By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features
Stella was alarmed when she got an invitation from the police to report at its station at Jibowu. She couldn’t remember having done anything that would warrant the police inviting her.
She was already distressed and depressed with her divorce proceedings taking place in the courts and having a police case would add more to her stress. But she had nothing to be afraid of and therefore reported to the station where she was directed to an investigating officer.
What she thought was probably nothing took a twist when she found herself sitting between two bloodied naked men and in her shocked state, she demanded to know what was going on. The Investigating Police Officer, IPO, calmly asked her to sit down and open her charge sheet.
Stella demanded to know who the men were as she was seeing them for the first time.
Again, the IPO asked her to sit.
The IPO then told her that the man seated to her right killed his girl-friend during a fight when he stabbed her and the man seated to her left almost killed his wife and that she was still in a coma in the hospital.
Stella wondered what her business was, being asked to sit between the two men. Then her journalistic instinct took over. She wanted an exclusive and requested from the IPO if she could interview the men for the magazine she was writing for and again, the IPO asked her to open the file before her.
With the look of confusion on her face, Stella opened the file and began to read.
It was her estranged husband that filed a case of attempted murder against her. According to the statement he made, Stella had allegedly sent assassins who he claimed had shot at him a couple of days back. Stella was shocked. She saw the man in court the day before and the man looked okay. Surprisingly, the case was lodged even before the court sitting.
Stella was shocked at the level the man could go to obtain the divorce. He was the one that asked for it and she didn’t want it despite the emotional abuse she went through every day in the marriage.
Every day at the close of work, she would go home with her heart thumping loud because she didn’t know what was awaiting her at home. She had been threatened with a gun by him once and on several occasions, had to dodge dangerous missiles he threw at her in a fit of anger.
As the police case progressed, Stella realised many things about her estranged husband. He even tried to bribe the police to torture her.
On the several days Stella reported at the station, her husband did not report for one day.
A deputy commissioner of police in the station advised her to watch out for her own life because if her husband could lay up such a bogus allegation against her, it meant her own life was in danger.
What the police however did not understand was why Stella preferred to stay in a marriage where her husband would go to the extent of alleging assassination attempt against her.
The case eventually died but the police warned her to be careful. On a certain day, she got a threat from an unknown source and Stella eventually ended up with her kids in the shelter belonging to Project Alert on Violence against Women where she lived for over one year.
At the shelter, Stella learnt that the issue of violence was even under reported. Women who were victims of domestic violence came to the shelter in droves. Her children did not understand why they should leave their comfortable home, their school and friends to come and live in a restricted environment.
But Stella was not alone in her travails. A lot of women from different walks of life, across tribes and religion were also seeking shelter there after running away from their violent partners.
Life in a shelter
Mrs Josephine Effah Chukwuma, the proprietress of the shelter through Project Alert has been dedicated to creating awareness about the dangers of domestic violence, sexual abuse and rehabilitation of domestic violence and sexual abuse victims. She is known to stand against battery, sexual abuse, trafficking of young girls for forced labour and other issues and also operates a shelter for battered and sexually-abused women.
Effah-Chukwuma always took time to counsel battered women who came to her and has often, through her project, dragged the husbands to court and on many occasions, involved the police in the matter. She always posited that domestic violence including battery, threat to life and sexual harassment are the commonest forms of violence against women and young girls so far received.
According to her, “Sexual violence against women in marital relationships, children, especially little girls, is becoming prevalent. Hardly can a day go without one newspaper reporting a case of battery involving women, defilement and incest against a young girl; sometimes as little as two years of age,’’ she said. She opined that although poverty and socio-economic challenges can be considered to be part of the causes of these violent abuses, they are avoidable
“It is more about men and boys feeling they have power and control over women and young girls, physically and violently assaulting them’’.
But the issue of domestic violence has gone beyond men or boyfriends violently maltreating their wives and girlfriends. Women have often been reported to have gone haywire, stabbing their men with kitchen knives or hitting them pestles, castrating their men for infidelity, smashing windscreens of cars and often attacking perceived threats to their marital joy.
Recent victims of domestic violence
Late last year, a wife and mother of three, Rachel Adetsav killed her husband Nicholas Adetsav, her three children and herself in Benue. She and her husband both worked with the Makurdi Local Government Council, Benue State, Nigeria.
Prior to the Adetsav incident, a 13-year-old girl, Ochanya Ogbanje, a student of Federal Government Girls’ College, Gboko, who was serially raped by her aunt’s husband and son since she was 9 to age 13 died from injuries sustained overtime from the rape. Ochanya’s case was both a domestic sex abuse and a crime. She had battled Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) and other health complications at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi after being severely raped by one Andrew Ogbuja, Head of Department, Catering and Hotel Management at the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, Benue State, and his son, Victor Inalegwu Ogbuja, a final year student of Animal Production at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi before she died.
From daily newspaper reports, domestic violence and abuse in families occurs frequently with significant impact on children of all ages. It is a global phenomenon, cutting across continents, ethnicity, and religious beliefs. Sometimes, children who watched their parents batter each other suffer psychological trauma that affects them in life.
