Martha’s Story

The relationship with Yusuf had started on a sound enough note. He was just a year older than her, a banker, tall, good-looking and with a great sense of humor. Whatever humor he had seemed to dissipate almost immediately after the wedding.

“I was already in my early 30s and most of my friends were married. Staying with my aunt, a spinster in her 40s didn’t help either. She lived in constant regret at having not settled down younger with any of her suitors. These were some of the reasons I rushed into marriage with Yusuf. We barely dated for 3 months when he proposed. We got married a year into the relationship and so began my troubles.”

In a society where marriage matters a great deal, Martha’s anxiety over marrying, having kids and building a home of her own are common concerns for women her age. After all, this is Nigeria, a country still clutching firmly to customs and traditions other societies have watered down in the 21st century. However, rushing into marriage can come with a myriad of challenges as Martha soon found. 

She looks nervously at me while twiddling the ring on her wedding finger: her wedding band. At once a measure of commitment and also the weak link to the chains that still bind her to a man she can now only describe as a monster. Getting her to tell her story was no mean feat. Failed marriages are not the kinds of things people like to talk about especially not when they are the lead character in the story. You see, Martha married a Catholic despite being a Pentecostal Christian herself. The Catholic faith does not make room for divorce and annulments are granted only under extenuating circumstances. The entire process tends to be grueling and long-drawn out. A system put in place to protect women in their marriages but a heavy yoke if the union fails.

The relationship with Yusuf had started on a sound enough note. He was just a year older than her, a banker, tall, good-looking and with a great sense of humor. He could make you laugh with a well-timed exaggerated sigh. Looking back, she realizes that the humor was simply a manipulation tactic which served to keep her mind off his repeated childish antics; his irresponsibility; his drugs and gambling and worse, his violent rages. 

Whatever humor he had seemed to dissipate almost immediately after the wedding. He became obscenely insecure and controlling. He would show up at her work place and sit around in hopes of “catching her” in a moment of indiscretion with another man. This, he found time for having lost his job right after the wedding. He would yell, call her names, and humiliate her in every way possible. The fact that she was still earning a living and he was not anymore only served to make matters worse. 

Shortly after the birth of their twins, she left him. He had slapped her in a moment of wild rage, the one thing she had always told him she would never condone. She was forced to return by her aunt, his mother and other family members who urged her to stay patient and keep praying. 

The prayers only seemed to worsen the situation. The abuse morphed into selling literally everything that was not nailed down and stealing any money she didn’t hide. Things reached a head when he choked her almost unconscious one day before telling her he could kill her and nothing would happen. At that point she realized: if she did not leave she would be yet another statistic and the twins would be left abandoned and in danger.

But Martha is only one out of a large number of women suffering Intimate Partner Violence either in their marriage or relationships. In Nigeria it is estimated that 1 in 3 women suffer physical, sexual or Intimate Partner Violence. Juxtaposed against Nigeria’s 200 million-strong population, one third is an obscenely large number. And yet Gender Based Violence and partner violence are perpetuated in part by women who also believe men have the right to chastise their partners. This thinking might account for situations such as that of Hassan Azeez who is alleged to have set his wife on fire in a rage in October 2022. Her crime? Not having his meal ready in good time. The incident occurred in Ogun state.

Many organizations work to raise awareness about IPV and Gender Based Violence as a whole. Women at Risk International Foundation has a helpline committed to survivors of IPV and can be reached on 08092100009. Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team is another organization working to protect women. The number to reach them is 08000333333.

As things stand, Martha was eventually able to get the full support of her family and has since finalized divorce proceedings in court and is currently in talks with the church about going forward with the annulment, a process Yusuf has also agreed to. His acquiescence could fast track the process. She says she is getting her self-esteem back and has relocated to a different city. Asked why she keeps her wedding band on she says it helps to ward off intending suitors as she is not ready for a committed relationship. It also reminds her to make sure she pushes the annulment through. 

Despite everything, my daughter is a healthy happy child, I have a good job, and I am out of the clutches of that monster. There is much to be thankful for.

She says with a smile. If only the same were true for others enduring partner violence and still trapped in such situations.

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