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Domestic Violence in Nigeria

Overview of Domestic Violence

Violence against women has attracted international attention due to its alarming increase and has, thus, been recognized as a human rights violation. It violates and nullifies the fundamental human rights of women throughout the world. Violence against women results from social (practical), religious and cultural ideologies that accord to the male gender supremacy and domination over the women.

The United Nations General Assembly recognized violence against women to be a “manifestation of the historically unequal power relations between men and women”, which ultimately results in discrimination against women. It passed the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Despite the ratification of the Convention as well as the popular enthusiasm for it in many nations, the declaration remains merely a declaration, in many African countries, including Nigeria. This act of non-compliance with the provisions of the Convention has further lead to adverse discrimination against women.

The failure of state interventions in Nigeria to address domestic violence in policy and legal terms has meant the neglect of the plight of women as a population. This phenomenon derives not only from historically unequal structural relationships between men and women, but also from its relationship with the entire edifice and mentality of governance. Understanding this relationship requires unmasking and analyzing the interaction between historical and prevailing mentalities of governance, and the governance of women as a population and the problem of domestic violence. In other words, given that domestic violence has been a major problem affecting women over the years, how have the regulatory practices changed? What are the forms, contents, contexts, and constitutionality of these regulatory practices? These issues motivate this study. Addressing these questions will clarify the legal framework and principles that guide these regulatory practices. Advocacy and legal reforms demand this clarification and require, first, appreciation of the extent and scope of domestic violence in Nigeria.

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Statement of the Problem

In Nigeria the family unit is regarded as sacred it is the woman’s duty to preserve the home, at all cost. Any act of violence meted out to her is often endured for fear of social ridicule, or she would be taken to have failed in her duties. The man is to use any amount of control to check his wife, and any restraint by him would be taken as an indication of weakness. Nigerian Laws entrench this cultural stereotype.

Domestic violence is an area where women’s rights are routinely abused and where women have little legal recourse. In most African societies such abuse manifests itself in forms of female genital mutilation, child marriages and labor, rape of women and girls, child slavery, suppression of dissent in the family, wife battering, and widowhood rituals. This study restricts to battering relationships. This issue lacks adequate recognition in Nigeria despite its implication for human rights. According to Omorodion (1992), cases of domestic violence increased by 100% between 1982 and 1988. Lack of published data on domestic violence tends to mask the reality of its scope, rate, intensity and incidence in Nigeria.

Yet, public opinion, media attention and increasing attention of state government, judges it that, domestic violence is alarming in Nigeria. More importantly, in a statistic released, the Canadian and United State Immigration departments report that, most African women applying for refugee status and asylum do so on grounds of domestic violence and the absence of effective legal protection from it. As a result, domestic violence has induced migration of women from Africa thereby exposing them to uncertainties despite the potency of grassroots’ advocacy and legal instruments in some democratic countries in Africa. This phenomenon places enormous responsibility on the legal system to have laws at protecting women more adequate. Still, no enabling law protects women from violence. For instance, Section 55 of the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria exacerbates matters by placing the discipline of women and children in the hands of husbands, thereby encouraging women to suffer in silence. Asserting their legal rights in the face of naked provision to protect them would definitely be detrimental to them. What does the Matrimonial Property Act offer a woman who leaves an abusive relationship after slaving in her home? This depends on the form of marriage contracted: either under English or Customary law.

Nigeria being a developing country, a greater section of the populace are uneducated and dwell in poverty. Education is important for the issue of violence against women in Nigeria, since it generally raises their awareness of legal and constitutional rights. Some women have made considerable individual progress in academic and business world, but women remain discriminated against in their access to education for social and economic reasons. In Northern Nigeria, Muslim communities favor boys over girls in deciding which child to enroll in schools. In the South, economic hardship also restricts many families’ ability to send girls to school; instead they are directed to commercial activities such as trading and street merchandising.

More importantly, presently, only one shelter exists in Lagos (Western Nigeria) for victims of domestic violence and their children. Many factors are responsible for this, including lack of sponsorship, lack of trained personnel, and the need to protect family privacy. If however, the government decided to treat this crime as a grievous offence, then facilities to deal with it would receive funding. The family unit is one which deserves much attention. In Nigeria, it is held in high esteem, and if all is done to protect it, this would go far to reduce crime in the nation. The government needs to be sensitized and motivated to enact and promote both the law and the policy reforms that would create an awareness of the offence of domestic violence and thereafter deter it.

Poor or no awareness of the crime of domestic violence has resulted in the lack of adequate data on the incidence of domestic violence. The attitude of law enforcement agents and sometimes the victims has resulted in little or no prosecution of the offence: it is considered a mere matrimonial dispute, to be resolved between the parties.

Asserting their rights due to the “codified and uncodified” norms work against women. This situation, however, does not mean that some women have kept silent about this injustice. Many non-government organization (hereinafter called NGO) in Nigeria have brought this violation of women’s rights to light, this has had little impact in the Nigerian society. The mentality of the people still remains. The women are not bold enough to assert their rights and they shy away from reporting to the law enforcement agents. Some women due to their economic dependency on the men, perceive wife battering as acceptable discipline. In some cases, where there has been grievous assault, which often leads to a criminal prosecution, women often plead for leniency on behalf of their husband, in order to prevent the men from being incarcerated. Other suitable methods ought to be examined since a criminal charge might not be effective.

dissertation service ukObjective of the Study

The objectives of this study are threefold: to examine the incidence of domestic violence in Nigeria, to unravel further the legal framework and policy alternatives around domestic violence in Nigeria, and lastly, to examine the mentality or ideologies behind the legal framework. To achieve these objectives, the legal and policy thrusts of Canada are reviewed in the Nigerian context, so as to offer adequate reforms to the Nigerian government.

However, for a proper appreciation and understanding of this research, it is important to recall the history of Nigeria and its culture.

Introduction to Nigeria

Nigeria covers 913,072.64 kilometers in West Africa, located on the gulf of Guinea; it shares its western border with Benin, its eastern border with Cameron, with Niger to its North and Chad in the North-East. The local currency is Naira. With a population estimated, 130 million, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and has over 400 ethnic groups, with each having their own peculiar form of cultural organization in terms of language and dialect, social customs and beliefs. Nigeria is also Africa’s leasing oil producer. The capital is the Federal Capital Territory Abuja; its major cities include Lagos (the commercial capital), Ibadan, Kano, Ogbomosho, Abeokuta, Ilorin and Port Harcourt. English is the official language in Nigeria; however, over 250 other languages are spoken including Hausa, Yoruba, and Ibo. The major ethnic groups are the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. No single tribe encompasses a majority of the population. In Africa, Nigeria seems to stand on her own due to her size, diverseness of language, the development of resources both human and material and the vast increase in the population of the people.  In this research references will be made to the major ethnic groups in Nigeria, it is therefore necessary to state a brief introduction to the Nigerian culture.

The Yorubas

The term “Yoruba” refers to the people, the language spoken by this tribe, and can also be used to refer to the geographical location of this tribe commonly referred to as “Yoruba Land”. The Yoruba’s are mainly found in the South-Western part of Nigeria, which includes Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo state and the South-Eastern parts of Kwara state J.S. Eades, (1980).

The various tribes in Yoruba land trace their origin from Oduduwa, the father of Yoruba land and the founder of Ile-Ife whence Yoruba civilization emerged I.A. Akinjogbin, B. Adediran, (1985). Thus Ile-Ife is regarded not only as the cradle of Yoruba people, but also where the religion common to them originated, since Oduduwa was the sacred king from whom Yoruba civilization began J.A. Atanda, (1980). His seven sons are believed to have founded the other Yoruba kingdoms.

