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Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) bill seeks to strengthen protection laws

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Senate President, David Mark

Senate President, David Mark

IT was a cheery news for the sponsors of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) bill and indeed, the human rights community when the National Assembly recently passed the legislation after roughly 12 years in the hallowed chambers.

The intended law would prohibit certain hitherto practices and abuses that has been infringing on the rights of mostly women and girls in our society.

There is no doubt that our laws are inadequate and discriminatory with stringent standard of proof in protecting persons, especially women and girls from violence. Of significant concern is the fact that some provisions in the existing statutes inadvertently endorse gender based violence, which is socially tolerated by society on the basis of cultural constructs of the power relation between men and women, boys and girls in spheres of life.

And where legislation exist, they fall short of international standards in their scope, accountability or award of justice to survivors.

In his remarks, during the less than 25 minutes of passage of all the 46 clauses contained in the bill, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who took charge of the proceedings of the day’s plenary, described the passage of the bill as one that would provide adequate protection for the vulnerable in the society and punish those who take advantage of them. He also took the opportunity to commend the senators and other stakeholders for their efforts in ensuring that the bill was passed, adding that it was a good step in the fight against violence in the society.

The VAPP bill is an amalgam of nine different bills before the National Assembly and it also seeks to abolish all obsolete laws relating to the subject matter such as rape, assault and others. It brings them into present realities. Apart from the fact that the VAPP bill is an improvement on the penal and criminal code, it also make provision for compensation to victims and the protection of their rights.

Without doubt, Nigeria has arguably become a hot-bed for gender-based vices, to the extent that, a recent findings gave report that over 50 percent of women are abused in one form or another.

Of course, most Nigerians are aware of the menace of violations perpetrated against the womenfolk, from the cases of the likes of Akolade Arowolo, who was sentenced to death and still awaiting execution, for allegedly stabbing his banker-wife Titilayo 76 times, leading to her death to the case of the almost 300 Chibok girls who were adopted by the Boko Haram with impunity.

Another important point of note is that, most perpetrators of these crimes in our society cut across class, status and religion and it has become a daily occurence.

One is tempted to believe that if the VAPP bill had been passed before now, the situation would not have degenerated to the level where human lives have become a desecration with thousands of cases of women suffering in silence under different kind of abuses while the unlucky ones are out- rightly exterminated.

The VAPP bill also make provision for a regulatory or implementing commission that would ensure the implementation of the bill. Section 52 makes provision for the establishment of a special trust fund for the victims.

However, with a cursory look on the bill, it is obvious that it is indeed a populist bill. That is, if it is matched with proper enforcement, it is then it would go a long way in reducing incessant cases of abuses on women and others and also achieve the intended aims and purposes.

The highlight of the VAPP bill include the emphasis on definition of offences and prescription of punishments. For instance, a person that commits rape, if found guilty is liable to life imprisonment without option of fine. And for person under 14 years and guilty of same crime, he will be liable to 14 years imprisonment without option of fine.

For circumcision and genital mutilation, a practice that is still practiced in our society and even regarded as a culture will now attract four years imprisonment or an option of fine not exceeding N200,000 or both. For a person that attempts to incite, aid, abet or counsel another to carry out such circumcision or mutilation, he/she will also attract two years imprisonment or a fine not exceeding N100,000.

The VAPP bill also frowns at cases of forceful ejection by any marriage partner who forcefully evicts his/her partner from his or her home or refuse access. This also attract imprisonment ranging from one to three years with option of fine.

All traditional behaviours and attitudes that negatively affect the fundamental rights of women, girls or any person including harmful widowhood practices are henceforth, a thing of the past as according to the VAPP bill, it now attracts between one to two years imprisonment with fine of between N100,000 to N5000,000 as the law deem fit.

It is also a crime to abandon your spouse, children and other dependants without sustenance. Anyone guilty of this will face charges of imprisonment of not less than one year or a fine of not less than N100,000.

All these among many others are the innovations that the VAPP bill is intending to inculcate into our society. It will also set the standards for advocacy, content and synergy of action between government and civil society actors at state levels.

Reacting to this bill, a Partner in Alao, Lambo & Co Chambers, Charles Lambo, who also emphasized the need for proper implementation of the bill if it eventually becomes law, commended the National Assembly for passing the bill.

He recalled that most of the crimes stipulated in the VAPP bill had been in existence in the criminal code and also there are provisions for liberty of the citizen in sections 35, 40, and 41 of the constitution.

To Lambo, it is a welcomed development. For Him, the question is: will the law enforcement agents, like the police and the rest of them ensure that the laws are implemented, obeyed and the culprits are also made to face the consequences?

