The law prohibiting violence against persons should be enforced

A recent study commissioned by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development and the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) with support from the Norwegian government found out that 28 per cent of Nigerian women aged 25-29 have experienced some form of physical violence since the age of15. This is, to say the least, very disturbing. To worsen matters, such abuse is not restricted to women. Last Friday in Lagos, a Federal High Court sentenced a 58-year-old farmer to 10-year imprisonment for rape and defilement of his teenage daughter. In sentencing the accused, the Judge noted the rising wave of domestic abuse of children in the country.

From physical and verbal abuse, to rape and even murder, it is evident that the authorities are not doing enough to stem the tide of domestic violence which manifests in many forms in Nigeria today. While spousal abuse cuts across both sexes, women are predominantly the victims in our country. Yet abused women rarely report the violence they endure for fear of being stigmatised by the society. Besides, the patriarchal interpretations within our various faiths preach endurance. 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.

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 children and women 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 a long while, 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 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.

It is noteworthy that four days to the end of his administration, on 25th May 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Bill into law. But it has been of little or no effect in many of the states. Perhaps it is much more important that vulnerable groups (such as women and children) be placed on the concurrent list in the constitution thereby ensuring that consistent and uniform standards apply across board and can be accessed by and for all such Nigerians. This is necessary because the incidence of violence is oblivious to ethnicity, faith or culture.

Locating vulnerable groups on the concurrent list would not preclude states from making laws on matters that are peculiar to their own contexts and jurisdictions; it would merely ensure that any Nigerian woman or child could be accorded basic and uniform protections anywhere in the country. 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 women and children can only lead to disruption in our families and in our society. If we therefore fail to act or report, we are all complicit.