The Igbos

The word “Igbo” refers to the “speaker of the language, their area of occupation and the language spoken by this group of people”. The Igbo’s are mostly found in the Eastern part of Nigeria, and occupy a total of 15,800 square miles. The Igbo people have been found to be mobile (but not nomadic) and are seen in almost every part of Nigeria, African and some countries abroad due to the preference to trade: hence they are referred to as the “go – and – get people”. Structurally, the Igbo culture has an egalitarian social pattern, but practice does not conform to it, within the family, authority is vested in the first son usually referred to as “Opara”. Elders in the Igbo community are respected and honored.

The Hausas

The Hausa’s are made up of Sudanese people whose fusion form an area occupied by Hausa people now referred to as Hausaland S Rakow, “Ethnicity in Nigeria”. Thirty-eight percent of all Hausas are in the North and North-West regions of Nigeria. This region extends from Nigeria’s western boundary eastward to Borno state and into much of the territory of southern Niger. Although English is recognized as Nigeria’s official language, Hausa, is rapidly becoming the chief language of Northern Nigeria. Only about half of the population are literate. Women usually do not work in fields, but are responsible for preparing meals at home. Many Hausa women are confined to their homes, except for visits to relatives, ceremonies and the workplace, and seldom receive access to western education.

The governorship of Sir. Frederick Lugard lead to the creation of Nigeria in 1914 with the amalgamation of the protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria Reuben K. Udo, (1970). This administration further divided Nigeria into three unequal political regions: the North, being the largest and most populous where the Muslim Hausa and Fulani are mostly found; the West, which presently is dominated by the Yoruba, and the East, where 60% of the Christian Igbo form the largest groups United Nations High Commissioner for Regugees, (2000).

Nigeria gained independence in 1960. As a result of this, a new federal structure was adopted in 1968 which led to the creation of 12 states which was further increased to 19 in 1976 M.A. Kwamena-poh, (1985). A Federal Capital Territory was established in 1979, and, by 1996, the number of states increased to 36, as obtains presently. Independence freed Nigeria from colonial rule, but still had its disappointments. Firstly, the unfair trading terms adopted during the colonial period between Nigeria and other developed Western European countries were not altered after independence, this slowed the pace of Nigeria’s economic progress. Secondly, Nigeria and her neighbors disputed borders, thirdly, Nigeria was weakened both by the Biafran civil war of 1967-70, in which various infrastructure were destroyed and. also by successive military coups.

Nigeria became a republic in 1963, with its first president late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Since then, the nation has suffered from series of military coups; in the thirty-one years of military rule, human rights violation took various forms

Nigeria is a transitional state, having emerged from military rule to a democratic government. During the regime of General Sani Abacha president from 1993-1998, many Nigerians suffered human rights violations. His sudden death changed the political landscape, and led Nigeria into democratic rule. General Adusalam Abubakar, replaced General Abacha, and handed over power to a democratically elected president, General Olusegun Obasanjo in May 1999 (a former military ruler, who had handed over power to an elected president in 1979).

Domestic Violence in Nigeria


Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome (Assistant Professor Department of Political Science, Brooklyn College, New York) characterizes African women as “juridical minors” who are under the care of their fathers during the early stages of their lives; this duty of care is then transferred to their husbands after marriage N Sudarkasa, (1996). Traditionally, they are property of the father of birth, and of the husband on the payment of dowry; and are made to feel inferior to men. Despite the prevalence of this tradition, other writers still note the independence of African women, especially in trade. Others have stated that the roles played by both African men and women as complementary D Paulme, (1963). Yet the classification of the characterized role of African women depends on the era in question. Much attention has recently been directed to the liberation of African women from their cultural ties.

Domestic violence in Sub-Saharan African countries has its roots, amongst other factors, in the cultural traditions of the people. Nigeria is blessed with a rich culture with over 400 ethnic groups each possessing its own peculiar beliefs and traditions. Unfortunately, some of these traditions are discriminatory towards women, and account for the persistent domestic violence against them. The women might not perceive these discriminatory traditional practices as violence, but rather as part of the tradition that must be fulfilled. Nigeria is basically a patrilineal society. Amongst the various cultural groups in Nigeria, descent and inheritance pass to the male side of the family only. A matrilineal system is found amongst the Yako in Cross River State and amongst the Ohafia in Imo State, under which “inheritance passes through the female side of the family” O.Y. Oyeneye, (1985).

In contemporary Nigeria some women have made considerable individual progress in all sectors of the society. Despite this, a greater percentage of women are still being discriminated against in areas such as the acquisition of land (in some traditional societies), leasing of properties (single women are believed not to be credit-worthy), politics and marriage (in some cultures girls are not given the right to consent in their choice of partners, husbands are chosen for them and occasionally, older men). The discrimination suffered by the Nigerian woman over land acquisition runs counter to their fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution, which states that

“Subject to the provision of this constitution, every citizen of Nigeria, shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria” Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (1999).

This section has no qualification, rather, it confers on every citizen the right to acquire immovable property. Traditional societies have, however, imputed customary limitations into this section. In a liberal society, where the rule of law reigns, the law seeks to protect all classes of individuals in the state and does not reserve rights to a particular class. The Nigerian Constitution expressly states that

“everyone is entitled to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sex, ethnic groups, place of origin…”.

The rights of women in the family are central to their rights as individuals. Violence in the family has been ignored for too long in Nigeria, as is evidenced by the laxity with which the law, courts, law enforcement agents, and the society in general view this issue. The home is the seat of violence for most Nigerian women as revealed in the media. This violence has received less attention and made less of a structural impact on the government and Nigerian society at large. Basic stereotypical cultural barriers prevent it from being viewed as a violation of women’s rights.

Violence against women according to the United Nations official definition, includes

“Any act of gender-based violence that results in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life”.

Domestic violence related to violence within but not limited to the family. Within the family context, the manifestation of domestic violence is not only seen as physical assault, which is the common stereotype associated with it, but includes instances of sexual, psychological and emotional abuse, which affects the health of the victims R. Bird, (1997).

This section is an introduction to domestic violence in Nigeria. What is perceived as domestic violence in Nigeria? It will also examine the scope and dimensions of domestic violence in Nigeria. This examination is essential in order to offer adequate solutions to this problem in ways that would be embraced by Nigerian society and would not be offensive to any particular cultural group since each tribe guards the issue of tradition jealously. To further this examination, the origin of violence against women will be addressed. A historical analysis of violence against women, through the lens of colonialism, provides vital basis for understanding the genesis of violence in the Nigerian society and will reveal the impact of colonialism on this issue in Nigeria.

professional assignment writersTheories of Domestic Violence

Theorists have explained the causes of domestic violence from different perspectives. Among these, exchange, resource control, culture of violence, patriarchal, ecological, and social learning theories are widely used (Levinson 1989). My research explores linkages among global economy, gender inequality, and domestic violence at the cross-national level. I have not discussed theories that have included the following issues: cost- benefit (exchange theory), status inconsistencies among the people, ambiguous norms of the society, material as well as non-material resources (resource control theory), or personal behavior that people learn from the family (social learning theory) (Levinson 1989). I utilize only two theories, patriarchal and ecological theory. Patriarchal theory has explored the association between gender inequalities in access to resources and domestic violence both at the micro and macro levels but has not explored the causes of gender inequality using development variables. Ecological theory has emphasized combining structural, cultural, institutional, and individual level variables to explore the causes and aspects of domestic violence.

Patriarchal Theory

Patriarchal theorists focus on patriarchal ideologies, which refer to systems of belief, values and ideas that support men’s domination over women and depict that domination as natural (Hartmann 1990; Hayward 2000; Websdale and Chesney-Lind 1998). This theory argues that men have dominated most of the societies in this world in different phases of development. Conversely, men have classified women as subordinate to them, while norms and laws support husbands’ control over their wives. As a result, violent behavior becomes a means of controlling women (Mies 1986; Zaman 1998).

