The Violence Against persons (prohibition) Act (VAPP) was passed into law in May 2015. The Act was a result of agitations for the protection of persons against the different forms of violence. Violence, both at the home front and the larger society is fast becoming a trend in recent day Nigeria. Daily, we hear of someone killing or maiming their spouse; or a scorned lover pouring acid on an ex-lover; or someone being forcefully taken away from their family and loved ones. It was the need to protect citizens from violence such as these that led to the enactment of the VAPP Act, 2015. The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act is an improvement on the penal and criminal code in relation to violence; it also makes provision for compensation to victims as well as the protection of their rights.
SYNOPSIS OF THE ACT
The Act was passed into law in a bid to eliminate violence in private and public life; prohibit all forms of violence, including physical, sexual, psychological, domestic, harmful traditional practices; discrimination against persons and to provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders.
The content of the Act is rich in its provisions as it covers most of the prevalent forms of violence in Nigeria today ranging from physical violence; psychological violence; sexual violence; harmful traditional practices; and socio-economic violence. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) is named as the service provider.
Under the VAPP Act, rape, spousal battery, forceful ejection from home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, female circumcision or genital mutilation, abandonment of children, harmful traditional practices, harmful substance attacks such as acid baths, political violence, forced isolation and separation from family and friends, depriving persons of their liberty, incest, indecent exposure and violence by state actors (especially government security forces) among others are punishable offences. Some of these will be discussed shortly.
One of the very notable and commendable provisions of the Act is its expansion of the meaning of rape and its prohibition thereof. While other existing laws limited their scope of rape to protect only females in relation to vaginal penetration without consent, the VAPP Act has taken a giant stride to expand the meaning and scope of rape. By virtue of the Act, rape is when a person intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with any other part of his or her body or anything else without consent, or where such consent is obtained by force or means of threat or intimidation of any kind or by fear of harm or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act or the use of any substance or additive capable of taking away the will of such person or in the case of a married person by impersonating his or her spouse. By this definition, both males and females are protected against rape. The issue of rape being gender-biased has been a jurisprudential issue in Nigeria for a while because our law, as it then was, does not recognize situations wherein a man would or could be raped. Thus, instances such as the one reported in Daily Post on the 17th of July, 2012 where a man was allegedly “raped” to death by his wives, was not classified as rape but manslaughter.
The Act also, in its progressive nature, took cognizance of the fact that sex now goes beyond the primary sex organs and thus, extended the scope of rape to include anus and mouth. This is because it was difficult in times past, to bring an issue of forceful anal or oral sex under the umbrella of rape simply because such occasion was not envisaged or accommodated by our laws.
b) Prohibition of Female Circumcision or Genital Mutilation
Circumcision and genital mutilation, a practice that is still practised in our society and even regarded as a culture among some, is now, by virtue of the provision of the Act, an offence irrespective of the part of the country she comes from. A Person who performs female circumcision or genital mutilation or engages another to carry out such circumcision or mutilation commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 4 years or to a fine not exceeding N200,000.00 or both. Also, anyone who attempts to carry out the offence of female circumcision or genital mutilation also commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding N100,000.00 or both. A person who also incites, aids or abets or counsels another to commit the offence of female circumcision or mutilation commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding N100,000.00 or both.
c) Domestic Offences
i. Abandonment of children, spouse and other dependants without means of sustenance
It is no longer considered strange in Nigeria, to hear that a spouse (particularly a man) has abandoned his responsibilities in the home and absconded either with another lover or even to an entirely unknown place. The VAPP Act has now made it a crime to abandon one’s spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance and anyone guilty of this will face charges of imprisonment of not less than one year or a fine of not less than N100,000. Even a person who receives or assists another who, to his or her knowledge, committed this offence is considered an accessory after the fact and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 1 year or to a fine not exceeding N1 00,000.00 or both.
ii. Forceful ejection from home
Forceful ejection by any marriage partner is also now prohibited. Consequently, any partner who forcefully evicts his/her partner from his or her home or refuses access commits an offence attracting imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding N300,000.00 or both .
iii. Spousal Battery
A person who batters his or her spouse commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or to a fine not exceeding N200,000.00 or both.
On a regular basis, in the pages of the national dailies and other media, we hear about incestuous acts in our community; father sleeping with his daughter, brothers and sisters in incestuous activities, grandfather and grandchild having sexual relations and other forms of incestuous acts. The VAPP defines incest to mean “an indecent act or an act which causes penetration with a person who is, to his or her knowledge, his or her daughter or son, granddaughter or son, sister or brother, mother or father, niece or nephew, aunt/uncle, grandmother or granduncle” and goes further to provide that any person who knowingly and willfully have carnal knowledge of another within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity and affinity contained in the Schedule to the Act with or without consent, commits incest and is liable on conviction to a minimum term of 10 years imprisonment without an option of fine where sex was without consent, and where the two parties consent to commit incest, 5 years imprisonment without an option of fine.
