Domestic violence victims in Nigeria say, ‘Never Again’

In a country where spousal abuse means nothing to many, and cultural and religious institutions have not done enough to provide more protection to victims, the majority of whom are women, many women have not lived to tell their stories, but Grace’s story is different; she is alive and well as a single parent, having escaped with her life many years ago.

For Grace Joseph Udoh, sitting behind her sewing machine at the Kurudu area of Abuja is a relief, though the hours move slowly, her time is well spent meeting the demands of her customers and when she is not at her shop, she is doing schoolwork.

All these brought for her a sense of relief and contentment especially for someone with her experience who has gone through an ordeal that sometimes the thought brings tears to her eyes.

She is now independent, she has gone back to school and hoping she can graduate in the next one year, she also can cater for her kids and best of all, the years of her being battered by her spouse are over.

In a country where spousal battering means nothing to many, as cultural and religious institutions have not done enough to offer more protection to victims who are mostly women, many women have not lived to tell their story, but Grace’s story is different, she is alive and has moved on, she is better off as a single parent having escaped with her life many years ago.

Like many others, Grace did not experience battering when she met her spouse in 1997, it all started after he travelled to the village for a wedding, and when he came back, he returned a changed person.

Religion this time caused the rift between both, Grace a professing Christian while her Husband is a professing Muslim, despite this both had lived peacefully till he came up with the idea that Grace needed to convert to his religion, this was ten years after they first met.

It started 2007 when he travelled, everything was moving smoothly and very fine, he travelled and when he came back, everything about him changed.

She said wife battering is an experience she will not even wish her worst enemy.

It affects one psychologically, mentally, physically, emotionally, all round and it makes one loose his or her self-esteem.

Even when her Husband said he was going to marry another wife from his own religion, Grace did not oppose it but that did not bring the much-needed peace to the marriage, he still insisted that her presence would obstruct the relationship with his new wife, so she needed to leave.

At any instance he would resort to violence.

There was nowhere and no one Grace could turn to as she did not grow up with friends so had no social circle, she could tell her experience and her father whom she grew up with had disowned her after she had realized she was pregnant out of wedlock saying she brought shame to the family.

She had to relocate to his house where at that point, he was a saving grace to her.

He was like my savior as there was no one to turn to.

Grace still looks back with regret as society did not render any support at that time.

From one kid to another, three Children were born to the union, first two boys and a girl such that when the situation changed, it was not easy to walk out of the union.

That she said strengthened her resolve to endure whatever abuse she was facing as she always told herself, it would be worse off for the kids if she abandons the union leaving her children for a strange woman.

I was always telling myself that if I was in the marriage and my kids were suffering, what will happen to them if I leave the marriage in the hands of a stranger and a strange woman for that matter.

So, she made a resolution to bear whatever she sees or is dished to her, however, she had to have a rethink the day she almost lost her life.

He woke me up in the middle of the night holding a knife and told me that I had to make a decision or prepare to die, that it was either I leave the marriage or he would kill me, fortunately my landlord who was entering the house that night heard heated argument and loud voices and barged into the room unexpectedly, that was what saved me that night as I saw he was determined to kill me, maybe by now I would have been a dead person.

After that night Grace told herself she had to make a move as it was clear, the society was not offering her any protection.

Reflecting on her ordeal, it has been over ten years since she decided to quit the union, looking back, Grace thinks she is much better than how she was in those dark days. She said she was once a drop out from school, but she has taken back those years and made the best of her life, she returned to school, learned a trade which she uses to sponsor herself and is an undergraduate at the verge of graduating from a higher institution.

Life has given her much more than she bargained for as she is not the vulnerable and weak woman anymore.

God has been helping me to take care of the kids, they are moving on well, I thank God I am much better. I have upgraded even beyond what I could think of or imagine, so I am much better, and I am getting more better

Grace maintained that she will never endure her experience again and will not wish such for her worst enemy, she also urged women in abusive relationships to quit and save their lives saying for whatever reason they think, it is not worth it.

What I will tell women is that they should move on, and after they have moved on, they should improve on themselves, they should upgrade from their present level to a better person, the sky is just a starting point for them.

Though Graces’ experience is one out of many in Nigeria, many other women have not lived to tell their own stories.

Government passed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition act also known as the VAPP act into law in 2015 to offer more protection to victims of sexual and Gender based violence. The act recommends sanctions to persons that engage in any form of violence including sexual and domestic violence and within the last eight years since it was passed at the federal level, about thirty-four out of thirty-six states have domesticated the act giving it powers to be enforced within their states.

Aderonke Bello, the Executive Director of the FAME foundation thinks the VAPP act has given victims especially women, an opportunity to seek redress when abused.

Speak out, tell your story, share it, the VAPP act gives you an opportunity to seek justice.

While the case between Grace and her husband was instigated by religious differences, Bello believes no excuse is tenable to perpetrate domestic violence, she also insists that society must stop stigmatizing the victims.

Irene Davis (Not her real name) another victim living at the Lugbe area of Abuja, a mother of three and a teacher, says that her experience left her traumatized, took away her self-esteem and her self-dignity.

