Dear Senator, what if your daughter is raped?
Well, I know you’ve got them all secured. Your house is a fortress. When they go out they are chauffeur driven with an armed police escort in tow. You’ve made sure they are in the best schools with extra layers of security and of course, the older ones are in universities in safe climes where getting raped is not a likely possibility.
Sincerely, I hope by God they remain safe, but imagine for a second that something goes wrong and one of them falls victim perhaps in the hands of a trusted one, a favourite uncle or even their husband. How would you feel?
Bad, I imagine?
What if you feel even worse? What if you discover after the fact, that there are no laws to effectively prosecute the perpetrator, that there is no support system for her except that which you and your equally heartbroken wife can provide, because existing laws against domestic violence in Nigeria are restrictive and obsolete?
How would you feel knowing that you had the chance as a member of the Nigerian Senate to put such a law in place and you looked the other way?
Yes, I am talking about the VAPP Bill. I am not sure it rings any bells, does it? Things like estacode and constituency project and 2015 take up the top spaces in your memory these days so I forgive your amnesia. There is only so much a person can remember especially when the elections are looming so large on the calendar.
So, I will remind you free of charge. VAPP is an acronym for Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill. It is a bill that has made repeated unsuccessful journeys through the National Assembly, a proposed law which you and your colleagues have continued to ignore like it doesn’t matter, a law you would wish existed while cursing and swearing, should your daughter come to such misfortune.
You see, domestic violence is no respecter of social strata or geographical location. Rape is so prevalent here that according to one report about 3,800 cases were reported in the print media alone in the last 3 years. Its close relative, spousal battery is a fact of life for so many especially women which is not entirely a surprise given that in this age, we have laws that allow a man chastise his wife in order to correct her. You doubt me? Go read the provisions of the Penal Code again.
A little while ago, you and your colleagues’ tactically sanctioned child marriage after one of your colleagues, a distinguished Senator of the federal republic, played the religion card in justifying an action that should be repugnant to all discernable minds and you all screamed Aye in support.
What if Child marriage is no less a crime than rape and sexual abuse? What if by referring to it as ‘marriage’ we are giving it legality and promoting it as something that is morally acceptable?
But I digress. We were talking about the VAPP Bill which is gathering dust somewhere in the cabinet of the National Assembly and which might end up in the cemetery of legislative misadventures.
Your colleagues in the lower chamber have done the needful since March 15, 2013. The ball is now in your red chamber. A first reading is all that you’ve achieved on the bill and even that happened some six months ago. Since then, each time it manages to make the Order paper, your distinguished selves manage to fill up your sitting time with enough argument that you never get to it.
Distinguished Senator, I understand that at this moment anything that does not bring in the votes and guarantee your safe return to the chambers or promote your gubernatorial ambition is not a priority. Believe me, I do. But I also know that there are certain things that matter more than just another four years, things that will get your name cast in stone. Being remembered kindly by posterity surely matters to you, I imagine.
It is not too late to get this right. You can in the months left before the election, do something that will impact on the lives of so many Nigerians especially the poor and the most vulnerable amongst us including generations yet unborn? You can pass the VAPP Bill. If nothing else, imagine your daughter being raped and do it for her.
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo is the author of ‘The Funeral Did Not End’ and tweets at @nzesylva