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Prevalence of Domestic Violence and Culture of Silence

Domestic Abuse

Domestic violence has become so prevalent in our society and nation that no day goes by without social media being awash with news of domestic violence of both genders that often results into the death of either spouse.

According to data published recently by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), globally, 81,000 women and girls were killed in 2020, around 47,000 of them (58 per cent) died at the hands of an intimate partner or a family member, which equals to a woman or girl being killed every 11 minutes in their home.

“Although eight out of 10 of all homicide victims are men or boys, women and girls are the primary victims of lethal violence at home in every part of the world, accounting for six out of 10 killings committed by intimate partners or other family members,” said UNODC Executive Director, Ghada Waly.

Cases of domestic violence in Nigeria have taken an upward swing in recent weeks. In the media, there have been one story or another about a man beating, maiming or killing his wife or about a woman dealing with her husband in like manner.

Between January 2021 and March 2022, it was reportedly recorded that at least 55 spouses died as victims of domestic violence, in which 35 women were killed by their husbands, while wives killed their husbands in 14 different incidents, and six were killed over allegations of infidelity.

The latest incident that attracted national upheaval was the death of an Abuja-based gospel artiste, Osinachi Nwachukwu, whose death reportedly followed marital ordeals as well as allegations of domestic violence being orchestrated by her husband.

In Sabonpegi-Shabu community of Lafia, Nasarawa State, Mr Ovye Yakubu allegedly beat his wife, Esther Aya, and inflicted injuries on her over a minor argument of hiring a carpenter to fix one of the windows in their residence.

In Lagos State, homicide detectives arrested on 18 September 2019, a 23-year-old woman, Stella Peter, for allegedly stabbing her live-in-partner, Bala Haruna, aged 25, to death over his refusal to finance their daughter’s one-year birthday party..

Also, in January 2022, a 57-year-old man, Muhammed Alpha, was arrested in Adamawa for allegedly stabbing his wife of over 20 years with a knife over the ownership of a door made from zinc. While in the Abule-Egba area of Lagos State, a housewife, identified as Motunrayo Alaba allegedly killed her husband, Alaba, aka Bama, who recently returned from Dubai on vacation, as she applied a hot-pressing iron on his chest.

A woman identified as Ramota Soliu reportedly killed her husband, Bello Soliu, at a Fulani settlement located at Iyana Ilewo, Abeokuta-North Local Government Area of Ogun State when she allegedly poured hot water him.

In Ilorin, Musa Yusuf allegedly killed his wife for refusing to submit to his sexual demands.

On Wednesday, February 17, 2021, the Ondo State Police Command arrested one Queen Beatrice for allegedly killing her husband, Emmanuel Ikujuni, with a plank following an argument that he spoke with another woman on phone in her presence.

In all cases of domestic violence so far, it is reported that more than 20 children were left behind by their parents who were victims of spousal killings in 15 months in Nigeria. This is because one partner remains in police custody or correctional centre, the other is buried.

Abdullahi Usman, a psychologist, has posited that some children trained in abusive marriages grew up with psychological scars and trauma that could shape their marriage view, adding that it affects their perception about life and life will never be the same for some of them.

Some marriage counselors have argued that some get married in spite of the fact that they are not ripe for the union because they desire social status and recognition, or due to pressure from families, and end up being tormented or tormenting their partners.

“There is nothing worth your life. If you move out, people will talk; unfortunately, it is the same people that will talk when you walk out that will blame you when you die in it,” they added.

There is now conspiracy of silence on the part of women and men involved in such issues of domestic violence, as cases of violence against women mostly go unreported. The victims suffer in silence, condone such violations of their rights while claiming that it is a sign of love.

A school of thought opines that due to poverty and economic dependence on men, many victims suffer in silence for fear of losing the economic dependence of the male perpetrator since they have their children to take care of, and where a victim decides to report to law enforcement agents, the issue is trivialized and termed a “private matter.”

Many women who are victims do not speak out about violations of their rights due to lack of positive response from the society. They avoid they the feeling of humiliation and fear of stigmatization from the society as well as the antagonistic response of the law enforcement officers charged with receipt of complaints.

