lady, during a courtesy call to the governor on Wednesday, said the state action committee will provide rehabilitation centres where victims who suffer from psychological trauma arising from abuses will be rehabilitated.

The first lady who decried the rising cases of rape and domestic violence said her office recently supported a four-year-old victim of rape in the metropolis who was defiled inside a Mosque.

In Imo State, the coordinator of the state committee on Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (ISCEVAWG), Marjorie Ezihe, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that after the state of emergency declared by the governors, rape and sexual crimes have reduced in the state.

Ezihe said already the VAPP bill has passed through the readings before the House of Assembly and at committee stage.

According to her, the bill is scheduled for passage when the state House of Assembly reconvenes from their recess.

Ezihe disclosed that the First Lady, Barrister Chioma Uzodimma, has declared her readiness to see the bill passed.

She disclosed that the more prevalent sexual crimes in Imo State revolve around those considered incestuous, involving fathers and their daughters, siblings and extended family members.

Speaking with our correspondent in Jos, the chairperson of the Plateau State chapter of the National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Mrs Jennifer Yerima, said the menace is on the high side but not alarming as it was before now.

According to her, what is being experienced in the state is the rape of minors and young girls.

She pointed out that NAWOJ has been collaborating with the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies, including CSOs through advocacy with a view to raising awareness to curb the menace in the society.

Similarly, the director, Centre for Human Rights and the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons, Barr John Tsok said both the Child Rights Act and the Child Rights Law of Plateau State have provisions that state that family courts shall be established to handle matters that border on child offenders and the victims.

According to him, courts to be established will have Magisterial and High Court jurisdiction respectively because as for rape cases, they can only be tried by the High Court, stressing that both federal and state governments should hasten the establishment of the family courts to handle such abuses.

Also, Cross River State Attorney-general and commissioner for Justice, Barr Tanko Ashang, said the state does not require twitting at the moment.

According to him, rape carries a penalty of life imprisonment and that punishment is not just netted on rape but on attempted rape which carries 14 years imprisonment.

However, Barr James Ibor, chairperson of Child Network Cross River State, stated that the violence against person prohibition law is currently undergoing different processes of the law in the State House of Assembly.

He stressed that it was just too early to comment on the law is making progress or not.

"Between June and now is too early to make an assessment. Generally, we had expected and had been pushing that the Cross River State government set up a centre that can render medical services to the survival of sexual assault. We are also pushing for the police to be more and more professional against cases of sexual assault," he said.

Ibor maintained that if proper training is given to police, a forensic proper investigation can be carried out.

He called for proper training, better welfare, and good funding for the police so that they can be in a proper position to execute their job regarding cases of rape.

When asked to state if cases of rape are on the high or low side for now, Ibor who was evasive in his answer stated that with increased awareness, more people are responding in terms of providing a report for necessary assistance.

Also, investigations by LEADERSHIP Weekend also revealed that Sokoto State is among the few in the country that is yet to pass the Violence Against Persons Prohibition law.

The state is equally among the few that hasn't domesticated child right acts.

The International Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA) in Sokoto said it is planning an advocacy visit to the state House of Assembly to make them see reasons why the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law should be adopted in the state.

Speaking at a one day workshop preparatory to the planned advocacy visit, Mr IfeanyiChukwu Eze, the programme officer and FIDA Nigeria UNSI focal person in Sokoto State said their target is to develop a concrete advocacy plan on improved budgetary allocation on gender matters.

Mr Ifeanyi also added that the meeting was a follow up to the last training organized in Sokoto by FIDA NIGERIA Sokoto State branch under the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative on the provisions of the NAP on Gender and Governments accountability for budget allocation and release, and monitoring of the budget utilization.

According to him, the workshop brings together CSOs and all relevant stakeholders to a collective practical review of the past Sokoto State-approved budgets to identify the gaps in the budget structure with respect to gender-responsive budgeting and proposing components that are needed to improve the budget allocation for gender-related matters

Imo State ranks among the top states that have domesticated the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPPA).

The state government through the Imo State House of Assembly has since passed into law the Bill to Eliminate Violence in Private and Public Life, which prohibits all forms of violence, including physical, sexual, psychological, domestic and harmful traditional practices.

The law enacted by the State House of Assembly stresses that everyone has the right to freedom, security and the right to be free from all forms of violence.

Consequently, the law recommended life imprisonment for a person convicted of rape but states that where the victim is less than 14 years of age, the offender shall be liable to a minimum of 14 years imprisonment.

The programme director, Development Dynamics, Dr. Jude Ohanele, highlighted that the prevalence of rape cases in the state is within manageable dimension as reports are not trooping in unlike at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to him, the curve is coming down, even as he advised the courts to dispense cases related to rape with utmost dispatch, as this would serve as a deterrent to intending offenders.

Ohanele also called on the victims of rape to always come forward and report to the appropriate authorities, noting that if cases are not brought forward it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the authorities to take action.

