It is instructive that there are arguably more incidents of violence against women than men in Anambra State which may occur in the homes, churches, offices, markets, motor parks, and even in commercial buses. Society blames the victim, justifies the perpetrator’s acts while the state tacitly condones the violence. Overtime, the judicial system has grappled with the obnoxious Criminal Code which limits the criminal jurisdiction of rape and no longer in tandem with the present day realities. In 2015, the federal government signed the gender neutral Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, (VAPP) 2015 into law. But Section 27 of the VAPP Act limits its application to the Federal Capital Territory High Court. Therefore, each state must domesticate the act before it becomes operational. In 2017, the Governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano, signed the (VAPP) Act into law, making the state one of the few Nigerian states to domesticate the act.
The VAPP law (of Anambra State), 2017 confers jurisdiction on the Magistrate and State High Courts. Section 3 of the VAPP law expands the criminal jurisprudence of rape. The offence of rape is no longer restricted to penile – vaginal penetrations. Rape is complete upon non-consensual penetration of the victim’s orifices (mouth, vagina or anus) with the penis, or any of the perpetrator’s body parts, or even with an object. Under the VAPP law, males and females can be victims as well as perpetrators of rape. Also, rape victims are entitled to compensation in Section 3.
In the state, incidents abound of married women being forcefully ejected from their matrimonial homes. This is criminalised in Section 11 of the VAPP law.
Another interesting part of the law is the recognition of forced financial dependence or economic abuse as a punishable offence. The VAPP law describes economic abuse as denial of inheritance or succession rights, unreasonable deprivation of economic or financial resources to which any person is entitled or which any person requires out of necessity including among others; the unreasonable destruction of household effects or other property in which any person has interest. On different occasions, for the purpose of exerting control, women, against their will, have been prohibited by their husbands from being employed or have had their phones and/or any other properties that are necessary for the delivery of their jobs seized or destroyed. The VAPP law prohibits such acts.
It is gratifying that Section 16 of the law criminalises emotional, verbal and psychological abuse. This is a pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct towards any person, including repeated acts of insults, name calling or ridicule, threats to cause emotional pain, the exhibition of obsessive possessiveness which constitutes serious invasion of such a person’s privacy, liberty, integrity or security. This is very common in the state’s many markets (such as Onitsha Main Market and Eke-Awka Market), and among bus and tricycle drivers and conductors who touch, ridicule, cat-call and call women unprintable and uncomplimentary names in the public for the sole purpose of causing humiliation.
The fundamental rights of poor widows are constantly breached, especially childless widows. Traditionally conservative men and women perceive as ‘childless’ a woman who had borne only daughters and considered incapable of inheriting as she herself is a piece of property to be inherited. Section 17 of VAPP criminalises harmful widowhood practices.
Notably, provisions of VAPP law supersede any other provisions on similar offences in the principal criminal legislation in the state. Section 43 of the law states that any offence or proceedings instituted before the commencement of the law under the provisions of the Criminal Code Anambra State, 1991 and Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Anambra State law and any other law relating to any act of violence shall be enforced in the provisions of VAPP law.
In conclusion, the prerogatives of VAPP law include its conformity to the present day and international best practices, uniformity of other legislation on violence, creation of adequate punishments for all the provided offences and gender inclusiveness. However, for effective implementation, there is a need for massive sensitisation of the law and increase in reporting coupled with willingness on the part of the police to exercise the powers bestowed upon them by Section 37 of the law.
Ms Amaka Ezeano,
Awka, Anambra State