At long last Akwa Ibom state joins 14 other Nigerian states who have adopted the Violence Against Person’s Prohibition Act, (VAPP) as state legislation. There are many reasons why this is grounds for jubilation. Originally passed in the Nigerian senate and adopted by 15 of Nigeria’s 36 states, the Act made important provisions that include a life sentence for offenders convicted of rape, 14 year sentences for offenders under the age of 14 and below and a minimum of 12 years for people who perpetrate other acts of violence. Across the country over the last three months, we have recorded significantly more incidences of violence against women and children, sexual assault and rape, necessitating that the VAPP act be adopted with increasing urgency.
Akwa Ibom has long been the epicenter of religious influenced violence against adults and young children. The legacy of pentecostal preacher Helen Ukpabio who singularly popularized the idea that witches were responsible for all the evil experienced by religious Christians in the South South. Starting her ministry in Cross River state and leveraging the film industry as a propaganda tool, Ukpabio terrorized millions in the early 2000’s, preaching a gospel of retributive action against people considers harbingers of evil. Her gospel spread to other South South states, becoming particularly endemic in Akwa Ibom state and justified the use of violence and torture as a way to ‘chase out’ demons and cleanse the accused of their evil. In the intervening years, thousands of children have been violently attacked, abandoned by their families and even killed as a way to cleanse them of perceived evil.
The VAPP Act will finally give law enforcement and non-profit organizations the legal backing arrest families found harming their children, elderly and disadvantaged and will also allow law enforcement bring criminal charges against individuals who incite violence against the disadvantaged.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.