While patriarchal theory resembles resource theory, this theory emphasizes forces that operate at the societal level. These include control over women’s sexuality, marriage and reproduction, preferences for a male child, and differential access to food and formal education (Zaman 1998).

Patriarchal theorists have also identified the social construction of production and reproduction as the basis of domestic violence and have focused on the social relations of gender and work (Zaman 1998). Women’s housework must be examined with greater importance, as it has implications for the abuse of women, both within the household and in the current global production process (Mies 1986). Patriarchal theorists argue that unequal access to economic resources and political power is the main reason for domestic violence. However, patriarchal theorists overlook the effects of the global economy on the gender inequality. They have also ignored that levels of gender inequality are not the same for all societies, which may be an important reason for variations in domestic violence rates.

Ecological Perspective

The ecological perspective emphasizes the social contexts of family violence (Levinson 1989). Several researchers have applied the framework to analyze child abuse, wife battering and violence against women (Heise 1998; Shrader 2000). This model seeks to demonstrate that one level or one set of variables cannot be the only determinants in explaining violence in a given society or across societies. Several levels or sets of variables combined together capture a situation that can explain the causes of violent behavior in a group of people. This framework consists of four levels of analysis, best visualized as four concentric circles. The inner circle consists of personal or individual factors that each individual contributes to yield violent behavior. The next circle consists of micro-system factors that contribute to the immediate context in which violence may take place. The exo-system level encompasses both formal and informal institutions and social structures. The final level, the macro system, represents the general structural or cultural ethos that condones violence as a means to settle interpersonal disputes (Heise 1998). There are two limitations of this model. First it has not incorporated the global economy or development factors, so the variations in the economic development of different societies remain unexplored. Second, the model also has failed to examine the variations of nation-states’ locations in the global economy. Further, the current ecological framework does not acknowledge any level that may incorporate nation-states’ location in the global economy.

Domestic Violence: Cultural or Structural Problem Of Globalization?

Evidence suggests that domestic violence exists at different levels in all societies around the world (Bergen 1995; Hartmann 1990). Such violence is condoned and even explicitly legalized as an acceptable way for husbands to discipline their wives. Several studies have found that power relations between husbands and wives, occurring as the result of either economic conditions or the patriarchal nature of the society, or both, are the cause of domestic violence (Kalmuss and Straus 1982; Websdale and Chesney-Lind 1998).

Levels of wife beating are highest when the family norms are the most patriarchal (Hayward 2000). In a study among 604 Toronto women, Smith (1990) found that men who adhere to patriarchal ideologies are more likely to abuse their wives or partners. In societies where the state, legal system, and other institutions uphold patriarchal notions, wife beating is high, even when wives hold high positions in the workplace (Smith 1990; Websdale and Chesney-Lind 1998; Yllo and Straus 1984). Although almost all societies possess some form of patriarchy, patriarchal relations may vary by culture, as do women’s economic opportunities (Websdale and Chesney-Lind 1998). Quoting Kate Miller (1969), Smith (1990) argues that different forms of patriarchy are reinforced by the acts of different agencies, including the state and other various economic organizations. These social and economic organizations act as energy sources for patriarchal domination (Smith 1990).

Some researchers have found that institutions such as the state, religious organizations, and legal systems refuse to acknowledge domestic violence and maintain men’s superiority over women (Ameen 2003; Osirim 2004). For example, a woman’s inferior status is reinforced by the patriarchal society, and revealed through the proud mother-in-law’s statement, “My son keeps his wife at the end of a stick,” and reinforced by religious institutions via some cliché, e.g. “The part beaten by (one’s) husband would go to heaven” (Ameen 2003).

Law enforcement agencies also uphold patriarchal values by treating wife-killing as less serious than other forms of violence. Such negligence is observed in countries that do not have any laws on domestic violence. Countries where there are no laws against domestic violence and where these crimes are considered under the laws against common assault, fines for such crimes are often a very small amount of money, failing to deter such crimes (Ameen 2003; Osirim 2004; Wing 2000). Within the states both decision-making regarding the legal and the economic system and enforcement of such decisions are substantially in men’s hands. Ghana does not have any specific legislation on domestic violence. Subsequently, men feel that abusing their wives is their legal right (King 2000). In Palestine, almost 50% of husbands believe that it is their fundamental right to beat their wives if they think their wives are not performing their wifely duties (Wing 2000). Even though women are considered equals to men under their constitution, in reality, the absence of domestic violence laws provide men some right to physically abuse their wives.

Some researchers have argued that domestic violence is linked with the global economy (Bowman 2003). For example, African societies are in transition from traditional cultures to modern and urbanized societies. Many violent quarrels have escalated because of social changes and men’s sense of threat. Quarrels erupt because of women’s growing independence as they take “second” jobs and interact with other men.

Women face difficulties in performing household work in traditionally expected ways when they also work in the cash economy (Bowman 2003). Moreover, traditional norms may now fail to control men’s behavior. In the past, although men controlled household resources, they were seen as collective resources to be used for the good of the other family members. Now, income and resources have become more individualized (wages, for example, rather than herds of cattle), and the man may see them as his alone (Bowman 2003).

Osirim (2004) describes how the Economic Structural Program (ESAP) adopted in 1990 by the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe has led to economic violence against women and perpetuated domestic violence. Under the ESAP program, the government has retrenched over 40,000 workers, most of them men. The Mugabe government has encouraged retrenched workers to look for alternative jobs in private entrepreneurships, or to work in the informal economy. The incomes are lower than in the formal sector, and as a result, the dependence on women’s incomes from subsistence crops or other sources has increased. In such situations men who have failed to fulfill their expected gender roles leave their families. As a direct result, female headed households have increased up to 31% in 1990 (Osirim 2004). However, not all men can migrate, and as a result, physical abuse increases as men take out their frustration on their partners. The Musasa Project, an NGO that has provided counseling services to survivors of domestic violence, reported that 42% of the women who received counseling between 1988 and 1998 suffered from domestic violence resulting from economic violence (Osirim 2004).

Studies on the effects of women’s formal work on women’s status indicate that the mobile nature of the MNCs has a negative impact on women’s lives. Garment factories as well as agricultural plantations are constantly shifting from Caribbean countries to Asia, and Asia to Caribbean countries. Women who work in these factories lose jobs after working for some time; such loss of jobs has a negative impact on women, because economic crises at the household level negatively affect gender relations and women become the victims of spousal abuse (Ward and Pyle 1995). Qualitative studies conducted in Mexico, Ecuador, and some other Latin American countries reveal that domestic violence becomes high when women cease working outside the home (Oropesa 1997; Pickup, Williams, and Sweetman 2001). Studies also noted that when garment workers became unemployed in Bangladesh, dowry demands and dowry-related abuse at home increased (Akhter and Ward 2004; Ward, Rahman, Islam, Akhter, and Kamal2004). Dowry is a social practice where grooms demand cash or goods from brides’ families. Researchers have found several restrictions in women’s upward mobility affecting domestic violence rates (lack of access to formal work or productive assets, weak bargaining power compared to their male partners in economic transactions, and limited access to institutional credit) without improving their status at home (Bowman 2003; Mannan 2002; Pyle and Ward 2003; Schuler, Hashemi, Riley, and Akhter 1996; Ward, Rahman, Islam, Akhter, and Kamal 2004).

