By Dada Ahmed and Ikenna Uwadileke, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
Unarguably, Nigeria can be aptly described as a country with a good legal system that is capable of checking crime and criminality within the society.
However, enlightened observers insist that a major drawback in efforts to curb crime and other anti-social activities in Nigeria is the weak implementation of the country’s laws, which has consequently encouraged impunity among the citizens.
The harrowing plight of a 13-year-old girl, Miss Ochanya Ogbonje, in Makurdi, Benue State, aptly underscores the need to strengthen the implementation of certain laws which are particularly aimed at protecting the rights of the citizens.
Ogbonje was said to have been sexually assaulted by her uncle and his son for several years, unknown to outsiders.
In the painful process, Ogbanje got infected and failed to survive the ordeal, as she gave up the ghost.
Concerned observers, therefore, insist that the death of the hapless girl is a wake-up call on the government at all levels to do the needful by enforcing laws that are aimed at safeguarding the peoples’ rights.
They particularly underscore the need to curtail violence against persons in the country via effective implementation of extant laws such as the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 (VAPP) and the Child Rights Act, 2003 (CRA).
As part of efforts to curtail violence against persons in Nigeria, the European Union (EU) and the British Council recently organised a workshop on the implementation of VAPP and CRA for the media and civil society organisations (CSOs) in Abuja.
VAPP prohibits all forms of violence against persons in private and public life, and provides maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders; and for related matters.
Some of the offences listed under VAPP include rape, physical injury, coercion and female circumcision or genital mutilation, while CRA basically deals with offences against children.
At the workshop, Prof. Joy Ezeilo of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, expressed concern that in spite the enactment of VAPP in 2015, only a few citizens were aware of its existence.
She called on journalists and CSOs to devote more time and energy to sensitising the public to the provisions of VAPP and CRA as well as the salient issues relating to their implementation.
Ezeilo, who is the Dean of Faculty Law in the university, stressed that even though Nigeria had ratified the CRA and VAPP, the implementation of the two laws had been faulty.
“The implementation of these Acts faces some difficulties, as there remains a gap between the laws and putting the provisions of the laws into practice.
“If we had started something, we would not be where we are today; we need to do a lot of public enlightenment and sensitisation on the laws.
“The Federal Government needs to use the stick-and-carrot approach to ensure the effective implementation of the Child Rights Act and the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 in the country,’’ she said.
According to her, many Nigerians have yet to fully understand the concept of the laws let alone the implementation of their provisions.
Ezeilo called on the Federal Government to provide incentives for those states, which had yet to adopt CRA, so as to encourage them to embrace and implement the law.
Sharing similar sentiments, Ms Rhoda Tyoden, National Secretary, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria, emphasised that CRA and VAPP were meant to check violence against the citizens.
Tyoden, who spoke on CRA, urged media practitioners, CSOs and other stakeholders to work together in efforts to provide access to information for parents, guardians and community leaders on issues such as the harmful effects of child marriage.
She also appealed to the government to develop comprehensive national strategies for combating child marriage, while initiating best practices and support programmes for the successful implementation of the strategies.
Also speaking, Mr Victor Oroyi, Communication Officer of FIDA, said: “Basically, I have learnt that the laws protecting women and children are well-drafted but poorly implemented; thus raising issues of concern for all stakeholders.
“I will, however, put what I learnt during the training into practice in my organisation so as to boost the collective efforts to ensure the desired implementation of the laws prohibiting violence against persons in the country.
“We will embark on a campaign to popularise the provisions of the Child Rights Act so as to enable the citizens to fully understand the law and be able to hold the government accountable.’’
Miss Nneka Odenigbo, an Assistant Programme Officer of Partners West Africa, Nigeria, said that the workshop had improved her knowledge of the provisions of CRA and VAPP.
She pledged to make use of the experience she garnered at the event to bear on her duties in order to boost the implementation of the provisions of CRA and VAPP for the country to derive maximum benefits from the two laws.
Nevertheless, Mrs Juliana Joseph, the Centre Manager, Salamah Sexual Assault Referral Centre, Kaduna, called for the effective implementation of VAPP to check the rising incidence of rape in the country.
She grumbled that rape and other forms of violence against persons had continued to thrive in the country because of the societal failure to adequately implement the existing legal framework to check these misdemeanours.
She said that a potent way to check violence against persons was the enforcement of VAPP, which was meant to serve as an instrument to bridle the perpetrators of the crime.
“For now, people commit this crime and get away with it because there is no instrument to prosecute them but once this instrument comes on board; they would be accosted and prosecuted.
“If the law is truly enforced, the menace of rape in the country, for instance, would be addressed in a practical way because the problem is not with the provisions of the law but its enforcement.
“Once one person is prosecuted, it will serve as a deterrent to others and reduce the crime to the barest minimum because you cannot eradicate it; you can only reduce it.
“People will begin to see others as fellow human beings and not articles that can be used and abused anyhow,’’ she said.
Joseph emphasised that the Salamah Sexual Assault Referral Centre had been inundated with records of violence against persons.
“What is even more worrisome is the rate at which fathers are now sexually abusing their biological daughters; there is almost no type of violence that has not been recorded at the centre.
“We have received cases of rape of boys, of girls, of married women that were kidnapped from their farms, cases of married women who were kidnapped from their matrimonial homes before they were sexually abused.
“This is because people commit such crimes with impunity, knowing that nothing would be done to punish them.
“When a rape case happens, it is usually taken to the traditional rulers and from there they say `let us cover this crime and the person is shielded’.
“But I can tell you that anybody who has raped someone stands the chance of raping another person again.
“So, a rapist is always a serial rapist because there is no enforcement of the law that will help to check such wrongdoings in the society.
“Unfortunately, it is painful to note that most of the clients that we have received at the centre are 15 years and below, which is very worrisome,’’ she added.
Besides, Joseph attributed some suicide cases to rape incidents which were not properly managed.
“You can counsel some victims and think you have succeeded in counselling them but the trauma remains bottled up inside them. That is why we are seeing an increase in suicide cases.
“Wife or husband battering could be linked to rape that took place in a child’s life and was not properly addressed. The person has the trauma bottled up inside him and takes it out on the society in form of revenge.
“It is good that the government is now looking at it seriously because it is a very serious crime.
“You need to see when a person comes in traumatised as if the whole world has collapsed.
“But once the person gets counselling and treated in a friendly environment, the traumatised person goes out smiling and saying `I never knew I could pick up the bits and pieces of my life and move on’,’’ Joseph said.
All in all, analysts underscore the need to promote Nigeria’s socio-economic and political development via the effective implementation of the laws designed to curb the infringement of the peoples’ rights.