…One Lawyer’s Story
The statistics are daunting. Domestic violence in Nigeria is on the up and up. 50% of women have been battered by their husbands. Shockingly, more educated women (65%) are in this terrible situation as compared with their low income counterparts (55%). Most endure, believing they have nowhere to go and in any case, believing, for good reason, that the law will not protect them (a staggering 97.2% of them are not prepared to report to the Nigeria Police). Only 4 states of the Federation (Lagos is one of them) have passed laws against the insidious crime, whilst several Bills against it languish in our male-dominated National Assembly. Of the states that have passed it, the law is yet to be fully tested. Only recently in Lagos State, a 29 year old banker, Titilayo Arowolo, was killed by her husband, Akolade, in a most gruesome manner. Before that, the scandalous story of wife battering by the Nigerian High Commissioner to Kenya, Dr. Wilcox Wigwe and the Deji of Akure, Adesina Adepoju now deposed, who engaged his Olori, Olori Bolanle, (now deceased) in a public brawl made the rounds, thus bringing the issue of spousal abuse one again to the front burner.
In this shocking, but all too familiar tale of domestic violence, *Iretioluwade, a lawyer in her 40s, told FUNKE ABOYADE how her husband, *Brume also in his 40s and a lawyer in a top law firm, turned their marriage into a living nightmare. Stripped of her self confidence, her dignity and eventually, almost her life, and with Nigerian law and institutions having dismally failed to protect her, she sought refuge and protection under the laws of England….
Who am 1? I am One of Many
This is my story.
You are wondering who I am; what is my name? You are trying to guess and you are convinced you have seen me before…I look familiar and you’re right. You have seen me before; I am your sister, your daughter, your cousin, and your mother. I am your friend, your colleague at the office and the neighbor whose muffled cries you sometimes hear; I am the acquaintance you share small talk with in Church and the woman you exchange pleasantries with while waiting outside your children’s school.
I am one and all of the above you see; I too have been a victim of domestic violence. Today, I tell my story for all of us who have been and still are victims. I hope my story stirs you to action. I hope it moves you to make a difference in your own little way, in your own little world; within your immediate and extended family circle and at your place of worship, in your office and amongst your friends. We all can speak up and push back against the harmful and evil influence domestic violence is exerting upon our communities and society.
In the Beginning…Treasured, Well Educated, Strong, Self-Assured, Full of Promise and Hope
My early life was typical of your average middle income Nigerian family. Raised by parents who were both senior civil servants as one of four children, I received an excellent education and was raised to believe I could and would achieve success in life. My parents were strict and I had an upbringing that was more sheltered than most of my age. This was balanced by a very liberal reading culture which my father ensured permeated our home and which he financed by weekly trips to bookshops and departmental stores. What I lacked by way of social interaction with peers, I made up for with an unrestrained reading spree which lasted throughout my growing up years.
In my parents’ marriage, I saw independence of thought and spirit on both sides, but a father who was still very much the head of his home and made sure no one ever forgot it. I had a mother who worked and achieved success in her career; making acknowledged, valuable contributions to the family coffers. A real Ijebu woman, she kept notes of her exact contribution down to the last penny and demanded for vocal appreciation which she hardly ever got from my dad. In my growing up years, whatever their differences, I didn’t witness violence between them and never saw one subjugate the other. In spite of his strictness, nobody scurried off, diving for cover at my father’s arrival at the door. We all ran towards him or as with typical teenagers, simply muttered some perfunctory greeting and carried on with our tasks. Nothing prepared me for the often terrifying and relentlessly oppressive existence my children and I later experienced in my own marriage.
I graduated from a leading Nigeria university in flying colors and was soon forging ahead in my career. I was hardworking, confident and self-assured and quickly recognised by the company’s management as a high flyer destined for the top. Within four years, I attained middle management position in my organisation and was able to afford to move from a house I shared with my cousins into a nice flat I paid for, bringing my junior brothers in to live with me. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my adult life. I had my own car, I could travel abroad on holidays and still had enough to help my parents with.
The next step was marriage and by this time I had started dating Brume. He wasn’t from my ethnic group but I didn’t think it mattered; he was charming, made me laugh and thought I was great. He was also a regular Church goer, never missed mass on Sundays and I thought I could perceive a love of God and a desire to live in obedience to Him. We dated for about four years and subsequently got married.
