Only Ekiti has domesticated VAPP Act in South West –Survey –

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Stakeholders have urged states in the South West to domesticate the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAAP) Act without delay, as only Ekiti State has adopted the law in the entire zone.

The News Agency of Nigeria reports  that Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Kwara and Ondo states were yet to domesticate the Act.

A NAN survey however, revealed that the law is at various stages of domestication in most of the states.

Olawale Fapohunda, the Ekiti State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, said that the state was among the 26 states that have so far domesticated the Act in the country.

He said that the Act was enacted in 2015 to tackle the continuous and persistent increase in cases of violence against people of all sexes in the country, adding that the state could not afford to lag behind in its domestication.

According to him, the Act prohibits and criminalises various acts, such as rape, physical injury on a person and female genital mutilation as well as emotional, verbal and psychological abuse and political violence.

Fapohunda said that the present administration in the state attached so much importance to issues affecting the vulnerable, especially women and children.

He, however, decried the habit of interceding for offenders by some influential members of society, saying that that had constituted serious impediment to the fight against gender-based violence in the state.

In Oyo State,  Dupe Awosemusi, a Director in the Ministry of Justice, who is also the state Coordinator, Sexual and Gender Violence Response Team, said that the process of domesticating the Act was ongoing at the state House of Assembly.

According to her, the bill is being co-sponsored by the Speaker,  Debo Ogundoyin and  Wunmi Oladeji, representing Ogbomosho North at the House.

Awosemusi expressed optimism that the process for the passage of the bill, which would pave way for its domestication, would be given speedy attention.

Also, Deborah Collins, the state Chairperson, International Federation of Women Lawyers, said that the eventual adoption of the law will help tackle issues relating to Female Genital Mutilation.

The FIDA chairperson, however, stressed that there was the need for improvement on the level of the implementation of the law; when eventually adopted because of what she called some flaws.

She also called for sensitisation campaign among residents, saying that it would create awareness on the people on how to seek redress through appropriate sections of the law.

Collins, however, said that most states were foot dragging in adopting or implementing the Act because they lacked the courage and the power will.

She added that the cultural mentality and the fear of stigmatisation on women and the girl-child had also made it difficult to implement the law.

In Ogun, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly,  Olakulne Oluomo, said that the VAPP Act was passed by the immediate past legislature, although he could not confirm whether the bill was signed by former Gov. Ibikunle Amosun before he left office.

“Nobody knows whether or not the bill was signed by Amosun because a copy of the signed bill was not sent for gazette,” Oluomo said, adding, however, that the House was working on a new bill.

“You know things are changing on daily basis. Based on recent events, we are exchanging notes with other states and stakeholders to come up with a new one that will be in tune with current realities,” he said.

Olu Alade, the Chairman of the state chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association, hinged the lack of domestication of the Act on the fact that it had not gained wide publicity for the legislature to take notice.

He, however, argued that it was not compulsory for an act to be domesticated in any state, especially if such a state had a similar law and if the issues addressed by it were not prevalent in the state.

In Ondo State, Oluwaniyi Ogunleye, Director, Child Development, Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, confirmed that the law had yet to be domesticated in the state.

Ogunleye said that the bill would soon be sent to the House of Assembly for passage.

“The bill has already been packaged and verified, and the next thing is to send it to the House for passage. I can assure you that very soon, we will have it in Ondo State,” he said.

The director, however, said that the state government was already operating the law, saying that that was why so many cases of rape and violence against women and children were in the court.

To  Olamide Falana, an Akure-based gender and community development consultant, inadequate funding has been a major factor hindering the effectiveness and implementation of gender-based law in the state.

“When we have a budget, how much can be accessed in a whole year for issues concerning women, children and other vulnerable residents? So, government needs to put funding into social issues.

“A lot of people were raped and assaulted, while many wives were battered during the COVID-19 lockdown. All these have shown us the extent to which social issues can actually affect our lives,” she said.

