Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Nkwo-Akpolu & Kalagbor: Sorting out fact from fiction on Imo VAPP Bill

However, the truth is the VAPP bill does not even make a mention of all the aforementioned issues. Not even one!

• November 2, 2020

By Angela Nkwo-Apolu Faith Kalagbor: Sorting out fact from fiction on Imo VAPP Bill

The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill currently before the Imo State House of Assembly has generated so much dust over what some people have erroneously tagged “Abortion Bill”. Unfortunately the bill does not even make a mention of the claims being peddled around.

The bill is sponsored by Honourable Uju Onwudiwe, the member representing Njaba State Constituency, and is scheduled for public hearing when the State Assembly reconvenes. 

On its part, a non-governmental organisation, Alliances for Africa (AFA), has brought together seasoned technocrats from diverse backgrounds to push for the passage of the VAPP Bill under the aegis of ISCEVAWG.  

The Imo State Committee on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls (ISCEVAWG) includes committed men and women passionate about the safety of people in Imo State. 

Currently, Imo is the only state yet to domesticate VAPP in the South-East.

In the last one month, Christian WhatsApp platforms have been awash with messages calling for rejection of the bill as it is falsely rumoured to contain controversial values. 

Specifically, the Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Owerri Archdiocese, Most Reverend Moses Chikwe, was quoted in The Leader newspaper to have said the bill seeks to “turn society upside down because it will endanger cultural, traditional, and religious values”. 

Further, he said the bill seeks to spell out prosecution of clerics who refuse to join homosexuals and lesbians in holy matrimony in the state.  

On his part, Reverend Ikenna Emmanuel of Faith House Transformation Assembly in Owerri sent out a message across the  platform of the Imo Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) seeking immediate withdrawal of the bill.

According to him, the “VAPP Bill 2020 mandates jail sentence for parents who scold their children; VAPP Bill 2020 does not recognise the unborn child in the vulnerable groups; will imprison priests for preaching moral order; and seeks to destroy the Igbo family and promise rise in poverty.”

Further, he alleged in the message he signed on behalf of PFN Legal Forum that the VAPP bill does not protect the sanctity of life; does not protect the unborn child as a person; legalises same sex marriage; bans use of teachings of the Holy Bible in public.

According to Barrister Emmanuel, the VAPP Bill 2020 promotes deadly violence against women; and legalises abortion and contraception to kill the unborn child. 

However, the truth is the VAPP bill does not even make a mention of all the aforementioned issues. Not even one! 

These are the provisions provided.

Rape, inflicting physical injury on a person, coercion, wilfully placing a person in fear of physical injury, offensive conduct, taking undue advantage of persons living with disability, prohibition of female circumcision or genital mutilation, and frustrating investigation. 

Others are wilfully making false statements, forceful ejection from home, depriving a person his or her liberty, damage to property with intent to cause distress, deprivation of right of inheritance. 

Further, the offences listed include: forced financial dependence or economic abuse, forced isolation or separation from family and friends, emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse, harmful widowhood practices, abandonment of spouse, children and other dependants without sustenance, and stalking. 

Others are sexual intimidation, intimidation of a person, spouse battery, harmful traditional practices, attack with harmful substance, incest, indecent exposure, posting pictures or videos of sexual violence on the internet, sexual blackmail, political violence, and violence by State actors.

The part two and three proposes protection order, while part four is about the regulatory body, and part five is about the investigation and prosecution of offences.

Part six highlights jurisdiction of the court. Part seven is miscellaneous. Part eight is consequential amendments. And part nine addresses interpretation. 

From the aforementioned, it is obvious that all the issues being bandied about were not conceived let alone mentioned in the bill. 

There is nothing in the bill that seeks to install females as traditional rulers or priests. 

The claims by Dr. Phillip Njemanze that the bill promotes abortion or anything about tampering with anyone’s life is also not true. 

Presently, Imo State following the lock down occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic is beset by rising cases of violence especially sexual offences involving blood relations. 

Incest regrettably holds sway and most times involving minors who are forced to such acts.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a surge in the perpetration of these vicious acts as well as promotion of impunity for perpetrators due to the lack of legislative frameworks to adequately address the issues. 

