Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Federal Government has announced that it will take decisive action against rapists, henceforth, describing the upsurge as embarrassing.
As part of the measures, it has decided to push for the domestication of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPPA), 2015, in states, to ensure rapists face deserved punishment for their actions.
Out of the 36 states of the federation, only nine have domesticated the VAPPA law.
The VAPPA defines rape as when a person intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with any other part of his/her body or anything else without consent, or with incorrectly obtained consent. Consent can be incorrectly obtained where it is obtained: by force/threats/intimidation; by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act, by the use of substances capable of taking away the will of that person; by a person impersonating a married woman’s husband in order to have sex.
Child Rights Act (CRA), provides that sex with a child is rape, and anyone who has sexual intercourse with a child is liable to imprisonment for life upon conviction.
Federal Executive Council (FEC), presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, took the decision following a memo presented by the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, following the outrage that has greeted high cases of rape and gender-based violence in the country, as a result of lockdown necessitated by the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19).
Outrage had trailed the death of Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, a 22-year-old Microbiology student, raped and killed in an empty church in Benin City.
Also, 18-year-old Barakat Bello, who was taking her bath, was raped and macheted to death in Ibadan, Oyo State.
Fourteen men in Jigawa State, were reported to have repeatedly raped a minor.
Briefing State House correspondents at the end of the fourth virtual meeting, which lasted seven hours, Tallen said members of council were unanimous in their decision.
She said: “I’m sure you are aware that, for the past few weeks, the country has been witnessed a lot of outrage and outcry because of the pandemic within the pandemic that we are facing.
“I know before COVID-19, we have always had pandemic of rape cases and gender-based violence. But with the lockdown due to COVID-19, women and children are locked down with their abusers and the number has escalated three times. There is no state that is an exception. This has reached an embarrassing situation that a memo was presented in council, calling for immediate intervention, legal and prompt dispensation of justice in the cases. Because, from the statistics we have and from the meetings I had with the 36 states commissioners of women affairs, we have hundreds of cases within our courts that have not been addressed. And out of one case that has been reported, be sure they are 10 others that have not been reported. As a result, we called for aggressive media campaigns, public enlightenment for people to rise up and picket against abuse of minors and rape cases.
“We also called on the judiciary for prompt dispensation of cases and the police to ensure rape cases are not treated with levity or wished away.
“These are issues that were presented before council and I am happy to announce that we got the full support of Mr. President and all members of council, that government will take decisive actions at the highest level to protect women and children in this country.”
Tallen said the council noted that there was a law already, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, 2015.
“That act covers everything but our problem is lack of domestication of that act. Out of the 36 states, only nine states. While the council was on, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, also invited me to come and brief them on the same topic, because it has reached an alarming stage. I am happy to announce that the governors gave me 100 per cent, they are committed to join hands with the ministry to fight this dreaded scourge. Because, it is horrific because embarrassment is an understatement, it doesn’t give Nigeria a good image.
“We are destroying the future generation because, if you rape a child, you have destroyed that child for life and that is not acceptable.”
On the involvement of traditional rulers in the enlightenment campaign, Tallen said not only will the traditional rulers be engaged, religious leaders will be engaged as well. She said the ministries of information and culture and women affairs development will collaborate and launch a media advocacy campaign to aggressively address the issue at all levels because, most of the atrocities take place in rural areas.
“As soon as COVID-19 is cleared, we will move out with the minister of information on advocacy round the country.”
On the issues of minors being mostly affected, Tallen described it as most serious and most disturbing.
According to her, “I have put in place a team, in fact, a research is going on at all the state levels, while we have the national data collection at the ministry.
“We are also working closely with National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), to find out the reasons why a man of 80, 75, 60 will rape a child of one, two years.
“In fact, the recent one in Kaduna is a father raping his daughter of three months. He had been doing that until the child turned nine months and he was caught. So many horrible cases that will break your heart. I think there is more to it. It is either diabolical or mental cases.
“So, these are the issues and a research is going on to identify (them) because the ministry of health is also concerned and we are working with them. There are issues of mental health and other issues that need to be addressed.”