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Law on Domestic Violence, how far can it bite ?

By Abdulwahab  Abdulah

Over the years, there have been agitations on how to stop domestic violence against children and women in Nigeria which have yielded no result. Recently however, the Lagos State House of Assembly took a giant strides by passing into law, a bill “to provide protection against Domestic Violence and for Connected Purposes.” The Law which came into force in 2007, was specifically aimed at protecting the Victims of domestic violence and it comprises19 sections.

However, since the bill was passed into law and assented to by the former state Governor, Bola Tinubu, few people including legal practitioners were aware of the law

Recently, however, a non governmental organisation, Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA), in collaboration with Falana and Falana’s chambers at a seminar on domestic violence took the challenge to the doorsteps of Nigerians, especially the civil rights organisations  and lawyers for the utilization of the law and confront the monster of domestic violence in the country.

The programme was aimed at highlighting some grey areas to encourage Nigerians to utilise the law in arresting domestic violence in Nigeria. To open the days’ discussions was the Chairperson for WELA, Mrs Funmi Falana, who said there were several issues that are affecting women and children that are calling for serious concern. She said one of the potent ways in addressing the issue is for stakeholders to engage in constant advocacy.

She said, “women and men need to participate actively in the efforts to rid the society of all inequities and discrimination against women. Thus, to make this possible, we must take the advantage of every opportunity available for us to champion liberation from all forms of oppression in the society.”

Mrs Falana said the issue of domestic violence across the world has remained hydra headed, while domestic violence is still being treated by many, especially in Nigeria as a private matter. She noted that this and others warranted the need for more attention to be devoted to domestic violence and other forms of discriminations suffered by women and children. She suggested that the ways to contain these violence include counseling, advocacy and litigation to punish the offender of the crime and protect the victim from further abuse.

She also called for legislation that are specifically targeted at addressing the menace. On the Lagos State new law on domestic violence, she said “it serves as a good legislative measure to prevent and curb domestic violence, but no legislation is effective except when it is enforceable to deter people from committing an offence, and capable of protecting citizens.”

She added that in spite of the fact that the Lagos state law on domestic violence came up in 2007, it “has rarely been tested by victims of domestic violence.” She noted that it was not surprising that judges, lawyers, human rights activists and other stakeholders are not familiar with the provisions of the law. She called on stakeholders to test the law, while charging other states to emulate Lagos state in passing similar legislation in their states.

Discussing the Lagos domestic violence law, Mrs Funmi Tejuoso of the Lagos State House of   Assembly highlighted the major features of the law and called on Nigerians, especially, those living in Lagos to make the new law work. Mrs Tejuoso, who is also a lawyer said the law intends to protect the victims against physical abuse, sexual abuse exploitation, including but not limited to rape, incest and sexual assault, starvation, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, economic abuse and exploitation, denial of basic education, intimidation and harassment.

Others include stalking, hazardous attack, such as acid birth with offensive or poisonous substance, damage of property and entering into the complainant’s residence without consent where the parties do not share the same residence. She said that the need for the particular law was to end violence against women and children but many times the challenges is that, “victims did not want their marriages to end.

Instead they wanted the abuse to stop. They did not want to go through divorce proceedings or have a separation order.” She said further that “other complaints from victims were that for women, when they go to the police to report an abuse, they were told to go home and ‘be a good wife.’ The taboo of being labelled a bad wife for getting one’s husband detained or locked up is another concern for women”. She said however, we must educate our women to appreciate that it is not their fault that a spouse is abusive.

“It is advisable to opt for reconciliatory methods in court as there is a Yoruba saying that “Eniyan  kin tile ejo bo shore” simply put — one does not go to court and come back as friends. “In my own view however, the domestic violence law is a good beginning. We need to try this law out first and see how it works as this kind of abuse is of great concern in all parts of the world and must be addressed.”

Dr Osagie Obayuwana, Edo State Attorney-General and commissioner for justice in his presentation lauded the efforts of the organizers of the event, noting that such programme is what the country needs this time to arrest domestic violence.  He stressed the importance of the right of every citizen to his or her dignity.

Talking about the challenges facing the law, he said the stakeholders must be ready to contend with “cultural approvals and traditional philosophical justifications of violence particularly against women and children.” Quoting the Biblical which says ‘Spare the rod, Spoil the Child’, he said this “tallies with the provisions of Section 295 of the Criminal Code which recognises the resort to some degree of violence for correctional purposes.”

Invariably, the patriarchal society which predominates, and the advantages derived therefrom inexorably leads to low literary levels among women, disadvantaged economic status, which are factors that induced limited options, dependency, which in turn promotes survivalism, that could make marital life a living hell for many women,” he said.

He noted that the Non Governmental organisations have many roles to play in making violence against women and children a thing of the past. Apart from this, he promised to begin a process that would make his state, Edo state to put the law in place too.

Mr Femi Falana in his own remarks noted that Nigerians, especially lawyers must be ready to test any new law to know how effective it is and also determine to fine tune the rough edges in such laws. He called on the stakeholders to start with the domestic violence law to reduce or eradicate domestic violence in Nigeria.


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