In summary, domestic violence has multidimensional aspects: structural, cultural, economic, social, and individual. Until now most studies on domestic violence have focused on either resource constraints, laws, or social constructions of masculinity and feminity. Few researchers have discussed the effects of global economy policies on women and men’s life at the household level (Bowman 2003; Osirim 2004; Ward and Pyle 1995). Theorists have not yet explored at the macro level how gender inequality shapes the context for domestic violence. In this research I combine components of the global economy, culture, and gender inequality to find out how these factors jointly make women subject to domestic violence. In the next section, I propose a model that explores linkages among the global economy, gender inequality, and domestic violence.

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History of Gender Violence in Nigeria


The structure of the Nigerian society during the pre-colonial days was patrilineal, which is still a common feature in most African societies. Hence, women married into “a Yoruba or Igbo patrilineage or a Hausa gandu” C. Dennis, (1987). The gandu is

“a voluntary, mutually advantageous, agreement between father and married son in which the son works in a subordinate capacity on his father’s farms in return for a variety of benefits including a share of the food supplies” C. Gore, (“Social Exclusion and Africa South of Sahara: A review of Literature”).

Typically, women lived in seclusion, but engaged in private trade from their homes. The Islamic religion restricted Hausa women to their household. This practice is called purdah. Women in Purdah were forbidden to be seen by other men excluding their husbands, and were therefore kept in seclusion. However, some women still have to earn a source of livelihood for their families due to the limited earnings of their husbands. This seclusion was not the case in all Nigerian communities, as oral tradition recalls female oba’s (kings). In Pre-colonial Nigeria, tribal culture dictated, the role women played in the society. Women contributed to the political affairs in their various communities through power obtained by inheritance (in cases where the matrilineal structure of inheritance was practiced, or where only females were born into a family) or by being married into ruling families M. Rojas.

The Yoruba riverain Igbo women had the prosperity to acquire more wealth than their male counterparts due to their unilateral control of trade and profits made in this was invested into further trade N.E. Mba, (1982). However, the women in the inland areas (a less developed area) did not have this advantage, rather they used the profits to feed their families. In other societies, such as the Ibibio, where each sex had specific roles, the women formed strong organizations and had political influence on the basis of collective strength. Another avenue through which women exercised political power, in areas that lacked political organizations such as among the Efik, Edo, Kalabari, Ijo and Itsekiri women was either through the office of the queen mother who was seen as a female ruler or through relationships with male rulers as the queen. As a rule, pre-colonial women attained some forms of power, either politically, socially, or structurally, that can be seen as being complementary to that held by men.

A system of judicial mediation was in place before the advent of colonialism. Cases brought to these courts were basically trade disputes A O. Obilade, (1979). Disputes within the family were settled by the family head, usually the eldest person in the family. The eldest son in the family who is usually the family head inherits the parents’ property; this is usually referred to as the rule of “primogeniture” N. Nzewunwa, (1985). Most Nigerian families are structured according to this rule. The term “family” is not restricted to the nuclear family, but includes the extended family system, a concept prevalent in Nigeria. The extended family is

“a group of closely related people known by a common name and consisting of a man and his wives and children, his son’s wives and children, his brothers and half brothers and their wives and children and probably his near relations” E I. Nwogugu, (1947).

Polygamy, an essential aspect of the family system, was a customary law institution and still obtains today. Men married more than one wife in order to have children to help in farm work and also to show affluence. The worth of a woman was valued in traditional communities due to the power often associated with child bearing, since children were regarded as economic assets. Where a woman was infertile, she could marry a wife for her husband and bear children through her.

Although women were visible in the society during this period, their roles were still restricted to farming, trading, cutting trees, and constructing houses Justice A. P. Anyebe, (1985). The role of women in the public was limited. They were restricted to their household, with the duty of catering for the family needs. Although women in pre-colonial Nigeria had powers complementary to men, this did not alter the superiority role men exercised over women. Socially, women had a status, which is presently recognized by many religions in Nigeria, as being bearers of fertility; hence the creation of “gods of fertility and social peace”. Amongst the Yoruba’s of Western Nigeria, the traditional religion recognizes “Ymoja” a “river goddess that rules over women and children”. In spite of this respect disposed to women, accusations of witchcraft were made against them, which the men envisaged as a threat, of women acquiring a source of power which they had no control over. As a result, these women were treated as outcast in their communities. These accusations were made duet to the progress made by women traders, leading to a vast increase in the number of women in trade as a result of them leaving their traditional chores to explore other profitable source of living elsewhere. In order to prevent women from dominating trade, their male counterparts formed the Atinga cult movement, to prosecute women who practiced witchcraft, which the male traders identified as their source of power, of making profit in trade. The women accused of this practice were forced to succumb to dehumanizing acts, which the male traders believed would cleanse them from the evil associated with this practice. In contrast, the witchdoctors recognized by the community were usually men. There was actually no significant difference between the evil practiced by them and the female witches, the only difference being the acknowledgement by the community of the practice of the witchdoctor, which can sometimes be used for a good course such as curing the sick.

Although subordinate to men, pre-colonial women had their own roles in the community that were not interfered with by the men. They were content with their way of living, submitting to the authority of their man and at the same time jealousy guarding their positions in the community, which were complementary to the men.


The traditional role played by African women in the community was adversely disrupted by colonial penetration in the 19th and 20th centuries. F.C. Steady, (1996). Prior to colonialism, African women experienced minimal exercise of inequality by men. Colonialism further re-enforced discrimination against women through the machinery of the state, by introducing a society that was more stratified and emphasizing racial segregation.

The initial contact between the British and Nigerians began with trade relations. Trade disputes led to the establishment of consular courts. Through this medium British law filtered into Nigeria, and eventually led to the establishment of British governance over Nigeria in 1862.

The colonizers came with a patriarchal civilization. European women also suffered a similar dilemma of gender discrimination as African women. Spousal abuse was undisputedly accepted in the society, and perpetrators’ actions were justified since most went unpunished. Hon. Madam Justice Mclachlin, (1991).

This was due to the predominant belief of the husband’s ownership of his wife and he could exercise an undue amount of authority over his property. This was the situation of women in the 18th and 19th century Europe, which was reflected in the administration of colonial subjects. A. Mama, (1997). This had an adverse implication on African women as they experienced violence at home and from the Europeans. Inter-racial relations were forbidden between the British and the Nigerian women; the “1909 Concubinage Circular” punished those who were found guilty of this act. Sequel to this, Sir Frederick Lugard, in 1914, enacted the “Secret Circular B”. Through this law miscegenation and bestiality were viewed as the same offence, but it never came into operation due to its unfeasibility and the potential danger its applicability envisaged. H. Callaway, (1987). Nevertheless, the colonizers still satisfied themselves with the local women, by engaging them in prostitution services with their troops whilst still maintain their legal and social status by outlawing legal marriages between the local women and white men. Some women were even marked as whiter men’s favorites. These women received beatings from potential or actual husbands or from their fathers as punishment for their illicit relationships with white men, – actions they simply did not have control over.

In Nigeria today, women still remain under the control of men, and are devalued by them. In marriage, they become possessions and get little respect from their husbands. A woman usually does not receive any inheritance and is blamed if she cannot have children. Recently, education is beginning to be valued by women. Hopefully, over time women will use this education they are being offered to regain their independence.

However, the gains of colonialism to Africa women cannot be ignored. It gave them free choice in Christian monogamous marriage, the opening of schools, the introduction of modern medicine and hygiene, and also the suppression of some barbaric practices such as killing of twins in Calabar by a Scottish missionary, Mary Slessor.

Post-Colonial Period

Traces of patriarchal form of governance introduced by the colonizers still exist in Nigerian society today, even after independence, as is evidenced by Nigeria’s sexist laws in the nation. The various post-colonial regimes exhibited a high tolerance for domestic violence. The political crisis in post-colonial Africa, followed decline in the economy, resulting in the dependence of women on men, which therefore led to an exercise in vengeance against women. Through struggles by many feminist activists the plight of women came to the limelight. They provided great advocacy of women’s rights. From the 1960’s violence against women has been found to occur mostly in the home regardless of the family type T.O. Pearce, (1992).