“Our law enforcement agents and institutions must be ready to complement this stride that is out to protect the vulnerable, because corruption has eroded values so much that most institutions that are meant to protect the people and contain these abuses are even ready to compromise at the slightest possible efforts”, he lamented.

Also, in a recent publication titled: Summary of the VAPP bill, by the Human rights Agenda Network (HRAN) on the implementation of VAPP bill, the organization raised controversial issues surrounding the bill which also bothered partly, on implementation among others as follows: The publication raised the apprehensions of duplicity of laws, considering the fact that existing laws adequately provided for most of the offences covered by the VAPP bill. HRAN argued further that it is not so much as absence or weakness in existing laws but that of weakness in implementation which often leads to failure to invoke and obtain justice using them.

Another issue raised is applicability and enforcement of the protection order (section 30, 31 and 32), which the bill provides for in abusive situations. The point here is that the weak economic status of women and in many situations, their absolute dependence on the male household head could be an impediment to the viability of the gains that could be made from enforcement of such protective orders.

The challenge of institutional arrangement of an agency was also raised and premised on the obvious cost implication of setting up a body to perform the functions provided in the bill.
Some of the offences in the VAPP bill are rejected as being alien to the cultural context of Nigeria and according to the human right publication, they are perceived as incursion and imposition. It will take advocacy and sensitization to deconstruct some of the fears and secure understanding of the offences.

One example is that of the offence of stalking, which means repeatedly watching, or loitering outside of or near the building or place where such person resides, works, carries on business, studies or happens to be; or repeatedly following, pursuing or accosting any person in a manner which induces fear or anxiety.

The definition of rape is another controversial area of the bill as raised by the publication. It argued that the provision was too wide with a potential for criminalizing even basic exhibition of affection between parents and children or siblings.

Still on the duplication of laws, a legal practitioner and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Olu Daramola from Afe Babalola & Co. chambers averred that “all these laws are already in existence and covered by the penal code, including issues of official corruption and others. Anything that has to do with violence against anybody, not women alone are in the penal code”.

IT was a cheery news for the sponsors of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) bill and indeed, the human rights community when the National Assembly recently passed the legislation after roughly 12 years in the hallowed chambers.

The intended law would prohibit certain hitherto practices and abuses that has been infringing on the rights of mostly women and girls in our society.

There is no doubt that our laws are inadequate and discriminatory with stringent standard of proof in protecting persons, especially women and girls from violence. Of significant concern is the fact that some provisions in the existing statutes inadvertently endorse gender based violence, which is socially tolerated by society on the basis of cultural constructs of the power relation between men and women, boys and girls in spheres of life.

And where legislation exist, they fall short of international standards in their scope, accountability or award of justice to survivors.

In his remarks, during the less than 25 minutes of passage of all the 46 clauses contained in the bill, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who took charge of the proceedings of the day’s plenary, described the passage of the bill as one that would provide adequate protection for the vulnerable in the society and punish those who take advantage of them. He also took the opportunity to commend the senators and other stakeholders for their efforts in ensuring that the bill was passed, adding that it was a good step in the fight against violence in the society.

The VAPP bill is an amalgam of nine different bills before the National Assembly and it also seeks to abolish all obsolete laws relating to the subject matter such as rape, assault and others. It brings them into present realities. Apart from the fact that the VAPP bill is an improvement on the penal and criminal code, it also make provision for compensation to victims and the protection of their rights.

Without doubt, Nigeria has arguably become a hot-bed for gender-based vices, to the extent that, a recent findings gave report that over 50 percent of women are abused in one form or another.

Of course, most Nigerians are aware of the menace of violations perpetrated against the womenfolk, from the cases of the likes of Akolade Arowolo, who was sentenced to death and still awaiting execution, for allegedly stabbing his banker-wife Titilayo 76 times, leading to her death to the case of the almost 300 Chibok girls who were adopted by the Boko Haram with impunity.

Another important point of note is that, most perpetrators of these crimes in our society cut across class, status and religion and it has become a daily occurence.

One is tempted to believe that if the VAPP bill had been passed before now, the situation would not have degenerated to the level where human lives have become a desecration with thousands of cases of women suffering in silence under different kind of abuses while the unlucky ones are out- rightly exterminated.

The VAPP bill also make provision for a regulatory or implementing commission that would ensure the implementation of the bill. Section 52 makes provision for the establishment of a special trust fund for the victims.

However, with a cursory look on the bill, it is obvious that it is indeed a populist bill. That is, if it is matched with proper enforcement, it is then it would go a long way in reducing incessant cases of abuses on women and others and also achieve the intended aims and purposes.

