The Angbos: Ortom’s Mediation And Trivialisation Of Violence Against Women
“Unfortunately, battering (and trafficking) have become part of us as we daily wake up to hear of them over the radio, watch them on the television and read them in the dailies and social media.” – Bala Kaigama
Against the backdrop of the four-month coronavirus lockdown in Nigeria, an alarming increase in cases of violence against women led the Governors of Nigeria’s 36 states to unanimously declare a state of emergency on gender-based violence in June 2020. Violence against women is a global pandemic, in fact, the World Health Organisation stated that 1 in 3 women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.
Just A Normal Issue
Gender-based violence is a norm in Nigeria, where there is a prevalence of traditions and cultures that seek to subjugate the woman. Victims of domestic violence, especially, are often overlooked or stifled as intimate partner violence is perceived as one of those things, a “part of us” or a mere marriage challenge.
On Sunday, 6th of December, a video showing Ifeanyinwa Angbo, a medical doctor and the wife of a Channels Television reporter Pius Angbo, began circulating on social media. Ifeanyinwa, in the video, with a reddened face and tears streaming down her face, appealed to the public for help over repeated incidents of assault by her husband.
Ifeanyinwa has been married to Pius for six years and has birthed four children. In those six years of marriage, she has “not known peace”. She said the latest assault was a result of her advice to her husband to cease spending lavishly on concubines and cater for his four children.
That advice earned her beating.
It is for matters such as this that Nigeria signed the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act into law in 2015. The act prohibits all forms of violence against persons in private and public life and provides maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of the offenders. Those are in addition to basic fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.
The VAPP Act made provision of imprisonment not exceeding three years for persons found guilty of spousal battery with an option of fine or both:
19. (1) A person who batters his or her spouse commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or to a fine not exceeding N200,000.00 or both.
“Family Issue” Not A Crime?
Rather than seek justice for Mrs Angbo, a battery case has been trivialised and tagged as a “family issue” like a badly-scripted film, with the governor of Benue State Samuel Ortom acting as a peacemaker between the couple.
Speaking with the press, the governor said “We have resolved all issues. This family is barely six years with four kids. Angbo himself has distinguished himself in journalism and the wife is a medical doctor with Benue State government at the teaching hospital. We felt for a young couple of six years, they must be encouraged instead of trying to separate them.”
“Some of us are not also innocent,” governor Ortom continued. “As young couple, we underwent some of these challenges in our marriage life.”
Why did the governor trivialise assault and battery as “challenges in marriage”? By saying “some of us are not innocent”, is the governor saying that domestic violence is a normal thing in marriage? The governor’s statement makes one wonder if he also experienced this same “marriage challenge” when he was younger.
Acts of reconciliation such as this is a pat on the back for people who batter their spouse – after all, it is a “family issue”. When offences become trivialised, it makes a mockery of the law.
In fact, what Governor Ortom did amounted to the desecration of the bill he signed into law little over a year ago.
The Benue State House of Assembly passed the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) bill in 2019 and Governor Ortom signed it into law in June, 2019. By receiving Mr Angbo, he contravened subsection 4 of that law.
(4) A person who receives or assists another who, to his or knowledge, committed the offence provided for in subsection (1) of this section is an accessory after the fact and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 1 year or to a fine not exceeding N200,000.00 or both.
Cases like that of Mrs Angbo is one of the reasons why many women suffer in silence.
According to 2018 report of Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), more than half of Nigerian women (55%) who have experienced physical or sexual violence have never sought help to stop the violence.
That is because sometimes, the “help” they receive comes in the form of Ortom’s mediation, which only enables and encourages violence against women. Ortom’s tacit tolerance for Mr Angbo obvious assault on his wife is unbecoming of a state governor: it stands logic on its head and buries decency in the sea of contempt for the woman’s right. The governor missed a glorious chance of letting the law he personally assented come in to play. Hopefully, he will not have to rue his mansplaining of the “family issue”.