The Nightmare Begins… First point of failure - family, friends, hospital
People still ask me till today, ‘didn’t you see the signs?’ ‘For four years surely you must have known he was violent and simply thought you could cope!’ The answer is NO! Whilst we were dating he never hit me; never even threatened to or came close to raising his hands. In fact he used to point out other men who had been rumored to beat their wives to me and call them beasts, displaying utter disdain and wondering out loud why any man would ever stoop so low. When he indicated he wanted to marry me, I accepted. What woman wouldn’t? He was a hard working professional; he had his own flat, was financially independent of his parents, seemed to be God fearing and thought the world of me and my abilities. I thought we were perfectly suited and looked forward to the life we would build together.
Nothing ever prepares one for domestic violence when it starts. The initial reaction is always shock and disbelief. In my marriage, my reaction was no different. In the beginning was the foul, gut wrenching and debilitating verbal abuse which was spewed forth at the slightest perceived provocation. I became worthless, useless, scum, a thing from the gutter which had absolutely no value. I was a bastard, a f***ing idiot, a deranged lunatic and an utter fool whose presence in the home was being tolerated because of the marriage vows that had been exchanged. I became the recipient of four letter words and unimaginable curses that I had never heard used on people except in films. The intensity of the rage which accompanied these tirades used to leave me trembling in fear and shock and reduce me to a state of absolute dejection. It left me voiceless. I could never get a word in sideways; any attempt to explain, defend, justify or even pacify simply intensified the rage and took it to more alarming levels. Brume’s voice would thunder even louder; with his eyes popping and veins visibly pulsating, he would stride up and down with wildly gesticulating arms, stopping intermittently shout directly into my face. One of his favorite threats in my presence to drivers and other domestic help was that if he shouts at them here now, they would run mad. I used to think it was an empty threat but once I started experiencing it, I realised how real that threat was.
With each tirade came a threat to throw me out and end the marriage. I was constantly being told I came from the gutter and nothing in the house was mine. The children were his, the cars were his, the home and all it contained was his and I should be grateful for having been given the privilege of sharing it with him. All these and more I started hearing within the first year of the marriage.
No matter who I tried to speak to about it, everybody told me to hush. ‘Do you want a failed marriage?’ ‘Some men are just difficult’, I was told. ‘Try not to annoy him’ was another advice. I heeded all the advice and was determined to love more, submit more and do whatever it took to make the marriage work. No matter what I did though, the raging incidents continued, it could be triggered by anything – a baby crying that I couldn’t make to keep quiet, a baby pooing in their diapers at an inconvenient time resulting in an unpleasant smell, a handyman not finishing a job he had been asked to do on time, running out of any particular food he demanded for at the very time he requested for it.
The rages increased in frequency and intensity, graduating from mere verbal abuse to pelting with items. Shoes, the remote control, hangers, bags, bottles, anything really that was within easy reach depending on what part of the house we were in. If there was nothing near at hand, he would simply remove his shoes and use those. I recall the first time he removed his shoes to throw at me in midsentence. I was immobile with shock; I couldn’t speak or move for about 5 minutes. I just stood there with my mouth hanging open while I used my hands to block my face from the objects still being thrown in my direction. His rules were simple: when I was being verbally abused, I was not allowed to respond or utter a word. I could not walk away, and I could not change my physical position. If I was sitting, I would remain sitting, if I was standing, I should remain standing. Any movement, change of position or expression was a challenge to his authority and a questioning of his rights over me as the husband. It was at this time that I made my first attempt to speak out and seek for help.
After a particularly horrifying raging incident, where he had thrown various missiles and told me to get out of his house, I reached out to an older close friend and former boss of his, Uncle Segun. I knew then what I was experiencing was not normal and I would not be able to face a lifetime of it. I thought Uncle Segun who I knew also loved him dearly could have a man to man talk with him and help him to arrive at a less harmful way to relate with me on issues he was dissatisfied with. I gave Uncle Segun an abridged version of what had been going on and expressed my concerns. He was alarmed and shocked but confessed he had observed Brume’s violent rage before when he’d attacked a mutual friend in his presence. But he said this had occurred a long time ago and he thought he had outgrown it.
Uncle Segun asked me to let Brume know I had spoken to him. He wanted me to obtain Brume’s consent before he could get involved. However, Uncle Segun did not have any discussions with Brume. This is when our society first failed me and instead empowered Brume and spurred him on to higher levels of abuse.
