Violence against Person Bill
Violence at a Public hearing on a bill on Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP)
My heart bleeds as I pen down my experience at the National Assembly yesterday where I participated in a public hearing on the VAPP bill. I am sad that in my country, inside the very building were laws are made in my country, and at a public hearing on a bill on violence, is where I experienced, psychological, emotional and physical violence!
This is the second time I am attending a public hearing at the National Assembly. My first outing did not prepare me well for the second. I was given room to exercise my freedom of expression during my first outing.
The news about the public hearing was released subtly and in some quarters and not on the website of the National Assembly, where such matters are publicized. It was a planned hijacking of our democracy by few powers that be, to inflict laws that are ideologically oriented and orchestrated to destroy our nation, our culture and our values.
The bill is aimed at protecting persons especially the vulnerable members of the society; women, children, young girls and young boys. Laudable as it may sound, the law did not include all vulnerable persons.
I arrived as early as 8am at the security checkpoint of the National Assembly just like most people that attended the public hearing. We were not permitted to enter the complex because there was no power in the hall intended for the public hearing and the second reason was that security officials were waiting for orders to permit participants gain access to the hall.
Finally, around 10:30am they started attending to group leaders, who will conduct the entrance of their members to the hall with the access tag they were given. On entering the building, we were directed to a hall, so small for the number of persons in attendance. This resulted in many people standing outside the hall. Later, we were moved to a bigger hall without lights and ventilation! Despite the discouraging atmosphere I stayed on.
The hearing was declared open a little past noon by the chairman, Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Umaru Dahiru. The chairman right from the start declared his stance on the debated bill. He said openly, that the bill is surely going to be passed as it is and that it is a matter of weeks. I then asked myself why we were all there in a public hearing that has turned into a “private hearing”. I thought public hearing for a bill is a forum for different groups in the society, civil societies, stakeholders, cooperatives etc. to come before our law makers to voice the opinion of the people on a debated bill? Or is it now a sham exercise
The chairman, who ought to create the atmosphere for ease of voicing one’s opinion, became biased and did not make it possible for me to speak as I had amendments for the bill. I am a woman and I am happy that the bill provides the enabling structure for the emancipation of women and gender equality. It will help checkmates the perpetrators of violence in the society and mete appropriate punishments to serve as a deterrent to persons with such intentions.
I and a couple of others among a host of promoters of this bill had recommendations to make, but we were not given the opportunity to speak. We were constantly shunned as we kept calling the attention of the chairman, who at last when I had to walk up to the podium where he was to plead with him to allow me talk, told me to my greatest surprise, that he did not have our organization on his list. The organizers had struck off the names of organizations they sensed had recommendations for the bill.
Despite my efforts to get my voice heard, the MC and the organizers were constantly putting obstacles for me to reach the microphone. At last, I started talking when I got hold of the microphone and spoke despite the noise and constant interruptions by the organized market women and paid groups who were encouraged to keep shouting while I was speaking because I called the attention of the sponsors of the bill to a very fundamental neglect, the exclusion of the very vulnerable group, member of the specie, Homo Sapiens, the UNBORN PERSONS, whom the bill has not included as persons the bill aims to protect
I do not know why the inclusion of these forgotten vulnerable persons should call for such animosity, if there are no hidden agenda in this bill. I was cut short while still speaking as the stakeholders from WACOL, FIDA, IPAS, DFID, and other key NGOs that were sponsoring the bill started shouting from their sits, that I have no point to make. This verbal violence that caused me emotional, physical and psychological pain did not end at the opposition by the key stakeholders. The organized, paid market women that were in attendance were also shouting at me to go and leave the vicinity, up to the stage of even calling down “HOLY GHOST FIRE” on me. That the fire should burn me and all who do not want the bill to be passed.
I am shocked and pained that I cannot express my opinion freely without being violated in my own country. This goes against my Human Right of FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. My opinion ought to be respected just like I did respect all those who had a different opinion from mine.
I would like to ask why the sponsors of this bill are very antagonistic to the opinion of including all persons, which the bill is made to protect including those still at the developmental stages of life, as they are also human persons. If abortion is not in the agenda for this bill, why the hostility? I am simply reminding them of a forgotten group, just include them and all is well with the bill.
Maria I. Uzumma