Domestic violence: Not a ‘family affair’—- By Ray Ekpu

In recent times, two grave incidents have drawn the attention of Nigerians to a global problem that occurs in Nigeria every day: Domestic violence. A gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu who featured in the very popular song, “Ekwueme” in 2017 died recently allegedly from domestic violence at the hands of her husband, Mr. Nwachukwu. Initially, the story was that the woman died of throat cancer. The Police have waded into the matter and the suspect is cooling his feet in a Police custody.

The second incident is that a woman who was ready to walk down the aisle and swear to the for-better-for worse oath has dramatically called off the proposed wedding on account of domestic violence. The woman, Ms Helen Ozioma, cancelled her planned wedding with Mr. David Okike. Mr. Okike has denied her claims, saying that she has shifted the wedding several times before finally calling it off. The lady says that the man beats her regularly, causing two miscarriages but that despite his regular display of violence she was still ready to go ahead with the marriage. She said that she only changed her mind when she learnt of Osinachi’s death, allegedly at the hands of her husband.

Domestic violence is not a Nigerian phenomenon. It is a problem of global concern. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that “worldwide, about 27 per cent of women aged 15-49 years who have been in a relationship report that they have been subjected to some form of physical and or sexual violence by their intimate partners.”

Globally, the report is that about 140 women are killed daily by either their family members or their partners. Also, researches indicate that women aged between 14 and 45 years of age are particularly at risk of rape, murder and violence.

In a country like Nigeria where there are no restraining laws in many states or the political will to enforce them where they exist, violations of the dignity of their partners especially by men is very common. The man is generally regarded as the head of the family but that is no guarantee that he must take the law into his own hands as evidence of his macho-ness or patriarchy rights.

A few years ago, a prominent friend of mine who had sent me a nicely printed invitation card for his daughter’s wedding accompanied by a well-worded letter called me to announce the cancellation of the proposed marriage. The natural question from me was, “what happened”? because a wedding is not a picnic where friends can wake up at a weekend and hit the road in search of fun at a beach or high mountain. It is a serious event planned over a long period of time with many people making their contributions for its expected success. It is not done peremptorily or frivolously because it is an endeavour that most people expect to last forever. My friend told me that his daughter decided to call off the wedding because the potential husband was whipping her with monotonous regularity.

I agreed with him that it was the right decision to take because if he was making her a punching bag when they were just dating, he will treat her like a slave after he had paid the dowry. I learnt that he got his clan to crawl and beg for forgiveness and the marriage plan was restored. But I didn’t think I wanted to honour the beast with my presence, so I stayed away.

In my own little way, there were three things I did to ensure that no one who married my daughters would subject them to domestic abuse. First thing was to ensure that they completed their education and made an entry into the world of work before considering marriage. That way, no husband will send any of them to school and then be able to say when he is angry “I picked you from the gutter”.

Second, I told each of the men before I agreed to their marriage proposal that they must not subject any of my daughters to any form of violent or dishonourable treatment. That was an irreversible condition.

Third, my wife and I agreed to accept only N200 as dowry, nothing more. We didn’t want a high bride price so that the man would not have the temerity to tell our daughter when he is angry, “I bought you.” So far, we have received no complaints on domestic violence, an indication that the men are decent human beings.

At the National Human Rights Commission where I served as a Board Member many years ago, we had many cases of domestic violence filed by women against their spouses, we would invite the spouses for a meeting. The men often offered reasons for doing what they did: “she is always nagging; she is unfaithful; she is always drunk; I don’t know what happened to me; I blame the devil.” The puzzling thing in these cases was that the women often chickened out when the Commission decided to take the matter to court by saying, “I still love him”. Others would say, “We will resolve it. It is a family affair.”

In truth, these women never spelt out the real reasons why they did not want their abusers put to trial, but the reasons are varied. It might be the fear of being called a failure by friends and relations or a woman who could not keep her marriage. It might be because the man is generous to her, her friends and her family. In that case, it is often the friends and family members who urge her to endure; they tell her that there is no perfect marriage; that all marriages go through strains and stresses; that there is no need to advertise her problems by divulging them to the public; that no outsider can solve her problem for her etc.

The woman may also decide to stay in her abusive marriage because the man packs a punch beneath his belt. You may think it is not important but many women adore men, even abusive ones, who can perform magic beneath the sheets. In this era of audacity, many women say so on several social media platforms without caring a hoot who is reading it. We are now in the era of shamelessness. We have now effectively said goodbye to the Victorian era morality.

Some of the women are afraid that if their marriage crashes, they will be the loser, not the man. A 70-year old man can still get married to a-20-year-old girl, but the reverse is not the case. So, a woman who loses her marriage has become “a formerly married woman.” If she is beautiful and has other good qualities, she may get remarried. But in many cases, she may find it difficult to get a new husband for two reasons. A potential new husband may ask himself why he should marry a woman who couldn’t keep her marriage without seeking to know why. The man may query himself: why look for Tokunbo, fairly or badly used, when you can get a “tear-rubber” product. A second hand product bought from a bend-down market is considered to be inferior to the one you buy from Shoprite. So, it is only someone who is desperately poor that goes to a bend-down market to look for things to buy cheaply.

It is correct to say that domestic abuse involves both genders, but men are the greater abusers. They abuse children, girls and women. It is an assertion of their patriarchal status and a misplaced display of their machoness. They think that since women are derisively designated as the “weaker sex”, they are truly weak. But that is not true because nobody has a monopoly of violence. Many men have been killed by women with their stiletto, a kitchen knife or any other dangerous object. So, the angry man who picks up a stick or whips out his belt at the least provocation to beat his spouse with is hereby warned to step back fully aware that he is not invincible. In matters of deploying violence, he is as vulnerable as his spouse. That has been demonstrated time and time again.

There are three ways that this matter can be dealt with. The first thing is legislation. I have no idea if there are states in the country that have specific legislation that deals with domestic violence. I know that Lagos has. In 2007, the Lagos State Government enacted the Lagos State Domestic Violence Law. The State Government then created the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team that watches, like a hawk, over the affairs of people in relationships, formal and informal.

According to the Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo, a senior advocate, the State Government has handled 10,007 cases from May 2019 to August 2021. That is a high figure but it is probably higher than that because many cases, especially in rural areas remain unreported.

The second way is to encourage victims of violence to speak out. They should not just confide in friends and family members. They should seek help from Government authorities or NGOs that deal with such matters.

The third way of fighting this menace is to have a standing socialisation programme in which the public is regularly informed about the menace and its danger to family and national values. Afterall, it is value-laden families that lead to a value-laden nation. A large number of people who engage in domestic violence without being punished means that the nation is one that condones or overlooks such values-damaging habits.

I therefore urge states that have no legislation against domestic violence to embark on getting such legislation enacted by their Houses of Assembly because contrary to what is generally said of the menace, it is not a “family affair” that ought to be ignored. It is a public affair that ought to be faced squarely.

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