Successive military rule (1966-1979, 1983-1998) led to the suspension of the Constitution which guaranteed the fundamental rights of all Nigerian citizens. The rights of many, especially women, were violated during this period. Violence against women also proliferated especially between the mid 80’s and early 90’s with the “War Against Indiscipline” a program set out to curb the indiscipline of the people since, the regime attributed the declining state of the country to indiscipline. This program resulted in many women being subjected to all various forms of abuse. Following this, the military governor of Kano state in 1986, promulgated and edict, whereby being single upon attaining marriageable age became a crime and further gave those women who fell within this category a three-month ultimatum to get married or be punished.

Feminists intensified their advocacy for women’s rights. Gradually, women became active participants in the economic activities of their community. This resulted in their independence and control of the markets. The Babangida regime (1985-1993) introduced “Better Life for Rural Women”, a program aimed at alleviating the plight of women at the grass-roots level. This program was to empower women politically and economically but became a program for the elites in the society, thereby co-opting women into the state as a subordinate and ineffectual part of the power structure. The tangible achievement of the program was very limited.

professional essay writing servicesManifestations of Domestic Violence in Nigeria

Various writers have identified varying manifestation of domestic violence, which encompasses bride price or dowry, widowhood rites, female genital mutilation, child marriage, and spouse battering.

Bride Price/Dowry

A distinction between dowry and bride price. Dowry is “a customary gift made by a husband to or in respect of a woman at or before the marriage”. Although defined as a gift, it is enforceable by a court of law. In traditional societies, the bride price is the amount paid by a potential husband to “purchase” his wife Hon.C. Oputa, (1998). This is otherwise referred to as the “commodification of women”. Nigerian society today has diverted from the original concept of bride price, a traditional practice that has existed for thousand of years; has withstood European colonialism in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s; and has survived until the present day. In the traditional society, this was the pride of a young girl which accorded her a lot of respect from her peers and in-laws.

In contemporary Nigeria, this practice varies amongst different cultures. Some have discontinued it, and in the alternative the wife receives gifts. However, this practice still obtains in parts of Nigeria and has been an avenue to demand outrageous amounts from the man. Society is dynamic, and traditions that are detrimental to a particular group of people should be modified or totally abolished for violating their fundamental human rights. In the campaign against domestic violence, the bride price system needs to be modified in traditional societies.

Widowhood Rites

A widow in Nigeria is forced to participate in various dehumanizing traditional practices by her in-laws, in order to lead her to confess to the murder of her husband, if she was responsible for it. Up until the present day, widows are put through gory rites to prove their innocence or in the name of mourning the dead. Such dehumanizing rites include:

“crying out loud, shaving of hair, being isolated, bating in the bush, sitting by the corpse, wife inheritance, eating from a broken unwashed plate, and sitting on the floor”

Wife inheritance means, inheritance of the widow by her in-laws. All these practices are peculiar to different communities, and according to myth, it shows that the wife loved and appreciated the man A.O Bassey, (1995).

The plight of widow has recently been addressed in Nigeria. Human rights organizations, such as Civil Liberties Organization, have through series of seminars and public lectures have educated the public of the evil of these practice, of the health hazard they pose to widows and, most importantly, of their infringement of the fundamental human rights of women to personal liberty and right to dignity of human person as guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution. Though not all widows undergo these rites, those who escape have been economically empowered by their deceased husband. This harmful traditional practice has to be eliminated, and women should also strive to achieve a level of economic independence.

Female Genital Mutilation

This term generally referred to as “Female Circumcision” which describes the “traditional practice in which a person, often unskilled, cuts off parts or the whole organ of the vulva or stitches the vulva together” WOPED, (2000). The term “Female Circumcision” understates the severity of the act. According to Dr Irene Thomas,

“Female Genital Mutilation is now a universally accepted term used to describe any interference with the natural appearance of the female external genitalia using a balde, knife or any sharp instrument in order to bring about either a reduction in size of the clitoris or a complete removal of the vulva”.

Different forms of FGM in Nigeria are peculiar to different ethnic groups. “Sunna” (“religious duty” in Arabic) is the “excision of the clitoral hood, with the preservation of the clitoris itself and the labia minora”. This is practiced mainly in the south-east, south, and south-west of Nigeria. The “excision” or “clitoridectomy”, is “the excision of the prepuce and clitoris together with partial or total excision of the labia minora”. This is practiced in the North-West of Nigeria. “Infibulation” involves “the removal of the entire clitoris and the adjacent parts of the labia minora and the adjacent medical part of the interior labia minora”. The two sides of the vulva are then stitched together with thorns or thread, leaving only a tiny opening for the flow of urine and menstrual blood.

In Nigeria, the prime driving force behind this practice is tradition and the misguided belief that it prevents promiscuity. It has, however, no religious backing in the Bible or the Koran. In Edo State, the practice has been abolished and offenders fined or imprisoned. This law makes consent of the person mutilated irrelevant. The offenders are any of the persons listed below:

  1. “Any person that offers herself for genital mutilation
  2. Any person who coerces, entices, induces any person to undergo female genital mutilation.
  3. Any person who allows any female who is either the daughter or ward to be genitally mutilated.
  4. Any person who performs the operation of genital mutilation” Hon E. Jacobs, (2000).

Child Marriage

No consensus exists in Nigerian law on the official age for marriage. Many of the laws at the state and the federal level have varying stipulations for marriageable age. This non-coherence of the laws gives credence to the issue of ‘child brides’. This practice is rampant in Northern Nigeria, particularly in the “Orlu, Orsu, and Ideato local governemtn areas in Imo State”.

Under the Islamic legal system known as the Maliki school of law, a father has a right to choose a spouse for his virgin daughter regardless of her age; where he consults her, this gives her a right to choose. This is called the father’s right of ‘Ijbar’. However, he may lose this right if he gives his daughter a right to choose Alhaji Isa Basida v. Baiwa, (1971).

There have been reported cases of harm done to these girls by their husbands, following repeated and failed attempts to escape. Some of them end up killing their husbands or committing suicide. Hauwa Abubakar’s story is one such case. At the age of nine she was married off to a forty-year old man, in payment of a debt. She escaped repeatedly but was always returned by her father. In order to prevent her eventual escape, her husband chopped off her legs, and she died from excessive bleeding at the hospital. Her husband pleaded guilty and received life imprisonment. In response to the huge public outcry, the Military Governor of Bauchi issued an Edict to prosecute any parents who withdrew their children from school for marriage.

The Federal Government of Nigeria designed a new national policy on womanhood—the “Charter for Womanhood”. This policy inter alia bans the marriage of women under 18 years of age. This policy is intended to reduce the rate of school drop and eventually increase literacy in many parts of Nigeria.

Spouse Battering in Nigeria

This is the main focus of this research. Although a non-gender term is used, this does deviate from the fact that the term “spouse” in this research refers to the victim (she) and is not restricted to married couples but embraces co-habiting relationships. This, however, does not extinguish the fact that men are also victims, but this situation is an exception rather than the rule. It is a taboo for Nigerian men to report this, as he will not be seen as a ‘man’. Battering may also occur in same sex relationships. Nigerian society has not yet considered this issue, since it has yet to fully embrace the criminality of spousal violence in heterosexual relationships.

