Dr. Ikpeazu, Abia State Governor

From PETER OKORE, Umuahia

Abia state has joined the league of states of the federation that have signed “The Violence Against Persons Prohibition (Vapp)” Into Law, as a safeguard against various forms of violence against humanity.

Other states that have signed the VAPP act into Law since after the Bill successfully went through the legislative processes in the national assembly and assented into Law in 2015 are   Anambra State in 2018; Bauchi in 2020; Enugu 2019; Kaduna 2018; Lagos 2007 and Oyo in 2016. Following these, other State Assemblies that have passed this Bill (awaiting assent)     include Benue, Cross River, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Ogun , Osun and Plateau states respectively.

Acknowledging the importance of this new law, experts described the introduction of this law as a more robust legal framework for implementing justice for gender- based issues and rape.

According to a cross-section of lawyers and Human Rights Advocates interviewed since after the passage; numerous cases of abuse are tied- up in the courts because extant laws have proved inadequate.

In a summary of their submissions: “Before now no law specifically protects or prescribes punishment for the rape of a young boy or a man. In pre-existing laws on rape, only vaginal penetration using male genitalia is classified as ‘rape. In the legal definition of rape, “Only women can be ‘raped’.

But by the provision of this new VAPP law, “Males can also be raped”. The law stipulates that any non-consensual, unlawful anal or oral sex can be rape; and not sexual assault, as current legal definitions infer. The law also provides that the violence of rape can be inflicted with instruments, other than the genitalia; as against what is obtainable in extant laws”.

On the whole, the VAPP law covers psychological, socio-economic and physical violence. It makes provisions for violence perpetrated by spouses, deprivations by spouses, battery, harmful widowhood practices, female genital mutilation, indecent exposure, incest, abandonment of children, as well as harmful substance attacks; for example, cases where someone pours acid on a fellow human being.

It even further protects citizens from violence perpetrated by recognized state institutions or agencies”.

“Furthermore, the new law makes it possible for relevant state ministries such as the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social development to discharge important parts of their mandate such as the protection of vulnerable women and children”.

The signing of the Violence against Persons Prohibition act into LAW was performed in a micro- ceremony witnessed by a few top government functionaries.

It would be recalled that the assent to this Bill comes after months of painstaking work by the Abia State House of Assembly and amidst pioneering advocacy by the wife of the Governor, Mrs. Nkechi Ikpeazu.

Speaking after the brief ceremony, Chief Press Secretary to the Wife of the Governor, Chika Ojiegbe described the assent to the new Law as an Independence Day Anniversary gift for Abians by the Governor.

In the words of Ojietgbe, the gesture has once more proved Governor Ikpeazu’s commitment to protecting the rights of the citizens. “I think it is a milestone for Abia State and a feather in the hat of the First Lady, Mrs. Nkechi Ikpeazu”.

Businesshallmark understands that for over two years the wife of the governor had been the arrowhead for the move to get the VAPP Bill passed and signed in Abia. She and other stakeholders had engaged the Abia state House of Assembly on the matter many times.

According to sources, Mrs. Nkechi Ikpeazu has gone down in history as the first governor’s wife in Abia state to visit the state house of assembly and addressed the House in plenary session, in respect of this Bill, which has now become Law.   Consequently, the House passed the Bill and     Ikpeazu eventually gave his assent to law on October1, 2020.

However, there have been expressions of joy and relief in Abia by many stakeholders since the governor assented to this law. Former Chairman of the International Federation of Women Lawyers in Abia State, Mrs. Chidinma Alozie said in an interview:

“We owe a lot to the determination of the Wife of the Governor to get this Bill passed and signed into law. We salute, in a very special way, Mr. Governor for timeliness in signing the law as it provides a more robust legal framework for implementing justice for gender based issues and rape. We have many clear cases of abuses and violence that do not see the light of day in courts because some extant laws have proven inadequate for diligent prosecution”.

To add to this feat, a few days ago Governor Ikpeazu commissioned an Ultra-Modern Half-Way Home in Umuahia, built with support from Total Upstream, which cumulatively makes Abia very ready to effectively take on the increasing social challenges of gender based violence and displacement caused by it as well as by human trafficking.

Meanwhile the World President of Medical Women International Association(MWIA), Dr. Eleanor Nwadinaobi, has on behalf of the organisation, thanked the State Governor for putting smiles on the faces of Abians by signing into law the Abia State Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill.

In a message she sent to the Governor, Dr. Nwadinaobi stated that the global organization is aware that this Executive endorsement of the law, which is a culmination of months of collaborative efforts, championed by the wife of the governor, Deaconess Nkechi Ikpeazu’s pioneering efforts in pushing the bill through the State House of Assembly and working with other stakeholders to get it passed.

The statement reads in part: “With Your Excellency graciously giving your imprimatur to the bill and making it a full-fledged Law, Abia State has joined other states in the Federation to commit to the protection of persons and ensuring that perpetrators are brought to book”.

“We therefore remain grateful to you and your wife Nkechi Ikpeazu. We urge you to kindly put in- place a strong Task team to ensure realistic implementation of the Abia VAPP act.”

In her reaction to this new law, the Abia state commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs. Ukachi Amala declared: ”Whether old or new, rape or sexual and gender-based violence are evil against humanity, which Abians and Nigerians, in general, must come together to end”.

To drum-home compliance to the New Law, what it portends and responsibilities of communities in Abia state, a team from the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Developments, an NGO, Vicar Hope Foundation, in collaboration with United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA and other stakeholders, have embarked upon advocacy tour of Local Government areas of the state holding Town Hall meetings with target audiences like, Elders in council; Community gate- keepers, youths and women Council at their respective locations in various local Government Areas of the state.

According to the Commissioner for Women Affairs, the year 2020 will not be forgotten in a hurry, because of the Corona virus disease pandemic, its transmission and the exposure of the lapses in the communities, the realities of not being able to protect the vulnerable, women and children from sexual and gender-based violence, which increased during the lock down.

She decried the uncanny acts against the women-folk which became rampant during the lockdown. She enjoined parents, leadership of town unions, the religious among others to jointly and effectively play their roles in order to end the bad behaviour.

Amala who assured of the Ministry’s commitment to contending the gender-based violence advised victims to speak-out through the Ministry of Women Affairs or relevant bodies while seeking medical assistance.

In her lecture, titled: “Rape And Defilement”, which she delivered during the interface session,     the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Lady Onyinye Nwachukwu made it clear that rape cases abound as a result of high level of moral decadence in the Society.

She lamented that men who are supposed to offer protection to women and children, have wantonly become perpetrators, to the extent that most of them delight in abusing even minors. She implored parents, particularly women, to rise and say total “No to rape and defilement”.

Nwachukwu who further decried the rate youths abuse drugs and which also affects their psyche, pointed out that her ministry, in collaboration with Vicar Hope Foundation, has been sensitizing the public on the issue.

Othetopics like gender based violence; genotype and gender equality were treated by other resource persons, including the President, National Council of Women Society, NCWS.