Domestic Violence in Nigeria
According to Wikipedia, domestic violence ( also known as domestic abuse or family violence) is violence or abuse in a domestic setting such as in marriage or cohabitation. Domestic violence has always existed in Nigeria and it ranges from physical to emotional to psychological to sexual violence. It is perceived as “normal” in relationships and marriages in Nigeria. Lots of women have lost their lives, some disfigured, some psychologically shattered and traumatized while some ended up contracting incurable sexually transmitted diseases.
In Nigeria, there is a traditional view that a man and his family owns the wife. such views have not changed even today and are a contributory factor to domestic violence and abuses. Worse is when abused women complain to their family or religious leaders and they tend to take the sides of the abusers, encouraging the woman to continue the relationship or marriage citing different reasons.
More often than not, women are blamed for the bad behaviour of their husbands/partner. Blames range from ‘the woman is bad or wicked’, ‘she doesn’t know how to talk to her husband’, ‘she doesn’t have a good manner of approach, ‘she is badly cultured’, ‘she should know that men will be men’ etc.
Different Forms of Domestic Violence
The most commonly experienced violence against women in Nigeria is physical violence. In most religiously inclined families the parents do not encourage the woman to return back home on the ground that no one will remarry her and her brothers don’t have enough landed properties to share with a sister (who got married and returned with kids). It’s worse when a woman has no place to escape abuse or no money to fend for herself and her children. To make the matters worse, when the cases get to law enforcement, the authorities sweep them under the rug and brush them off. If the offender or abuser is financially stable to bribe his way, the case dies off.
Another common violence is sexual violence or rape which not only the women in a relationship or marriage experience, but even children get sexually assaulted and raped. Most of the time culprits walk free and brag about it. Nigerian law makes it difficult to prove rape cases due to the lack of forensics and technology for investigation. Most of the time investigations are based on circumstantial evidence and medical reports where perpetrators claim the sexual act was consensual. Women are often accused of luring men to rape by indecently dressing or seducing. Even in marital rapes, women are blamed and accused of depriving the husband of his sexual rights. A man’s right to have sex as he deems necessary with his wife whether the woman wants it or not is the norm. In fact, marital rapes are not talked about because of the societal reaction it generates.
Emotional and psychological violence is like the air we breathe in, women are degraded regularly both in words and actions. They are humiliated and abused by their husbands and family members, made to feel worthless and a property to be owned. The real pain points in domestic violence cases are when parents and religious leaders fail to accept their responsibilities in the upbringing and unbiased counselling of the man. Parents tend to cling to the attitude that they will raise their kids the same way they were raised, hence passing down the act of domestic violence and treatment of women to the next generations.
Living Through Violence: My Personal Experience
I myself witnessed domestic violence in my parent’s marriage which contributed to the untimely death of my parents. Being a holder of positions and titles in the catholic church and in the community, my maternal grandfather didn’t support divorce. He saw it as taboo. It was an unfavourable environment for me, my mother and my siblings as whenever my mother would try to move to her father’s house to escape an abusive marriage, she would be sent back. The abuse became unbearable for my mother but she had no other option than to endure it. It haunts me till day and is the primary reason why I decided to enlighten women on domestic violence. But my advocacy and activism brought me many criticisms and challenges! I am seen as a rigid person who doesn’t want to submit to the husband. Also, I am being portrayed as someone who is divorced and luring others to be divorced.
This has indeed become a challenge in curtailing and eradicating domestic violence – an act that should be trashed and tagged as nonsense is now a norm, culturally accepted and socially overlooked menace despite numerous women that have lost their lives and dignity and are still counting.
It is worthy to note that men and people of same-sex relationships and marriage do encounter violence in their relationship too. But since same-sex marriage is contraindicated in Nigeria and against the law, these cases are not reported or heard of. Men seldom talk about the abuse or violence they experience as they will be cajoled as being weaker and controlled by the woman, which is degrading for them.
When Domestic Violence in Nigeria Made To the Headlines
The case that sent Nigeria into a frenzied attack on the 24th of June 2011 was the incident that occurred in Lagos State when Mrs Titilayo Omozoje Arowolo was brutally murdered by her husband and ran away till he was arrested by the police. The case of murder charges is still ongoing as he is still appealing against his death sentence. The culprit was an acclaimed youth pastor with the FourSquare Gospel Church in Festac Town before switching to the Redeemed Christian Church of God as a youth pastor. I wonder what he preached to the youth throughout the years of the abuse he meted to his wife. The deceased had left the marriage more than ten times and kept returning and praying for her dear husband while working in the banking sector. Her own family who witnessed the series of abuses and violence did not take back their daughter to put an end to the violence till she died.