A shade of this type of interpersonal violence is often the least disclosed or discussed. The impact and outcomes for very young children exposed to domestic violence are overwhelming. Sometimes, children who have experienced domestic violence have to undergo rehabilitation to help their damaged psyche and battered ego.
Couples who fight and batter each other often do not recognize that even at times of adversity for children and families, such as when domestic violence occurs, it is important to recognize strengths and support resilience.
The truth is, no matter how severe the case of domestic violence in many homes, many victims, especially women return to their abuser several times before they make the commitment to say away. A terrifying statistic that has yet to change over the years is that countless victims never make it out of the relationship alive.
In a recent symposium in Lagos, Professor of Sociology at the University of Lagos, Prof. Fatai Badru, revealed that not less than five cases of domestic violence were being reported daily in Lagos alone.
Badru who spoke at a symposium organised by Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) to commemorate the 2018 Domestic and Sexual Violence Month in Lagos, said recent doctoral studies showed that domestic violence was more prevalent in the urban areas than the rural areas.
“According to the DSVRT statistics, there has been an increase in domestic violence daily in Lagos. At least, a minimum of five incidences of domestic violence are reported daily.”
Professor Badru attributed the high level of domestic violence in urban areas to psychological factors and stressful living conditions.
At the same event, Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State highlighted the role of the home in the upbringing of wholesome children.
Mrs Joyce Onafowokan, his Special Adviser on Social Development who represented the governor said, “The home is the first place the child lives. The parents are the primary educators of the children and the home is the first place of security of the children. Every kind of behaviour begins from the home; it is from our behaviour that children learn, and they are the direct representatives of who we are. Parents should be cautious in bringing up children because of the effect it has to the larger society.”
Also Justice Sybil Nwaka of the Lagos Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences Court said the Lagos State Judiciary was taking up the fight against sexual and domestic violence. “Domestic and sexual violence cases are being expressly disposed of and justice is being served. The Lagos State Government and Justice Sector are coming to the doorsteps of people, creating awareness, encouraging survivors to come forward and not be afraid of stigma.”
Sometime ago, a former Zenith Bank staff reportedly broke his estranged wife’s leg with an iron rod. One may want to ask, what she could have done to warrant such a wicked act.
Victims recount ordeals
In her account of what she suffered in the hands of her husband, Mrs Kokotie, an executive secretary said, “having been married for over four years and in search for a baby, my estranged husband looked for every opportunity to embarrass me. It was like he had a low self esteem and looked for ways to shut me up.
He embarrassed me everywhere, In church, at home and in presence of visitors. If I tried to defend myself, he responded with a slap, a blow, a kick. And that was how the beating started. I returned from work every day with this fear not knowing if he was going to pick up a fight that day. Let me just name three incidents.
There was a day he beat me up, my towel loosened and I was naked in front of his friend. I mean stark naked. I just got out from the bathroom and he was trying to get information from me about something. I walked into bedroom and before I could answer, he charged at me, shouting are you not the one I am talking to and he started hitting me. He then dragged me out of the bedroom naked. His friend who was then living with us tried to calm him down to no avail. What about the day he beat me up because I served his elder brother one piece of meat.
That was the last meal remaining. I just got back from work tired. I micro waved it and served him so I could fix something else for both of us. He got angry and did not even allow me to explain before he started hitting me. The last straw was one he and his elder brother beat me up. I know you are surprised. People find it difficult to believe when I say it but it is true. He started beating me first and then his brother joined in slapping me and asking me to shut up after all I was barren. I was admitted in the hospital for 5 days. I collapsed on my way to work the following day and was taken to the hospital. Both families tried all they could to settle these issues time and again. It appears they have given up. Do you know he tells lies like there’s no tomorrow .This is someone that is so pretentious, calm on the outside.
You would not believe he can hurt a fly but at home he is a lion. Fortunately for me, he woke up one day and said he was tired of the marriage. That was two years ago and that was how five years of suffering ended. Now I am free and happy again.”
Another victim Chika shared her experience: “My husband’s brother who just returned from Malaysia visited us. I wasn’t home when he visited but we spoke on the phone while he was in the house. He said he would leave a certain amount of money with my husband for me and when I returned in the evening, my husband only gave me half the money and when I demanded for the rest, he asked whether he was my brother or his and said I should take and be grateful that he even gave me anything at all.
Then, one thing led to the other and he started hitting me with a lawn tennis racket. My cries attracted the neighbours and seeing my bloodied head, they rushed me to hospital and that marked the end of the marriage.
“The truth is, that was not the first time my husband hit me. He had done that severally in the past and every time, his family and mine intervened and we reconciled. I have left him on many occasions and always came back to him. The last was the last straw and I couldn’t take it anymore. My children are with me and he stopped paying school fees or caring for them since I left. He said he has disowned them for preferring to go with their mother.”
But Chika’s husband has a different story.
“My wife has a caustic tongue. I only gave her N10,000 less than what my brother gave and I told her I would give her the rest later. But she let her tongue loose and descended on me, saying its men like me that were going to Malaysia and making money while I stayed home taking what belongs to others. Her mouth is toxic. A person that controls her tongue keeps her soul from trouble. That is not one virtue I found in my wife. She wearies me. We are better off apart. And as for my kids, they are boys and will always come home.”
