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2 May 2015

Nigeria: A nation of wife-beaters?

That Anglican Church that was my church in the late 70s and 80s had prayer sessions on Wednesday mornings. And the congregation more than once, had to do more than praying.

Shrills and wails of the “mother of the parish” were familiar to some and when they pierced the serenity of the sanctuary, even fervent prayers had to be aborted.

Out of the sanctuary and mumbling disgust at failure of the priest to handle his affairs more tidily , elderly parishioners would shoo away children and hurry in the direction of the screams to save the vicar’s wife from further savagery . And she would be retrieved from a torrent of blows and kicks. And a panting and menacing priest will direct some scowls and threats at the interlopers who had the impudence to abandon prayers , to pry into his running of his home.

A handsome, well spoken, seemingly urbane vicar whose sense of piety tolerated chasing his wife around the church premises in full glare of congregants to effect priestly moral chastisement.

He would conduct services the next Sunday dove-like , like that Wednesday never happened. The priest was brutal , the society and church were complicit. The priest received rapid promotions and has been a top ranking archbishop for many years.
Domestic violence against women may be rampant in many parts of the world but it is , in addition , socially tolerated in many parts of Nigeria. Victim surveys show that about 50% of women of all categories suffer repeated physical, sexual and psychological abuse in the hands of their men and other men.

Beyonce says girls run the world . Perhaps they do all the chores. The world constructed by patriarchy where women are told, and believe, they were created for men is an unjust world. Women, helpmeets, ostensibly exist to help men meet their loneliness. But because men are literally pulsating bags of sex hormones then women must further be objectified for maximum sexual benefits of the male collectivity. So women, pawns, are socialized into roles that are seemingly objectively neutral but that are patently slavish.

And since they are by nature beautiful , men are groomed cynically to think that women are beautiful because they are men’s ornamental pieces. The icing on the cake of their earthly existence.

Their beauty is for the viewing pleasure of men, yes. Men deny them autonomy and urge them to concentrate on cosmetic trivialities and being beautiful, in the service of their sexual imaginings. Dolls. And women spend their lives preoccupied with their sexiness. And women , only women , flaunt naked bodies and revel in things tight and skimpy.

Culturally , they are positioned to live on the magnanimity of men . The society pauperizes women because dependence on men glorifies men -prancing bags of ego. Independence perhaps detracts from the sex appeal furnished by dominion.

Across the cultures in Nigeria, women were almost in some ways were seen as sub-human. The female child was always considered inferior to the male child. Patriarchy meant that the cultures and traditions were merely the wishes of men. And societal leadership was the exclusive preserve of men. And the inferior women whose roles were to gather wood, cook and be married off to breed children had little real value. And a man who died without a male child -heir, lived a wasted life.

And the cultures gave women to men as wives in the likeness of properties. And since women were seen by men as superficial , mawkishly sentimental and lacking in sobriety , maturity and intelligence, they were generally considered as marginally more rational than children. And the husbands were required by the cultures and traditions to continue from where the fathers stopped because the character molding of the female must be superintended by men . Women, they say, “spoil easily”.

And they all had to be closely monitored because the society perceived that women weren’t just vulnerable and perishable but that also
they possessed in their biology all that was needed to thoroughly ‘corrupt’ generations . And since they are supposed to be naturally gullible and loving of ‘sweet things’, they could, if unchecked, let loose and imperil the society. A spoilt female, they presumed, could damage the morality of a thousand men! The lecherousness of men is always permissively read as the work of nature. Lasciviousness and promiscuity are bred by sluts – women.

Women globally have clawed back few rights but so much remains. Women couldn’t vote in many places until the 20th century. And couldn’t act as sureties for bail in Nigeria until a couple of years ago. Successes recorded in the enactment of legislation that prohibit discrimination based on sex , that promotes equality of the sexes have not translated into significant dismantling of barriers and systemic disadvantages that manacle women.

Men fashion cultures and interpret religious texts and allocate to themselves the position next to God. And they say it is not male chauvinism. The woman is not only of lower intellectual capacity, she is also an inferior spiritual being, they think. And the elderly women school the younger women in the art of worship of men.

And the subjugation is perpetuated. A godly woman is submissive to her man whom she needs to be a ‘complete’ woman. And being perpetually female and single is pathetic failure . An unmarried mature woman is an abject failure. And many women display wedding rings like trophies and loudly brag about being “happily married” albeit to brutes. And these immoral presuppositions are espoused even by women. Cultures, traditions and laws are always seemingly objective and neutral. Tools of domination.