Another instance of condoning domestic violence because of societal expectations is the recent case of Dr Ifeyinwa Angbo. Dr Angbo is a medical doctor by profession who is married to an employee of Channels Television, Mr Pius Angbo. In December 2020 she called out her husband of more than three years on social media after posting a video of brutal violence and facial injuries inflicted on by her husband. She claimed it has been a frequent occurrence since they got married. She had a 4-week baby, yet the husband didn’t wait for the pains of labour to heal before inflicting his own bruises.
After watching the video she posted on youtube and social media some opined she leaves the marriage while some opined to work on her husband. But surprisingly she went back to the same man and claimed it was for the sake of the children and requested that she should be left alone!
Unfortunately, Staying in a dysfunctional and abusive marriage never benefits the children. Growing up witnessing violence can lead to psychopathic and antisocial behaviour, psychological and mental breakdown.
Several social, cultural and religious factors play important roles behind such horrific treatment of women in Nigeria. Some of the major contributing factors are discussed below.
Social and Religious Fanatics
Societal and religious expectations of ‘once married no divorce’ or ‘leaving the marriage till death do us part’ is a grave contributory factor why women stay in an abusive marriage.
In Nigeria, there are numerous religious fanatics and religious/prayer houses that are poles apart from each other. They tend to misguide women with scriptural verses to endure abusive and dysfunctional marriage by saying ‘your partner is an unbeliever thus he doesn’t have the holy spirit resident in him’, ‘pray for your husband he will change with time’ etc. At times they inflict fear on the victim on the grounds that the abuser is her protector and once he leaves she will be dead.
Sometimes religious leaders act out of superstition and blame the ‘devil’, ‘evil spirits’, generational curses. They advise weeks of dry fasting and prayers to the abused to pray and cast the evil spirits out of their husband and marriages. Many women follow these instructions and end up being physically weak and malnourished as a result of prolonged fasting.
High Level of Corruption
Corruption has eaten into the fabric of Nigeria to the extent that when a survivor of domestic violence goes to law enforcement she is demanded money to file the complaint! Thereafter, She is tasked continuously to keep the case alive by paying more and in many cases even after spending the money the culprits walk free. In the majority of the time, the culprit bribes his way leaving the abused physically, mentally and psychologically traumatised.
Stigma and Shame
Sexual violence and rape are associated with a lot of shame and stigma. Counselling services or psychological support to victims are not common in Nigeria due to the shame attached to it. Rape cases are hidden and survivors don’t seek help or support for emotional healing. This leads to behavioural problems, lack of trust and sexual disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder etc. among survivors. As discouraging as it may sound, some counsellors charge more for the services. Women also remain concerned about their privacy and confidentiality. Some non-governmental organizations have tried enlightening women by educating them about the signs of violence, empowering them financially and encouraging them to walk away from abusive relationships. But the cost of getting a divorce, enforcing court restraining order, or hiring an attorney is discouraging and there are very few pro bono services available.
These are the reasons domestic violence is not actually seen as a crime in Nigeria, or punishable by law and has kept rising. Unfortunately, eyebrows are not raised against the perpetrators, instead, women are shamed, humiliated and made fun of.
In conclusion, it is important to know the signs of abuse and domestic violence, recognize it when it occurs and seek solutions irrespective of societal expectations and religious views. Cultural views of women being under the man should be eradicated and many misconceptions to be corrected. Schools should design curriculums to sensitize kids from a very young age and include topics of gender equality and domestic violence into the teaching curriculum.
Men and boys should also be taught that women are not punching bags, not rehabilitation centres or places where badly raised men display their frustration. Women are not pieces of furniture that are bought, owned and thrown away. Certain cultures need to be abolished. Women need partners not overgrown troublesome men who cannot work on themselves let alone relationships or marriage. Women need education and awareness so that they don’t blindly follow religious leaders.
Resources for Survivors:
Our team has put together a small list of nonprofits focused on preventing and tackling domestic and gender based violence and supporting the survivors in Nigeria, and a few books which aims prevention, healing and empowering the survivors.
Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF) – A non-profit organization which tackles and addresses sexual violence, rape and human trafficking occurring amongst young girls and women across Nigeria by providing 24 hour Crisis Helpline, Clinical & Forensic Medical Services,Psychological Support, education and community outreach programs.
Lagos State Domestic Sexual And Violence Response Team (Dsvrt) – A team of professional service providers and officials that responds to domestic and sexual violence survivors by providing legal, medical, emergency assistance, Counselling and psychological and psycho social support.
Stand To End Rape (STER)– A youth-led social enterprise advocates against sexual violence and advocates for survivors, provides prevention mechanisms, and supports survivors with psychosocial services.