DOMESTIC violence has taken a big hit, in Nigeria, in recent times.
Various non-governmental organizations have accessed funds both locally and internationally with which they are working pro-bono, as well as looking after victims of the scourge and their children.
Various state governments have passed laws against domestic violence, including Lagos, where one out of six Nigerians live. Like other laws in the country, application, rather than the existence of the law, is usually the aspect that constitutes issues. Confidence in existing regulations is therefore low, with the law enforcement fingered as standing between victims and the course of justice.
Course of justice
That is the reason why every battered woman in Nigeria (Statistics say there are one out of four) hailed the conviction of Mr. Akolade Arowolo, who has become an icon for the abusive Nigerian man.
The story of the Arowolos elicited drama from the very first instant it hit the airwaves: They were young, they were married, they were religious (Pentecostal Christians), they were middle class and they were educated. They were, as it were, Mr. and Mrs. Jones- they could have been anyone. The story was of a narcissistic predator masquerading as husband, father and church worker who secretly often indulged in extramarital affairs and less secretly, regularly gave his wife a spanking.
Her reaction was classic. She accepted her abuse stoically, desperate to live a regular life even when the circumstances of her home life were hardly regular. She faced her job squarely and lied if and when she was confronted with the evidence of her abuse.
Their marriage, even before disaster struck, had become public domain within their existing spheres. There were public confrontations and private heartbreaks. Friends, neighbours, church elders, family had been given good cause to intervene in issues that ought otherwise to be private.
They became desensitized; anaesthetized. She became, any longer, not another human being with flesh covering her bones and blood coursing through her veins, not an individual who can feel physical and emotional pain but the hapless spouse of an inverterate bully who got what was coming to her. .
When Justice Lateefa Okunnu of Lagos State pronounced the guilty verdict, however, a landmark had finally been reached. Domestic violence is an issue all over the world, including the civilized world, but in a country such as ours where impunity mars most aspects of our national life, no man had ever been convicted of killing his wife, though not for want of trying.
And though reports of domestic killings fill the country’s police stations, they rarely make news. If anything, reports of women killing men in domestic situations are more likely to be newsworthy, and to be torchlighted by law enforcement. Where there is no deterrent, the scourge has thrived.
Late Mrs. Arowolo’s reaction to her own abuse brings to the fore the deep seated social contribution to the impunity of domestic violence. From the social worker who feels unempowered to do the job the law empowers her to do, to the police officer who is reluctant to handcuff an abuser, often because he is himself one.
There are also the co-workers/church members who shy away from reporting clear signs of abuse from fear of being tagged ‘busybodies’. Of course there are always the ‘supportive’ in-laws, who would prefer their ‘son’ to be ‘the man’and in charge of his business, no matter whose lips are busted, as it were.
Convicting one man is not good enough. We cannot afford, as a nation, to apply to the Arowolo affair our infamous short memory. It is important for every domestic abuser to, upon raising his hand to do some damage, remember that there will be consequence. Attaining other similar convictions will set the ball rolling in this direction.
It is not surprising that the Arowolo case became all but political as it progressed. The parents of the victim as well as the rest of her family was interested not only in seeing the case to a logical conclusion but also in seeing justice done, which in this case they believed to be a conviction of the accused. Numerous NGO’s and government itself also wanted to see justice done. A conviction was all too easy.
Far too easy, particularly as the circumstances of the homicide was extremely complex, and difficult to prove beyond reasonable doubt. The observer comes away with a sneaky feeling that the conviction was achieved not on technical but on political and emotional grounds.
This presents easy grounds for a successful appeal, which is what is likely to happen. But it is early days yet. Still it is crucial for systems to develop for the proper execution of domestic violence cases, even before they result in fatality.