By Choma Gabriel
Mrs. Josephine Effah-Chukwuma is the Founder and President of Project Alert on Violence Against Women. In this encounter, she answers questions on matters of domestic violence, calling on government to put more effort in tackling the issue.
Domestic violence is becoming a consistent problem in the daily life of an average Nigerian. Recently, a man allegedly murdered his wife. What do you think of this?
Well, like any other problem, it’s something that all hands must be on deck. It’s not something for NGO’s alone to do or government alone to do. It’s something that everybody including religious leaders must be involved in tackling. NGOs are fighting, the church is involved, and I think government should be more involved in fighting this as well as law-enforcement agencies whose primary duty is to protect lives and property. When somebody reports domestic violence, he or she should not be turned back and the matter should not be dismissed as a family matter. The community should also do something. Our daughters should not be rushed into early or unwanted marriages.
Sometime, when these young girls who are stampeded into marriage run back to tell their parents, this is what is happening, they are turned back because the parents feel it’s a shame for them to leave their matrimonial homes. So, all hands must be on deck. Government must ensure that there are policies and laws on ground and punitive measures for offenders. So, everyone must be involved in handling the issue of domestic violence.
Some people don’t understand domestic violence. Some women think it is normal to be beaten up by their husbands and they don’t report these issues.
That has to do largely with the community and socialisation pattern. The way we were socialised and the way we are socialising our children matter a lot here. The way we bring up our girls to believe they are second-class citizens and they are nothing in life until they are married and that whatever their husbands say is final contributes. And when a child is brought up in an abusive home, they grow up to think it is a normal behaviour. Some girls are brought up to think a wife is beaten out of love. What kind of love is that?
That is why some parents attempt to murder their children when they do something wrong. They cannot draw a line between child-abuse and punishment. You don’t abuse a child physically in your attempt to correct him, thinking it is love.
No, child-abuse or domestic abuse is not love. So, we need to sensitise the public and bring up our young girls to believe in themselves. We need to change the socialisation pattern. Everybody; man, woman and child must know that as a human being, she has a fundamental human right and besides, if you are dead, you are not a wife anymore. You are a dead body.
The man that recently
killed his wife is now being perceived to be having psychiatric problems. Do you believe that?
Well, there is no escape route for that youngman. The result of the psychiatric test is being awaited but I can tell you that there is no escape route in this. What psychiatric issue could it be? If he is really mad, our prayer is that he roams the streets of Lagos naked.
That would be our prayer but without that, he has to stand trial to pay for the crime. The level of assault is incredible and then the youngman said she stabbed herself. The lawyer of the family said there were 20 stabs on the head and face alone, with the eyeballs bulging out. And there were two knives and a hammer. Really, it is unthinkable. The man must face the consequences of his action.
You have been handling the issues of violence against women for a long time now. What has been your experience?
People in marital relationships must understand that domestic violence or violence of any kind is a crime, no matter where it is committed or by whom . We must not in any way justify or tolerate violence against women whether at home or anywhere. Domestic violence from a man or from a woman is unacceptable and cannot be justified. How can a man use an iron rod and beat his wife, stab her many times and say it is love?
It is not love and it is not just a husband and wife issue. It is domestic violence and should be tackled decisively. Men pick objects and throw at their wives. It is very easy for us to say Police torture people but no, it is not just the Police. A lot of women in the name of marriage are being tortured on a daily basis. Psychological torture is even the worse. You can’t see the wound but it is there and the person is almost going mad. Nobody; man, woman or child should live in an abusive environment or condition whereby in every second of your life, you are living in fear. I’m challenging Nigerians to come out and tell after reading about the youngman that killed his young wife that violence is just a domestic matter.
In the recent issue, the murdered wife
is a successful banker and one wonders if it could have been a case of not being submissive or humble.
These are all justifications but I tell you, nothing can justify murder. Unfortunately, we are living in a society where the woman is not expected to be successful in any way. I am saying this with all sense of responsibility. A woman being successful should not be a problem.
But it is already enshrined in our patriarchal thinking that a man should be up there and the woman should be down there. The whole history of domestic violence is about power relationship. It’s about power and control.
It’s like a man beating his wife because she didn’t cook his food very well or because his food is not ready. If such a man works in an office and has a female boss, would he abuse her when she scolds him about a job not properly done? He will work or his job is gone. But in the home, he will begin to think, this is my power centre. So, domestic violence defies all reasons. One cannot say it is a problem of the poor or the rich. No, it cuts across the rich and the poor. We have seen very successful men abuse their wives. Some people are saying, it is possible this guy is frustrated because he has no job and that is what led to it. No. That is not a sensible justification. We should learn to deal with our situations because in Nigeria, we live in an environment that is so stressful, with one form of mental torture or the other. But we must learn and develop ways of dealing with our individual frustrations. We must learn anger management and that is where the structures and institutions in the society come in.
The man is jobless. Yes, but he must have been confiding his frustrations to his friends, his church members and family members. What did they do to help? Did they just tell him, go and pray, it is well. My Bible tells me that faith without work is dead. So, we need to look at all the structures.
In almost two years, this man was in this society that we are in; maltreating his wife out of frustration. Those who know him, what did they do to help him deal with his frustration? If we look the other way at somebody’s problems, then we are all monsters and this planet earth will not be able to contain us.
What advice do you have for womenwhen it comes to such things?
My advice would go to both men and women generally. Domestic violence is an abnormal behaviour. It’s an abomination and we should not tolerate it. Violence in the home would breed violence in the society, because a child who grows up in a violent home will think violence is a way of life.
So, we should abhor it. A child is born a tabula rasa, a clean slate. It is what we feed into a child that he grows up to think and exhibit. We all have a role to play and so, my advice is that, we should say no to domestic violence. There is communication, there is dialogue and we need to learn ways to deal with our frustrations both in the home and out there in the larger society. Nobody must die in silence.
The woman that was killed by her husband had been bearing it in silence. Her colleagues in the office observed she was coming to the office with all manner of injuries: cut in the hand, bruise on the face, one thing or the other and she would always tell them, I fell from okada, I fell on the staircase. You see, this problem challenges everybody, even corporate bodies. There must be some kind of support system. What support system are there to deal with this.?Her colleagues knew but nobody cried out.
She was hiding her ordeals which is normal but we have the responsibility to be our brother’s keeper. The Lagos State government has a department that deals with domestic violence and if things are being implemented the way it should be, somebody must have shouted out on behalf of Titi, somebody must have cried out on behalf of Titi and she would not have died. She had neighbours who must have noticed that all was not well. We as colleagues, as neighbours have failed in our duties to be our brother’s keeper.
Things shouldn’t be this way. We should look out for one another.