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Domestic Violence: Why Nigeria is experiencing an upsurge

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Cases of domestic violence in Nigeria have taken an upward swing in recent weeks, especially the physical aspect of it. If it is not about a man beating, maiming or killing his wife, it is about a woman dealing with her husband in like manner. There have also been reports of a man stabbing his brother to death for wading into a feud between him and his wife and a woman beating and blinding her grandchild, among others.

In most cases, the police nab and prosecute the culprits in accordance with the laws of the land. But that has not proved to be enough deterrence; as such acts seem not to be ebbing.

For instance, on Wednesday, February 17, 2021, the Ondo State Police Command arrested one Queen Beatrice for allegedly killing her husband, Emmanuel Ikujuni, at Omotosho town, in Okitipupa local council of the state.

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Reports had it that the woman hit the head of the deceased with a plank following an argument that ensued between them because the deceased spoke with another woman on phone in her presence. The deceased was said to have collapsed after his wife hit him with the plank. His neighbours rushed him to a nearby hospital, where he was confirmed dead.

Also on the same day in Lagos State, the police arrested one David Idibie for the death of his 42-year-old wife, Juliana Idibie, who was found dead in their apartment.

The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Olumuyiwa Adejobi, had said in a statement that the man was arrested for allegedly beating Juliana to death.

The incident happened at Joado Street, Oke Ira Nla, Ajah Area of Lagos State on Tuesday.

According to the police spokesperson, they found the body of Juliana in their apartment after a neighbour contacted the police.

“It was gathered that the deceased had engaged the suspect in a hot argument on certain matrimonial issues and in the process, she slumped and sustained a severe head injury. While lying in the pool of her blood, the angry husband refused to rescue her until she gave up the ghost.

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“The police operatives attached to Langbasa Division, Ajah, who were informed of the ugly incident by a neighbour of the couple, raced to the scene, arrested the suspect and evacuated the corpse to the mortuary,” Adejobi said.

The Guardian could not lay hands on a recent statistics on cases of domestic violence across the country. However, data from the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) showed that in 2021, the agency dealt with 2,584 domestic and sexual violence cases for adults, out of which women were the greatest victims with 2,349 cases. The data showed that Alimosho local council recorded the most number of domestic violence cases, closely followed by Ifako-Ijaiye, Ikorodu and Kosofe local councils.

The DSVRT data further showed that 143 cases were reported in January 2021 with women accounting for 133 of the total number of survivors. Most of the women were aged between 18 and 45 years. Again, Alimosho local council led in the number of cases closely followed by Kosofe and Ikeja local councils.

Undesirably, these are outside the cases reported across the police stations in the state and nationwide. This is as experts told The Guardian that thousands of cases go unreported as families, communities and religious leaders sometimes wade in to push such cases under the carpet.

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Decrying the spate of domestic violence in the country, the coordinator of the DSVRT, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, lamented that this year alone, two women have died as a result of domestic violence in Lagos.

“More than ever, we need to emphasise that every domestic violence case is a potential murder case and survivors, religious leaders, family members and the community at large must be aware of the fact that we are dealing with lives and early reporting is critical. In the instance that a spouse dies, the alleged abuser is arrested and the children may end up becoming wards of the state,” she noted.

She stated that a research the agency conducted in 2019 to find out the correlation between morbidity and domestic violence didn’t yield accurate data, saying people were not honest as domestic violence was usually shrouded in secrecy.

“We visited hospitals, morgues, psychiatric hospitals and the likes to get statistics but people were not honest as there were frequent denials that victims were casualties of domestic violence and you would hardly come across domestic violence being listed as the cause of death. We need to continue to ensure that the Coroner’s System Law of Lagos State is fully implemented as the law provides that in any instance where the cause of death is unknown, sudden and unexpected, violent, unnatural or suspicious, such report of death shall be subjected to post mortem examination and a coroner’s inquest.

“Sometime last year, we were informed of a case where a woman was rushed to the hospital and her partner said she drank a poisonous substance (sniper) out of depression. But when we dug deeper, investigation revealed that the woman had been experiencing violence but the family had already buried the woman and did not want to pursue the case. According to them, they have lost one child already and they didn’t want to lose another.”

Adeniyi revealed that more people were resorting to social media to talk about domestic violence because it was more real time.

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“For some contentious cases, we get tipped off from social media; people tag us and even send us direct messages to look into some cases. We got a case last week where the reporter informed us that a woman slumped and died shortly after giving birth. The family claimed she died from birth complications but a neighbour told us in confidence that she had been undergoing severe verbal abuse from her husband. Aside from physical abuse, there are other forms of abuse that people go through that are not documented but can lead to serious mental health issues and complications, permanent disabilities and even death as we saw from this case. But people don’t think it is serious enough because the victim is not being physically pummeled,” she explained.

Adeniyi added that statistics gathered by the agency showed that during the COVID-19 lockdown last year, domestic violence went up by as much as 30 per cent.

“COVID-19 didn’t necessarily cause the increase but because survivors no longer had their means of escape, they were literally at the mercy of their abusers and stuck with them. The Protection Against Domestic Violence Law protects even people in cohabiting relationships not just marriages alone. If you experience violence of any kind, you can have recourse under the law. You can approach a court of law and get a restraining order against your stalker or abuser and we will see you through getting the necessary help you need to escape that situation.”