Most jurisdictions have acknowledged the gender nature of this problem. Some use gender terms, referring to the victim as “she” while those who use gender neutral terms still acknowledge gendered nature of the problem. The Law Reform Commission of Nova Scotia specifically referred to women being the victims of domestic violence and totally discarded the use of gender neutral terms. The Alberta Law Reform Institute applied a gender neutral term, though it recognized that a vast majority of victims are women

Spousal battering is “a pattern of abuse that involves verbal, emotional and psychological abuse, and physical and sexual violence, to terrorize, intimidate, hurt, victimize, and impose a batterer’s will on his spouse, ex-spouse or girlfriend”. This issue has been neglected in Nigeria because of the value of the violence, which is the home, and the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. A basic characteristic of African families is the issue of internal sovereignty. Members of family have a duty to keep their affairs private and settle any arising dispute within the family. This regard for family sovereignty and privacy is the major factor affecting the responsibility rate of this crime and hence, the lack of adequate data on the incidence of spousal battering. Other factors in this regard includes the fear of irretrievable breakdown of the family, divorce; over-dependence on the batterer, and existence of discriminatory laws, which makes it difficult for women to come forward and assert their legal and fundamental rights, fearing triviality of their case. Women complainants may become ridicule in their neighborhood.

Modes of Spousal Battering

Psychological/Emotional Violence

The batterer uses this form of abuse to intimidate the victim. It can take the form of abusive language, making the victim feel worthless and shouting to create fear. BAOBAB-for Women’sHuman Rights, (2000). Threats can also be used to make them carry out wrong acts, such as prostitution. Psychological violence can also take the form of denying women the right to choose, freedom to express themselves, denial of emotional and economic support, and freedom of association. The causes of psychological violence include unresolved issues of male inferiority. Psychological violence results in tension in the home, unfriendly environment, distorted personality, and can also lead to death, as in Roseline’s case.

Sexual Violence

This is also an aspect of physical violence. It includes rape, prostitution, and procuring women to commit bestiality. Under Nigerian Law, rape is “sexual intercourse obtained by means of force, threat, blackmail, deceit or coercion on a girl or woman, without her consent” Criminal Code, (1990). Penetration is a constitutive element of rape. “Marital rape” is a term that is unrecognized in Nigerian Law. It is expectedly excluded under the Nigeria Criminal Code, which defines rape as

“….an unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threat or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm, or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act, or, in the case of a married woman, by impersonating her husband”.

Social Violence

In the Nigerian context, this is defined as “unhealthy or hostile interaction, practices and relationships between various members of the family”. This is closely linked to psychological violence. In an extended family there are more potential batterers other than the husband. The unreported case of Mrs. Fatima Ajiroba illustrates this form of violence; she was killed by her brother-in-law. He became envious of Fatima because her husband was buying her material things. Her brother-in-law preferred that his brother spend his money on other investments rather than on his own wife. After she sent his child on an errand, he beat her, and she died from the wounds. In other words, he murdered her.

Physical Violence

Physical violence is violence that causes harm to the physical body, and usually completes the cycle of destruction after all the other forms of violence such as emotional violence have taken place. Physical violence includes pushing, beating, slapping, macheting, clubbing, and murder. The Nigerian media also reports increasing cases of acid baths and ritual killings of women. In some parts of Nigeria it is the belief that some human organs generate quick money. This practice is fast gaining in Nigeria.

Causes of Spousal Battering

Various factors have been adduced as causes of spousal battering in Nigeria, these includes poverty, traditions, and laws.


Some authors have argued that poverty in Nigeria can be traced to the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Program in 1986 P. Williams, (1994). This program has resulted in the state perpetuating violence against Nigerians. Most Nigerians men often cast this anger on women on the slightest provocation. This program was created by World Bank in order to cause increase economic growth, and enable developing countries participate in the world trading system. This objective failed; rather it further pauperized the poor countries and increased the wealth of the rich ones.


Generally in a patriarchal society such as Nigeria, men are allowed to have control over women and their property, due to the premium placed on female subordination and inferiority. Customs and beliefs become imbued with this hierarchy, and women are eventually treated as second class citizens in the society and even in their homes. The object here is not to criticize the tradition the customs of Nigerian people, but to reveal the gender discrimination infused into these customs.


Laws are enacted to protect every life in Nigeria, regardless of sex. Moreover, the law preaches equality under the law regardless of age, sex, religion, but in reality this does not obtain. One can then assume that the claim of law to gender neutrality is a myth.

Chapter 3: Regulatory Practices and Governance of Domestic Violence in Nigeria


The Nigerian Constitution guarantees and protects the rights of women. The judiciary, being the instrument for the interpretation of these laws, has maintained its independence by carrying out the provisions of the Constitution and declaring laws inconsistent with the Constitutions void to the extent of their inconsistency and, thus, maintain and emphasizing the supremacy of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In addition to the domestic laws in Nigeria that protect women’s rights, there are also international laws that guarantee and enforce the rights of women. These laws are sufficient to protect the rights of women in a nation. Yet, despite the existence of these laws that protect women in Nigeria acting in consonance with some other laws and practices that condone the violation of the rights of women, what has the Nigerian government done to ensure the protection of the rights of women in society and in the family? How will proposed policies aid in the elimination of violence against women; and what is the implication of international laws for the protection of women’ rights in Nigeria? This chapter addresses these questions. The role and enforcement of international law in the protection of women’s rights in Nigeria will also be examined.

Nigerian Government Policies Protecting the Rights of Women

Various women’s human rights organizations and other NGO’s have put considerable pressure on the Nigerian government to enact laws to secure the protection of women’s rights and to abolish or reform discriminatory laws in order that the fundamental human rights or women will be actualized. Having identified the various practices that lead to violence against women in Nigeria, one of the basic causes that lead to this persistent crime is the discriminatory cultural and traditional practice against women. The Ministry of Women Affairs in Nigeria identified that this practice of female subordination is included in the female child from early childhood. Female children are separated from males. Some female children are withdrawn from school and given away in marriage or retained at home to do the house chores. These female children are further exposed to and become targets of sexual and domestic abuse T.U. Akumadu, (1998). Early marriage for young girls impedes their rate of self-development. They end up being liabilities on their husbands, and in the eventuality of a divorce, they become financially handicapped since most of them are too young, having little resource to education, and cannot generate revenue. This is usually the trend experienced by these young girls. There is usually a high rate of abuse recorded in such marriages since the men take advantage these young girls and expect them to carry out their orders. In recognizing this issue, the Nigerian government has made positive steps to deter such acts. The Gombe State government, acknowledging the prevalence of this practice in the State and Northern Nigeria, enunciated a policy, which became a law. This law punishes parents who withdraw their children from school for the purpose of marriage. It states:

“Any parent who withdraws his/her female ward from school for early marriage will be liable to imprisonment for six months or subject to a fine”.

According to the only female member of the State House of Assembly, Hajiya Maryam Abduladir, “this law is intended to encourage female wards to acquire western education”. Also in this line, it would eradicate V.V.F, which can also be caused by early marriage due to their under developed pelvic of these young girls. She further stated that these girls should be given out in marriage only upon attaining the age 18-19, when they have had substantial education such as completing high school and are considered matured to enter into a marriage contract.

Under customary law, although there is no age limit for betrothal, parental consent is required before the actual marriage of the minor E.I. Nwogugu, (1974). In some states such as the Eastern States; the age of betrothal has been laid down by the Age of Marriage Law 1956, which applies only to customary marriages. It states:

“A…promise or offer to marriage between or in respect of persons either of whom is under the age of 16 shall be void”.

Under Islamic law, parents can carry out a betrothal for a child from the day of birth.

