BY EBUN SESSOU
Two out of three women in Nigeria are subject to domestic violence in their homes. Domestic violence affects all social groups and can consist of physical, sexual and psychological abuse. In this interview, human right activist, Dr. Joe Odumakin explains that although men can also be affected by domestic violence, but in most cases women are always at the receiving end of domestic violence.
According to her, the trend of domestic violence in Nigeria is increasing on a daily basis because the religious and cultural beliefs make the woman to always submit herself to whatever prejudice she suffers in the hands of any man.
What is the rate of domestic violence in the country now?
Domestic Violence is “pervasive” in Nigeria. About 20 percent of Nigeria women experience physical, sexual and psychological violence from spouse or male relative.
The level of violence against women in Nigeria are increasing by the day with two out of every three women in certain communities experiencing violence in the family.
It is difficult to determine the extent of domestic violence in Nigeria because official statistics on violence in the home are not collected. Incident of domestic violence tend to go unreported.
How is the trend related to poverty and socio-economic challenges of the country?
There is no doubt that the high level of poverty and socio-economic challenges in the country have contributed in no small measure to the prevalence of domestic violence in Nigeria.
Economic and financial hardship, unemployment and the attendant challenges lead to frustration and emotional stress for many men and young people who after-all visit the anger on their counterparts through battering, sexual assault among others.
Also, the fear of financial insecurity has made most women embrace the culture of silence even at the face of great danger and death threats in situation of domestic violence.
To what extent have religious and cultural beliefs affected the cases of domestic violence.?
Religion and cultural beliefs continued to encourage domestic violence in Nigeria. Domestic violence in Nigeria affects women of all communities. It involves women of all ethnic and religious groups and all socio-economic groups both in the rural and urban areas. Nigeria for instance has experienced virtually one or more types of domestic violence and culture of polygamy involving spousal abuse is particularly common in Nigeria.
All the religions practiced in Nigeria encourage women to endure the atrocities of men and keep their homes. Most of the religions profess that women are “home makers” at all cost even in the wake of violence against them.
Cases of domestic violence are rampant because most of the people are encouraged to respect tradition even when it is harmful or barbaric.
How many cases of domestic violence do you receive in a week, and how many have you been able to conclude or settled?
At the Women’s Human Rights Clinic which provides support, an average of 3 cases are received in a week.
Most of the time we adopt Alternative Dispute Resolution, ADR mechanism to resolve the cases if the level of injury is not severe or if the abuser is a first offender, the abuser is taking through two weeks counseling session, and is thereafter issued a “yellow card” a kind of warning and an undertaking to stop the abuse. This is adopted in cases of spousal abuse, such as battering among others. In this instance not less than 300 cases were settled amicably between January 2011 and May, 2013.
But, about 20 cases are pending in the cases of rape and grievous injury we have three cases on-going in court.
Which of the cases is more prevalent these days between battering and rape?
The case of battering is more prevalent while rape is also on the increase. However, we receive more of battering cases (spousal abuse) than rape.
How has the issue of stigmatization been affecting your intervention and prosecution?
The issue of stigmatization is more pronounced at the intervention level and it has been a serious impediment to achieving success or plugging the gap of domestic violence in Nigeria. For instance the Nigerian Police do not respond adequately to complaint from women on domestic violence. Domestic violence is generally regarded as an issue to be settled within the family.
At the religious level, most pastors believe that women should be submissive to their husbands and therefore should endure whatever treatment they get from their husbands. Some will say, “what God has joined together no man should put asunder.” So most times it is the women that will be at the receiving end.
Most people and institutions often dismiss issue of domestic violence, most especially when it involve women as a non-issue, so, most of the time they try to frustrate one’s effort at getting justice.
How functional is the prohibitive law in deterring or curbing domestic violence?
Well, the law of prohibition of violence against human persons or domestic violence law exist in Lagos State and its provisions if well implemented will surely deter or reduce domestic violence.
As I speak, there is a low awareness of the law among stakeholders in Lagos State. A lot of people are not familiar with the law and its provisions, even some lawyers.
Also the Chief Justice CJ’s office which is bequeathed with the responsibility to implement the law will need to be alive to its role of ensuring that the law is fully implemented for example, the CJ’s office is mandated by the law to establish counseling centres in all the LGAs of Lagos State where victims can report and get support services, this is yet to be done.
But I am sure that with adequate awareness and full implementation of the prohibitive law will no doubt help in curbing incidence of domestic violence in Lagos. The Domestic Violence and Related Matters Bill is yet to be passed into law at the National level. There is need to intensify efforts at ensuring the passage of the bill at the Federal level.
Would you blame the institution or individual or emotional and physiological collapse which are mostly responsible for violence at home?
There is no need to emphasize the fact that the collapse of institutions, bad governance and high level of corruption are responsible for the prevalence of domestic violence in Nigeria. Government institutions have failed to respond to the immediate needs of the people. Government at all levels have also failed in their responsibility to the people as well as ensuring the welfare of the people so we continued to experience high level of domestic violence as the people visit their frustrations on one another.
As an expert in this area, what is your advice in stopping the trend in Nigeria?
Implementation of pro-people policies and programmes that will put roof on the people’s head, food on their tables and safe movement from place to place will surely stop the trend of domestic violence in Nigeria.
Also, the enactment of the Domestic Violence and Related Matters Law at the National and State levels will also help in curbing the situation of domestic violence in the country. The Passage of the Equal Opportunities Bill at all levels will also provide equal opportunities for men and women thereby enhancing equal participation and reducing the existing gaps.
Civic education, training and re-training of the Police on issue of domestic violence and its implication on human persons is also a sure way of ending domestic violence in Nigeria.