Atoke: Are We Really Going to Fold Our Arms & Let Domestic Violence Kill Us All?
The year usually starts with celebration and resolutions; happy for a new year, the world is filled with optimistic people who resolve to be better, to do better in different aspects of their lives. Personally, one of the things I hope to achieve in 2019 is to create more awareness and support for causes I am passionate about. One of such causes is the reduction and elimination of domestic abuse in Nigeria. In 2019, I am going to strive create a database of shelters and organizations that help victims of domestic abuse – across Nigeria. I want to collate a list where someone can refer their relative/ loved one to, in Minna, Awka, Iwo… anywhere in Nigeria. I want a resource center, in every city and town in Nigeria, where victims of domestic violence can find help. However, this is only a surface level treatment of an epidemic that has led to the loss of so many lives.
Domestic abuse is an insidious malaise in our society. It fragments homes and families; it leads to loss of income; it causes physical harm; and even more pervasive is the terrible negative effect it has on the mental health of victims (and their children, if any). So, before we go on to create this help centre for victims, I am going to try and unpack the different ways we (together as a society) can stop domestic abuse in Nigeria. How can we stop the perps? Hopefully, you guys can suggest other things we need to do, and together we can start the year on a great note towards the elimination of domestic violence.
Growing up as a little girl in Nigeria, certain things were drummed into me: be decent, be polite, know how to cook, wear clothes that don’t attract men, don’t talk back to an adult, kneel down to greet… and so on and so forth. This litany of instructions on how to behave was further reinforced at school, in church, by the extended family members. Everywhere you go there is someone, somewhere, teaching a little girl how to grow up be a ‘good woman’. It’s not only subliminal, but also overt conditioning. However, there’s just not enough societal disdain for domestic violence. Children in a compound/neighbourhood see their neighbour beating up his wife and they hear the other adults snigger and say things like “that woman… only God knows what she has done again to make this man beat her.” It is right there, and in that moment that a little four year old child internalizes the message that domestic violence is the direct result of something that the victim has done. So, instead of saying “what did Mama Chinedu do to Papa Chinedu, this time” Look your children in the eye and say something like, “Look Phillip and Veronica, under no circumstance is it okay to hit your spouse.” Reinforce that message to your children, with the same vim and energy that you tell them not to sleep without reading their bibles, or the same energy you use to teach them that it’s important for a devout moslem to pray five times a day.
Asides telling your children that it is wrong to get physically violent, also show them. If they see you bumping fists with your neighbour who was slapping her husband the day before, they know that you’re fine with it, which in turn sends a message that it is okay. Once we start conditioning our minds from home, it extends to the larger society and to a large extent, it will have an impact on the quest to eliminate domestic violence.
Get Faith Based Organizations on Board
Saying Nigerians are extremely religious is stating the obvious. However, being religious is not a bad thing, if channeled for positivity. However, it is quite mind-blowing that the rate of performative religion isn’t congruent with good deeds in Nigeria. We’re basically living in a pit, with very badly behaved individuals who who don’t miss Assalatu or church service.
So, we’ve established that there’s an audience for leaders of faith based organizations. Thus, if there’s a message that we really want to pass on, and ensure it gets to the audience, it makes sense to pass the message to advocate for the eradication of domestic abuse via these faith based organizations.
Do the math: think of the volume of people who flock to church every Sunday in Nigeria – through thick and thin, through adversity and economic bloom, they are there. The pews are filled with people, waiting to hear from their leaders – the ordained ministers. If these leaders consistently pass the message urging people to stop hitting their spouses, I strongly believe that there will be a change. Imagine if at every NASFAT meeting, the Alfa has a recurrent message of “Don’t beat your wife/ don’t beat your husband/stop hitting your kids”
Pause. Imagine it. Think about mid-week service at your favourite church. Just before the offering bowl is passed, there is a segment where the Deacon gets up on the pulpit to remind parishioners that domestic violence is a dangerous societal ill and perpetrators will not get a place in wherever good, spiritual people go after they pass on…(You know how much Nigerians cling to the promise of eternal life with streets paved of gold and unending virgins)
Consistent messaging will create a snowball effect on the expected desired end. And this is just simple common sense, I’m not saying anything revolutionary here.