Please you do not need an abuser’s consent to tell him to end his abuse. Which wrongdoer consents to being corrected, chastised or being told to put an end to the wrongdoing? This is where our society lets us all down. Domestic violence is not a private family matter; it is harmful not just to the victim, but also to society as a whole. Everyone whose attention has been drawn to it must take a stand and speak up against it.
I asked Brume and of course he flipped! I thought I had put it delicately. I said I thought we were having problems communicating and that his actions towards me the previous day had given me some concerns; based on this, I had invited Uncle Segun to talk to us both. The rage I faced as a result of this was worse than the rage that made me go seeking for help. In addition to all the other now usual foul abuses, I was a traitor, an ingrate, a shameless woman, an enemy who wanted to destroy him. I remember him shouting ‘do you mean Uncle Segun now knows everything I’ve been doing to you? How dare you?’ This was the first day he laid his hands on me. He grabbed hold of my clothes and shouting at me to get out of the house; he dragged, pushed and shoved me out of the bedroom all the way into the living room. He stormed back into the bedroom and locked the door on himself.
I slept on the couch that night; it was the first of many such nights. The next morning unknown to me, he went to my father’s house to report that I was ‘broadcasting his private matters to outsiders’ and threatening his means of livelihood. All I know is by the time I woke up, he had gone out only to return with my father a few hours later. My father looked sad and disappointed as he sat down in our living room. Very quietly he recounted my sins as related by Brume to him – I was rude, unwilling to submit and challenged his authority all the time. Worst of all I had started to carry his story about, telling his friends his private business and exposing issues that should be private between us. He feared he couldn’t trust me anymore as a wife as my actions had the ability to harm his business relationships and his ability to generate income. I could see the effect all of these had on my dad; he was visibly shaken at the thought of his daughter being sent packing out of her matrimonial home….and for such a reason! All I could do was weep and say Brume had been abusing me. ‘So what?’ was my father’s response, ‘people in marriages quarrel all the time.’ I simply couldn’t communicate in any clear comprehensible way what I was going through and how different it was from ‘normal marriage teething problems.’ I received a stern lecture from my father and on my knees, was made to apologise. I tried, I really tried to tell my dad what had been happening, but I couldn’t find the right words to describe the terror of the rages or the bewilderment I felt.
This is the second crucial point when I believe I could have been helped, but my family failed me. My own father failed me. But it wasn’t his fault. My life till then didn’t prepare me for that kind of experience so I didn’t have the words to communicate it; my father’s life till then hadn’t prepared him for that kind of experience either so he was unable to imagine it. He acted based on what he knew and expected…normal husband and wife squabbles and did what most fathers do - which is placate and appease an angry husband so peace could return to his daughter’s home.
The effect of all this was that I felt I was abnormal and overreacting. I started to believe that maybe all marriages were like mine and I had been making a mountain out of a mole hill. My father was a wise man and he couldn’t be wrong. The actions of my father and Uncle Segun doomed me to a period of prolonged silence and passivity that lasted for over three years.
My response and coping mechanism was prayers and increased spiritual fervor. I prayed constantly and sought to make sense of it all. ‘The power of a Praying wife’, ‘The submissive woman’, etc. I read them all and put all I learnt into practice but nothing good was happening. Brume’s rages got worse, I would be humiliated to tears before the househelp, drivers and even in public places like airports and hotels. Any show of emotion: pain, hurt, tears, sadness brought the worst of the anger out. I was constantly walking on eggshells and fearing for the next thing I would say or do that would lead to an outburst. If I said I was going to the open air market to shop and made the mistake of stopping over at a supermarket for groceries, I was a labeled a liar when I got home and faced a torrent of curses and abuses. In about three years, I had become a nervous wreck. I was anxiety ridden, jumpy and suffered from insomnia. I agonised over every little decision in the house for fear of taking the wrong one and making Brume angry. Things got to a head on a day he was due to return home from a trip abroad. I suddenly remembered I had no fish at home whilst driving back from work (although I had chicken, beef, assorted and snail). The thought of the fate that would befall me if he asked for fish and I didn’t have it, made me slam on my brakes in panic in the middle of the road. I had an accident. Thank God it wasn’t fatal. I then spent the next hour and a half being harassed by policemen and LASTMA. I got home nearly two hours later, totally exhausted. I was drained and emotionally numb. What if the accident had been fatal or had resulted in grievous bodily harm? Where would I be and where would my children be? I knew then something had to change but what, when and how?
