On the 8th of April 2022, the Nigerian gospel music community was shocked by the untimely demise of Osinachi Nwachukwu, a victim of persistent domestic abuse. This deeply distressing event is not an isolated occurrence in our society, as evidenced by the harrowing tale of Dr Adenike Olubiyi, a medical professional who narrowly escaped a lethal assault by her husband, also a medical practitioner. Despite her courageous stance against the abuse, her husband concocted various falsehoods to conceal his violent actions and infidelity.
Regrettably, such incidents are not confined to any particular social or professional standing. We have witnessed instances of respected clergypersons and political leaders engaging in acts of violence against their spouses. A particularly heinous example is the case of a prominent pastor who brutally assaulted his wife, resulting in her untimely death. These cases above are merely a glimpse into the widespread problem of violence and abuse against women, which permeates all levels and sectors of society. It is disheartening to note that the stories we hear are only a fraction of the total, as numerous other instances remain concealed.
The issue of Violence Against Women (VAW) is widely recognised as a violation of human rights and a form of gender-based discrimination. It encompasses all acts of gender-based violence that lead to or have a high likelihood of resulting in harm or suffering to women, including physical, sexual, psychological, and economic damage, as well as threats, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, occurring in both public and private realms. While commonly perceived as a manifestation of power imbalances between men and women, it is crucial to acknowledge that VAW can also occur between women, as seen in practices like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and witchcraft accusations, where the perpetrators are often female relatives.
VAW takes various forms, such as intimate partner violence, femicide, sexual harassment and assault, and harmful traditional practices like FGM and child marriage. Other less documented forms include acid attacks, ritualised abuse, and self-immolation. Under international law, VAW is not only a form of discrimination against women but also a grave violation of human rights. The Istanbul Convention, particularly Article 42, condemns any justification for crimes, including those committed in the name of so-called “honour”.
In Nigeria, the increase in violence against women (VAW), particularly intimate partner violence (IPV), is a matter of significant concern. Unfortunately, IPV often remains concealed due to the private nature of family and intimate relationships. This issue’s complexity is further compounded by sociocultural norms that devalue women, confining them to the roles of child-bearers and homemakers. Although some women have achieved formal education, many remain unaware of their rights and aspirations beyond their current societal roles. Family members, religious leaders, and societal pressures often coerce these women into enduring abusive marriages, perpetuating their silence out of fear of retaliation, societal ridicule, or misguided counsel from those who ought to protect them.
Those who encourage women to remain in abusive marriages under the pretext of preserving social reputation share in the responsibility for the violence inflicted upon these women. The tragic case of Osinachi Nwachukwu serves as a grim reminder of this reality. Those who advised her to endure the abuse likely stood among the mourners at her funeral. It is crucial to establish safe havens for women victims of violence and abuse, which involves removing them from harmful environments. Transforming abusive behaviour is unlikely unless the perpetrator voluntarily decides to reform.
The issue of child marriage remains a significant and widespread challenge in Nigeria, posing a direct threat to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UDHR, established in 1948, explicitly states in Article 16(2) that “Marriage shall be entered into only with the full consent of the intending spouses.” This provision raises essential questions about gender equality in marital decision-making. Marsha Freeman has questioned whether women truly possess the same level of choice as men in matrimonial matters, especially considering that in many countries, including Nigeria, the acceptance and implementation of international norms remain contentious.
The religious and cultural contexts in many states in Nigeria serve as substantial barriers to the empowerment of women and perpetuate cycles of violence and abuse. For instance, a recent event in Kano State, where the government organised a mass wedding for 1,800 couples, including young girls who were underage for marriage, highlights the gravity of this issue. The brides received various marital gifts, including beds and monetary incentives, as they embarked on their new lives together. While some of these brides were widows or divorcees, a significant number were young girls who were not old enough to make informed decisions about marriage. This raises serious concerns about their future well-being.
