The law prohibiting violence against persons should be enforced

From the lady whose policeman-husband regularly threatens her with a gun to the business man who has turned his wife into a punching bag before writing a meaningless apology on social media, cases of domestic violence are increasing by the day in our country. The Bishop of St Paul Anglican Cathedral Church, Omu-Aran, Kwara, Philip Adeyemo, said the problem has become so common among couples that it deserved the attention of the National Assembly under matters of urgent importance.

According to ‘UN Women: General database on violence against women’, gender violence in Nigeria should worry the authorities with lifetime physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence put at 16 per cent. While spousal abuse cuts across both sexes, women are predominantly the victims in our country. Yet abused women 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, while our policemen and women are known to actively discourage reports of assault between spouses, trivialising such occurrences as ‘domestic’.

While it is possible to institute criminal action against the abuser, 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 patriarchal interpretations within our various faiths preach endurance as a sure pathway to heaven. So our religious leaders also 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 government, at all levels, to protect the most vulnerable by supporting the establishment of the necessary infrastructure and wherewithal, including safe houses, wherein abused women can be securely accommodated, counselled and enabled to regain some confidence and self-respect.

The police need to seek for specialisation in handling cases reported by these unfortunate women, and alerted to the fact that battery and assault remain felonies in our law books, even where inflicted between spouses. Incidentally, the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act not only addresses emerging forms of violence, it provides commensurate penalties for offences whose sanctions had long since become obsolete. Significantly, it provides for compensation for victims of violence, which had never before constituted a part of our laws.

However, vulnerable groups (such as women and children) need to be placed on the concurrent list during the next constitutional amendment exercise, thereby ensuring that consistent and uniform standards apply across board and can be accessed by all Nigerians. This is necessary because incidence of violence is oblivious to ethnicity, faith or culture. Ultimately, it behoves all Nigerians to remain diligent and cast away the complacency that has hitherto been the bane of the victims of abuse in our midst. Ignoring the subtle signals of violence inflicted on our females can only lead to disruption in our families and in our society. It can also lead to violence and untimely death. If we fail to act or report, we are all complicit.