Adebayo Muftau, a native of Omu Aran community in Kwara state, has never heard about the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Law even though he is in his fifties.
But when asked whether he knows anything about Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) he was quick to respond in the affirmative. He cited cases like child abuse, rape, wife battery, hawking by minors as acts that can be categorised under SGBV.
Muftau is not alone in his ignorance of the VAPP Law. In fact, it is because of him and the rest of the state and especially those at grass roots level that the Habiba Dangana Foundation, (HADIS) a Non-Governmental Organization carried out a baseline survey in Kwara state to ascertain the depth of knowledge, understanding and awareness of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and the Violence against Persons Prohibition Law (VAPP) in select communities, early in the year, 2022.
So what exactly is Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV)?
It is an act perpetrated against a person’s will, based on gender norms and unequal power relationships.
According to Dr. Amina Salihu, founder of Hadis Foundation, “the objective of the baseline survey is to determine the level of grass root understanding, knowledge and awareness of SGBV and Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) law.
The VAPP law is aimed at promoting and ensuring maximum protection for victims and effective punishment for offenders.
While men like Muftau understand what SGBV is, he like many in his community pin the blame for SGBV mostly on the youth’s abuse of drugs as well as poverty and lack of knowledge of what constitutes violence against other persons in the community.
In his words, “the youths have become so careless and drug abuse is rampant among them. This is the basis of several other violent acts seen today.”
And Muftau is not alone in this line of thinking.
According to the focus group discussion data collated by Hadis Foundation from its Baseline Survey of 22 participants of Omu Aran community, majority of the people hold this same view.
Azeezat Adeoti, another Omu Aran resident, a woman in her 40s, reported that some group of young people within the ages 16 years and below were apprehended while filming adult movie in a hotel. She also supports the view that the youth are the ones bringing sexual harassment upon themselves and thus encouraging rape.
As controversial as that sounds, Adeoti is not alone in her position and while she admits that she knows what SGBV is (sexual and Gender Based Violence) and what it stands for, she is unaware that there is a law prescribing punishment and recompense.
In comes the VAPP Law
What is the VAPP Law?
Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Law was passed by the government to address all forms of violence and discrimination against persons; provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims as well as stipulate punishments for offenders. The law addresses the following offences:
• Willfully placing a person in fear of physical injury;
• Female circumcision or genital mutilation;
• Harmful traditional practices;
• Forceful ejection from home
• Depriving a person of his/her liberty;
• Damage to property with intent to cause distress or annoyance
• Forced financial dependence or economic abuse;
• Forced isolation from family and friends;
• Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse
• Abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance
• Stalking; indecent exposure, administering of substance with intent to commit Incest; Indecent exposure;
• Political violence
While a lot of people understand what sexual based violence is, many do not know there’s a law for prosecuting offenders. A recent report in a national daily, Daily Trust, stated that “Nigeria’s Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development recently disclosed that out of the over 5,100 cases of GBV currently in court, only a paltry 16 convictions have been secured.”
Despite an alarming increase in domestic violence pan-Nigeria there seems to be scant condemnation or conviction when it comes to SGBV crimes. This has led to low level of reportage by victims and their families who fear being stigmatized. There is also the seeming lack of empathy for authorities who should step up. Another issue is a seeming dearth of knowledge, it appears, especially with regards to options open to those seeking recompense.
To reverse this state of affairs, Hadis Foundation chose to start its humanitarian interventions with two states; namely, Kwara and Kaduna states. In doing so, Hadis touched base with organisations like the National Orientation (NOA) Agency, the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), the Kwara State Command of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), whose principal officers offered insights on the handling of SGBV cases and how the VAPP Law can be made more effective in its implementation.
While the participants at the community level agree that the implementation of the VAPP Law, once gazetted by the state government would go a long way to help victims, they expressed skepticism that it would be 100% effective. According to them, they do not believe that women will receive fair judgement.
Matthew Atolagbe from Omu Aran noted that “men beating women isn’t regarded as gender violence in our area but we still frown at it. When we have cases like that, we call the couple and try to settle the matter amicably.”
This is exactly what the VAPP Law seeks to clarify; violence like this will no longer be treated as a family matter to be settled by the community. Once the VAPP Law is implemented, domestic violence will be criminalised and perpetrators will face the full wrath of the law from the police up to the judiciary.
But despite the good intentions, there are many hurdles to ensuring a proper implementation of the VAPP Law, one of which is tackling the case of the police; family and stigma among others. According to several participants, the police is corrupt and they often request for money to settle cases.
A participant said, “I recall a child molestation case I witnessed. It was reported at the Police station, unfortunately, within a short period of time, the culprit was released back into street. We heard that it was after a sum of money was paid.”
Another resident, Zakariyahu Shukurat added, “Domestic violence is usually referred to be settled back at home if reported. It is the same thing with other cases that involve family. The community can only help to report to civil defense. They would rather not want to meddle into the affairs of a couple”.
Zakariyahu’s words ring true in another part of the country in the recent case involving a female journalist, Nafeesah Vandi. A staff of the Adamawa State Broadcasting Corporation, she was brutalized by her husband, Ibrahim Aliyu a few weeks back. The incident sparked public outrage with various agencies calling for the prosecution of the suspect in line with the VAPP Law already promulgated in the state. Unfortunately, Aliyu was released after he and Nafeesah allegedly reached an “amicable” solution over the case being investigated by the police.
In a state where the law is enforced to the letter, neither Nafeesah nor Aliyu will have a say as to what happens once a report is filed.
But more to the point, Hadis Foundation has its hands full as it seeks to ensure that vulnerable persons within the society are not only protected under the law but that perpetrators are made aware that acts committed under SGBV would be punished to the full extent of the law.