Also, the Anambra State Police Command has expressed helplessness in prosecuting suspected rapists, blaming families of the victims of stalling trials of the suspects in the court.

This is even as the state House of Assembly has prescribed life imprisonment for rape offenders.

Spokesman of the state police command, Superintendent of Police (SP) Haruna Mohammed, told LEADERSHIP Weekend yesterday in a telephone interview that while the command had been arresting people involved in rape, parents of the victims would go behind and negotiate a settlement with the offender, and thereafter refuse to allow the victim to go to court to testify when the suspected offender is charged to court.

Haruna stated that the command a few days ago arrested and paraded three suspected rape offenders, adding that their prosecution in court was being hampered because families of the victims have said that they do not want their daughters to go to testify in the court.

The State House of Assembly had in 2017 passed a law that prescribes life imprisonment for any person convicted of rape.

The law is cited as "Violence Against Persons ( Prohibition) Law, 2017, which enforcement came into effect from October 3, 2017 in part 11specifically dwelt of issues of rape.

Part 11(1)of the Anambra state Assembly Law states "A person commits the offence of rape if he or she intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with any other part of his or her body or anything else; the other person does not consent to the penetration or the consent is obtained by force or means of threat or intimidation of any kind or by fear of harm or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act of the use of any substance or additive capable of taking away the will of such person or in the case of a married person by impersonating his or her spouse."

Reacting in an interview, former president of Rotary Club of Awka Metropolis, District 9142, Mrs Joy Mbachu, faulted the life imprisonment prescribed for rape offenders by the Anambra State Assembly stating that the law should have rather been made to be correctional.

As part of efforts to ensure total eradication of gender-based violence among the people, Akwa Ibom State government through the state ministry of Women Affairs has carried out a successful legal battle against rapists in the state and secured over nine judgments in the court where the offenders are facing different jail terms, while other cases are ongoing to serve as deterrent to others.

According to Dr Gloria Edet, the state commissioner for Women Affairs judgment against rapists will serve as a warning to others who may be nursing such plans.

The state government she said has also approved the establishment of Gender-based Violence (GBV) Referral Centres in the three senatorial districts of the state.

The referral centres established in each of the three Senatorial Districts of the state have Methodist General Hospital, Ituk Mbang serving Uyo Senatorial District, General Hospital Ikot Ekpene for Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District and the Agape Centre in Eket for Eket Senatorial District.

The centres have Medical Doctors that examine and treat rape cases, and social welfare officers to take care of the psychological needs of victims as well as legal practitioners to handle the legal processes required to ensure that culprits face the wrath of the law.

Similarly, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has passed into law the free and compulsory medical care for victims of rape in the state.

The sponsor of the bill and deputy Speaker, Princess Felicia Bassey, explained that the law will help in the validation of rape cases and also encourage rape victims to speak up.

Besides, he said the law would enhance speedy prosecution as well as ensure justice on rape cases in the state.

Minister Advocates Death Penalty For Rapists

Meanwhile, the minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, has advocated death penalty for rape and related offences.

Tallen made her stand public during the glag-off of National Cooking Gas and Tree Planting project held in Girei town, headquarter of Girei Local Government Area of Adamawa on Friday.

The minister also advocated stiff penalty for child labour offences and other dehumanizing treatment against children.

Tallen said, "For the first time in the history of Nigeria, we have a President who has brought the issues of gender based violence to the national focus. Nigerian women and children are very grateful to Mr President for spotlighting their issues as crucial to national development.

"I, therefore, advocate for both death sentence for rapists and stiff penalty for child labour offences and other dehumanizing treatment against children".

She said that the Cooking Gas and Tree Planting project was inspired by President Muhammadu Buhari in providing dividends of democracy to Nigerian indigent rural women and girls.

Tallen sestated World Health Organization (WHO) report that emission from cook stoves killed about 4.3 million people annually through air pollution.

The minister said the event was to create awareness and sensitize the public, particularly women and other stakeholders, on the effects of using firewood for cooking.

"In line with this, the President directed that each of Nigeria's 774 LGAs be supplied 1,000 cooking gas cylinders each. Adamawa State has been supplied with 21,000 Gas Cylinders at 1000 for each of the 21 Local Government Areas (LGAs). The development is Presidential gesture to be distributed to women in the rural communities, wards and down to the remotest villages," she said.

She said President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2019 session of the United Nations General Assembly pledged to plant 25 million trees within one year.

Tallen noted that the planting of economic trees in the state was to stimulate green environment, stem climate change and the effect of deforestation in the communities.

In his remarks, Gov. Ahmadu Fintiri, thanked President Buhari for kicking off the cooking gas and tree planting project in Adamawa.

Fintiri, represented by his Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Bashir Ahmed, said that Adamawa government would work closely with the federal government to achieve the goals of conserving and protection of the environment.

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