FIDA urges Senate leadership to act now
By Shola Ogundipe
‘MAKE it Happen. Pass the VAPP bill”. This was the crux of the message from Nigerians to the country’s Senate as the world marked this year’s International Women’s Day, IWD, Sunday, March 8.
Worried by the persistent and consistent rise in gender-based violence in the country especially the rape of minors, and the inadequate legal framework to prosecute such atrocious acts; The International Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA Nigeria, has charged the Senate to prioritise passage of the Violence Against Persons’ Prohibition, VAPP, Bill 2014, in the interest of society.
Lending voice to the issue, FIDA, Nigeria, urged the leadership of the Nigerian Senate to “make it happen” for the Nigerian women, children and vulnerable groups, by passing the VAPP bill before the end of this 7th Assembly.
Making the call in Abuja, FIDA National President, Hauwa Shekarau remarked that “the VAPP bill is the only holistic legal instrument that succinctly addressed issues of gender based violence, domestic violence, some obnoxious customary practices and other forms of violence prevalent in Nigeria today. Thus its importance can never be over-emphasised.”
FIDA, which has been at the forefront of soliciting for partnership with numerous stakeholders in the advocacy process for the passage of the bill., regretted that a lot still needed to be done to maximise the existing synergy.
Shekarau, who spoke during the public hearing of the VAPP bill at the Senate Monday last week in Abuja, said time was running out in the tenure of the present Assembly to ensure the passage of the bill.
Following a resolution by the committee of the House after the bill scaled its second reading on October 16, 2014, the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Legal Matters and Human Rights was mandated to organize the public hearing on resumption of the Senate to plenary.
Monday last week, when the Senate Committee finally held the much awaited public hearing on the VAPP bill 2014, among three other bills, at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja, the responce was tremendous as expected.
Agitation for legislation of a domestic violence law in Nigeria has been on the high ever since March 2013, when the nation’s 360-member House of Representatives, approved VAPP, bill 2014, on the third reading.
The VAPP bill aims to enact a law to eliminate, or reduce to a minimum, cases of sexual, domestic and indeed all forms of gender based violence. But such a law could only be given legal teeth through approval of the Nigerian Senate.
When passed into law, the VAPP bill would provide a more comprehensive definition of rape, enforce harsher sentences for rape and other sexual offences, in addition to providing compensation for rape victims.
The bill also promises to herald institutional protection from further abuse through restraining orders and a new fund to support the rehabilitation of victims of violence.
In the wake of the approval of the House of Reps, at least 50 stakeholders on Reproductive Health and Rights, RHR, drawn from a wide section including women and youth groups, Faith Based Organizations, professional bodies, the media, the Ministry of Women Affairs and the Network of the Bar, Bench and Police, among others, met in Abuja, to unite and speak with a common voice to call on the Nigerian Senate to pass the VAPP Bill before expiration of its seventh session.
Stakeholders are unanimous in demading for passage of the bill, based on what they described as the ever increasing cases of violence against persons, especially women in the country coupled with the fact that the bill had been with the National Assembly for the past 13 years.
But over the months, lack of action by the law makers on the all-important bill, has been a real cause for concern among stakeholders in Nigeria and the world in general.
The push for passage of the VAPP bill has been long and sustained. Efforts have included high level advocacy visits, lobbyings, public enlightenment and education talks to the Senate President and other principal officers, as well as Pro-VAPP Bill Senators.
Aggressive campaigns and engagement of mainstream media and social media to effectively mobilize the general public as well as give a face to the victims and survivors of domestic and gender based violence have been an on-going exercise.
Solidarity rallies in support of the VAPP Bill in addition to engagement of traditional and religious rulers have not been left out, all in the effort to towards ensuring widespread support.
A general review of domestic violence against women in the country reveals that the problem of violence against women has not been given adequate attention both at the individual and government levels.
The Nigerian Journal of Psychiatry, notes that girls and women that account for more than half of the Nigerian population, routinely experience gender based social injustices, notably domestic violence, that prevents full exploration of their potentials.