In May 2015 the Nigerian government committed to ending all forms of violence against persons and protecting survivors of violence by passing the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act into law. Although initially and solely applicable in its Capital Territory, Abuja, his Act is now domesticated in up to 15 out of 36 states across the country. The long-awaited law condemns violent acts such as female genital mutilation, rape, and domestic abuses, and prosecutes offenders with up to 12 years jail term.
In 2013, UNFPA published a report asserting that 3 in 10 women in Nigeria suffered physical violence resulting from domestic, sexual, or mental abuse before the age 15. According to a survey by Thomson Reuters Foundation, Nigeria is the ninth most unsafe country for women globally. Sadly, other reports suggest that violence in Nigeria increased as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic..
Increased violence during coronavirus pandemic
The life-threatening COVID-19 pandemic led to lockdowns in many States which in turn increased the vulnerability of women and children to many forms of violent acts. The UN reported that some hotlines recorded a 30 percent increase in calls from victims of domestic violence. A study by UNFPA estimated an additional 15 million gender-based violence cases to occur every 3 months of the lockdown.
Between January and May, 2020, the Nigeria Police Force reported records of over 700 rape cases in Nigeria. These cases were believed to have spurred due to the lockdown since victims were likely to spend more time with their abusers. Olive Community Development Initiative (OCDI), an NGO in the North Central part of Nigeria particularly Kwara state, received 117 cases of gender-based violence in 2020 – more than half of recorded cases in the previous year. While the majority of reported cases related to negelct, others included sexual violence, physical assault, psychological abuse, and economic deprivation.
With limited resources and an increased demand, many NGOs, including Olive Community, were unable to meet the needs of the people seeking their help. Survivors of violence need legal services, medical care, psychosocial support, and economic empowerment, all of which are provided for in the VAPP Act. However, in order for the VAPP Act to be effective it must be adopted and implemented by more Nigerian states.
Many states in Nigeria are recording massive improvements with the VAPP Acts. After successful adoption, these states have developed resources, improved services, and provided justice for victims and perpetrators. For instance, a state in Nigeria’s South Western part, Ekiti State, establishedthe Moremi Center for free services to sufferers of sexual assault.
Evidently, the VAPP Act made Nigerians hopeful for a better justice system due to its rigorous comprehension. When compared to the Penal or Criminal Code, the VAPP Act eliminates gender biases and provides thorough legalities on violent acts. For example, the act recognizes and protects male rape survivors, identifies forceful oral sex as rape, and registers sex offenders in a database that is accessible to the public. These were not recognized in the Penal or Criminal code. Indeed, this act provides confidence for an improved justice system for sufferers and perpetrators of all forms of violence.
Many other states are deprived of the benefits of this act. While some states adopted the act, others are yet to see any serious enforcement. For instance, in Kwara State, the VAPP Act, which was passed into law in October 2020, has not been put utilized due to delays in its enforcement by the State government. To achieve this, the act needs to be published in a newspaper called gazette. After which a committee is created to regulate it. This delay has slowed case interventions and left NGOs and support centers crippled.
Giving survivors a chance
Although the VAPP Act is robust, its assurance lies not only in its enactment, but in its enforcement. Enforcing the VAPP Act means doing everything possible to put the Act into practice. This includes officially publishing the Act, known as gazetting, setting up a committee to work with the Ministry of Justice to regulate the implementation of the Act, and publicizing the Act to discourage likely offenders and encourage survivors to speak out.
Implementing the Act also involves providing emergency needs for survivors. In many cases, survivors and their wards need emergency shelters after immediate response and rescue from violent attacks. Some states have provisions for emergency cases but the majorities such as the Sexual Assault Referral Center in Kwara state barely work. These centers need professionals and other resources to make them functional.
Integrating survivors into society is important to protecting sufferers and ending all forms of violence. Survivors should be empowered to overcome their trauma and maximize their social functioning through educational services, financial aid, psychosocial support, legal assistance, medical care or any other service.
Lastly, giving survivors a chance for better livelihood is a collective responsibility. Therefore, a survivors’ fund should be created for local and international individuals and groups to support survivors and their significant others.
Putting an end to violent crimes is a global commitment and as a result, international bodies are actively seeking to support activities and policies like the VAPP Act. For instance in Kwara state, Action Aid Nigeria through Global Affairs, Canada supported NGOs such as OCDI in not just adopting the Act, but also providing resources for survivors.
While this has been helpful to assist sufferers of violent crimes, the demands and needs of survivors are increasing daily. The efforts of the international community, state and local government, NGOs and human rights’ groups can bring an end to violent acts in Nigeria if they work in cooperation with one another.