Overcoming cultural, traditional and religious beliefs and practices in understanding and combating domestic violence in Nigeria
In 2012, a study in Nigeria showed that 64.4% of married women and 50.4% of unmarried women expressed consent for wife beating, such is the prevalence and normalisation of domestic abuse in the country. So widespread is the practice of wife beating, and of parents using violence against children, that some experts regard the problem as assuming epidemic proportions, and there is rarely a day goes by without a case of homicide by domestic violence (DV) being featured in print and broadcast media. This journal article presents a literature review that examines the nexus between Nigeria's three major ethnic group's cultural, traditional, and religious beliefs and practices that can act to impede the understanding and willingness of people to combat DV.
The paper begins by outlining the Nigerian experience of DV, explaining that until the mid-1990's very little was done to combat DV, including near non-coverage of DV in print and broadcast media. Much has changed since then however, with numerous international agreements and human rights conventions signed by successive Nigerian governments. Recently, Nigeria joined the League of Nations that have a federal law against DV with the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 (VAPP) signed by President Goodluck Jonathan, which received an overwhelming commendation both nationally and internationally. However, the author notes that the VAPP Act will need to be more than a piece of paper; it needs translating into having real meaning for the lives of Nigerians.
The rest of the paper tackles various aspects and causes of DV in Nigeria, including: the growing use and reach of awareness campaigns in influencing the behaviour and attitudes of society and institutions, including the police and justice system; the positive and negative influence of tradition, culture, and religion on DV and gender-related values; inheritance rights; the culture of silence and shame that is socially enforced, and keeps women – and men – from speaking out on DV; and the cultural norms encouraging a sense of ownership of wives by men, reinforced by both genders, as well as traditions such as bride-price. As former Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association, Ikeja chapter, barrister Dave Ajetomobi, states, “There are many laws against domestic violence, but they are not working because of the cultural belief that a man owns his wife. Even the police hold this belief”.
The author concludes that DV and domestic homicide is far too common in Nigeria, and that it is only when the worst possible outcome has manifested that people begin to recall and speak out about their knowledge of abuse. This culture of silence must be ended, with people encouraged to raise issues before it is too late. While the increase in DV instances is worrying, more troubling still is the fact that many Nigerians are struggling to even see DV as immoral, let alone a crime. This poses a serious barrier to effectively tackling the scourge off DV in Nigeria, and requires significant work to change attitudes not only by government and NGO's, but also, crucially, from religious leaders and institutions that play such a vital role in the traditional and cultural beliefs of the Nigerian public.