The aftermath of such weddings is a matter of grave concern and requires immediate attention. The initial excitement and tangible wedding gifts may fade away, but the harsh reality of these young girls’ situations remains. Entering marriage without the necessary maturity or understanding of marital life can have dire consequences, particularly for those ill-prepared for the challenges and responsibilities that come with it. The likelihood of these young brides seeking an escape at the first opportunity cannot be underestimated. Such scenarios highlight the urgent need for societal change and the need to adhere to international human rights standards, particularly about the rights and well-being of women and girls.
As Geraldine Terry aptly stated, the right of women to be free from violence is not only a fundamental human right but also an enabling one, similar to the rights to political participation and education. This introduction is a prelude to the excerpt below from my semi-autobiographical narrative, which delves deeper into these critical issues.
As we observe the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we must recognise these narratives as not merely distant tales but rather as genuine issues that impact real individuals. Every one of us possesses the potential to bring about positive change, whether through raising awareness, lending support to those affected, or educating ourselves and others about the signs of abuse and the available avenues of assistance.
As a reader, you are cordially invited to join this crucial cause. Delve deeper into the subject matter, discuss it within your community, and lend your support to organisations that tirelessly work towards eradicating violence against women. Your voice has the power to amplify the silenced cries of many, while your actions, no matter how small they may seem, have the potential to create significant and lasting change. Should you or someone you know be facing violence, do not hesitate to reach out to local support services for assistance. By working together, we can strive towards a world where no woman has to endure the pain and suffering of violence.
Let us remember that change begins with awareness, and awareness starts with each of us.
‘Tomorrow, before the cock crows, you must get out of this house and go to Orile-Agege and apologise to her,’ my Father said to my Mother.
‘Apologise, me? Are you saying that I, Abosede, should go to your sister who came into my house this afternoon and beat me up; go and tell her that I’m sorry?’
‘It’s an order. You must go and do it first thing tomorrow morning!’
‘Me, nitori, ki ni? Kayode, leave me! I’m not ready for your trouble tonight.’
“You can’t tell me that, oh. After the way you battered Subainatu this afternoon. Do you think I won’t know of your nonsense?’
‘I’m not surprised that you decided to take sides with your sister. I knew she had contacted you after she left here. That liar! You were not there to know what happened.’
‘I don’t have to be there. Have I not warned you not to react, no matter what she or any of my people do to you? You are a stupid woman! I can see that you won’t listen.’
‘Must you go to the extent of calling me stupid?’
‘Do you want to be beaten? Do you want to get up and come and slap me?’
“Please, I need to sleep if you don’t mind,’ Mama replied and turned with her back to him in the bed. She was bare-chested with just a wrap around her waist.
‘Gbaass!’ He slapped her hard on the buttocks.
‘What is it, Kayode?’ She almost jumped out of the bed.
‘Do you want to start again tonight? Why do you like creating unnecessary quarrels?’
‘Who are you to look me in the face and tell me that?’ He landed a heavy slap across her face.
‘My God, oh! You must kill me today,’ she cried as she rushed over and hung onto his trousers. ‘You must kill me oh!”
‘Let me finish the count of three, or else you will find yourself in Igbobi tomorrow. One! One and a half.’
“No, you must kill me oh!’ Mama held him tighter as she wept with tiredness. She lowered her head in defence.
‘Kill me oh.’
‘I’m gently warning you now to leave me alone,’ he said and paused. He looked down at her as she held onto him without raising her head. He shook his head in fury. ‘Three!’
He descended heavily upon her!
‘Kayode has killed me oh!’
He kicked her anyhow, unmindful of her fragility. The wrap fell off, revealing her complete state of nudity.
Despite this, she refused to let him go. She pulled at his trousers, the only clothing on him. The zip came apart. Mama pulled the trousers down, revealing Papa’s dangling penis.
She struggled to grab it.
He saw her coming. He tried to dodge her, kicking her farther away from him. The more he did that, the more she strived to get his manhood.
‘Murderer, you want to kill me. I must finish you first.”
‘Not after I have silenced your clattering mouth.” He hit her harder in the face.
‘Aah, my face!’ She trembled, losing her grip on him.
He hit her again in the same place, tearing off the flesh.
‘This will teach you a lesson not to fight with a man next time.’ As he said that, he continued hitting her mercilessly.