Reduce the consumption of judgement impairing substances
One thing I’ve often heard from perpetrators of domestic violence (and sometimes their victims) is “I didn’t really know what I was doing”, or “She usually gets like this after she’s had a few drinks” or “He doesn’t usually beat me, it only happens when he’s been to the bar”
Dearly beloved, wisdom is profitable to direct. If you’re prone to wildin‘ out, please reduce the consumption of things that impair your judgement. If you’re a regular cool cat, but for some reason you lack control when you’ve had a few puffs of weed or you’ve had a little too much to drink… stop it. Knowing yourself and your limits is a crucial part of being an adult. Excessive consumption of alcohol and narcotics will definitely have you outchea acting like you’re senseless. Next thing you know you’re beating your wife because she used the brown padlock to lock the gate instead of the black padlock.
Please have some sense, grow up and don’t kill someone because you lack self control.
Employers, Please F*ck Up the Bag
Some years ago, a relative was accused of beating his wife. Family lore has it that she went to the office and reported to his bosses. The company (a multinational) reportedly had zero tolerance for spousal abuse/domestic violence and it quickly terminated the employment contract that had taken the relative and his wife to Europe. I was pretty young when it happened, but I’ve never forgotten the story because I learned one lesson: if you want to stop someone from causing you pain, cut off their money supply as quickly as possible, if you can.
Nigerians love and respect two things: God (allegedly) and Money! In the quest to eliminate domestic violence in our society, we have to utilize both tools. The God bit can be taken care of by the spiritual leaders, as stated in point 2 above), but for the money, we need the employers.
If you’re an employer of labour, you should work in a zero-tolerance for domestic violence policy into the employment contract. If someone knows that their source of livelihood is going to be threatened, they may think twice before lifting that pestle to hit their spouse. If they know that the news of an attack on their spouse getting to the office means that they lose money, it may serve as a deterrent.
Furthermore, while it can be argued that offices should not get involved in domestic issues, it behoves every organization to ensure that they are not harbouring wild animals in their midst. A few years ago, a talented NFL player was arrested for the murder of his associate; the team cut him loose the day after he was arrested. He was at the peak of his career, a rising star only three seasons in. The Patriots didn’t even waste any time in breaking that contract. One time!
If you lie with dogs, you might find yourself eating faeces. Corporations will do well to kick out any employees who are prone to violence of any form.
Hurt people hurt people. It’s such a simple principle that rings true and deep. A lot of us Nigerians are walking about with so much internalized trauma. It’s so bad that we don’t even realize how deeply scarred and damaged we are. I’ve seen how people on social media boast about how they’re going to beat their kids, because they were beaten. They claim they ‘turned out fine’. No honey, you didn’t turn out fine. The fact that we have normalized violence and aggression is so worrying, because there’s a high risk of passing this to our kids. And this is the same with perpetrators of domestic violence. Often times, they have not unpacked the trauma from their childhood, or from everything they’ve experienced in life. They come into new relationships with all of that baggage and then start body-slamming their partners. They’re unhappy in their souls and they in turn want to suck out the joy from the person they’re living with. It’s a vicious cycle that can be broken with therapy.
I’m so happy that mental awareness in Nigeria is gaining a lot of ground and I really hope that it will increase at an even higher rate this year – not just on the level of middle-class and lower middle class people, but also among indigent Nigerians. Therapy is such a vital tool in the eradication and elimination of domestic violence. Talk to a certified professional, be honest with yourself. Understand that this is a thing that is dangerous and will not go away by simply ignoring it.
It is my desire that in 2019, Nigerians take these things more seriously. As much as we’re going through so much from the political elite, let’s look at the different ways we can help each other – both as individuals and as a collective. Talk to your friends and family members; talk to your staff; engage with people who can help you. Seek help and be open to changing.
If any of the above points do not serve as a deterrent against domestic violence, please note that assault and battery are offences under the criminal and penal codes of Nigeria. Further more, the Lagos State House of Assembly enacted the Protection Against Domestic Violence law in 2007. On a Federal level there is the Violence Against Persons (Prohibitions) Act of 2015. Please do not hesitate to report perpetrators of domestic violence to the police (if you can’t report them to the HR manager of their company). If they tell you that it is a domestic matter and they’re not allowed to get involved in family disputes, channel the energy of a homophobic Nigerian when they’re reminding the world of the SSPA, tell the police
and all who care to listen – DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS A CRIME. IT IS YOUR JOB TO FIGHT CRIME.
Note down the telephone numbers above for help in Lagos state. If you have information on shelters and centers for victims of domestic violence outside Lagos, please send an email to features(at)bellanaija(dot)com
Happy new year!