Lagos rekindles hope on the war against domestic violence

From physical and verbal abuse, to rape and even murder, domestic violence manifests itself in many forms in Nigeria today. The problem, however, is that because of the nature of our society, there are hardly any reliable data. That is why we must commend the Lagos State authorities for showing the way in how to deal with this national challenge by keeping records.
Between January and September this year, a total of 852 cases of domestic violence and related cases were recorded in Lagos, according to the State’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), headed by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Adeniji Kazeem. Out of the total number, there were 564 cases of domestic violence, 60 defilement cases, 30 cases of rape and 11 attempted ones, 123 child neglect and abuse cases, and 84 other cases.
While we hope other states of the federation will borrow from the Lagos example, it is important to stress that even when spousal abuse cuts across gender, women and girls are predominantly the victims in our country. Yet such abused persons rarely report the violence, for fear of being stigmatised by the society. Where incidents are reported or noticed by third parties, the advice is usually reconciliation, with the society most often trivialising such occurrences as ‘domestic’. This is despite the stringent provisions in the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015.
The law prohibits, among others, abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance, battery and harmful traditional practices; provides a legislative and legal framework for the prevention of all forms of violence against vulnerable persons, especially women and girls and also prohibits economic abuse, forced isolation and separation from family and friends, substance attack, depriving persons of their liberty, incest, indecent exposure.
However, perhaps because of the patriarchal interpretations within our various faiths which preach endurance as a sure pathway to heaven, our religious leaders most often advise forgiveness, even in the most bizarre of instances. Inevitably, the victim and the abuser (where summoned) are usually advised to go home and find a way to settle their differences, rather than make public the injury or the violence within. Again, most abused women who opt to remain in the most challenging of marriages claim stability for their children as the excuse for their ‘fortitude’.
The fear of being ostracised, the lack of material and financial resources and the general lack of sympathy and support from the public have contributed immensely to the growth of domestic violence in many Nigerian homes. Curbing these tragic incidents is therefore a collective responsibility. It is also the duty of governments, at all levels, to protect the most vulnerable by supporting the establishment of the necessary infrastructure and wherewithal, including safe houses, wherein abused persons can be securely accommodated, counselled and enabled to regain some confidence and self-respect.
While it is possible to institute criminal action against the abuser in our country, the investigative and prosecutorial capacities of our law enforcement agencies are a huge disincentive for taking such action. Civil suits for damages can be filed where a conviction is obtained, but again, the system takes too long, giving sufficient time for interventions by ‘well-meaning’ relations as well as religious and community leaders to dissuade the abused from seeking solace from the law courts.
The authorities in Lagos are showing the way for other states to follow. We must understand that ignoring the subtle signals of domestic violence can only lead to disruption in our families and in our society. It can also lead to violence and untimely death. If we therefore fail to act or report, we are all complicit.