She pointed out that most of the cases treated by the agency were cases of rape and sexual assault, adding that everyone needed to become interested in ending domestic violence by reporting abusers so that survivors could be rescued before they are maimed or killed.

“Some of us see people around us undergoing domestic violence but we look the other way. This shouldn’t be so. If you don’t want to become personally involved, tip us and we will take it up ourselves. We don’t have to lose more people to this menace if we all condemn it and actively seek to end it. The approach of immediately “settling” domestic violence by families, communities and religious leaders who are aware of what is happening but refuse to do the right thing until the situation has gotten out of hand is dangerous and this must not continue. You know a woman or man is undergoing severe domestic violence in their marriage or relationship yet you keep telling them to be patient and endure for one reason or the other until the worst happens and by then it is too late.

“Studies have shown that the impact of domestic violence could be trans-generational. Children who witness intimate partner violence (and do not receive psycho-social support) may grow up to perpetrate abuse or be attracted to people that would be abusive towards them. We therefore need to ensure that we are not bringing up children in toxic environments,” she said.

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Adeniyi said while it was clear that people remain in abusive relationships for varying reasons ranging from the children to financial dependence, fear of the unknown, the cycle of abuse and religious and cultural beliefs, among others, it was pertinent to point out that the most important thing was to be alive.

“I will encourage anyone experiencing domestic violence to speak up and speak out. You have options. When you speak up and report, it is not compulsory it ends up as a court case/prosecution; rather the Lagos State government wants to ensure you receive psycho-social and other forms of support you might need to recover and get your life back on track,” she advised.

A Psychologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Industrial Relations and Personnel Management, Lagos State University, Ojo, Dr. Jayeoba Folusho Ilesanmi, told The Guardian that generally, societal norms abhor domestic violence, adding that many societies have safety valves to curb or minimise violence against one partner by the other.

According to him, “the extended family practice is one of such, but individualism is making such safety valves to be inoperable.”

He added: “It’s important to underscore the fact that violence against one’s couple is an aberrant behaviour, which all social partners in marriage – in-laws, pastors, non-governmental organisations, school curriculum – should focus for its mediation.”

He acknowledged that wherever you find individuals from diverse backgrounds who have different personalities, attributes, life history and perspectives, the possibility of misunderstanding and dispute was there.

Ilesanmi, however, said other factors behind the increase in cases of domestic violence in the country were immature couples who may be unable to handle the challenges of diverse issues that daily crop up in marriages; economic pressures which could make couples highly vulnerable to frustration-aggression matrix, influence of external factors like side chicks, in-laws and untamed friendship.

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Also speaking on the causes of domestic violence, emotional intelligence specialist, Zuriel Oluwabukunola Olowe, told The Guardian that some individuals have mental health problems, which make it impossible for them to self-regulate their emotions in times of anger, anxiety, fear and basic responses to issues and situations.

She explained that not all mental health illnesses could be diagnosed by merely looking at an individual’s physical appearance, adding that a person’s mental health state comes into questioning when the only way he/she resolves an issue is by becoming violent and aggressive.

“An individual who experienced a traumatic event either as a child or as an adult and never got an intervention to heal from it will most likely suffer a mental health illness. If such a person gets married all their pain and aggression will be poured on his/her spouse and it can come in any form of domestic violence,” she said.

The community mental health trainer also identified family upbringing as a root cause of domestic violence.

Her words: “When a child grows up in a home where all he sees are his parents fighting or that the only way an issue is settled in their home is the dad beating the mum or the mum beating the dad; where verbal and emotional abuse is what the home or the environment has presented to him, such a child will grow to an adult believing that it is normal for couples to fight or better still to beat his/her spouse to get him/her to stop misbehaving.”

She also stated that a culture that fails to frown at domestic violence but rather encourages it as one of the ways the husband can preserve a home encourages violent behaviour in the home.

“Some cultures basically enslave a female spouse in marriage thereby taking away her right of expression. When she tries to express her displeasure in the marriage, the man sees it as an attack and this will lead to physical or financial abuse on the woman.”

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Olowe, who is also a faculty member at the Institute of Family Systems Engineering, said infidelity has been rated as one of the root causes of domestic violence in marriages.

“This is a case of one spouse committing adultery and the other spouse getting to find out or begins to suspect the spouse. When trust is broken in a marriage, one way the spouse who feels betrayed by their spouse would want to take their pound of flesh is to become violent thinking that violence will resolve the issue.

“Also, a traumatic event is one major challenge couples are not prepared for like the loss of job and the loss of a loved one, maybe a child. Some spouses do not know how to handle or manage this situation. As a result of not being sensitive in their moment of pain, it creates a deeper pain and this may result in domestic violence that could end the marriage,” she explained.

She also explained that as a marriage grows, so also do the responsibilities of the couple. “It puts them under stress to make sure they get things right in the home. Sometime, they joggle a whole lot at the same time thereby getting stressed by everything happening in the home, office, business place and even with the children.

“A certain spouse may feel that they are the only ones investing in the marriage and wanting to make the marriage work. He/she may feel he/she is the only one there for the children at the home front and gets overwhelmed believing his/her spouse has emotionally disconnected from the home but just there physically. In this situation, you find the spouse who is there always focusing on the children and his/her job than on his/her spouse. Also, where couples live apart and are not deliberate in making their marriage work, the marriage begins to feel like two strangers.”

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