In Osun, Rev. Peter Akinkunmi, the General Coordinator, Justice, Development and Peace Makers Centre, a non governmental organisation, attributed the proliferation of street children in the state to the fact that the Act has not been domesticated.

“You can see the continuous proliferation of street children in Osun now. It is our belief that if the law is put in place, it will assist in dealing with the issue.

Bose Akorede, a lawyer, also said that the non-domestication of the law in the state had given rise to cases of gender-based violence.

“If the law had been affected, it would have reduced the rate of gender-based violence in the state. Perpetrators would definitely have a rethink before committing such grievous crime,” Akorede said.

Dapo Adeniji, the Permanent Secretary in the state Ministry of Justice, said that there were other laws that catered for and protected the vulnerable, women and the children in the state.

Adeniji particularly cited the Child Rights Act, which, he said, had been adopted and domesticated to cater for and protect the interest and welfare of children in the state, adding that another law protecting the women and the vulnerable was also in existence.

Also,  Olubukoka Olaboopo, the state’s Commissioner for Women, Children and Social Affairs, said there were laws in the state that mirrored the Act, which prohibited violence against women and the vulnerable.

According to her, rape cases, domestic violence and crime against children are frowned at by the law, adding that the state had domesticated the Child Right Law to ensure that children are not subjected to abuse or neglect.

Nicholas Babatunde, a former Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ile-Ife branch, was, however, of the opinion that the law currently existing in the state was not strong enough to bring perpetrators of violent crime against women and children to justice.

A gender activist and Chairman, Equal Rights Defenders,  Josephine Omonijo, said that the Act should not be mistaken for the protection of women and children alone, adding that it was for both males and females.

The Ekiti State Commissioner of Police, Babatunde Mobayo, said that the police had been given matching orders to speedily prosecute whoever was found engaging in abuses, such as rape and battery.

He, therefore, warned those violating the rights of others to refrain from the acts, in their own interest.

The Ekiti State Commissioner for Women Affairs, Alhaja Maryam Ogunlade, also bemoaned the growing trend of defilement of women and girls by young boys in the state, saying that the situation had become worrisome.

The Chief Registrar of Kwara High Court,  lbijoke Olawoyin, also said that the state had yet to domesticate the Act, notwithstanding the rumours that the state House of Assembly passed the bill in September.

Olabisi Omolona, the Chief Executive Officer of an NGO, Restoration of the Dignity of Womanhood, advised the federal and state governments to establish special courts that would handle cases of various forms of violence against women and girls in the country.

This, she said, would hasten the prosecution of such violence and ensure effective protection of women and girls against discrimination.

Prof. Oyesoji Aremu, a professor of Counseling and Criminal Justice, University of Ibadan, noted that implementation has been the major challenge of the Act, saying that that was why it has remained ineffective in many states in spite of the adequacy of its provisions.

“This may be due to unwillingness to report, consequential stigma, ignorance and not-too-encouraging actions of the handlers of the criminal justice system, among others.

“The domestication of the Act will require strong stakes by all, especially the political class and the elites. The media also have a great role to play in ensuring its practice and domestication,” he said.

Also, Dr Oludayo Tade, of Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan, was of the view that there would not have been the need for the Act, if the existing provisions in the laws of the land had been faithfully enforced and implemented.

“This VAPP Act aims to prevent violence against persons, including the psychological dimension.

“Among the states that have domesticated it, how many of them are functioning in terms of implementation?

“I know of Lagos and Ekiti states in the South West. How do we domesticate a law when the enforcers of such law have themselves been accused variously of brutality?

“The character of the Nigerian society has seen violence, intimidation and brutality as normal ways of life, and to reverse it, we need to enforce the existing laws in the criminal code and penal code as well as the nation’s constitution.

“There are laws already in existence. We don’t really have want of laws; rather, what we lack is the will to implement them,” he said.

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