(From Lucy Osuizigbo-Okechukwu, NAN)
The Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act is gradually taking roots in the South East, as most states have domesticated the law, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports.
A NAN Survey, however, indicated that the states were slow in implementing the law, in spite of its domestication.
The VAPP Act provides a legislative and legal framework for the prevention of all forms of violence against vulnerable persons especially women and young girls in Nigeria.
In Anambra, a lawmaker in the State House of Assembly, Mr Nonso Okafor, said that the government was working to ensure full implementation of the law.
“The law came into existence in the state just a few years ago and the government is trying to co-opt various bodies including Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), faith-based organisations among others towards effective implementation of the law,” he said.
Mrs Chioma Okeke, founder, Shoulder for Gender Support and Development Initiative, an NGO identified victims’ withdrawal as a major challenge in the implementation of the law in the state.
“Most times, the state and the police are ready to prosecute the cases in court, we find out that the victims do not want to come out and when they do, they withdraw the matter at some point.
“Victims of abuse need to speak up and come out to testify in court. It will help ease their pain and justice will be served, and when offenders are brought to book, it will serve as a deterrent to others,” she said.
Mrs Eucharia Anekwe, Convener, Gender Perspective on Social Development Centre, also an NGO noted that the court and law enforcement agents had not put the law into use.
“Though the state government has set up a VAPP Committee in the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, but the challenge is that the police do not react positively to cases of abuse.
“They always asked victims and families to settle out of court when they should put the law to use. This is not supposed to be so,” she said.
Prof. Theresa Anigbogu, Founder of Women Foundation for Improved Living Standard, also an NGO, identified lack of awareness of the content of the law by key players, especially those in the communities where gender-based violence, were mostly perpetrated.
Anigbogu called for increased sensitisation using local languages and the media to amplify and increase the demand for the implementation of the law in the state.
The police command in Anambra State, however, expressed helplessness in prosecuting suspected rapists, blaming families of the victims for stalling trials of the suspects in court.
The spokesman for the command, Superintendent of Police (SP) Haruna Mohammed, said 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 offenders.
According to him, the families also refuse to allow the victims to go to court to testify when the suspects were charged to court.
In Enugu State, Mr Chukwudi Ojielo, Country Representative, Baywood Foundation, an NGO, urged the State Government to implement the bill on VAPP Act signed into law by Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
Ojielo, former Programme Officer, Women Aid Collective (WACOL) said that the agency responsible for the implementation of the law was not passionate about it as it was displaying laissez-faire attitude towards the bill.
“The bill has not been implemented in Enugu State even when the governor has signed it into law.
“While I was with WACOL, I engaged the state House of Assembly till the bill was passed.
“The Attorney-General, whose responsibility was to effect the implementation, objected to it and claimed that the bill has not been signed by the governor.
“In fact, the Attorney-General and others responsible for the implementation have been giving flimsy excuses, saying that the bill needs to be gazetted before its implementation,” he said.
Ojielo added that he had been speaking at various fora, making efforts to see that it was implemented by informing the state government of the importance of the bill to the people.
“During the passage of the last budget, I met with the state’s Commissioner for finance, budget and planning to find out what aspect of the budget speaks on the issue of VAPP Act but in vain,” he said.
Mr Olu Omotayo, former South-East Director of Civil Liberties’ Organisation said that in spite of the enactment of the bill, residents including many lawyers were not aware that such law existed in the state.
“The Enugu State Government has signed the bill into law, but people cannot seek protection under the law because they are not aware of it, including lawyers who are ministers in the temple of justice.
“When it is publicised and debated upon, people will know and seek redress under it, whenever such law is passed, it is very important for the government to educate its people about it,” he said.
Mrs Tina Uzoegbunam, a legal practitioner added that if people were told that such law existed in the state, there would have been less violence against women and the vulnerable in the state.
Uzoegbunam explained that publicising the law would also discourage many forms of violence.
She added that communities in rural areas should be carried along through sensitisation.
“Most violence against persons often take place among the rural dwellers, which usually involve women and girl children,” she said.
She said that there were challenges of publicity and non-enforcement of the laws in the state.
According to her, the state House of Assembly passed the bill seeking to eliminate Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) (VAPP) and other related matters in April 2019.
In Ebonyi, the state government said it has domesticated law since 2018.
The Head of Department, Child Development, Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Mr Godwin Igwe said this, adding that the law had also been translated into the local language for easy understanding.
Igwe added that it was made available to stakeholders for effective implementation.
He further revealed that the implementation committee of the law had been inaugurated to ensure proper implementation.
He said the ministry was collaborating with the National Orientation Agency (NOA) state Ministries of Health and Justice to enlighten the general public on the existence of the law and its provisions.
“We, the ministry, have done a lot to sensitise the public on the law through radio and television programmes.
“This exercise was done in selected communities of the state because of limited resources,” Igwe said.
However, the Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Centre, Youth for Human Rights, Youth and Women Rights Care Initiative among other CSOs, embarked on several campaigns towards the elimination of violence against women and girls.
A legal practitioner in the state Ministry of Justice, Mrs Ijeoma Ajanwachukwu disclosed that male folks in various communities were educated to help protect women and girls rights.
In Imo however, the story is different as the Act has not been domesticated not to talk of being implemented.
NAN reports that while the bill has been presented at the state House of Assembly by the Chairman, House Committee on Gender and Vulnerable groups, Mrs Uju Onwudiwe, but met with stiff opposition.
The bill which has been termed “Abortion Bill” has been fought strongly by religious organisations in the state.
The Auxillary Bishop of Owerri, Catholic Archdiocese, Bishop Moses Chikwe said that the bill if passed would endanger the cultural, religious and traditional values of the people.
Similarly, the state Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria in a message by its spokesperson, Pastor Ikenna Emmanuel, called for the stoppage of the bill alleging that it does not respect the sanctity of human life and it does not protect the unborn child and it legalises same-sex marriage.
However, CSOs such as the State Committee on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls have embarked on campaigns geared towards proper sensitisation of the people on the true objectives of the bill.
The bill which was presented at the House in February, but was put on hold due to Coronavirus lockdown.
It was revisited and scheduled for a public hearing on Oct 19 but was further postponed as a result of the #EndSARS protests.