Despite the paucity of reliable data, the tons of cases of domestic violence that make the news are enough confirmation that there is a deeply rooted problem in Nigeria that should be a cause for concern. There is a reason why.
When medical doctor, Dr. Ifeyinwa Angbo, sent out a public cry for help last year in a video she posted on Facebook calling out her husband; Pious Angbo, a Channels TV reporter, for 6 years of abuse, many who understood the anatomy of abuse immediately had the sinking feeling of how the case would end.
There would likely be a reconciliation facilitated by family or friends, and Dr. Ifeyinwa will return to her holy matrimonial home of horrors and all will presumably be well with the world. Except – as the data shows in many societies where cases like hers are treated markedly different from how we do in Nigeria, that very rarely happens.
Recidivism is a term used in criminal justice circles that means the tendency of convicted offenders to offend anew after facing the music of justice. For domestic violence, a University of The Fraser Valley paper puts this at 1-3 in every 5 offenders.
A CLEEN Foundation report documenting the statistics of domestic violence in Nigeria puts the figure of victims of domestic violence in Nigeria at 1 in 3 individuals in 2013. In a country of some 200+ million people, that’s well over 67 million victims. It is noteworthy that this is a very modest estimate since most couples will rather seek family resolution and keep subsequent abuse under wraps so as to keep the family from public ridicule.
Dr. Ifeyinwa’s video was met with all the expected reactions anyone in the know would have already seen coming. Calls to resolve things privately, calls to hear the other side of the story, unhelpful counsel to leave (and laughably dangerous advice) to seek justice from law enforcement.
In the end, to the chagrin of many observers, the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, stepped in to ‘reconcile’ the couple. As many shocked Nigerians noted, what the man deserved was to face the music for his campaign of violence against his spouse. The governor, whose grinning picture side by side the couple made headlines, is nevertheless a symptom of the problem.
The widely publicised case of Lt. Titilayo Omozoje Arowolo haunted many minds who knew how that led to her murder through multiple stabbing at the hands of her long-term abusive husband, Arowolo Akolade. Reports and court testimony revealed that Titilayo had left Akolade 10 times, each time following a physical abuse episode, and was begged back into her abuser’s hands until he finally killed her.
Whether it is a state governor, the local Imam or personal pastor of the couples, parents or friends, the way we handle domestic violence as a society is perhaps the biggest incentive we give to perpetrators. It is almost a green card in perpetuity that says, go and sin then, sin some more. Perpetrators are having a swell time because of this.
As if to add salt to injury, the penal code remains home to a law that expressly sanctions violence against persons. Section 55(1)(d) of the Penal Code provides that an assault by a man on a woman is not an offence if they are married, if native law or custom recognises such “correction” as lawful, and if there is no grievous hurt.
Considering many cases like that of Titilayo’s and Dr. Ifeyinwa’ even were they to reach the courts are likely to end up in family courts, the penal code remains a yawning gape for abusers to escape justice.
The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015, if domesticated across the country, is said to have the potential to counter this sad reality. As it stands, 22 States are still foot-dragging where that is concerned.
Laws, even at their best, are however merely useful; in that they leave an exit strategy available to victims. The reality, even where these laws are effectively deployed, is that unless attitudes change; little is ultimately achieved.
Until, as a society, we stop framing abuse as mere couple’s row that can be resolved, we are in for rude shocks like in the case of Late Titilayo and perpetrators like Pius will continue to get away with crime to repeat another day.
A concerned Twitter user said something worth reechoing, “wherever Dr Ifeyinwa Angbo is, I hope she is doing alright.” We hope the same, for her and all the victims of domestic violence forced to suffer in silence because of the many stumbling blocks in their ways of escape.