My numbness and despondency led to a period of introspection which bordered on depression. I became an even more passive, virtually emotionless recipient of Brume’s violent outbursts. I had retreated so deeply into a place in my mind that hardly anything he did moved me. This is when the physical violence graduated to an even higher level. Prior to this time, he had only been pelting me with objects, pushing, pulling and dragging me by my clothes. Now the real beating started; it was 2004 and we’d been married four years.
As usual I had been thrown out of the bedroom and had been sleeping in the guest room for some days. Unlike before, I hadn’t gone back weeping and begging for forgiveness. I was happy to have the reclusion and the peace. The first night I slept there, my insomnia seemed to vanish; I was able to sleep without needing sleeping pills or alcohol. As the days passed I began to feel grateful to God for making it happen and started to hope it would be permanent. As I lay down on the bed with a Bible upon my face one evening, Brume walked in and gave me a slap across the face. I knew he had come in shouting and demanding my response to various wild accusations and allegations. He was demanding to know where I had been getting sex from since we hadn’t been sleeping in the same room. I knew from experience this was to trap me into giving a response he would then latch unto and twist to use as justification for flying into a rage so I retreated to the guest room with my Bible. Alas, this did not stop him. The slap was just the beginning. I was yanked off the bed, punched, slapped, dragged on the floor by my hair, kicked repeatedly down the stairs and then dragged back upstairs to be thrown into the guest room and subsequently raped. The next day I picked up strands of my braids and the torn shreds of my clothes from the floor. I felt broken, ashamed and stripped of all human dignity. How did I end up like this?
I was in so much pain the next day I could barely move. I had bruises on my face, shoulders and back and I went to the hospital for medication and a checkup, lying to the Doctor that I fell down the stairs. He didn’t believe me of course, and he told me as much, warning me to be careful. This is the third crucial point where decisive intervention could have occurred but it didn’t. What training on responding to domestic violence injuries do Doctors have? When they see it, how are they being equipped to intervene and help? What resources can they direct the victim to help herself? Like Uncle Segun and my Dad, the Doctor too turned the other way and carried on with life as usual, leaving me to my fate.
My silence, the silence of society, the lack of accountability and my acquiescence to the situation had emboldened Brume even further. The beatings started occurring more frequently and his threats increased in severity. He now did not stop at threats to throw me out but included threats to deal with me, break my head, finish me, and destroy me totally. His most repeated phrase was ‘you have no idea what I am capable of doing; I will cut my nose to spite my face’. The little peace I was beginning to acquire was shattered and though outwardly, I continued to function, my mind was filled with terror and dread. This was further compounded by the Jekyll and Hyde swings exhibited by Brume. After the raging incidents, he never acknowledged they ever happened. He always reacted with incredulous amazement that I could accuse him of such horrible things. He was so sincere and genuine that I started to doubt my own sanity. He used to tell me I should be careful not to allow my emotions to make me delusional. He would assure me that he loved me and was advising me for my own good. Any attempt to raise it or talk about what he did to me whilst he was raging would lead to a new incident. So I learnt to keep quiet about them and act along with him that they never happened. I confirmed my sanity and mental state by keeping notes of what happened during his raging bouts and referring to them whenever he denied my version of what had occurred. I also finally confided in a close friend and she always reminded me of the facts when I started to doubt myself later.