The highlight of the VAPP bill include the emphasis on definition of offences and prescription of punishments. For instance, a person that commits rape, if found guilty is liable to life imprisonment without option of fine. And for person under 14 years and guilty of same crime, he will be liable to 14 years imprisonment without option of fine.

For circumcision and genital mutilation, a practice that is still practiced in our society and even regarded as a culture will now attract four years imprisonment or an option of fine not exceeding N200,000 or both. For a person that attempts to incite, aid, abet or counsel another to carry out such circumcision or mutilation, he/she will also attract two years imprisonment or a fine not exceeding N100,000.

The VAPP bill also frowns at cases of forceful ejection by any marriage partner who forcefully evicts his/her partner from his or her home or refuse access. This also attract imprisonment ranging from one to three years with option of fine.

All traditional behaviours and attitudes that negatively affect the fundamental rights of women, girls or any person including harmful widowhood practices are henceforth, a thing of the past as according to the VAPP bill, it now attracts between one to two years imprisonment with fine of between N100,000 to N5000,000 as the law deem fit.

It is also a crime to abandon your spouse, children and other dependants without sustenance. Anyone guilty of this will face charges of imprisonment of not less than one year or a fine of not less than N100,000.

All these among many others are the innovations that the VAPP bill is intending to inculcate into our society. It will also set the standards for advocacy, content and synergy of action between government and civil society actors at state levels.

Reacting to this bill, a Partner in Alao, Lambo & Co Chambers, Charles Lambo, who also emphasized the need for proper implementation of the bill if it eventually becomes law, commended the National Assembly for passing the bill.

He recalled that most of the crimes stipulated in the VAPP bill had been in existence in the criminal code and also there are provisions for liberty of the citizen in sections 35, 40, and 41 of the constitution.

To Lambo, it is a welcomed development. For Him, the question is: will the law enforcement agents, like the police and the rest of them ensure that the laws are implemented, obeyed and the culprits are also made to face the consequences?

“Our law enforcement agents and institutions must be ready to complement this stride that is out to protect the vulnerable, because corruption has eroded values so much that most institutions that are meant to protect the people and contain these abuses are even ready to compromise at the slightest possible efforts”, he lamented.

Also, in a recent publication titled: Summary of the VAPP bill, by the Human rights Agenda Network (HRAN) on the implementation of VAPP bill, the organization raised controversial issues surrounding the bill which also bothered partly, on implementation among others as follows: The publication raised the apprehensions of duplicity of laws, considering the fact that existing laws adequately provided for most of the offences covered by the VAPP bill. HRAN argued further that it is not so much as absence or weakness in existing laws but that of weakness in implementation which often leads to failure to invoke and obtain justice using them.

Another issue raised is applicability and enforcement of the protection order (section 30, 31 and 32), which the bill provides for in abusive situations. The point here is that the weak economic status of women and in many situations, their absolute dependence on the male household head could be an impediment to the viability of the gains that could be made from enforcement of such protective orders.

The challenge of institutional arrangement of an agency was also raised and premised on the obvious cost implication of setting up a body to perform the functions provided in the bill.
Some of the offences in the VAPP bill are rejected as being alien to the cultural context of Nigeria and according to the human right publication, they are perceived as incursion and imposition. It will take advocacy and sensitization to deconstruct some of the fears and secure understanding of the offences.

One example is that of the offence of stalking, which means repeatedly watching, or loitering outside of or near the building or place where such person resides, works, carries on business, studies or happens to be; or repeatedly following, pursuing or accosting any person in a manner which induces fear or anxiety.

The definition of rape is another controversial area of the bill as raised by the publication. It argued that the provision was too wide with a potential for criminalizing even basic exhibition of affection between parents and children or siblings.

Still on the duplication of laws, a legal practitioner and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Olu Daramola from Afe Babalola & Co. chambers averred that “all these laws are already in existence and covered by the penal code, including issues of official corruption and others. Anything that has to do with violence against anybody, not women alone are in the penal code”.

Daramola opined that Nigeria likes multiplying something and at the end it creates problem within the society. “All that we need to do is to amend the criminal code in a manner that it will be in line with current development in the society, not the creation of new laws because they are not bringing anything new”, he stated.

The point here is that the VAPP bill is a consolidation of several bills which has been introduced at the National Assembly since 1999 and ever since, no issues had been raised about it been part of the penal code even in the face of prevalence menace of violations and abused of rights of women and the girls among other vulnerable persons in our society.

Therefore, if our legislators are now out to criminalized all these inhuman treatments and that even some State Houses of Assembly have adapted the bill while others States too had already introduced it, it is a good thing, but it has to be followed with unmitigated implementation, if the efforts are not meant to be defeated.


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