It affected everything about me, it affected my emotional and social lifestyle.

She said she would be slapped and beaten at every opportunity by her spouse who she met in 2009 and he would perpetrate the act even in the public.

She even recounted one of her experiences when he asked her to leave, he took her belongings out of the house including her original credentials and set everything on fire in the presence of neighbors.

She added that the abuse started when they were dating, and she always hoped he would change but things got worse after their marriage.

At every slight opportunity she would receive slaps and beatings like a child yet she endured hoping things would get better, when his temper cools, he would start crying and begging her for forgiveness that he did not want to lose her and could not live his life without her.

She described her Husband who she is now separated from as having serious anger issues, one who would go the extreme to cause her pains whenever he felt she had upset him. 

Gradually Irene began to live a reclusive life as she no longer had friends and could not go to her family. 

Irene who met her Husband when she was 21, got married to him the next year at the age of 22. 

She received little support from the Church as they would tell her to keep praying for him to change despite the violence she was experiencing. 

 Be the strong African woman, be the virtuous woman, keep praying and of course I kept praying, I don’t think there is any kind of prayer I have not prayed, some will tell you to pray with salt, some will tell you to write his name and put salt and pray, some will tell you to do midnight prayer, some will tell you to pray naked, I did all those but as a matter of fact, the more I prayed, the worse he became. 

With three kids in the marriage, Irene admits she had to endure everything including the emotional and physical violence for several reasons.

I was scared, if I leave this man where am I going to, my family back home is not even financially buoyant to take care of me, I had five younger ones who are still looking up to me so where would I go. 

She also blamed societal pressure for not wanting to leave the abusive relationship.

I was scared of what people will say, what will the society say, what will my friends say, they will see me as a failure who could not keep a home, they will look down on me, they will say all sorts to me, so I endured the beating, the abuse and maltreatment.

However, it was not long before she realized that she was breaking up and her life was in danger after almost ten years in the marriage. 

I made up my mind in the year 2020, that was the year I said enough is enough, the maltreatment became worse, he didn’t care anymore in the house, he doesn’t touch me, and it was like he literally told me when I am tired, I would leave the house on my own. It was very early in the morning, I was still in my nighties, he started dragging me in the presence of the kids, pulling my hair, trying to push me out of the house. So many things flashed through my mind, what if I fall and hit my head on the pavement, my kids were crying, that was the sight that got to me and I said no Irene, you can’t continue like this, would I want my sons to grow up doing the same things to their wives? I started hatching my plans of leaving. 

With her mind made up, Irene finally left the marriage, looking back, she thinks she made the right decision though she regrets that society did not do more to protect her. She is however delighted how things have turned out in the last three years.

Since I left the marriage, it’s not been easy, but I think I am coping well, now I have my sanity, I live my life, I am happy at all times, I am not expecting any quarrel, I am not expecting any beating, nobody is waiting for me to do anything, nobody is going to see fault in almost everything I do. I am happier, I am very free, I have time to think, I have finished my degree program, I am planning to go for my masters, I have started my business, I am doing some courses online, my mindset has changed, I have been reading books, I have met people, I have a whole network of people which I wouldn’t have met if I was with him because I was literally quote and unquote under bondage.

Irene claimed she would never have gone through her ordeal if she were more exposed and enlightened, she said that now, she sees her real beauty and even after three kids, she still receives advances from men, what she thought would never happen, though she is not ready for any relationship, she wants to be focused and achieve her dreams.

Every time I go out, people just want to talk with me, they don’t even believe I was once married, they don’t believe I even have a kid talk more of three, my first two kids, twins, are almost teenagers now, I still get lots of advances, lots of toasters, I am honestly not ready for it, I just want to build up my life, pick up the pieces of my life and focus on my career.

Aderonke Bello from the Fame foundation thinks Irene made the right decision and urges society to stop stigmatizing victims like Irene. 

Another Expert, Yinka Shokunbi from the Network of Reproductive Health Journalists maintains that both Grace and Irene made the right decision by leaving the environment where violence was being perpetrated.

Anyone caught up in any form of domestic violence should seek refuge first, run out of the situation so that you do not die, once you go out of the space then you can seek help and support.

Though Yinka expressed worry over the lack of support from religious and cultural institutions, she thinks they need reorientation.

They need continuous training; they need continuous information to be passed unto them.

Edosa Oviawe, a program Manager with the Global rights while blaming a power relationship for domestic violence thinks it is caused by the perpetrator’s sense of power, control, and entitlement.

Some people may be quick to blame it on loss of self-control, drug or alcohol use, but these factors only amplify the root cause which is the perpetrator’s feeling of having more power and control over the victim.

Edosa maintains that unless a perpetrator has been proven to be mentally incapable of reasoning, or having permanent mental disorder, no excuse can be tenable for the act. He urges victims like Grace and Irene to report their experiences as a first step to ending the repeated circle of violence.

You can only get help when you speak out. Even if all you need is a Protection Order as provided for by the VAPP Act, report so that help can be provided, it does not always mean sending your partner to jail but a first step in getting yourself help.

For Victims like grace and Irene who represent many others that have escaped abusive relationships, they say Never again. 

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