By HENRY OKONKWO
Even as Mrs. Clara Nwakanma’s agonised scream rent the air on that night of August 16, her neighbours at Cameroun Road in Aba, Abia State did not bother to respond to her cries of distress. They all seem to have gotten used to the frequent rancorous marital rows between Mrs. Nwakanma and her husband.
But half an hour later, the 38-year-old mother of five yelped in pain, after a loud thud. An unnerving silence took over the entire compound. That was when the neighbours became suspicious, and rushed into the Nwakanmas’ home. They were dumbstruck by the sight that welcomed them. There on the floor, Clara laid unconscious on the floor, with blood gushing out from her head.
Her husband of almost 20 years had bludgeoned her into coma, after smashing her head on the wall during their quarrel. Neighbours promptly subdued and handed him over the police. They prayed that he rot in jail for his unending brutality against his wife. But they were surprised to see him being released few weeks later after his family begged Clara not to press charge of assault-and-battery against him.
Another woman battered by her husband
Few weeks before the incident, in a part of Surulere, Lagos, called Aguda, Mrs. Titilayo Adeleye narrowly escaped death when her husband, Sulaiman Adeleye, of over 10 years relationship, beat her black-and-blue. According to her, for several months she and her husband acted like total strangers, barely tolerating each other because allegations of adultery. She has continually heard reports from neighbours and children that her husband occasionally brings in women into their matrimonial home. She confronted him but he ignored her. In fact, he did not even care to deny the allegations. So she decided to gather and lock her clothes inside a separate wardrobe, for fear that her personal belongings and her children’s, could be stolen by the strange women that come into their house in her absence.
“He ignores whenever I ask him for anything including our children’s school fees,” Titilayo said. “My brother and children had told me they met my husband with his girlfriend inside our house. So I was disturbed. Prior to that, our neighbours had called me and reported the same thing. I became afraid and no longer felt secured living with him. But I don’t have enough money yet to pack out and move to another apartment. So I decided to secure my personal and children’s belongings inside the house by moving them into my wardrobe and locking it. Some his clothes are also in the drawer. So I called him and asked him where he wants me to move them to so that I can find space to pack everything belonging to me and my children. He told me to leave them on top of the bed. Later, he came into the house raging and raving that I should pack out of his house. I told him, that I won’t be thrown out of my matrimonial house. That got him angry, and he pounced on me and started beating me.”
When Saturday Sun met Titilayo in her shop, she was still nursing a swollen face and black eye she sustained from the battering. The mother of three recalled how her husband grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, shook her violently as if trying to strangle her, before raining punches on her face. Their three children could not help but looked on helplessly as their father pummelled their mother. At a point, when their eight-year-old first son could no longer take it, he came in-between them. But for his efforts, he got a hard punch on his shoulder from the father.
Sexually and emotionally abused by husband
Mrs. Jennifer (surname withheld) is another survivor of domestic violence. At 42, the mother of six has spent 24 years of her matrimonial life dreading the next assault. This is because she easily gets beaten and abused both in private and public. She recalls vividly incidents of violence: of being beaten, punched, mercilessly flogged with a leather belt, sexually abused in private and verbally abused in public. She remembers being treated like a slave and putting up with unprintable names like whore, slut, idiot, mumu her husband would always use on her right in front of her children. But despite these abuses, she chose to stay in the marriage because doing so ensures a roof over her head and her children’s.
She told Saturday Sun of how she was rushed to an emergency ward of a public hospital following some injuries her husband inflicted on her in her private parts and which the doctors noted were like those sustained in sexual assault. But at the police station, the assault was seen as “husband and wife matter,” hence no charge was pressed and she was asked to go home and make up with her husband.
Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour that involves abuse by one partner against another in an intimate relationship. It is also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering, family violence, dating abuse and intimate partner violence (IPV). And it could come in various forms such as physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure or wound a partner.
Women are mostly perceived to be the ones only affected by incidents of marital abuse. Many women had been brutalized, and sometimes killed, by their male counterparts. But in recent times, the table seems to have turned as women are beginning to get deeply involved in domestic violence. Mr. Kayode (surname withheld) is one of the many men that had been abused by their wives.
Man physically abused by her wife
According to the 38-year-old man, his ordeal started when he became suspicious of his wife’s reception of calls from men late at nights. “When I asked her who the person was, she would say it’s her brother’s friend,” he recalled. “At a point when the late night calls became too regular, I told her that I’m no longer comfortable with it. But she flared up and told me not to disturb her life, or try to keep her away from her ‘helpers’. That was when I started suspecting her of adultery.”
The suspicion led to depression on the part of Kayode. “I was devastated. I could not sleep at nights without taking valium tablets (sleeping pills),” he told Saturday Sun. “I stopped eating her food for fear of being poisoned. I also stopped having sex with her because I don’t trust her anymore. She seized every opportunity to insult and abuse me, and whenever I asked her a question, she would ignore me or push me aside. One day, she walked out on me, in the presence of my friend. I became angry and pulled her back. She responded by slapping my face and shouting that I must kill her. Her elder sister came into the scene, and as I was trying to explain what happened, to her, my wife brought out a knife and stabbed me on the face. I suspect she targetted my eyes.”
