On the 25th of November 2019, a standstill rally was organized by a group of courageous young Nigerians in a bid to get the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act domesticated in all states. This heroic act, however, was met with criticism which may have resulted from ignorance or the rumours and smear campaign surrounding the Arewa me too movement which claims that the movement which originally aims at breaking the culture of silence in the North is actually a group sponsored by the LGBTQ ‘to bring down the values of Northern Nigeria’ or it could have been because a lot of people are afraid of what the movement stands for. But whatever the reason was, this campaign was poorly received by Northern Nigeria.
There is a lot of ignorance surrounding the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act. The average Nigerian does not know and does not care to know what it covers and how this Act can protect the interest of victims of violence regardless of gender; there were cases of people refusing to support the act or movement because they believed that the Act was made to protect the interest of females only which they believed to be unfair; however, that is not the case.
Before we go any further, we first need to understand what the VAPP act is. The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act which was passed into law in the year 2015 is an Act that aims to protect victims of violence in Nigeria due to the high rise of violence in the country on both domestic and national levels. It is common to hear people being attacked with acid, spouses hurting or killing each other, boys and girls being raped, or people being taken away from their families etc. Even though previous laws aimed at holding the perpetrators accountable are present in our laws, there is still so much that needed to be improved in other to protect the interest of the citizens, and that is why this Act was necessary.
Some of the things covered by this act includes indecent exposure, spousal battery, harmful widowhood practices, harmful traditions and cultures, female genital mutilation, incest, rape, forced separation from families, violence by state actors, economic abuse, deprivation of personal liberty, abuse by harmful substances such as acids and other chemicals, forceful ejection from home, political violence etc.
How the violence against persons (prohibition) act revolutionized those laws
– Female genital mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation is a partial or full cutting of the female genitalia and this practice is common in Nigeria, in fact, Nigeria has the highest prevalence rate in the whole world. This harmful practice causes damage to girls both physically and psychologically, and despite domestic and global attempts to end it, it is still in practice due to the harmful traditions protecting it.
The VAPP Act provides that any person caught performing the act of Female Genital Mutilation commits an offence and is liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding four years or a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand Naira or both. And it also provides punishment for anyone who attempts to carry out this act to be liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or a fine not exceeding a hundred thousand Naira or both. It also makes it an offence for any person to incite, abet, counsel or aid another person to commit this act and doing that will attract a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or a fine not exceeding a hundred thousand Naira or both.
The meaning of rape was very limited in previous laws to the forceful penetration of the vagina without consent. However, the VAPP Act changed that by expanding the definition of rape to include other forms such as the intentional penetration of the anus, mouth, vagina or any other body part without consent, or in circumstances where consent is obtained by force or under threat or when the victim is under the influence of any substance that may take away his will such as drugs or alcohol or marital rape.
This Act is commendable because it has acknowledged that men could be raped too and for the first time, male rape victims can actually get justice and a chance to name the horrible act done to them. The act has also recognized marital rape which quite a majority of Nigerians do not believe is a thing; people believe that marriage gives automatic consent in all situations and most importantly this Act recognizes the different forms of violations that do not involve the penetration of primary sex organs and thereby protects victims who are forced to have anal or oral sex by other people.
The punishment here is life imprisonment except in circumstances where the perpetrator is underage or where rape is done by a group of persons. And it also provides that a list of sexual offenders shall be kept and compensation shall be granted to victims.
A lot of people have gotten away with crimes because of the limitations under previous laws.
– Abandonment of spouses, children and other dependants
The almajiri issue is a serious issue alongside other forms of abandonment such as abandonment of spouses and other dependents who have no financial independence to sustain themselves. Children are thrown out into the streets as early as three or four to fend for themselves and women are left to fend for themselves and their kids after being abandoned by their husbands.
According to the VAPP Act anyone who abandons his spouse, children or other dependents without any means of sustenance has committed an offence and is liable to a term of imprisonment of not less than one year or a fine of not less than a hundred thousand. And it also made it an offence to intentionally assist or counsel someone who has committed that offence; such a person will be liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding a hundred thousand Naira or both.