This has made difficult the work of our front line women human rights defenders, because they face intimidation by some police officers. Such intimidations are also faced by the survivors who often times are even threatened to back out from seeking justice and encouraged to accept alternative dispute resolution by some corrupt officials. 

Sadly, this is not in anyway commensurate with the extent of damages caused when perpetrators violate under aged children or any brutality thereof. Violations of our minors have escalated of late, justifying the need institute mechanisms to curb these evil vices, especially with legislations like VAPP.  

Many people do not understand that under the present laws, a person cannot be successfully tried for sexual offences because of the enormous burden of proof.

For instance, 12 years old Grace (not real name) had her pelvic bones broken by a man while being raped in Imo State. 

For people especially children caught in the web of sexual violation, there is no safe space for them to hide from their abuser. After they report the incidents, they still have to return to the same house where their abuser lives! 

Thus, such persons suffer repeated sexual and psychological abuses without reprieve. 

Already, states like Ekiti and Lagos have passed their VAPP laws to protect their people, whether male or female, young or old. 

Further, they have provided safe spaces where people abused can hide, heal, and recover from the trauma while the abuser is kept behind bars.
However, these are some of the concerns the bill by Honourable Onwudiwe seeks to address. It seeks to proffer stiff penalties for offenders who consciously cause others harm. 

Another concern is the obnoxious widowhood practices still practiced in some parts of the state like asking a widow to drink the water used to wash the body of her late husband. Acts such as this cause untold health concerns on the victims. The bill also seeks to address this. 

No woman is interested in seeking to be the traditional ruler of her community, rather we would love to enjoy thriving careers and businesses. We do not desire to be the husbands; we prefer to allow the men be the breadwinners. We will gladly support them. 

However, it is obvious that many people have condemned the noble efforts of a committed lawmaker, who desires a safer space for all of us. 

Many people have erroneously condemned a bill they have not seen nor read and are busy forwarding unconfirmed messages and inadvertently helping abusers to fight against a bill that protects everyone. 

Facts about the VAPP Act and the current Imo State VAPP Bill

The VAPP Act was signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan in May 2015 due to lack of uniformity in the law with regards to the battle to eliminate gender-based violence and sundry discrimination and abuses that the VAPP Act was enacted.

THE VAPP Act is a law that guarantees protection of the rights of victims of all forms of sexual and gender-based violence in the country.

The VAPP Act is the single law in place that transcends the criminal and penal code in guaranteeing justice and protecting the rights and properties of victims of sexual and gender-based violence by its expansion of the definition of rape, domestic offences, incest and several forms of violence.

Further, it ensures justice and protection of victims in a way that guarantees freedom, compensation and respect to human rights.

Under the VAPP Act, a wide range of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) including; rape/defilement forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, genital mutilation, abandonment of children, harmful substance attacks, and incest are all recognised as punishable offences.

Only fifteen (15) out of the 36 states of the federation have domesticated the VAPP and in South-East Nigeria Imo is the only state yet to domesticate it.

The Imo State VAPP Bill has been reviewed to integrate current trends of violence, roles and responsibilities of key institutions based on the needs of survivors and for the effectual implementation of the provisions contained therein. 

The bill does not in any way support same sex marriage or abortion as is currently propagated by Dr. Philip Njemanze.

Call to action

We all must support the passage of the Violence Against Person’s Prohibition Bill in Imo State as an institution charged with the mandate of protecting her citizenry and maintaining peace.

Sensitise the entire church and citizens on the proscription and prohibition of all forms of sexual harassment and violation of women and girls and the need to support the passage of the VAPP Bill.

Importantly, we must consciously disseminate only the right information via our different platforms and shun misinformation being propagated by those who are determined to frustrate the progress made by ISCEVAWG.

Together, let us collaborate to support ISCEVAWG and see that the VAPP Bill is passed to protect all of us.

Nkwo-Akpolu is a seasoned Journalist and currently writes for Leadership newspaper with headquarters in Abuja. 

Faith Kalagbor is a Communications Officer with Alliances For Africa.

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