Domestic violence has its roots buried deep in various societies across the world of which Nigeria is no exception. As a matter of fact, reports reveal that domestic violence in the country seems to be on the rise. Both the government and the Nigerian society have not paid the required level of attention to the problem of domestic violence which families from different social, educational, economic and religious backgrounds go through in several unimaginable ways. Women continually suffer domestic violence irrespective of their social status, age, class, tribe or religion all over the world.
According to a 2007 Amnesty International report, a third and in some cases, two-thirds of Nigerian women are believed to have been subjected to sexual, psychological and of course, physical abuse meted out by close relations; husbands, fathers or partners. In traditional African societies, domestic violence functions as a means of enforcing conformity with the roles women play within the customary society. The husband is regarded as the head of the family and is responsible for maintaining order in his household. It is then perceived that he has every right to “discipline” his child (ren) and his wife if the need arises. This is terribly reprehensible.
Several reasons amount to the sky-rocketing increase of domestic violence in the country. One of such is the “culture of silence”, inherent in Nigeria especially among uneducated, less independent women, which hinders victims from speaking out in their abusive relationships. These women dread the stigma associated with divorce and the forced independence they fear will follow if they ever choose to seek help and instead, resort to silence. This act of ignorance only gives the perpetrators more room to carry out their heinous acts and revel in sheer inhumane manipulations.
A victim of domestic violence for ten years, Mary Akangbe, shares her experience in an abusive marriage outside the country with me during my radio show Heart Matters on Splashfm105.5 Ibadan. She explained that she got married to a Nigerian in London and suffered her first blow of abuse just six months into their marriage at the time when she was pregnant with their first child. Mary admitted that though her ex-husband was a “helpless romantic” before their marriage, she did notice some ill-behaviour she thought would change over time which apparently didn’t. Mary then resorted to finding help from religious leaders at the church whom she claimed only advised on getting closer to God through incessant prayers and fasting. This, she said only kept her in the marriage for much longer than necessary.
Mary’s marriage produced two sons she had to hide each time she suspected another episode of violence was about to brew. Now an author and CEO of a charitable organization, she says she always sent her children off to her friends’ homes in the neighbourhood during such ungraceful moments but couldn’t prevent them from witnessing the horrible scenes all the time. When her divorce eventually got through over ten years after her marriage, she put her sons through lots of counseling to re-orientate them towards the proper way of relation with members of the society, especially the opposite sex.
From Mary’s experience, it could be deduced that domestic violence knows no bounds. Generally, it is expected that in places like the West, there should be constant monitoring of women who may be going through some sort of violence but unfortunately, not every story gets told. Mary did reach out to friends and family too but according to her, they only showed concern towards the issue on the surface. No one chose to go in deep within to rescue her. Not because they didn’t want to, but they didn’t know how to.
Though the world today just might be sourcing for possible ways to put the menace of domestic violence to the overall psychological, sexual and physical balance of women away and appropriately punish the perpetrators of such crimes, the endangering effects of domestic violence on children seem to be totally ignored. Research reveals that children brought up in violent homes, without proper counseling, risk being violent themselves. The perception such children get about life may only be centred on cruelty, anger and frustration so much that it gets extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to make them see things otherwise. The end result of this poses a great threat to the overall development of any and every nation in various terms. Such children just may grow to replicate what they have witnessed in their own homes while others may completely go all out being bullies, robbers and worst case scenario, assassins.
Therefore, if domestic violence must be curbed, the government needs to put all necessary facilities in place to assist victims of domestic violence. This could be in form of comfortable shelter for victims in extremely dangerous situations. Law enforcement agencies must be readily available to swing into action and bring perpetrators to book. The society should, at all times, uphold the principle of gender equality and discourage all forms of gender discrimination. With the strong platform of the media, valuable contents and materials that would campaign against domestic violence should be pushed forward. This would enlighten the populace and paint a crystal clear picture distinguishing between what is right and wrong, what is ethical and what is morally and legally unacceptable.