UNDERSTANDING IMO : Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill

Hope Uzodinma

Only men who do not care about protecting their wives and children will oppose the Imo Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill, Tobi Soniyi writes

In 2015 the then president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan signed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) into law. The Act among others aims at eliminating gender-based violence and sundry discrimination and abuses.
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.

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 recognized as punishable offences.
However, because it is a federal law, it only applies to the Federal Capital Territory. It is incumbent on states to pass the law in their respective states.

However, out of the 36 states of the federation, only 15 have domesticated the VAPP and in South-East Nigeria, Imo is the only state yet to domesticate the VAPP.
However, the attempt by Imo State to join the league of progressive states by passing the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill currently before the Imo State House of Assembly into law has been characterised by misinformation and fake news. Some who have not read the bill has erroneously tagged ‘it the ‘abortion bill.’

Unfortunately the bill does not even make a mention of the issues it is accused of.
The bill is sponsored by Rt. Hon Uju Onwudiwe, the member representing Njaba State Constituency and is scheduled for public hearing when the state’s assembly reconvenes.
On its part, a Non Governmental Organization, 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 the Imo State Committee on Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls (ISCEVAWG).

ISCEVAWG consists of committed men and women passionate about the safety of people in Imo State.
In the last one month, church WhatsApp platforms have been awash with messages calling for rejection of the bill as it is considered to be anti- Church values.
Specifically, the Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Owerri Archdiocese, Most Revd. Moses Chikwe was quoted in a 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 sought to spell out prosecution of clerics who refuse to join Homosexuals and Lesbians in Holy Matrimony in the State.
On his part, Revd. Ikenna Emmanuel of Faith House Transformation Assembly in Owerri sent out a message across the platform of the Imo Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) calling for a stoppage of the Imo VAPP 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.
One lawyer claims that 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!
Here are the provisions in the bill: Rape, inflicting physical injury on a person, coercion, willfully 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 willfully 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.
It creates the following offences: 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 dependents 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.
Parts two and three propose protection order, while part four is about the regulatory body, and part five is about investigation and prosecution of offences.

Part six highlights jurisdiction of the court, part seven is miscellaneous, part eight is provided for consequential amendments, while nine deals with interpretation.
From the aforementioned, it is obvious that all the issues bandied about the bill were not conceived let alone mentioned.
There is nothing in the bill that seeks to install females as traditional rulers or priests.

The claims that the bill promotes abortion or tampers with anyone’s life is also not true.
Presently, Imo State following the lock down occasioned by the Covid 19 pandemic is bedeviled with rising cases of violence especially sexual offences involving blood relations.

Incest regrettably holds sway and most times involving minors who are forced into such acts.
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 front line women human rights defenders because they face intimidation by some police officers. Such intimidations are also faced by the survivors who oftentimes are even threatened to back out from seeking justice and encouraged to accept alternative dispute resolution by some corrupt officials.

Sadly, this doesn’t in any way address the damages caused especially where perpetrators violate under aged children or inflict brutality in the act. The violation of our minors has escalated within this period. This informs the need for systems, particularly legislations, to be put in place to put a check on these evil vices
Many people do not understand that under the present laws, a person cannot be successfully tried for sexual offences because proving such is herculean!

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 bills and are protecting 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 abuse while the abuser is kept behind bars, so that he can not harm other innocent people.
However, these are some of the concerns the bill seeks to address. It seeks to proffer stiff penalties for offenders who consciously cause others harm.

Another concern is the obnoxious widowhood practice that still takes place 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 and that is what the bill seeks to address.

Only men who do not care about protecting their wives, daughters and others’ children will oppose this bill.
Women want to enjoy thriving careers and or businesses. They do not desire to be the husband’s, they prefer to allow the men to be the breadwinners and pay the bills, but they want to support their husbands.
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.
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 effective 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:
The Imo people have a lot to gain by supporting the bill. It behoves on those who have the bill to educate the entire church and citizens on the need to support the bill.
An Imo State women activist, Blessing Duru said: “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 the ISCEVAWG committee.
“Together, let us collaborate to support the Imo State Committee on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls and see that the VAPP bill is passed to protect all of us.”