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New anti-rape law: Fresh hope in Sokoto’s fight against GBV

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Governor Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State. Photo/facebook/AMINUWAZIRITAMBUWAL

A widespread sigh of relief greeted the passage of Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill in Sokoto; six years after the law came into effect in Nigeria.

The State House of Assembly’s passing of the Bill to supplement the Penal Code Law, 2019, and provide for the punishment of offences relating to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) comes in the wake of a disturbing wave of violence against women and girls in the state.

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In Sokoto, 32.8 per cent of ever-married women aged 15-49 have experienced emotional, physical or sexual violence committed by their current or most recent husband/partner, according to the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) 2018.

It also notes that 8.6 per cent of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence since age 15, while 5.4 per cent of women (15-49) have experienced genital mutilation, and 0.7 per cent percentage of women experienced violence during pregnancy.

Recent data on sexual and gender-based violence in Sokoto showed 725 reported cases in 15 months. 426 GBV cases March 2020 -November 2020, and 297 cases January 2021 to June 2021, reveals Rabiu Bello Gandi, Coordinator Sokoto State Sexual and Gender-based Violence and Child Protection Response Team (SGBV/CP – RT), under the Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year partnership between the European Union and the United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030.

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The statistics came to light during the Spotlight Partners Coordination meeting in November 2020 and the 2021 coordination meeting for the half-year.
“The number of violations daily had been on the increase hence the need for the relevant legal framework as VAPP cannot be overemphasised to protect survivors and bring perpetrators to book,” Gandi says.

“This Bill before gaining its current position had undergone scrutiny, controversies and considerations that suit the people of Sokoto State with respect to the environment and Religious/socio-cultural norms. What was and remains paramount is Bill’s goal of protecting, preserving and promoting the Rights and Dignity of Persons of all gender.”

Many are excited that the bill redefines rape, covers abandonment of spouse, children, circumcision of a girl or women, domestic relationships and violence, recognises the right of survivors to appropriate compensation, and provides for a register for convicted sexual offenders made accessible to the public.

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“It is all-embracing; it will curb rampant cases of gender-based violence and will bring succour to women and children who have been experiencing rampant cases of SGBV,” a secondary school teacher in Sokoto, Ummu Ibrahim, observes.

Chair, Sokoto State House Committee on Judiciary, Justice and Human Rights, Alhaji Maidawa Kajiji provides illumination on the Bill. “Whoever commits rape shall be punished with imprisonment for life or a term of not less than 21 years provided the offender is 14 years of age, shall be liable to imprisonment for a term, not more than 14 years, while below shall be less than 12 years,” he explains.

“However, in the case of rape by a group of persons, the offenders are jointly liable to a term of imprisonment of not less than 25 years without an option of fine while any person who rapes a child shall be liable to life imprisonment.”

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On female circumcision or mutilation, he says an offender is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding four years or a fine not less than N200,000 or both.

“Also, a person who abandons a wife or husband, children or other dependents without any means of sustenance shall serve imprisonment term not exceeding three years or fine not exceeding N500,000 or both and pay compensation in addition,” Kajiji states.

He adds it provides that compensation of survivors be created in which for all offences in the law, the court shall in addition to penalties, provide for the offences, award appropriate compensation to the survivors as it may deem fit in the circumstance.

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A Sokoto- based legal practitioner, Barrister Rashidah Mohammed, speaks on how VAPP Bill strengthens the law against rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence in Sokoto State.

“We do have laws before the VAPP Act just that the difference between the VAPP Act and what we have now is that there are areas of SGBV that has not covered by our Penal Code Laws and in other laws that we had, like the definition of rape in the penal code differs from the VAPP, domestic violence has been categorically defined, and punishment for that prescribed in VAPP ACT is encompassing, it has gone wide,” she states.

“When they enacted the children and young person’s laws, there were certain things that the legislators did not aver their minds to, though because the prevalence of SGBV was not that much then, so now with what we have daily, some that are not actually rape but sometimes there is the confusion of which laws to charge them with, but with this VAPP Act now, we are going to have accelerated trials in SGBV cases.”

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“We want to make a change, wake up from the slumber, we want to call wrong as being wrong we want to call a spade a spade,” she says. “We are the ones committing these crimes; we are the ones investigating these crimes, we are the ones prosecuting them, we are the ones as judges. Are we ready to come together and work as one to make sure that we properly implement this law in Sokoto?”

However, some have called on the Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal to assent with no delay.

The SGBV Response Team points out: “The first phase of success been the passage of this Bill will be useless if it is not assented by His Excellency, the Executive Gov. of Sokoto State, Gov. Aminu Tambuwal who has before now through His great strides and past commitments been identified as a frontline Leader with a huge interest in ending GBV in Sokoto State.”

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“Therefore, in a bid to Eliminate Violence Against Persons and for posterity’s sake, Sokoto state sexual and gender-based violence and child protection response team (SGBV/CP – RT) solicits the authority of His Excellency Gov. Tambuwal the Executive Governor of Sokoto State to kindly assent the Sokoto State VAPP Bill which of course shall count as one of the landmark achievements in his government and something that the present government shall forever be thanked for.”

A survivor’s mother, Hajiya Aisha, also noted that implementation had been abysmal despite the existing laws against rape for a very long time. She identifies a need to ensure proper implementation of the VAPP law in the state.

Aisha is optimistic that the VAPP law will be effective in curtailing SGBV if dispassionately applied.

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