Government should enforce the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act

The Sokoto State Police Command last week confirmed the gruesome murder of a 43-year-old woman allegedly by her husband. According to the spokesman of the command, El-mustapha Sani, the suspect also used the same pestle with which he clubbed his wife to death, to murder three other persons. Unfortunately, as tragic as the news may seem, it is a familiar story. A day hardly passes without a report of one man visiting violence either on his spouse or girl friend in what is fast becoming an epidemic of a new variant of terrorism in our country.

Domestic violence manifests itself in many forms in Nigeria today: from physical and verbal abuse, to rape and even murder. While spousal abuse cuts across both sexes, women are predominantly the victims. Yet abused women rarely report the violence they endure, for fear of being stigmatised by the society. Where incidents are reported or noticed by third parties, the advice is usually reconciliation, while our policemen and women are known to actively discourage reports of assault between spouses, trivialising such occurrences as “domestic” incidents. This is despite the stringent provisions in the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) (VAPP) Act 2015.

The law prohibits, among others, abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance, battery and harmful traditional practices; provides a legislative and legal framework for the prevention of all forms of violence against vulnerable persons, especially women and girls and also prohibits economic abuse, forced isolation and separation from family and friends, substance attack, depriving persons of their liberty, incest and indecent exposure. It also intends to eliminate violence in private and public life and provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims of violence, and punishment of offenders.

However, perhaps because of the patriarchal interpretations within our various faiths which preach endurance as a sure pathway to heaven, our religious leaders most often advise forgiveness, even in the most bizarre of instances. Inevitably, the victim and the abuser (where summoned) are usually advised to go home and find a way to settle their differences, rather than make public the injury or the violence within. Again, most abused women who opt to remain in the most challenging of marriages claim stability for their children as the excuse for their “fortitude”.

The fear of being ostracised, the lack of material and financial resources and the general lack of sympathy and support from the public, have contributed immensely to the growth of domestic violence in many Nigerian homes. Curbing these tragic incidents is therefore a collective responsibility. It is also the duty of government, at all levels, to protect the most vulnerable by supporting the establishment of the necessary infrastructure and wherewithal, including safe houses, wherein abused women can be securely accommodated, counselled and enabled to regain some confidence and self-respect.

While it is possible to institute criminal action against the abuser in our country, the investigative and prosecutorial capacities of our law enforcement agencies are a huge disincentive for taking such action. Civil suits for damages can be filed where a conviction is obtained, but again, the system takes too long, giving sufficient time for interventions by “well-meaning” relations as well as religious and community leaders to dissuade the abused from seeking solace from the law courts. The police need to seek for specialisation in handling cases reported by these unfortunate women, and alerted to the fact that battery and assault remain felonies in our law books, even where inflicted between spouses.

We must understand that ignoring the subtle signals of violence inflicted on our females can only lead to disruption in our families and in our society. It can also lead to violence and untimely death. If we therefore fail to act or report, we are all complicit.