The Bariga Lagos-based tailor, said he was deeply saddened when he realized that their three children did not only hear the nasty abuses their mother rained on him, but also saw the blood gushing out from his face. “My three children would always cry whenever their mother threw tantrums at me,” he said. “I am really tired of the marriage. But as I was working on a divorce, my wife suddenly packed out of my house and disappeared with our children. And whenever I call her on phone, she would abuse me saying that I would never see my children again. I am sad and worried because I know my wife would be a bad influence on them. Then I had just finished paying their school fees but my wife have took them and kept them away from school.”
Why women abuse their husbands –Psychologist
Many men, for fear of being thought weak, a ‘wimp’ or ‘coward,’ shy away from speaking out when abused by their partners. Hence abusive acts like husband punching, slapping, kicking, nail scratching, sex deprivation, and killing continued to be endured by them. One of the factors responsible for the growing cases of husband battery is the increase of ‘female superiority complex’. Other factors include disability of the man caused by either deformity or illness. “Some women would want to take advantage of these and emasculate the man,” Mrs. Stella Ameh, a behavioural psychologist said. “She would show disrespect and disdain to the man and seek pleasure with other men. If the man attempts to react, she uses verbal abuse. The man will have no other choice but to keep mute or risk losing the little care she shows him because he is at her mercy.
“Another reason is when a man is in a state of financial incapability, the woman sees it as liberty for her and thus might begin to wield power. The man can also lose his wife when he, maybe, because of age, cannot satisfy her sexually. Many women often take advantage of this to vent physical or verbal abuses on the man. Nagging too is domestic abuse. It could exhaust and unnerve the man. Even in extreme cases, it can drive a man to untimely death. These are just few of factors that trigger marital abuse against men by their female partners.”
How domestic violence affects children
Experts hint that children witnessing violence in the home may grow up with emotional problems like anger, or may even become abusers themselves when they become adults. According Mrs. Ngozi Okoro, of the Child-to-Child Network, children are adversely affected when they witness domestic abuse in their homes. “Many believe that it is better to stay in abusive marriage for the sake of the children. But that is a myth,” she told Saturday Sun. “You might believe that it is best for your children if you try to keep the family together in order to provide the security of a home and father- despite the ongoing fear, and the emotional and physical abuse. However, children will actually feel more secure with one parent in a stable environment, than with two parents when the environment is unstable and violent.
“The impact of domestic abuse on children can be short term but sometimes they last into adulthood. The child may feel guilty and responsible for the abuse that is happening and feel that he or she is not doing anything to stop it. Research shows that children who have experienced domestic abuse also describe feelings of extreme sadness and experience low self-esteem and depression. And they are also at high risk of taking to drug and alcohol abuse, of becoming victims of teen pregnancy, homelessness, and suicide. Witnessing domestic violence is the single best predictor of juvenile delinquency and adult criminality.”
Statistical data of a growing problem
Domestic violence is a very real problem in Nigeria today. However, according to the Centre for Health Ethnic Law and Development (CHELD), there is gross insufficient data on it. This is attributable to the stigma and silence surrounding domestic violence, and also paucity of funds to engage in requisite research.
Till date, the most extensive data available on domestic violence are contained in the National Demographic and Health Survey of 2008. The study showed that 28 per cent of women – almost one-third of all women in Nigeria have experienced physical violence.
Last month, September, the Lagos State Government, through the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), an agency of the state’s Ministry of Justice reeled out statistics on domestic abuses. According to them between January and September, there had been 564 domestic violence cases. Analysing further the data, the State’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem, who is also the Chairman of DSVRT, disclosed that the trend from the data showed an increase in men coming forward to report cases of domestic violence. He highlighted that this year alone, a total number of 55 men came forward to report, in contrast to 14, last year.
“Domestic violence is an invisible crime, occurring mainly behind closed doors”, said Comrade Toyin Okanlawon of the World Youth League International (WYLI). “So it is often difficult to measure it accurately and survivors are often reluctant or afraid to report it to authorities. Many women that face domestic abuse may not even see themselves as ‘abused women’ because there is so little awareness about it.”
Mr. Ebenezer Omejalile of the Centre for Community Youths Advocacy (CCYA) said more proactive measures should be taken to curb the occurrence. “One of ways to achieve that is by early education and sensitization right from childhood through adulthood,” he said. “This would help break down that taboo, and challenge the normalisation of domestic violence, and further emphasize that it is a crime and not a part of ordinary family life.”
Lagos State is one of the few states in Nigeria that has a robust and effective domestic violence response unit. According to the coordinator of the DSVRT, Mrs. Lola Vivour-Adeniyi, they have devised, and are still devising several approaches to stem domestic violence in the state.