From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
Stakeholders involved in ensuring a violence free society have stressed the need for intensive enlightenment of the public on the Violence Against People (Prohibition) Law, recently passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly and assented by the state governor, Nyesom Wike.
It would be recalled that the above Act was considered and passed into Law following pressure from a Port Harcourt based civil society organization, Centre for Environment and Human Rights Development (CEHRD) and other organizations following the series of reported abuses in the state.
At the weekend, CEHRD had an interactive summit on the implementation of the VAPP Act with the representatives of the Police, Rivers State Health Management Board, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation, NAPTIP, as well as other civil society groups.
Speaking at the programme held in Port Harcourt, Dr David Vareba, CEHRD’s Head of Human Rights and Governance, said the essence of the meeting was for the participants to ascertain the challenges of VAPP Law as passed by the State Assembly and assented by the Governor in December 2020.
He said ‘We brought stakeholders together to brainstorm on what their challenges are so that collectively we can do an advocacy to fill in those gaps, so that we can implement the VAPP Act optimally, because if you look into the VAPP Act you will see the major challenge is going to be infrastructure.
“The police does not have the necessary infrastructure; for instance, the ambulance to go and pick victims, they don’t even have the infrastructure to interview victims.
“The health centre, they don’t have psychosocial centre and they don’t have the necessary infrastructure to do what they supposed to do, to implement the VAPP Act. We call the meeting so we can brainstorm on those challenges and see how we can advocate it to the government in order to solve them.”
Also speaking, Dr Obelebraa Adebiye, representing the Medical Women Association of Nigeria, stressed that patients of confidentiality is never compromised, adding that most times people don’t come out because of stigmatization the society gives to victims not even considering that they are victims.
In her instances, Dr Adebiye said “Like in a case of rape; if a lady is raped, the society will think that she has done something to deserve that rape. Maybe changing the narrative, we have seen children of five, nine years being abused, violated. So when defilement of that young child takes place, what does that child know. You see that they are challenging the narrative.”
Speaking further she advised ‘The society to know that the VAPP Act is all encompassing, it involves both male and female. Is not about women. The Act covers everybody even a man that is being abused, women can abuse man. It is Violence Against Persons Act, is not violence against women.
“The VAPP Act is not only talking about the physical abuse, but also psychological abuse. Everybody is covered so people should not be afraid, every single citizen in the society is covered by the VAPP Act. So people should be able to report whenever there is an act of violence against them.”
Stressing on the summit, Dr Adebiye said ‘Here we are discussing about how to better implement the VAPP Act and to overcome the challenges that normally comes with the implementation.
“If a case of rape is not reported, the victim might get Sexually Transmitted Disease or even unwanted pregnancy. But if the victim had reported early when this act took place, you discovered they will be able to treat the victim,” she advised.
On her part, CSP Patience Adebayo, O/C Anti- Trafficking Unit StateCID, Rivers State, noted hostile environment in the court where most times victims are re-victimized, lack of associate legal representation for victims, standard of proof, lack of proper investigation, others as problems of prosecuting sexual violence.