Another nexus is the practice of bride price, which has led to the idea of ownership of the woman. The implication of this customary law is that the bride price is understood by many to symbolize the sale of the girl and ownership by her husband and family.

Religion teaches that the woman is the weaker vessel and plays the second fiddle in marriage partnership. And since the woman is taught to be subservient to the man, some accept their battering as part of obedient obligation to their husbands.

However, men, too, are increasingly becoming victims of domestic violence. For both men and women, the risks associated with domestic violence can be fatalities, physical injuries, psychosomatic and psychological problems with long-term health risk.

Some men also prefer not to report the abuse, believing that the police would not take any action, and if and when they do, the male victim is likely to be blamed; hence, men opt not to talk about violence because of the secretiveness, cultural values, masculine identity, tolerance, shame, and patriarchal values of losing face from speaking out against violence, especially if meted by a wife.

Ironically, just like women opt to remain in an abusive relationship and remain silent to protect their children, some studies have found this to be true in men.

Additionally, violence against men is often attributed to men’s inability to provide for the families, unfaithfulness and drunkenness as reported in local dailies regularly, while the women frustrated by their spouse’s irresponsibility might become violent.

Often women’s abuses include refusal to offer food, locking spouses out of the house, or ridicules to demean the man in front of children.

Unlike men who often have been found to use physical violence, it has been revealed that women use psychological and emotional abuse more often than physical abuse characterized by demeaning behaviours, general ridicule, belittling statements, and a general lack of sensitivity on men.

The abused men who try to remain silent to camouflage the psychological and emotional pain are therefore prone to extreme psychological torture, resulting in health issues such as hypertension, diabetes, heart problems, and other illnesses.

Consequently, men admitting the state of victimhood and labeling domestic violence a crime perpetrated by women is considered enfeeble.

Some married men suffer psychosocial effects of domestic violence. Even though these men consider separation or divorce, they cannot carry it through immediately because by leaving, society would know there is a problem in the marriage. They don’t want to be isolated, withdrawn from family functions, harassed, disrespected and helpless as well as humiliated by society.

Although there are no laws in Nigeria specifically enacted against domestic violence to be applicable throughout the federation, the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act (VAPP), passed in 2015 protects a wide range of violence against women, including domestic violence.

It prescribes a sentence of not more than five years in jail or an option of N100,000 fine for persons convicted of the offence of violence.

Nigeria is also a signatory to several international conventions on the violence against women such as the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979 and ratified in 1985; the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (domesticated); the African Protocol on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention on the Rights of the Child (domesticated as the Child Rights Act); and the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, among others.

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria makes provision for equality of women, guarantees the rights and protects the interest of women considering the religious, traditional and cultural norms that govern the society. But violence against women has continued in spite of the constitutional provision for the protection of women’s rights.

The question on every lip is: where is the law that protects the men from the culture of silence when they are abused by their wives?

The ripple effect of domestic violence is that violence is learned, which implies that men who come from family backgrounds where they witnessed violence in their early childhood are least likely to engage in violence and are often likely to become victims.

There is a need for legislation that would make domestic violence a serious crime that will attract serious sanctions for both genders.

Sometimes domestic violence is treated as a ‘family matter’, and it ends there in spite of the fact lives have been lost, or someone has been maimed and incapacitated for life.

The political will to enforce international instruments that protect women’s rights has been lacking in Nigeria. Because females are not well represented in Nigerian politics, gender-sensitive laws and policies are not priorities either at the state or national level.

However, data from the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) indicates that in 2021, the agency dealt with 2,584 domestic and sexual violence cases for adults, out of which women were the greatest victims with 2,349 cases.

Pundits have argued that people are not honest, as some domestic violence cases are usually shrouded in secrecy, while some see people around them undergoing domestic violence but look the other way.

They posit that thousands of cases go unreported, as families, communities and religious leaders sometimes wade in to push such cases under the carpet, but it is relevant to point out that the most important thing is to be alive to tell the story tomorrow.

There is need to embark on the training of the members of National and State Assemblies, police force, judicial officers and other state agencies, on human rights and legislation devoid of gender bias that favour oppression of women as well as men.