Why States Must Seek to Enforce Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015

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Recently, Nigerians woke up to the real life horror story of Christopher Sule, a 43 year old “Evangelist”, who decided not to ‘spare the rod’, but instead, inflicted so much physical, mental and emotional torture, pain, and grievous bodily harm on his two little daughters, aged 8 and 6. While Daniel Bwala examines the provisions of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 and urges all States in Nigeria to begin to enforce it now, Jude Igbanoi focuses on the rising wave of child abuse and domestic violence in Nigeria and the violation of the rights of children (and vulnerable persons) who deserve protection from Government and their Parents, but are unfortunately, short changed

A Father from Hell

A father from hell! That was how some described one Christopher Sule last week, a Jos, Plateau State based father for beating his children, ages 8 and 6, over a period of about 3 years years, and inflicting severe injuries on them. Although the 43 year old Sule is currently facing trial in court, Daniel Bwala examines the provisions of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 and why states must enforce it now, to protect children and vulnerable persons against domestic violence.

Domestic violence is the curse of our society; some of which are fuelled by cultural and traditional ideologies. Virtually, every other day you read or hear about incidents of domestic violence. Women are being subjected to sex slavery through various forms of sexual activities, either without their consent, or such consent obtained by intimidation, threat, physical abuse, etc. Children are being subjected to all sorts of domestic abuses as though they are objects.

The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015

For many years, there have been calls by various interest groups for a reform of our penal and criminal codes to incorporate emerging acts classified as violence and abuse in our society. No doubt, our penal and criminal codes have some of the offences defined as domestic violence, it fails to capture the expanded definition to incorporate emerging issues and practices over time; hence the passage into law of the The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015.

The Act seeks to eliminate violence in both private and public life; at best provide for protection, punishment and compensation for the victims of violence against persons. By the passage of the Act, the concept has gone beyond domestic violence to general violence against persons e.g electoral violence, offensive conduct, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, spousal battery, violence by state actors, forced isolation and separation from family and friends, stalking, harmful widowhood practices, incest, indecent exposure etc.. Although the Act is limited in its applicability to the FCT and subject to the jurisdiction of the FCT Courts (S. 47), leaving States to domesticate the Act in their respective states; It is however, superior to any relative enactment such as the penal code, criminal code and criminal procedure codes in its application and enforcement. Some of the salient aspects of the Act is worthy of mention here;

Applicability and enforcement – Section 27 of the Act has limited its applicability to the FCT, but is supreme over enactments such as penal code, criminal code and criminal procedure code, especially with respect to the expanded scope of rape, consent and means by which consent is obtained. For example, the penal and criminal codes have a limited scope, in that they protect only women from rape and limit what constitutes rape to virginal penetration without consent. But the Act in Section 1 (1) (a) (b) (c) has now expanded the scope and limit of rape to include intentional penetration of vaginal, anus or mouth of another… without consent or with consent obtained by force, threat, intimidation, fear of harm or false and fraudulent misrepresentation as to the nature of the act…. Which in effect means even a man can be raped.

Abandonment – of wife, children and dependents with means of sustenance is now an offence under the Act. Therefore, recession cannot be an excuse for abandonment or that one has found love with a person other than his spouse and abandons his family without providing for them.

Although battery has been covered by the existing codes, it has been qualified as an offence upon which on conviction, one serves a time not exceeding 3 years or for a fine not exceeding N200,000.00. Forceful ejection from home by a partner is now classified as an offence for which the punishment lasts up to 2 years imprisonment or option of fine of up to N300,000.00. Other offences such as causing damage with the intent to cause distress to a spouse, which is very common with men or women who are more often than not, the bread winners and are attempting to frustrate the partner, is now an offence. Anyone who aids or abets such an act is also caught up by the Act.

Cultural Practices such as Incest – has a higher degree of punishment which. It has a minimum of 10 years imprisonment without an option of fine, if the incestuous acts are committed without consent. But if the act is committed with consent, then the term is 5 years without option of fine. This is how serious the Act tends to curb practices that are repugnant to natural justice. The Act defines incest to include indecent act of penetration with a person who is related by blood such as daughter, son, granddaughter, or son, brother, mother, father, niece, nephew etc.

Other cultural practices such as female genital mutilation which is widely practiced in some parts of the country is now classified as an offence within the FCT and upon conviction, one is sentenced to a term of 4 years or option of fine of up to N200,000.00. Others are harmful widowhood practices observed in some parts of the country. They are deemed as offences under the Act. When a man dies, the family of the man subjects the widow to unwholesome practices to justify her innocence, to prove that she did not play a part in her husband’s death; acts such as forcing the widow sleep in the man’s grave or drinking the water that the corpse is bathed in, is a criminal offence under the Act.

Political Violence – This is one aspect that the Act expands; violence against persons beyond domestic violence. A person who commits political violence such as thuggery, mugging, use of force to disrupt meetings etc commits and offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term of up to 4 years or option of fine as much as N1 million. This includes those who aid and abets offenders. It will be interesting to see how this is enforced and applied.

Violence by State Actors – The Act describes state actors as agents of the state. These include servants or institutions of the state. Any act of political violence by state actors upon conviction results in a term of 4 years or a fine of N1 million. The state is also liable for the offence committed by its agents.

Indecent Exposure – Indecent exposure is classified as intentional exposure of genital organs or a substantial part thereof, with the intent of causing distress to the other party who upon seeing it may be tempted to commit an offence under the Act.

Protection for Vulnerable Persons and/or Compensation for the Victims of Violence against Persons – The Act provides for a protection order which a victim of violence may apply to court and obtain. It is an order of court in form of a legal document signed by the court, that restrains an individual or state actors from further acts of violence against the victims. Such order may last throughout the period of the protection. As for compensation, the Act has now provided for due compensation for the victims of violence; this is without prejudice to other forms of assistance such as legal, medical, psychological and social services.

Conclusion

The passage of the law is a big step towards a society devoid of violence. It has introduced and expanded the scope of offences and provides for adequate punishment for offenders, while protecting the victims and providing compensation, where necessary. However, it is largely limited in its geographical applicability. States are enjoined to quickly domesticate this law as most of these offences are even more committed in jurisdictions where there is limited social-economic awareness. The citizens are strongly encouraged to push for the domestication of this law in their respective states.

Daniel Bwala, Human Rights Lawyer, Abuja