– Spousal battery
Domestic violence is a problem our society is dealing with. We hear news of people beating their spouses to a bloody pulp or causing them grievous bodily harm through other means. In fact, in so many societies, domestic violence is seen as normal. However, the VAPP Act has set a term of imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand Naira or both for anyone who engages in such an offence.
According to this Act, incest means ‘an indecent act or an act which causes penetration with a person who is to his or her knowledge, his or her daughter or son, granddaughter or brother, mother or father, niece or nephew, aunt or uncle, grandmother or granduncle.’ This refers to anyone who has sexual relations with another person who is within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity and affinity with or without consent.
Incest is an offence which makes the offender liable to a term of imprisonment not lesser than ten years without an option of fine where there was no consent obtained prior to the act, however where the act was done based on the consent of both parties, the punishment is five years imprisonment without an option of fine.
– Political violence
According to the Act, political violence is ‘any act or attempted act of violence perpetrated in the course of political activities such as elections, and including thuggery, mugging, use of force to disrupt meetings or the use of dangerous weapons that may cause bodily harm and injury and anybody found guilty of such, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 4 years and a fine not exceeding N500,000.00 or both.‘
And in circumstances where the political violence is committed by a state actor, the state actor is liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 4 years or a fine not exceeding N1.000, 000.00 or both and the state in this case is liable for the offence committed by its agents and appropriate compensation shall be awarded based on the extent of damage.
This is a much needed law in Nigeria because political violence is very common and is done in almost every election in the country and unfortunately most innocent citizens are at the receiving end.
This Act provides compensation for victims as it may deem fit in the circumstance. Victims under this Act are entitled to social and legal assistance by governmental or non governmental agencies that provide such services, rehabilitation and reintegration programs as well as medical and psychological assistance by the appropriate bodies. All these are in addition to the rights provided for citizens under the chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
– Protection of victims
Sometimes victims coming out with their stories means endangering their lives, however this Act aims to protect victims and their interests by providing a protection order which is an order signed by the judge to prevent state actors from further abusing the victims and such protection order can be accompanied by a warrant for the arrest of the perpetrator. The Act also protects victims by protecting their identities and such protection might be made by limiting the number of persons in court during the course of the trial or granting the court the right to hear proceedings in camera or prohibit the publication of information that may harm the victims or exclude some people from attending the trial.
– Sex offenders register
Perhaps, one of the revolutionary acts to have come in force because of the provisions of the VAPP Act is the first sexual offender database in Nigeria. The country launched its first online national sexual offender register on November 25th, 2019 in order to help the citizens and security agencies in the country to identify sex offenders.
Before this happened, only two states in the country Lagos and Ekiti kept such a register. The Lagos State sex offenders register is said ‘to have 140 registered convicted sex offenders to use shame as a deterrent ‘but then because of the way things work in the country, these registers are not even updated often which has led to many sex offenders getting away from getting their names in the register.
Naming and shaming rapists and other sex offenders is a very powerful tool and it makes it easier for organizations to create background checks and avoid hiring such people. The best thing about this online register is that it grants victims the opportunity to reports incidents which can then be readily investigated.
NB: where there is a conflict between the provisions of this Act and any other act in Nigeria, the provisions of this Act shall prevail.
Challenges faced by the violence against persons (prohibition) act
Among others there are two major challenges facing the VAPP. They are:
Even though this Act came into force in 2015, a lot of Nigerians do not know about it or its importance to the state of the country as it is. That is why it was easy for people to stand against the North Normal standstill rally that wanted to get this Act domesticated because they don’t even know what it contains in the first place. And it is also ignorance that makes people believe that the Act favors ‘only women’ despite the fact that for the first time in Nigeria, male rape victims are recognized and given a chance to get justice. It is hard convincing people that the ‘persons’ in the Act means no one is left behind.
– Application of the law
Getting states to domesticate this law is a challenge and that’s why the standstill rally was necessary. Hopefully, many states will soon adopt this law. So far only 11 states out of the 36 states have domesticated this Act.
The VAPP Act is proof that there is still hope for the county and there is still so much work to be done.