Then he turned toward the door, and he saw me. His right hand, raised to descend again on Mama, froze in the air.
We stared at each other. He released Mama, who was more than glad to be free.
Suddenly, he looked ashamed, terribly ashamed! Then he braced up, exhibiting his ego. ‘You! What are you doing there? Won’t you go to school tomorrow?’
I did not answer him. Instead, I started to walk toward Mama.
‘My God, what kind of a life is this?’ She sat on the floor with blood plastered over her body, wailing in agony.
‘Hey, stop there, go to bed!’ He pushed me roughly back to the door.
“I want to stay with my mother!’ I cried stubbornly.
‘I said go back to your room.’
His voice thundered through my bones. I shivered and ran into the room Shade, and I shared whenever she came home on holiday. I stood behind the door and waited. I heard Mama’s continuous crying.
I also listened to his movements. Then I heard him going away again, as usual.
In a couple of minutes, he would be gone, and I would have the freedom to go to Mama. We would cry on each other’s shoulders until we fell asleep on the floor. Then, in the morning, I would wake to find myself on my bed. During the night, Mama would gently carry me back to my room.
The main outer door opened. My heart beat with excitement. I placed my fingers on my mouth, preventing any sudden outbursts. The door closed. In my head, I started counting: one, two, two, three, four. . . I could not concentrate.
I crept away from behind the door. I opened it. I stepped out. I headed for my parent’s bedroom. I must cross the sitting room to get there.
He was there. He stretched his tall, huge body on the three-person sofa. He had tied his large blue bathroom towel around himself, concealing his manhood.
I felt wet between my legs. The shock of seeing him had forced urine out of me. I dare not look down at my legs. I could hear my heart beating louder than usual.
‘You this girl; how many times will I warn you not to interfere?’
He sat up, staring at me without any feeling. I must not look him in the face. I was glad of the distance between us. Inside, I prayed for my life.
Another shot of urine burst out of me. It came in large volumes. My knee-length cream-coloured cotton blouse did little to cover it.
‘You should be ashamed of yourself. At twelve years old, you are still bedwetting. He’d noticed the urine pouring down. I moved toward him. My feet trembled. My teeth clacked together in a shiver. Sweat drenched my brow.
‘You touch my daughter, and I will break this over your crazy head!’ Mama came to my rescue. She held a big empty bottle of his favourite Guinness stout.
A wave of relief swept through me.
She was stark naked, with a bloody face. And she looked determined as she raised the bottle.
Papa laughed with a high, wicked tone. He looked from me to Mama. Then he lay back on the sofa. He closed his eyes.
I ran to Mama. I hugged her tightly. She lowered the bottle, and then she folded her hands around me, still holding it in her hand.
‘Come,’ Mama whispered. We went to my room. I closed the door.
‘You must sleep.’
‘Please stay, Mama!’
‘I will. You sleep first.’
I jumped happily onto the bed. It was too small for both of us. It was just a bunk bed. Shade’s space was the lower one. I preferred it while she was not at home. Mama joined me.
‘You have not peed.’
She got up. I stood up. I walked past her to the door. I stopped.
‘Go; he won’t come and stop you.’
I went to the toilet. I removed my wet pants. There was a tiny rat hole I discovered behind the toilet. I rolled the pants up. I bent and pushed them into the hole. They fit without any struggle.
I sat on the toilet with fear. Quickly, I forced out the urine while looking at the half-filled bucket near me. I did not pour its water into the toilet as I raced back to the room. I ensured the door was secured.
Mama had on one of Shade’s wraps. It looked smaller on her. For the moment, though, it was better than her nakedness. She’d also wiped clean her bloodied face and my escaped urine from the floor.
We dived under the bedcovers.
‘This is too hot!’ I gasped.
‘I don’t need it either.’
We pushed away the bed cover to the end of the bed.
I turned toward the wall with my back against Mama. I could feel her breath behind me. I could also smell her blood. My heart went out to her. She’d gone through much pain in the past twenty-four hours.
‘Goodnight my daughter.’
I remember after that, I continued my invisible counting in my head. I gradually dosed off. I was glad to be protected from the monster of a father.