A decadent and impoverished Nigerian society, unfortunately, can no longer maintain a steady stream of matured capable eligible bachelors in an increasingly monogamous setting. So many unpaired ready women languish emotionally. The society insists they marry but the society lacks sufficient quality men. Many marry and submit to poorly groomed and conceited nitwits to escape the social handicap of remaining unmarried. Lagos landlords would not even let apartments to unmarried ladies.

So all kinds of marriages are now contrived to satisfy different needs and fears. In many of these contraptions, women shackle themselves with crippling yokes and their hopes and self esteem are squashed . The men are lords of their manors and the women are essentially glorified domestic helps.

And the standards are now so low that marital love is assumed to exist if couples manage a steady stream of bland courteous interactions. And if men show wives sporadic affections in tokens and gratuities for sex , for house chores, and for bearing and looking after their children, they expect adulation.

The woman would endure endemic sexual harassment in workplaces and yet come home to spaces where the man, enfant terrible, must be feared because he can unilaterally deny everyone peace by throwing tantrums. The incidence of domestic violence has been on the rise in Nigeria. And wives are serially physically and sexually abused. Some husbands are so out of touch with decency that they batter their wives even publicly.

And some who, as children, suffered severe psychological dents when their mothers were battered, pay no heed to the sanity of their own children when they batter and denigrate their spouses. And if you are as unlucky as a cousin of mine who had the misfortune of a hefty tempestuous husband who had a second wife in alcohol, you will be battered at night and on his temporary return to sanity in the morning , the brute will ask you how you came by so many bruises.

Amongst many who claim sophistication are men who torture their wives verbally and psychologically. Threats of divorce are casually dangled because bullies consider themselves indispensable benefactors of the women. The husband becomes the maverick. He enthrones an air of unpredictability and lives out his whims, caprices and sadistic fancies. “You will pack out of this house” . “I will send you back to your father’s house”. Daily squirts of scorn, contempt and derision. Many Nigerian men treat wives like low level employees.

In a society where men are allowed to punish erring women and where family matters aren’t supposed to become police cases until perhaps someone has been knocked into coma, the men get away with horrendous crimes of domestic violence and the women burn silently. And even when families and friends are brought in to settle disputes , the general counsel is always for the woman to find some way and manage the madness of her husband. Wife beaters judging another wife beater.

And the victim’s helplessness is exacerbated by a certain faithful acceptance of the notion that marriage is somehow “for better, for worse”. Divorce is condemned. The female divorcee easily earns public contempt. So the woman takes in the scorn and brutality of her husband and remains “happily married”. Aren’t they always happily married?

Wives are essentially personal acquisitions. Mandatory dowries, which are often exorbitant, do not help to curb the sense of ownership that many husbands associate with marriage. And since the Yoruba wife refers to the husband as ‘ Olowo ori mi’- my owner, the man does not need the woman’s express consent for sex.

The woman’s rights belong to her husband. Sex must be given on demand and to refuse the man sex is to commit an act of gross insubordination which could even be construed as an act of infidelity. And any hint of infidelity by the woman is an abomination weighty enough to make her an eternal outcast.

Marital infidelity by the man is understandable. The man is viewed as inherently polygamous and when he chooses monogamy for any reason he must be rewarded and encouraged by a little license to ‘respectable’ and ‘guarded’ compensatory extramarital liaisons.

And many tout themselves as good husbands because they shower their wives with visible gifts . Amongst them are exhibitionists for whom wives display objects through which the egotistical self can aspire to vainglory. So the wife can have the most expensive of luxury cars but would be accorded the disdain due a pest inside the home. And even a careless yawn might attract the sternest of rebukes! The agony many glamourized wives of the rich live.

Relevant statistics in Nigeria are nonexistent . Domestic violence cases are rarely reported to the police who are always reluctant to press charges. The society’s stigma and lack of confidence in the police by victims ensure most raped and battered wives grieve in silence. The law here still says you can’t be guilty of raping a wife. Barbarism. A criminal justice system populated overwhelmingly by men cannot understand the pain of domestic and sexual violence on female victims.

The laws and customs in Nigeria cede the homes and everything else to the men. They are founded on utterly sexist assumptions bordering on misogyny. The presuppositions must be dismantled by raising of consciousness. Religious texts must be interpreted hermeneutically. The criminal justice system must be fine tuned. A wife-beater is a criminal.
Ladies , “shine your eyes!”

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