Nothing justifies a man hitting his wife or a woman using her teeth, kitchen knife or pestle on her husband. Nothing justifies smashing of car windscreens when either of the parties could simply take a walk. It is totally unacceptable for a man to hit a woman no matter her offense.
There are various accounts of how men killed their wives in a fit of anger. Women have also done incredible things to their men over unfounded suspicions and allegations of infidelity.
A strong man walks out of provocations but a weak man will attack. Why even beat up someone that can’t match your strength.
Domestic violence does not discriminate. It crosses all ethnic, economic and geographic boundaries. Victims and abusers live next door, work in the same office, work out at the gym together and share same pew in church.
Domestic violence homicide is on the rise in Nigeria and across the world. There are reports of many deaths associated with domestic violence. In addition to these, there were many forcible rapes and aggravated assaults associated with domestic violence. Hundreds more went unreported.
According to Pastor Michael Osuala, “In Nigeria, we live in an era of heightened insecurity. We are urged to be vigilant and report anything suspicious. Domestic violence is domestic terrorism. It is imperative that we stand as a people to oppose it.
By not speaking out, we condone it. I have handled many cases of domestic violence in the church. Many times, I called in the police. You may not believe this but there are pastors and reverend gentlemen who hit their wives and criminally brutalize them. The trend is on the increase and we have to be serious in curbing the menace.
“No matter how well abusers tried to conceal their violence on their victims, there were signs that someone you know is being abused and there were opportunities to intervene. These signs were often ignored or waived off as “it’s not my business,” “I could be wrong” or “it can’t be too bad if she is staying with him.
“Indeed, failure to recognize and report domestic violence puts the entire community at risk because violence at home does not stop at the front door. Many killers had a history of domestic violence prior to committing their violent public attacks.
“And when we do learn of it, the news value will somehow be minimized by the fact that the killer was a spouse and not a random stranger. The truth is, no one is safe from domestic violence. It is a crime against all of us, for if we cannot end violence in our homes, we will never end violence in our community”.
In her own submission, Joe Odumakin of Women Arise, said, “The level of violence against women in Nigeria is 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.
“The law of prohibition of violence against human persons or domestic violence law exists 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, it will no doubt help in curbing incidence of domestic violence in Lagos. The Domestic Violence and Related Matters Bill are 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”, she said.
Asked if there are ways government addresses the issue, she said, “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 help stop or reduce 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”, she said.
Recently, the Lagos State House of Assembly showed intention to enhance domestic security and welfare with the establishment of the Domestic Staff Service Providers Registry in the state.
This was disclosed during a public hearing on a Bill for The Registration of Domestic Staff Service Providers in Lagos State and for other Connected Purposes.
Speaker of the House, Mudashiru Obasa said the objective of the proposed law is to register Domestic Staff Service Providers operating in Lagos State.
Represented by his deputy Wasiu Eshilokun Sanni, Obasa said the House was poised to improve safety in various homes where domestic staffs were engaged.
He said:” the service of all domestic staff including house-helps, drivers, gardeners, security men and others is germane.
“Many homes have suffered one abuse or the other from these house helps. We need to ensure we don’t engage those who will harm us. Profiling these house helps will help to ensure that those employed can be traced in case of criminal tendencies. The bill will also outlaw hiring of the under-aged as domestic staff.”
The spate of domestic violence reported since the beginning of the year has been alarming! There has been a prevalence of child and spousal abuse and violence resulting in some being badly maimed while others are out rightly fatal. Every day, Nigeria wakes up to terrifying headlines that leave everyone gob smacked and completely distraught and agitated.
Domestic abuse and violence is on the rise. In 2011, the media was awash with a case of a husband stabbing his wife to death. Titilayo came home early from her Bank job to make her husband a big birthday dinner. By midnight, Titilayo was dead, brutally murdered by Arowolo – her husband. Autopsy report revealed she was stabbed 76 times. The culprit did not escape the long arm of the law. He was sentenced to death in 2014. One would have thought that would serve as a deterrent to many; for the abuser to desist and for the abused to take necessary precaution. But on the contrary, it has only gotten worse as we have seen several more cases of such crimes committed with wholehearted ignominy!
Domestic violence in many states of Nigeria is not illegal and victims are not entitled to legal support. As a matter of fact, for fear of being labeled and stigmatized, many women have chosen to stay in a violent marriage and some end up losing their lives and leaving their children to suffer.
Family and friends would not want to interfere so that they are not seen as trying to meddle in “somebody’s marriage”. There is a popular belief that “You don’t intervene in the fight between husband and wife because when they settle you will become the enemy”. 90% of Nigerians hold fast to this saying and as a result they have unwittingly aided and abetted domestic violence and perhaps, the death of many!
Due to the obvious lack of a support system, domestic violence has been grossly under reported, poorly documented and hardly investigated. As a result of the fact that Physical Abuse or Violence against women in the home is generally regarded as a family or private affair in Nigeria and shielded from public scrutiny, many battered women will never come out to say what they are going through in their homes.