In December 2005, I fled the home for the first time. Things had been building up for some days, Brume came home one day to meet curtains not hanging properly, one or two hooks had fallen off and he got enraged. Another day, he demanded for some papers about a previous cook I hadn’t been able to find, and chased me to beat me. I escaped in the nick of time. I ran out of the house wearing a Boubou and no underwear even though I was on my period. On the day I fled, he demanded for a math set he bought for our seven year old daughter a couple of months before and I didn’t have it . He was determined to make me manufacture a replacement that morning as he insisted I wasn’t to leave the room though I was due to go drop the children in school. I had become quite adept at escaping when his attention was distracted and this morning, I nearly escaped again but he caught me at the head of the stairs. I held on to the banisters and I knew being dragged back into the room meant a serious beating. I was crying and telling him to let me go but he wouldn’t he seized my shirt by the collar and shouting at me all the while, continued to drag me with all his might back up the stairs. My shirt ripped in his hands and I tumbled down the stairs. Our two children, aged 7 and 4, were on the stairs watching and wailing along with their mother. Even his sister who lived with us was crying and pleading for him to stop. As I tumbled down and reached the bottom of the stairs, I got up in my skirt and bra and kept running because he was leaping down the stairs still determined to forcefully return me to the room to bear the full brunt of his violent anger. I didn’t stop till I was in the kitchen near the back door, with the cook now standing between us. Again as usual, he was livid that I had escaped, he had been deprived of the release that comes from being able to vent that anger through physical assault on a victim that belonged to him and would bring him no negative repercussions. His sister got me one of her blouses to wear and I took the children to school. He ran after me to the car and warned me not to come back. I later called his mother who spoke to him and said he sounded incoherent and dangerous. She pleaded with me to pack my things and go stay with my people for a while till he cooled down I left before he came back from work.
Unfortunately like most women who suffer the same way I did, I returned back to the home after a few weeks. He called me to talk, he pleaded, accepted all the conditions I laid out. Promised he would never hit me again, that he would go into counseling if he went back to the verbal or physical abuse again. His mother also pleaded, went to my father and begged for forgiveness on behalf of her son. By now my father had seen through all the fog, between the first time he came and the last incident, Brume had reported me to him an immeasurable number of times, flying to rages before him over the most the most trivial issues. What I did not have words to express initially, my father saw for himself over time. This time around, he stood by me, saying his daughter was not returning. Sadly the daughter herself this time betrayed the father! I went to a Redeemed Church parish near the friend’s house where I was staying and prayed with a mature female Pastor who counselled me to go back. Together we prayed for my marriage to be healed, for my husband to begin to obey and fear God and for his love me to receive life. I believed and I returned.
There was calm initially, then ferocious rage. How dare I do such a thing! How dare I pack out of the house exposing him to such shame, how dare I walk out on him! For days on end shouting hostility and then finally one of my Aunties came to appease him and then there was peace. Within months I travelled abroad for a year for my Masters Degree with my children in tow. The year was a wonderful break. I went into counselling in the UK after I broke down in class one day and gradually I regained my strength and the old me started to return.
Harsh Reality…the Nightmare Continues…Second Point of Failure - Church
Till today, I ask myself why I returned to Brume in Nigeria. It was an ingrained sense of honour and integrity instilled in me by my upbringing. In spite of all, he did pay for my Masters and footed my expenses and that of the children for that year. Yes, as a result of the professional counselling in the UK I knew what I was experiencing was domestic violence. I had been educated by all the available materials and grim statistics that the UK environment had to offer. I had learnt that 99.8% of abusers never change; and yet I returned to Nigeria to Brume. I could have stayed on in the UK, I had job leads that could have resulted in job offers in Europe, but still, I felt duty bound to return. Hopeless, wasn’t I?
Within three weeks of my return I knew I had made a terrible mistake. He asked for Milo and there was none in the house and off he went into a raging tantrum. I ended up running outside into my car and driving around aimlessly for hours while I waited for the situation to calm down. I tried to get a job but somehow he found ways of quashing my attempts. The isolation worsened. Friends couldn’t come and visit me at home. I wasn’t allowed to take the children anywhere. I had to be back in the house by 6pm no matter where I went. I wasn’t allowed to play gospel music in the house. Permission to go Church programs was refused. And there was this constant rage and hostility and my own resignation almost to the hopelessness of the situation and the inevitable violence I knew would soon commence. I didn’t have long to wait, he returned from a trip abroad one day and was angry that I hadn’t opened the door on time. He was shouting, cursing and raving about how useless I was. How utterly valueless he considered me to be. The usual four letter words soon followed after my trying to apologise and explain only increased the tirade, I gave up and tried to block out the noise. Next thing I knew he was touching me on the bed. With tears in my eyes I held his hand and asked if we could talk. He flew into a rage, how dare I think I could deny him sex? Who did I think I was? I was a piece of filth, scum, a useless thing! Did I know who he was? Did I know who he was in this Lagos? He forcefully held me down and raped me; my attempts to hold him off were totally ineffectual. When he finished he kicked me with his feet off the bed to the ground where I lay weeping. Not done, he came down to where I was lying on the floor and dragged me out by my night gown. He dumped me in a crumpled heap on the floor outside the bedroom door. He entered the bedroom back and locked the door against me with the parting shot that I should not imagine I could ever deprive him of sex. I went to lie down on the sofa in the living room downstairs sobbing till I fell asleep. Brume came back downstairs to rape me twice before daybreak. For those who don’t know, there is such a thing as marital rape; it is vile, it is dehumanising and completely strips you of dignity, it makes you feel like a thing and not a person. A filthy, worthless thing!