There is no express provision in any Nigerian legislation for the age of marriage. The incidence of child brides mostly occur under customary laws, which, apart from Eastern Nigeria, does not state the age limit for marriage. How can we reconcile the provisions of this proposed legislation with this recurrent incidence in Nigerian law and practice? How then can the provisions of the Teenage Sexual Act apply to a man who has sexual contact with his teenage wife? As between strangers, the Teenage Sexual Act will apply without any difficulty. As an added complexity, the Criminal Code, Penal Code and customary law indicate marriage as an implied consent to sex, as a result, marital rape is not a crime under Nigerian statutes.

In resolution of the envisaged conflict, the Federal Government of Nigeria designed a new national policy on women called the “Charter for Womanhood”. This policy, inter alia, bans the marriage of women less than 18 years of age. This Charter when passed into law by the National Assembly stopped the incidence of child brides and will give female children the opportunity and the right to self development, and ultimately guarantee their fundamental human right to education and proper mental development. This Charter is all encompassing. It also intends to provide for mandatory health services, and to prevent other harmful traditional practices and domestic violence. It also embraces other issues such as inheritance as regards the discriminatory attitude towards women and children, especially female children.

Various human rights organizations are canvassing support for a bill on “Violence Against Women in Nigeria” Eliminating Violence Against Women, (2001). A conference organized by the International Human Rights Law Group in Nigeria, resolved on the establishment of a task force, aiming at drafting a bill on violence against women as other African countries such as Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa have done. This committee will do all that is necessary in paving the way for the successful implementation of this bill.

A bill against trafficking in women, the Anti-Human Trafficking Bill, was presented to the National Assembly, by the wife of the Vice President and founder of an NGO called Women Trafficking and Child Labor Eradication Foundation.

Without these policies, Nigeria still has laws that guarantee the fundamental rights of women against violence, but such laws have not been adequately utilized in eradicating this violence. When these policies are passed into law, there in no guarantee that they will be properly utilized for the benefit of the object of their creation. As with many laws in Nigeria, there will be a selective observance of its requirements, except, proper monitoring bodies are set up to ensure that the policy serves its purpose. This is the situation of various international conventions that Nigeria has ratified. International law also protects the fundamental human rights of women. Nigeria has indirectly secured such relevant conventions, by the provision in the Constitution, which allows treaties to have the force of law only when enacted into law by the National Assembly. Nigeria has utilized this provision, by adopting the African Charter as a domestic law, having the force of law in Nigeria. Various international human rights conventions protecting the human rights are also incorporated in this Charter.

Nigerian Women’s Rights: An International Perspective

International Human Rights Law is that aspect of international law which deals with “the protection of individuals and groups, against violations by government of their internationally guaranteed rights” Dr. M.T. Ladan, (1999). Similarly, international humanitarian law, is to afford legal protection of human rights. Human rights of women are a matter of legitimate international concern and are appropriately a part of international law legal system. The Vienna Declaration states that:

“The Human rights of women and of the girl-children are an inalienable, integral and invisible part of universal human rights. The full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life, at the national, regional and international levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex, are priority objectives of the international community”.

Human rights concerns are not simply within the exclusive domestic jurisdiction of a state though at the same time the principle of internal sovereignty of a state is respected. States have a national and international obligation to protect citizens; a violation of these rights is contrary to national and international laws, which would incur liability on the part of the state N.Pillay, (2000). The persistent violation of citizens fundamental human rights in some developing nations calls for international attention. This is the current situation in Nigeria on the death sentence that has been passed on Amina Lawal on charges of adultery which is a criminal offence under Sharia law. Various international human rights organizations protested against the violation of this woman’s human rights. Under international human rights law, the standard of proof for each state is basically objective. This disproves the theory of cultural relativism, since human rights are universal. However, some states that violate human rights, carry this out under the pretext of cultural relativism and internal sovereignty in order to prevent international intervention. These states are persistent violators of human rights and seek to avoid their responsibility to protect human rights. The whole essence of the United Nations Charter indicates the universality of human rights. Nigeria as a nation and a state party to various United Nations human rights conventions does not share in the theory of cultural relativism. This can be deduced from the positive efforts made to ratify various international human rights treaties. There are few effective channels to carry Nigerian women’s voices, concerns and interests into the human rights arena, thereby sidelining Nigerian women in the international sphere. However, as indicated earlier, it is only recently that NGO’s concerned with human rights have increased their pressure on the Nigerian government to recognize the particular disadvantages faced by Nigerian women. As a result, various policies are on the way to being enacted into law to protect the rights of women.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) can be referred to as the international bill of rights for women. This Convention enjoins “state parties to eliminate discrimination against women in order for them to fully enjoy their civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights” CEDAW provides that

“state parties must pursue, by all appropriate means, measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise”.

By this, a state that has ratified this Convention has a duty to prevent, prosecute, and do all that is necessary to prevent discrimination against women R.J. Cook, (1994). These states also have to ensure that women to do not have limited access to claim redress or compensation under the law. If they do not carry out this obligation, they will be seen as condoning these acts. A state can ‘therefore’ be held liable where there is evidence of lack of diligent prosecution of actions that violate women’ human rights and giving commensurate compensation for these violations. This act by the state additionally violate a woman’s fundamental human rights such as “right to life, freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and her right to equal treatment before the law” K.M. Culliton, (1993).

Domestic Implementation of International Conventions As Municipal Laws in Nigeria

Ratification of international women’s conventions impose an obligation on ratifying states to reflect these provisions in their laws. However, domestic implementation tends to pose a lot of difficulty, depending on the respective politics in these states and their lack of adequate resources to provide its full implementation. Some countries have made international law to have a force of authority under their own laws, and it can be applied as municipal law, which can be enforced in the local courts of law. International human rights are enforceable in national courts either directly or to aid in the interpretation of domestic laws K. Morvai, (2000).

Nigeria directly adopted the African Charter as a municipal law, and uses the other ratified international instruments as persuasive authorities. It is not until a state has made conventions part of domestic law that it can be obliged to apply them; but they can still influence the interpretations of its laws. Domestic compliance with international human rights agreements cannot be determined solely by how a state party has made them into law; this can be a legal compliance. Practical compliance can be achieved through “government, international institutions, and NGO’s, and through citizens” D.Matas, (1987).

Treaties form part of international law. If part of municipal law, treaties protecting and maintain women’s rights can be enforced in domestic courts. The mode of implementation of a treaty depends on a state party’s constitutional structure and the manner it ratifies treaties E. Moulton, (1990). International treaties can be implemented into domestic law in two ways. First, by “general transformation”, the treaty becomes part of domestic law when a constitutional provision incorporates it into domestic law A. Brudner, (1985). Like all other laws it has to be ratified by legislation. Second, there is “special transformation”, treaties become part of domestic law, by the use of a separate legislation to incorporate it into domestic law. Nigeria practices the “special transformation’ method. For a treaty to be part of municipal law applicable in Nigeria’s domestic courts, it has to be transferred into local law by legislation validly passed by the National Assembly. The Judiciary can also make use of these ratified conventions either as domestic law or as tools to interpret domestic laws. Justice Niki Tobi applied this in the case of Mojekwu v. Ejikeme, where the learned justice, inter alia utilized the provision of women’s international convention in declaring null and void a native custom that discrimination against women.

Under the 1999 Constitution, implementation of a treaty into domestic law vests with the legislature. It reads:

  1. “No treaty between the federation and any other country shall have the force of law except to the extent to which such treaty has been enacted into law by the National Assembly.
  2. The National Assembly may make laws for the Federation or any part thereof with respect to matters not included in the executive legislative List for the purpose of implementing a treaty”.

Community Response to Domestic Violence: An Option for Reform in Nigeria


Spousal battering is also a fundamental issue and crime against women in Canada. According to the statistical profile released by Statistics Canada in 1996, approximately “22,000 incidents of spousal assault were recorded, of which 89% involved female victims while 11% were male victims” Statistics Canada, (1998). This crime too often degenerates to more tragic crimes such as homicide. In Canada between “1977-1996, 1,525 wives were murdered by their husbands, as opposed to 513 husbands murdered by their wives”.

