Rhoda Prevail Tyoden is the Country Vice President/National President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Nigeria. In this interview, she speaks about the reason for the disparity in punishments for rape offenders, the applicability of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act across gender and the Child Rights Act, among others.
Incidents of rape and defilement seem to be on the increase. Yet, for offenders that have been convicted, there is no uniformed punishment across the country. Why do we have these differences in the punishments meted on convicts?
You know laws like the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act are federal legislations, and states have to adopt them. We are pushing for the adoption in all the states and so far, about 12 states have adopted it. So, in states that are still operating the Penal or Criminal Codes, you have different laws for different issues and different punishments. But I think we are making a head way. While the VAPP Act is there, I think last week or so the Nigerian Law Reform Commission had a seminar on the proposed harmonisation of the penal code and the criminal code. We know there are issues but I tell you that the legal profession is not just sitting and watching. We want a situation where when we say rape is punishable for 14 years or whatever, it should be the same thing in Abuja, the same thing in Kano and all over. I, however, think the VAPP Act is a more comprehensive law. It is a benchmark law for offences such as rape. It covers almost everything that somebody will want to start removing: is it defilement, is it an attempt and all that, we are getting there.
Many think the application of VAPP Act is just towards male offenders. What do you think?
The law applies to everybody; that is why it is Violence Against Persons and not women or just children. And when they say it is more about violence against women and gender inequality, this is because these are all the things that have come to stay with us. Men who are violated may be victims of violence from their wives or whoever finds it difficult to come out may be because of the male ego. But the cases that come to us most are women and children. I am not saying that men are not victims, but until you come, we cannot assume that you are a victim of violence. We do, of course, have cases that are young boys and male children; but for the adult male, I think it has to do with ego. ‘How can it be that my wife has done this to me and to come out and tell the world that she did this’ are some of the thoughts holding them back, so they rather keep it to themselves?
The Child Right Act is another legislation that seeks to check defilement. What is the status of its applicability across Nigeria? Have there been recognisable successes?
I will say yes, because so far we have 25 states that have adopted it. Then we have 11 states that are yet to adopt the law and we are calling on them to adopt it. On how far as regards its success, I cannot say. But I know that we have Family Courts and for those that are functional, the Act is applicable there and that is why every day on social media you will see people talking about children because we know that in Nigeria the implementation of the Child Rights Act is key. We have also embarked on the sensitisation of even the states that have adopted it because sometimes we just adopt the law and dump it, but we are following to ensure that it is effectively implemented. If you read the Child’s Right Act, you will find that it is not just to implement and keep it; you have to establish family courts. You have to have assessors, and so how many states are doing that? So, FIDA as an organisation is following up to ensure that these laws are not just adopted but they are properly and well implemented.
Reportage of spousal killings has been on the increase in recent time with the courts having to wield the big stick on some of the offenders. Do you think that capital punishment is enough to curb spousal killings and gender-related violence leading to death?
Murder is a criminal offence. So, if you take a life, this is the punishment for it. That is what the law says. But whether it is enough punishment to curb the ugly trend is the issue here and that is why in FIDA, we are sensitising people on the need of not resorting to any form of violence. We tell people that they can talk things over, whatever the gravity of the offence of their spouse. And the worst that should or could happen is for you to walk out of the marriage. Nobody can stop you from walking out. If it is not working, it is not working. Rather than stay and commit that crime and at the end of the day, where you have children, the children suffer. Like the Maryam Sanda case, everyone is talking that the children will suffer but there is a crime there. So, it is better not to even allow yourself to get to that level than to get there and then start regretting it. Whether it is fair or not fair, it is a life that she took, and the law is the law.