d) Compensation to Victims
Another enviable feature of the Act is its provision for compensation to victims of crimes under the Act. The Act provides that the Court shall award appropriate compensation to the victim as it may deem fit in the circumstance. And in addition to the rights provided for under chapter IV of the Nigerian Constitution, victims and survivors of violence are entitled to comprehensive medical, psychological, social and legal assistance by accredited service providers and government agencies or non-governmental agencies providing such assistance; information on the availability of legal, health and social services and other relevant assistance and be readily afforded access to them; rehabilitation and re-integration programme.
e) Protection of Victims
The lawmakers, taking cognizance of the fact that victims or potential victims might not want to come forward to lodge complaints in relation to offences under the Act because of the fear of further victimization in the wider society (especially at the workplace), provides that no complainant of any offence under the Act shall be expelled, disengaged, suspended or punished in any form whatsoever by virtue of the action of compliance with the provisions of this Act.
The identities of victims of offences under the Act is also sought to be protected. The Act provides for the number and categories of persons that may be in court during trial, it empowers the Court to hear proceedings in camera or to exclude any person from attending such proceedings and prohibits the publication of certain information in relation to the trial. This is to ensure that the dignity of the victim (and other parties to the trial) is protected.
The Act provides extensively for protection order. A protection order, according to the Act is an official legal document, signed by a Judge that restrains an individual or State actors from further abusive behaviour towards a victim. This provision of the law is a very laudable one in that it curtails and mitigates, on the short term, the abuse of persons especially in private spaces; it also shows that the Act is both protective and preventive in its measures. Thus, a person who has been a victim of violence, and in the risk of further violence, can apply for a protection order to be issued against his/her violator(s). The protection order is to be accompanied by a warrant for the arrest of the respondent and it remains valid throughout the period of the protection order. Where the respondent has contravened any prohibition, condition, obligation or order contained in a protection order, a complainant may hand the warrant of arrest together with an affidavit in the prescribed form to any police officer may proceed to arrest the respondent if he has reasonable grounds to suspect that the complainant may suffer imminent harm.
f) Attempt as an offence
In the Act, attempt to commit an offence is an offence in itself. The Act thus provides for the appropriate punishment for the attempt of the commission of offences under the Act.
g) Provision for the smooth operation of the law
In a bid to promote the judicious implementation of the Act, the Act makes it an offence for any person to defraud or conceal an offence or frustrate the investigation and prosecution of offenders under the Act or any other enactment which is deemed a felony and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or to a fine not exceeding N200,000.00 or both. Similarly, a person who willfully makes a false statement, whether oral or documentary in any judicial proceeding under the Act with the aim of initiating an investigation or criminal proceedings under the Act against another person commits an offence is liable on conviction to a fine of N200, 000.00 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months.
h) Socio-economic violence
Abduction, the prohibition of harmful widowhood practices, abuse, harmful traditional practice, attack with harmful substances, date rape, damage to property with the intention to cause distress, deprivation of liberty, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, forced isolation or separation from family and friends, stalking, coercion, intimidation etc are some of the socio-economic violence prohibited by the Act.
i) Sexual offender’s Record
Prior to now, there is no record of sexual offenders in Nigeria. The Act has thus provided for a register for convicted sexual offenders, which shall be maintained and accessible to the public and where a person has more than one conviction of a sexual offence, the court may declare such a person a dangerous sexual offender.
j) The superiority of the Act
Where there is a conflict between any provision of the Act and any other provision on similar offences in the Criminal Code, Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, the provisions of the Act shall supersede.
k) Political Violence
The Act defines political violence to mean ‘any act or attempted act of violence perpetrated in the course of political activities, such as elections, and including thuggery, mugging, use of force to disrupt meetings or the use of dangerous weapons that may cause bodily harm or injury’ and anybody found guilty of such, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 4 years or to a fine not exceeding N500,000.00 or both. A state actor who commits political violence commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 4 years or to a fine not exceeding N1.000,000.00 or both. Where the offender is a state actor, the State is liable for the offence committed by its agents and the Court shall award appropriate compensation commensurate with the extent and amount of damages.
PERCEIVED DRAWBACKS IN RELATION TO THE ACT
The major drawback in relation to this law is its limited application to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and only the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja empowered by an Act of Parliament has the jurisdiction to hear and grant any application brought under the Act.
The duplicity of laws is another major downside of the Act given that most of the crimes stipulated in the VAPP are provided for in the existing criminal laws and also there are provisions for the liberty of the citizen in sections 35, 40, and 41 of the constitution.
It is believed that this Act will bring succour and effective remedies to millions of victims who have suffered violence, in one form or the other, in silence without recourse to justice or rehabilitative, psychological or social support for their recovery and reintegration. The Act does not only ensure that the violators are brought to justice, but also that the victims are adequately compensated, reintegrated into the society and given the necessary support and protection. It is thus expected that the other states in Nigeria will take immediate and necessary action to adopt and enact similar law on Violence against persons.