My journey has been long and torturous; I have been beaten at home and abroad. I have had a pillow held over my face in a murderous rage whilst my life flashed before my eyes as I almost suffocated to death. I have watched my daughter grow into an anxiety ridden, reclusive, fearful little girl, who follows me around and asks me to sleep on her bed because she believes that way, I will be safe from daddy. I have watched my son develop a coping mechanism by which he blocks out the unpleasant things he sees and he pretends they did not happen; almost as if becoming emotionally numb. I have had them torn out of my arms crying and yelling for me to come to them when Brume’s rage starts and he wants to go lock them in a room so they won’t see him beat me. Finally I watched him turn the full force of that rage on my 10 year old daughter flogging her with a belt till she was bruised and bleeding because he didn’t want her turning out like her mother and ‘defying’ him. On that day I knew for sure I would leave. I didn’t know how, couldn’t even imagine when, but I knew i wasn’t going to subject my daughter to the mental and physical abuse I was experiencing all through her growing years. I was filled with dread as to what would happen to her in her teenage years at the hands of Brume.
It’s funny how most victims of domestic violence never leave for themselves but will do so for their children.
I have been financially incapacitated and all my savings depleted whilst my attempts to get back into gainful employment has been frustrated. My attempt to start a business for myself was met with also met with swift punishment and a brutal clampdown. With threats to destroy me and throw me out hanging over my head, I have been coerced and forced into transferring jointly held marital assets from both our names into Brume’s name alone. He has no police record in Nigeria, but he does have an arrest record of Domestic violence in the UK. As the reality of the bleakness of my situation dawned on me, I asked him for a divorce about three years ago. He said yes I could walk out but would have to leave the children, they belonged to him. When I talked about joint custody, he laughed. Which court in Nigeria would give custody to a penniless, homeless, jobless, woman like me? He made me realise I would only see the children when he allowed and it would only ever be in his house with him present. I despaired of ever leaving, I could not bear the thought of leaving my children to be raised by him.
Luckily, he pleaded again saying he didn’t want a divorce but would work at the marriage. He even cried. I relented, not that I had much choice. What woman would walk out and leave her children in these conditions. Moreso, my daughter had made me promise if I ever had left, I would take her with me. She didn’t even need to ask, knowing Brume as I did, how could I leave my children to his care? Barely two months later, he raised his hand to slap me again. Even though he lowered his hand before the slap fell, I knew it was just a matter of time before the violence began again. With no money of my own, no home and no assets I felt like a prisoner in a cage; that had been forgotten there; whose existence mattered to nobody. A person, whose essence and humanity had been appropriated by another person and nobody cared to know or rescue. I feared that this was how I would die.
I had by this time exhausted all the means of intervention possible and they had failed. Brume had not spoken to my parents in over a year and had even banned me from taking our children to visit them or any other member of my side of the family. His own family had supported him, and made it clear that they thought I was the problem. Priests I had asked to talk to him on the issue declined. One truly had tried over the years to no effect and couldn’t see the point; the other said Brume had requested that he stay out of his marital affairs and only concern himself with his spiritual formation. I went to see a lawyer to understand what my legal options were and I realised I didn’t have any. I was shocked!
The first shock was that there was no concept of ‘marital home’. There was no way Brume could be compelled to either leave our present home for me or provide a home for me in spite of the records I had of his violence to me over the years. Secondly, I had no money and no income, indeed custody of the children would never be awarded to me. I also had no money to pay lawyers or go to court, even if I chose to file for a divorce to pursue custody and an equitable division of the marital assets I had signed over to him under coercion, how would I pay it? Where was I to start from? With the conditions I was living under I couldn’t work or even make any headway in the business I started. This was when my country failed me in the worst possible way. Think of how many of us are trapped in this manner.
