By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA- THE Federal Government on Wednesday said that the abuses and rape of girls and children has increased three times before the lockdown as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and that henceforth, it will take decisive action against rapists.
This is as the Federal Fire Service said that it saved N1. 629 trillion assets and 724 lives from fire disaster between June and October 2019.
Briefing State House correspondents at the end of the fourth virtual Federal Executive Council, FEC meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa Abuja, the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen described the upsurge in rape and abuse of children as embarrassing.
She said that her ministry has decided to push for the domestication of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPPA), 2015 in states to ensure rapists face deserved punishments for their actions.
The VAPPA defines rape as when a person intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with any other part of his/her body or anything else without consent, or with incorrectly obtained consent.
Consent can be incorrectly obtained where it is obtained: by force/threats/intimidation; using false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act, by the use of substances capable of taking away the will of that person; by a person impersonating a married woman’s husband to have sex.
The VAPPA law is only applicable in the Federal Capital Territory, it does not apply in other States of the Federation.
Child Rights Act (CRA), provides that sex with a child is rape, and anyone who has sexual intercourse with a child is liable to imprisonment for life upon conviction.
Dame Tallen said FEC decided a memo she presented as a result of the outrage that has greeted high cases of rape and gender based violence in the country during the lockdown.
Recall that there have been outrage over the death of Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, a 22-year-old microbiology student, raped and killed in an empty church in Benin City, Edo State capital.
18-year-old Barakat Bello, who was taking her bath, was raped and macheted to death in Ibadan, Oyo State.
Fourteen men in Jigawa State, were reported to have repeatedly raped a minor.
No fewer than 80 rape cases were recorded in various parts of Anambra State during the COVID-19 lockdown between April and May.
The Minister said, “I am sure you are aware that for the past few weeks, the country has been witnessed a lot of outrage and outcry because of the pandemic within the pandemic that we are facing.
“I know before COVID-19, we have always had pandemic of rape cases and gender based violence. But with the lockdown due to COVID-19, women and children are locked down with their abusers and the number has escalated three times. No state is an exception.
“This has reach an embarrassing situation that a memo was presented in council, calling for immediate intervention, legal and prompt dispensation of justice in the cases. Because, from the statistics we have and from the meetings I had with the 36 states commissioners of women affaires, we have hundreds of cases within our courts that have not been addressed.
“And out of one case that has been reported, be sure they are 10 others that have not been reported. As a result, we called for aggressive media campaigns, public enlightenment for people to rise and pick out against abuse of minors and rape cases.
“We also called on the judiciary for prompt dispensation of cases and the police to ensure rape cases are not treated with levity or wish away.
“These are issues that were presented before council and I am happy to announce that we got the full support of Mr. President and all members of council, that government will take decisive actions at the highest level to protect women and children in this country.”
She said that Council noted that there was an existing law already, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPPA), 2015.
According to her, “That Act covers everything but our problem is lack of domestication of that Act. Out of the 36 states, only nine states. While the council was on, the Nigeria Governors Forum, also invited me to come and brief them on the same topic, because it has reached an alarming stage.
“I am happy to announce that the governors gave me 100 percent, they are committed to join hands with the ministry to fight this dreaded scourge. Because, it is horrific because embossment is an understatement and it doesn’t give Nigeria a good image.
“We are destroy the future generation because, if you rape a child, you have destroyed that child for life and that is not acceptable.”
On the involvement of traditional rulers in the enlightenment campaign, Tallen said not only will the traditional rulers be engaged, religious leaders will also be engaged.
She said the ministries of Information and Culture and Women Affairs Development, will collaborate and launch a media advocacy campaign to aggressively address this issue at all levels because, most of the atrocities take place in the rural areas.
She said, “As soon as COVID-19 is cleared, we will move out with the minister of information on advocacy round the country.”
On the issues of minors being mostly affected, Tallen described it as most serious and most disturbing.
She said, “I have put in place a team, in fact a research is going on at all the state levels, while we have the national data collection at the ministry. We are also working closely with National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), to find out the reasons why a man of 80, 75, 60 will rape a child of one, two years.
“The recent one in Kaduna is a father rapping his daughter a child of three months. He has been doing that until the child turned nine months and he was caught.
“So many horrible cases that will break your heart. I think there is more to it, is either diabolical or mental cases. So, these are the issues and a research is going on to identify because, the ministry of health is also concerned and we are working with them. There are issues of mental health and other issues that need to be addressed.”
Also briefing, the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola said that the Federal Fire Service responded to 2615 fire calls, saved 724 lives and assets worth N1. 629 trillion between June and October 2019.
He explained that the figure was evaluated within the operational competence of the Fire service to evaluate worth of property to put clear information and message of their activities and what they have done.
“In their intervention therefore what this means is that they have prevented destruction of assets worth N1. 629 trillion between June and October 2019,while saving 724 lives and responded to 2215 fire calls.”