Various Canadian provincial governments, in an effort to eradicate this problem from the society, enacted provincial legislation that basically uses the civil approach and remedies to prosecute this crime. In Canada, the Constitution divides the power of lawmaking between the federal and provincial governments. The Federal Government has exclusive power to “develop criminal law, to decide if behavior is criminal and to determine criminal procedure”. The Provincial Government is responsible for the administration of justice within the province, thereby ultimately enforcing criminal law. It has jurisdiction over “property and civil rights in the province, which include power to legislate in relation to family-law-related matters such as matrimonial property, child and spousal support, and custody”. In other words, the provincial government cannot deal with domestic violence in terms of criminal sanctions but can impose penal sanctions for violation of provincial orders. Despite the existence of these laws, spousal battering still exists in Canada. The operation of law in a society as an instrument to deter crime has certain limits. It can enforce certain behavior in the society to conform to the laid down rules, but has no capacity to change human behavioral pattern. For this reason, crimes are still committed, despite the existence of express laws sufficient to prohibit criminal acts or omission. Victims sometimes refer to this phenomenon to express their distrust in the criminal justice system and its agents. Communities that record a high rate of domestic violence incur a lot of financial and social expenses, which includes increased health care, security, and loss of productivity. This leads to a gradual destruction of the community. Communities have been and are in the process of addressing the effects of domestic violence. They are also devoting human energy and financial resources to stopping this crime. This process normally takes an integrated multi-disciplinary approach, which addresses needs of the victims, batterers and children.

The problem of spousal battery experienced in Canada in similar to the Nigerian situation. The only difference is the socio-cultural stereotype, which particularly affects this issue in Nigeria. Both countries have laws that women can use against spousal battery, yet statistics still record a high incidence of this crime, the only difference being that Canada has taken practical initiatives to end this crime in the society. The provincial governments in Canada have gone further in addressing the issue of spousal violence in various communities within their provinces. One of such provinces is Alberta.

Edmonton Safer City Initiative

Individuals from various government departments and NGO’s met to address the need of keeping a safe community. The proposal from this meeting led to the development of the Mayor’s Task Force on Safer Cities on the 28th June 1990, chaired by Mayor Jan Reimer and 15 citizens. It was formed to combat crime through “social development”. Upon the first report of this task force in 1992, the city council created the Safer Cities Initiative Office to oversee the implementation of the report’s recommendations. Amongst many of programs initiated is the Family Violence Follow up Team, now called the Spousal Violence Intervention Team.

Edmonton Spousal Violence Intervention Team

This is a joint venture of the Edmonton Community Service and the Edmonton Police Services, established to address incidents of spousal violence within the community. Each team consists of a detective and a senior social worker. Cases of spousal battery, which the unit handles, are often identified though police investigation and basically they ensure that adequate and quality services are given to victims and perpetrators.

A spousal violence intervention team is assigned to each of the North, South, Downtown, and West, police in Edmonton. The primary goal of a team is to adequately deal with the issue of spousal abuse.

The objectives of each team include:

  1. “Working to eradicate the incidence of spousal abuse in Edmonton.
  2. Identifying cases in which victims are subject to high risk and initiating follow up contact.
  3. Providing various services to victims and perpetrators, including counseling, referrals to social agencies, to child welfare in case of child abuse and neglect etc.
  4. Initiating an environment of safety for clients.
  5. Providing prompt police response in cases of abuse.
  6. Educating the community about spousal abuse, in order to develop increased understanding of the community and also to encourage cases of spousal abuse to be reported”.

Suggested Reforms in Nigeria

The socio-cultural environment has to be taken into consideration, given the cultural diversity and cultural difference between Canada and Nigeria. The objective of this part of the chapter is to offer practical suggestions on addressing spousal battery.

Laws that condone spousal battery in Nigeria need to be reformed. Nigeria has a Law Reform Commission. Its basic responsibility is to make proposals to the government about areas of law that need to be amended, such as obsolete laws that do not accord with the present state of affairs. Laws that discriminate against women are still very much in existence in Nigeria but, as observed above, cannot stand in the face of the Nigerian Constitution.

Many NGO’s in Nigeria address the degenerating rights of women in the family, especially their rights against spousal battery. These NGO’s account for the many changes aimed towards the elimination of domestic violence in Nigeria. These NGO’s include Project Alert against Violence against Women, the Legal Research and Development Centre, and the Civil Liberties Organization. These organizations also carry out public education enlightenment programs by such means as seminars, posters, and public forums.

One suggested reform involves a more closely monitored project aimed at eliminating spousal battery in the community. One or more NGO’s can come together to create a committee to address spousal battery in the community. A district should be chosen, by criteria that should include a high incidence cases of spousal battery reported to police, the rate of crime associated with it and high risk factors such as the threat to victims and children. Influential members of the community should also be invited to join this committee, such as traditional rulers, police officers, teachers, lawyers, and philanthropists. Arizona adopted this model in selecting core members of the local councils, so as to have a multi-disciplinary approach to addressing domestic violence in the community. The nature of spousal abuse in this community should be analyzed through data, with the objective of revealing the reasons for abuse, the vulnerable people in the community, and the most victimized. For the nature of the problem has to be identified before adequate solutions can be tendered. The needs of the women should be specifically attended to, through public fora. The fora should never be gender restricted: if this were done, some men would discourage their wives from attending, regarding the fora as usurping their much-guarded authority and power, and displacing their role in the family. In order to attract women, their needs should be targeted and provided for as much as possible. The nature of these educational fora should not be accusatory or finger pointing rather, a reconciliatory approach should be adopted and thus further address the need for peace and love in the home for a safer community. Individual counseling can be made with families. A team selected from the committee and with the requisite expertise to counsel abused spouses can provide counseling services to these families. The goal is to build trust between these families and the team members. The local traditional ruler can also make up this team. This is of particular significance in those traditional communities in Nigeria where disputes come before the traditional ruler, who mediates between the parties. This will make the victim more comfortable and further heighten trust between the team members and the victim. The model of the Edmonton spousal violence intervention team will be effective here.


This research has analyzed the issue of spousal battery in Nigeria and suggested practical solutions to remedy the situation in Nigeria. Basically, the perception of the issue is the beginning of the problem. As identified above, some men will perceive this reform as a challenge to their authority and a probe into their marital affairs. The question here is, can there be an express law against spousal abuse that would be effective in Nigeria now? This cannot be answered definitely. Still, regarding the state of affairs in Nigeria today, there is a limit to which laws can help. Laws cannot change human perception but can only serve as a source to guide and incur orderly behavior in the society. A legal solution is therefore not the answer. It can come after other solutions have been explored. A positive change in the rate of crime arising from spousal battery will encourage the enactment of laws to protect victims of this crime.

As examined above, countries have gone beyond the law, to a more practical approach to spousal abuse. The City of Edmonton has recorded success over spousal abuse through a coordinated community response to it. Arizona has used this approach to bring positive changes to its laws and has revised its statutes to integrate laws against domestic violence, which offers adequate protection to victims. Nigeria can explore this option. When the Nigerian government realizes the success recorded in this project, it will get involved.

Obviously there will be mixed reactions to this step in Nigeria but if nothing is done about it, it will further heighten the rate of crime in the family. The family is the unit of socialization. A dysfunctional family can sometimes produce dysfunctional individuals, and, ultimately will affect the whole nation even more than spousal abuse effects Nigeria at present.

Nigeria can start now to look into this alternative means of ending spousal violence as other countries have done and create a safer nation for the future of all Nigerians.


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