*By Flourish Aina
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced nations to impose movement restrictions and ‘stay at home’ orders to curb spread and new infections. These “stay at home” measures are globally proving to be dangerous for some women in Nigeria. Data from the United Nations shows that Nigeria has recorded overwhelmingly high rates of domestic violence compared to other African Countries. This becomes even more problematic with the stay at home restrictions in various parts of Nigeria. Nigerian laws and their enforceability in domestic violence cases have also been regarded[i] as exceedingly weak and harsh to women. Section 34[ii] of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution provides that every person is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and accordingly no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.
Other rights such as right to life and personal liberty can also be found in the Constitution. However, these laws are generic and do not specifically provide for protection against domestic violence against women. Despite these Constitutional provisions, Section 55(1)(d) of the Penal Code[iii] applicable in Northern Nigeria suggests a different story. The section basically legalizes the infliction of harm by a husband for the purpose of 'correcting' his wife.[iv] Also, although the Southern Nigeria Criminal Code[v] prohibits assault against women, it is classified as a misdemeanor, with quite lenient punitive measures.[vi] It is disheartening to know that the majority of Nigerian cultural norms condone the idea of "correcting erring wives", thereby permitting domestic violence against women. The effect of gender discriminatory cultural norms and legal provisions, combined with the current stay at home orders predisposes most women to life-threatening violence and abuse.
The Violence against Persons Prohibitions Act (VAPPA) 2015 (The Act) should have curbed the shortcomings of the Penal Code. The Act was enacted mainly to prohibit all forms of violence against men and women alike and provided for adequate punishment for perpetrators of such violence. Unfortunately, it is only applicable in the Nation's Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.[vii]The reason for this however remains unknown.
In a time where people have been forced to 'Stay home and stay safe', one can't help but think about how safe the average Nigerian woman will be in the hands of a violent and hot tempered husband. An admirable step was taken by the Federal Government of Nigeria by providing emergency lines that are accessible to the general public to report cases of domestic violence. This is another step toward pro-activeness by the Nigerian Government in tacking this problem. Nonetheless, a report compiled by The World Health Organization has shown that the bulk of domestic violence cases against women usually go unreported, as such, the emergency lines can have little to no effect in a time of increased violence.
While governments are required to provide services and access to justice for women, this entry concludes with a recommendation for communities to be vigilant and come to the aid of women who may be suffering at the hands of an abusive husband or partner. Together, we can help save the lives of women who would otherwise lack access to justice and safety.
[i] Article by IP Enemo: Effectiveness of Nigeria’s International obligations in curbing domestic violence
[ii] Section 34, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)
[iii] Chapter 532, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 1990
[iv] Section 55(1)(d) Nigerian Penal Code Act
[v] Chapter C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004