Thursday, 30 June 2011

Nigeria: Facing down the impunity of domestic violence

The story on Twitter

When this news filtered through the Nigerian Twitter folk yesterday I was not curious enough to determine what they were talking about. Somehow, my curiosity is not as piqued if certain news stories seem to derive from a rumour mill without credible sources but one must say that certain bits of news might well debut on Twitter long before the news organs pick it up.

What was a bit disconcerting about it was the tweets reported a very heinous and grievous crime that should have had the police all over it and addressing the matter but the neither the police nor the newspapers appeared to be moved to cover the issue.

Today however, one newspaper picked up the story which was full of uncorroborated sources, anonymous comments and disinterested parties along with an indolent comatose police force in bureaucratic inertia. [The news piece.]

Circumstance to tragedy

The substance of the news story is that a somewhat lovely marriage had run into serious difficulty with the husband having lost his job and his wife now the sole breadwinner, it had developed the staple of generally accepted domestic violence which culminated in the man stabbing his wife to death on his 30th birthday and turning fugitive since then.

This subject is still very raw and emotive but it needs to be addressed in some ways that begins to question our so-called sentimental and traditional values about marriage, roles and perceptions about decisions that society still moralises on but never appears to help ameliorate.

Reading through the news story, one can understand that difficulty of a man in the Nigerian setting being unable to provide for his family, but it is not the end of the world, however, because the notion of love is predicated in the concept of material provision the inability to provide is psychologically presumed to be the emasculation of the man.

The impunity of domestic violence

The tendency which seemed to read like the usual Nigerian template was for the man to try to assert a form of authority within the household to ensure that the wife does not in his thinking get big beyond her boots, despite her selfless, longsuffering and patient work of trying to keep the family unit going as smooth as possible.

The man resorted to serious domestic violence as the news story avers that neighbours have before heard screams as a result of their altercation. Sadly, domestic violence is condoned, accepted, tolerated and allowed to flourish with impunity; there are very few cases where such acts of actual or grievous bodily harm to the spouse get to the point where it is criminalised.

This situation is unacceptable, it is unconscionable and deplorable, when a relationship gets physical it is probably irretrievable regardless of the hopes and aspirations for that relationship, if the so-called love is expressed in terror and violence it has become torment and regardless of the good intentions of counsellors, religious adherence or traditional constraints; it is time for the vulnerable to extricate themselves from a developing disaster that could as this case shows, end up in murder.

A developing crisis

A spouse does not just murder their partner on the spur of the moment, it most definitely started from some very basic disagreement that escalated into intemperate verbal abuse and on to the first hit that lead to the beatings, the brutalisation of the partner and it was just a matter of time before it resulted the murder.

It then begs the question if we have so condoned the domestic violence with placation and entreaty, persuasion and useless scriptural coercion why we should now be shocked with the husband’s murder of his wife.

It is an unforgiveable excuse to suggest that we never expected it to get that bad; the news story suggests the lady was reaching out and even if not as explicit, she was crying out for help but constrained by atrocious traditional values that condemn people to loveless, violent marriages for the sake of the children.

The sake of the children

We forget that the children are individuals; they probably would prefer to live in peaceful environments of single-parenthood than in the turmoil and “stable” environment a marriage breaking down with all the physical violence and the absence of love they observe amongst their parents.

Children are not idiots and there is very little they can be shielded from, my memory of disputes between my parents is keen; the voices, the images, the terror, the fear and I know there are many who as children experienced so much in their homes and now try to blank out those memories knowing full well that if that cycle is repeating itself, they are kicking against the goads subjecting their children to the same torments they once suffered.

For the sake of the children, they deserve better, the sentiment should change from that which this unfortunate victim expressed; if the home has no love, the child whose views are never taken into loving consideration needs to be where love is assured even if the parents have to part ways – no marriage is made in heaven, it has to work on earth and if it is not working, it really is NOT working.

Break up and move on

If all and any of the traditional or professional methods of conflict resolution fail to make the home a refuge of love, safety and peace for all concerned, the pragmatic solution is for the people to go their separate ways and find ways of rebuilding their shattered lives than remain in such a setting that creates this tragedy of finality.

That is not to say that certain disputes have not found reconciliation but at what cost, over how much time and for to what end?

Just as the Levitical sacrifices of old have become irrelevant, we cannot continue to sacrifice ourselves on the altars of tradition, custom, creed, law, norms, diktat or marriage – all these structures were made for man and not the other way round – as the Great Teacher did say, for all the significance the religious people placed on the Sabbath; Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath – it applies to a lot of unnecessary situations we allow ourselves to be subject to.

The aftermath is saddening

The need for justice crying from the highest towers must not be stifled, the apparently supine and indolent police need to be on this case questioning all the interested and acquainted parties to this sad situation and one can only wonder how much worse it would be for the toddler who would eventually learn that her father killed her mother in a domestic dispute just because the sentiments of tradition dictated that a child should be brought up in a place where the father and mother live together even though their cohabitation was at best untenable.

We need to speak up about domestic violence the moment it starts and condemn it before it gets extreme, stem it before it escalates and really, if they cannot live together without beating themselves up we should not be clueless and dumb; the love has long departed and whatever they have is being held together by the bizarre marriage of sadism and masochism, if there were a better way of describing the matter.

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