When the opportunity presented itself, I fled with my children to London. Yes it was clandestine; Brume had seized and hidden the children’s passports and birth certificates for over a year. By some twist of fate they fell into my hands and we fled. I imagined being there would force him to a discussion table with me and some kind of arrangement regarding the children’s future could be mediated. I was so wrong! He came after me with the full force of the English legal system and the best legal representation money could buy. I was charged to court for ‘International Child abduction”. A five month trial ensued. Praise God I had enough evidence for the court to be able to see that there was probable validity in my allegations of violence and abuse. All of which of course Brume denied. Thanks to the UK legal system the very reliefs that I could not have obtained from our own society here were now made available to me as conditions he had to fulfill if he indeed wanted the children, and by implication me, returned to Nigeria. He had to provide accommodation, maintenance, a car and driver, and also pay my legal costs in the divorce and custody battle upon my return to Nigeria. It all felt like a dream.
Unfortunately all the quite fair and reasonable orders the Nigerian court has issued in my case since I have been back and the UK orders have not been enforced. In a ruling on an interim application filed by my lawyer, the Nigerian judge ordered Brume to continue to provide accommodation, maintenance and the car and driver for an additional period pending final determination of the substantive suit. With some legal maneuverings I don’t quite understand, those orders have still not been enforced till today. I survive today, but not because I have found succour in my own country’s legal system.
From my understanding of UK law, when domestic violence has been alleged in a case relating to custody, residence or contact with and access to children (whether in an interim application or a substantive suit), the court must first make a full finding of facts investigation on the domestic violence allegations. Only then does the court make a considered decision on how much access or visitation the perpetrator is allowed to have. The law clearly states that it recognises that there is physiological harm done to children when they witness domestic violence and seeks to protect them from this. The perpetrator’s acceptance or denial of the domestic violence is also one of the factors taken into consideration. I guess if he accepts the wrongdoing, he is more likely to restrain and correct himself with the children. I was shocked to discover this was not the case in our legal system. The overriding principle seems to be that both parents have equal rights over the children. As a result now, my children are still very much steeped in the oppressive environment of Brume’s abusive behavior, we have time with them in equal proportion. I have resigned myself to this, what can I do?
I was also surprised to learn that in Nigeria, Judges in custody cases where there is evidence of grave domestic violence and/or perpetrators are in complete denial do not compel such perpetrators to undergo psychiatric or psychological evaluation. This is so necessary, some of them are killers in the waiting; if diagnosed they can be helped and some poor woman’s life saved. As I trudge through our courts month after month, I swing from hope to despair; from confidence to anxiety and clarity to confusion. Surely justice delayed is justice denied. But still I hope and I wait.
I know my story is not the worst. I hear other women’s story that moves me to tears and makes me stand up and actually take action. Today I spoke to a woman who has suffered domestic violence for many years but remained hopeful only for her husband to desert her and their 10 year old Autistic daughter because she was unable to give him a ‘real child’. She, like most victims, had been totally economically disempowered in the marriage and had not worked for over five years. She is homeless. She has no money, no income and no assets. Her husband surreptitiously came to take away the car he had given to her after he deserted her. She turned to the legal system and after almost 12 months of waiting on an interim application on accommodation and maintenance, the judge’s ruling was that the husband should pay her N50,000 a month! The ruling was silent on accommodation, transportation, school fees, silent on therapy for the Autistic child, silent on her special diet. School has resumed but the child is unable to start, the only person who has taken them in lives in Ibadan, the child’s school is near where they used to live in Gbagada, Lagos. Before the last school term ended, they were both sleeping in a school premises… no home! Now that’s a real failure of the legal system. What is the Nigerian state doing for women like her, what are our communities and societies doing? You! Yes you, what are you doing?
Like I said at the beginning, I am one of many. Help us, do something, anything at all! Educate yourself on domestic violence so you can more easily recognise it. Speak up fearlessly against it when you do. Educate your children to watch out for the signs, tell them not to tolerate or acquiesce to it, you yourself do not appease it. Make people accountable when they are guilty of it. Add your voice or your resources and time to clamour for changes in our society to assist those who are trapped in it to escape from it. Join in lobbying for changes to our laws and legal system to better protect women and children who seek succour from it.
My journey has been long but surely though it is for a purpose. I hope it changes the way and how you view domestic violence…
*Name of persons have been changed to protect their identities