Nigeria state officials feel the heat of wife battering crisis

Nigeria’s startling data on wife beating is causing government officials to heat up under their collars, signalling a new crisis they must nip in the bud before it becomes a national embarrassment.

And now, the state thinks some therapy can help dilute men’s anger, reflecting a new strategy, especially in conservative communities.

The details come after officials first dismissed a recent report on abuses by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as alarmist, even after the two watchdogs documented a spike in deaths from violence against women and girls.

Then government agencies themselves started finding something worse. The Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency (DSVA) reported 2,543 cases of abuse between January and September 2022, of which 2,340 were female victims. By August 2023, more than 2,434 cases had been reported.

In fact, domestic violence worsened globally during Covid-19. For example, a 2020 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) showed that around 81,000 women and girls died worldwide, with an intimate partner or family member responsible for 58 per cent (47,000) of these deaths.

In Nigeria, data showed that more than 47 women had been killed by their husbands since January 2023, up from the 24 recorded in the whole of 2022. Those who died had given clues as to how they had been violated while those who survived were scared and remained silent.

“I reported the violent abuse to my parents many times, but my mother insisted that I should respect my husband’s wishes instead of quitting the marriage. Just look at me, see my battered head; doctors say I have internal bleeding; I hope I will survive this again,” 38-year-old Vivian Kadiri, a mother of two, lamented before she died, according to a viral video of her testimony.

Abusive marriage

Africa probably learnt about Nigeria’s disease after popular Nigerian gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu, whose song “Ekwueme” garnered 77 million YouTube views in 2017, died in Abuja in April 2022 from an abusive marriage.

Her husband, Peter Nwachukwu, is currently in custody facing murder charges.

Aminu Abubakar, 56, in the north-eastern Yola South Local Government Area, was recently arrested for allegedly beating his 38-year-old wife, Fadinatu, to death.  According to police spokesman Suleiman Nguroje, the young woman could not realise her dream of leaving the abusive marriage before her angry husband killed her with a hard object.

In another case, Inuaghata allegedly killed his pregnant wife Osaretin, 23, by slitting her throat with a knife. He had gone into hiding since the incident on May 24, in South-South Edo State.

The Unicef report on 16 Facts about Violence against Women and Girls in Nigeria shows that many fatal cases of violence are covered up by families and many others are settled out of court.

It says that almost half (45 percent) of women and girls (15-49 years) who survive physical violence do not tell anyone about their plight.

This is exacerbated by a general lack of confidence by citizens, especially women, in the criminal justice system to enforce existing laws, lack of awareness of laws and knowledge of rights in a context dominated by social norms that legitimise the perpetration of abuse, stigmatisation and under-reporting. This in turn leads to impunity for perpetrators, re-victimisation of survivors and the reproduction of the cycle of violence.

A legal practitioner Isaiah Ode said, “Most of the women killed by their husbands had been physically abused before their death.”

He said spousal killings would continue to increase if the society continued to force people to stay in an abusive relationship, urging parents, religious leaders and others to stop advising couples to stay in toxic marriages.

Bose Ironsi, executive director of the Women’s Rights and Health Project (WRAHP), an NGO, said the law against domestic violence was too lenient and failed to deter repeat offenders.

“The menace remains daunting in spite of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act of 2015,” Albert Omotunde, a social worker in Abuja said.

The SHE Campaign Project, led by the wife of the former vice president of Nigeria Titi Abubakar, in a statement attributed the increase to the poor economic situation, poverty and frustration.

Domestic tensions

At the end of former president Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure, his minister of Women Affairs and Social Development Pauline Tallen had announced a long-term programme to lift women out of poverty to ease domestic tensions.

She also said that all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had been directed to domesticate the Domestic Violence Act of 2015.

In the meantime, however, Nigeria says it is launching therapeutic sessions for husbands and men.

One of these is under the auspices of the Lagos State DSVA.

The Executive Secretary of the DSVA Titilola Vivour Adeniyi said on September 16 that the objective of the programme is for the psycho-social wellbeing of the citizens following the alarming increase in domestic violence.

“The support and healing group session is aimed at psycho-educating perpetrators on how to better manage their emotions when triggered.”

Vivour-Adeniyi said research showed that most perpetrators were victims of similar traumas as children.

“There is a need to help perpetrators heal from their childhood traumas that may have contributed to their abusive behaviour in adulthood,” she said.

According to her, the sessions will hold perpetrators accountable and ensure that they take responsibility for their actions rather than blaming their victims for their actions.

“It will equip them with healthy coping skills to manage their anger, communicate effectively and maintain peaceful and harmonious relationships,” she said.

Many volunteers have been recruited through awareness-raising and public campaigns, but most participants are selected from homes where violence has been reported.

The first sessions will be held weekly for an initial period of eight weeks.

The Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), in collaboration with the Ford Foundation, has started to sensitise women business leaders to eradicate domestic violence in their communities since July 2023.

WARDC, a women’s rights organisation that provides pro bono legal services to women victims, said the outreach is to build accountability mechanisms at the community level.

The mechanism encourages collaboration between women’s associations, traditional women leaders and market leaders, who are highly respected groups woven into synergy to eradicate and partake in initiatives to reduce violence against women.

Dr Abiola Akiode-Afolabi, the Director of WARDC, said these women’s groups have been empowered to involve traditional leaders and local chiefs to help in breaking social measures that would ensure zero tolerance to violence.

Betsy Obaseki, the First Lady of South-South Edo State, during a visit to a survivor of domestic violence in Benin City, advised women to prioritise their safety and well-being.

“No one, regardless of status or influence, has the right to abuse his or her spouse,” she said.

Marriage, she said, should be a source of happiness and fulfilment, not a prison sentence.

“No woman should endure cruelty. Seek help and escape from dangerous situations. Leave an abusive marriage rather than die in it.

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