From Yusufu Aminu Idegu, Jos
In May 2022, Plateau State governor, Simon Bako Lalong, signed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law (VAPP), domesticating an already Federal law signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. The VAPP Law, with all intent and purpose, was designed to tackle all forms of violence against persons in private and public life and provided maximum protection and effective remedies for the vulnerable, just as it prescribed severe penalties for offenders.
In a state where the National Human Rights Commission (NHC) says cases of rape and other sexual violence is not abating, the coming of the law received rousing commendation from Civil Society and Human Rights Organisations who are optimistic that it will stem the tide of growing cases of sexual and domestic violence cases, many of which go unreported.
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Speaking on the rate of human right abuses, the Plateau State Coordinator of NHRC, Mrs Grace Pam, said the commission recorded 700 cases of human right abuses between January 2021 and June 2022. “Out of that figure, over 500 of them are gender-based violence and out of that figure, we have at least 74 cases of sexual violence which you are referring to as rape,” said Mrs Pam, who described as unfortunate that most rape cases go unreported.
“I am particularly delighted with the passage of the VAPP law because I am psychologically disturbed with the cases coming to my office every now and then. As a mother, I am personally concerned. But with this new law now, it will be easier for us to prosecute the offenders,” she said.
While battling to get justice for a number of rape cases it instituted against perpetrators in various courts across the state, the Plateau State Command of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corp (NSCDC) says the command may have dispensed numerous of such cases in the past but currently has at least 20 rape cases at various courts across the state.
The officer in charge of the Anti-Human Trafficking, Irregular Migration and Gender Concern Unit (AHTIMGU) in the state command, Bishop Caroline, said “In the case of rape, no local government in the state is free of the incidence. We even have more cases from Jos, the state capital, than in the rural areas. The current cases we are prosecuting in courts are in Riyom, Shendam, Barkin Ladi, Mangu, Jos North and Jos South local government areas.” The NSCDC officer also revealed that more incidences of rape were experienced during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown which lasted about two months in the state.
Frustrated by how perpetrators of rape go unpunished, the Programme Manager of Voice for The Girl Child Foundation (VFGCF) in Plateau State, Mildred Bako, gave an instance of a 13-year-old girl who was gang-raped by two boys in a government recreational park and how officials of the park simply asked the victim to go home and clean herself without offering help.
“Someone who knew our foundation reported to us and we went there. I took the girl to a police station and filed a report. I got frustrated out of the case because the girl’s parents were not ready to continue with the case, they simply refused to present the victim to make statement. And the police did not also investigate the case,” said Bako.
These instances of sexual violence and many more unreported cases in Plateau State is why a coalition of the civil society organisations in the state, led by Mr Gad Shamaki, expressed joy at the domestication of the VAPP law in the state.
Shamaki, in a statement, said the VAPP law is aimed at, among other things, addressing gaps in current laws in private and public spaces, specifically aimed at responding to old and emerging forms of sexual violence.
“Some of the major acts of violence which the law prohibits are found in clauses 3 to 26 of the Act. An offence such as rape which upon conviction will attract the punishment of life imprisonment and a person who aids, abet or conceals an offender is liable to imprisonment for a minimum of 12 years,” he stated.
“In cases of forceful eviction of a marriage partner or refusal of access to his/her home commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term of 2 years or a fine of N300, 000 or both. Anyone who incites aids or abets another to eject persons with disabilities or forceful ejection of widows by in-laws or relatives is liable to one-year imprisonment or a fine of N200,000 or both.”
Our correspondent gathered that other key provisions of the VAPP law include abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without any means of sustenance; the offence of which carries a punishment of three years’ imprisonment or a fine of 500,000 or both. The law also frowns at spousal/partner battery and stressed that anyone who stalks another is liable to two years imprisonment or a fine of 500,000 or both.
According to civil society organisations in the state, many offenders have in the past escaped justice due to the absence of this law but stressed that with its signing, many victims will get justice and the rights of many people will be protected.
“Our joy knows no bounds because we have long expected this to happen, we have toiled for it to happen, we have lobbied the Plateau State House of Assembly to get this law passed,” said Shamaki who also called on the State Commissioner for Justice to ensure a quick gazette of the law.
The coalition also urged Governor Lalong to constitute a Gender Commission as well as a board to give the law the efficacy and solid foundation for operation.
Of course, the excitement demonstrated by residents of the state over the new law is based on their understanding that the law has the potentials to reduce the prevalence of rape in the state to the barest minimum. “By the time 10 offenders are successfully convicted and jailed by the courts, it will serve as deterrent to those with such intent. It is not going to be business as usual for rapists,” said Mr Gbebga Aluko of the Civil Liberty Organization (CLO) in the state.
Our correspondent gathered that the civil society organisation in collaboration with Women’s Right Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) are set to mount public enlightenment campaigns and civic education across the state using various local languages on the new law. “I can assure you that in the next two years, the cases of rape in the state will be reduced if not eradicated,” said Mrs Jummai Madaki, the Plateau State Coordinator of WRAPA.
“The crime was rampart because the criminals are aware of the escape route in the previous laws and they exploit it to escape the punishment. But with the new law, they know they can’t escape justice, and that knowledge alone will make them desist from the act,” she said.