By Ejiro Umukoro
Twenty-two year-old Halima, Bulama, had just returned from marriage ceremony of her relation, mid April in Kasaisa community in Damaturu, Yobe state, in Northeast Nigeria, when her 22-years old husband Ba’ara Abacha, in a fit of rage attacked her.
Mr Abacha said his wife disobeyed him in attending the ceremony, and as punishment hacked off the woman’s right hand with a machete, according to the police.
At the teaching hospital in Damaturu where she was taken to for treatment, Halima said her husband was quick-tempered and vowed not return to her husband in Kasaisa, one of hundreds of vulnerable communities in this Boko Haram-plagued region. “If he can cut off my hand then he can easily kill me,” she said.
The suspect, a nomad, told police he acted because of his wife’s “immoral disobedience to marital ethics.”
“She has been travelling without my permission. But as matter of fact, it was out of anger I did this. I regretted my action,” he said in the local Kanuri language at the police station.
Such attacks are common in Nigeria where violence against women remains a problem despite growing campaign against it. But recent lockdowns imposed by the federal and states governments across the country to curtail the spread of coronavirus, has caused a spike in incidents that target women and children, activists say. This is because the restrictions have forced vulnerable persons to stay more closely to their attackers.
Akiode-Afolabi, who is the director of Lagos-based Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, said since the lockdown started, the most common gender-based violence reports recorded by her organisation have been spousal violence, landlord-tenant violence, neighbour-to-neighbour violence, and parent-children abuse. Others are homeowner-house help violence, boyfriend-girlfriend violence, violence on widows, police-sex worker violence, police-citizen violence, visitor-caught-in-lock-down child rape.
The Lagos State government-run Domestic and Gender Violence Response Team said it has been inundated with increased reports of sexual and domestic violence since the lockdown started late March. Most states have since relaxed the restrictions but many offices and schools have yet to fully reopen
The Lagos team, set up to carry out physical interventions, has moved online, using phones, social media, 24/7 web chat to reach people in abusive situations who need help. In exceptional cases, the team goes out to rescue children who may have been abused, and women who need assistance in abusive relationships.
Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, who leads the team, said at the peak of the lockdown in Lagos, the group on average received 13 new cases daily. In March alone, it received 390 reports.
European Institute for Gender Equality says although women and men experience gender-based violence, the majority of victims are women and girls. The United Nations recently raised an alarm regarding the increase in reported cases of domestic and gender-based violence, directly attributed to forced proximity occasioned by lockdowns.
“Even before COVID-19 existed, domestic violence was already one of the greatest human rights violations. In the previous 12 months, 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the world have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women in April.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, this number is likely to grow with multiple impacts on women’s wellbeing, their sexual and reproductive health, their mental health, and their ability to participate and lead in the recovery of our societies and economy.”
A study commissioned by Nigeria’s ministry of women’s affairs and social development and the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) Nigeria, with support from the Norwegian Government, found that 28 per cent of Nigerian women aged 25-29 have experienced some form of physical violence since age 15. The study also reported that 15 per cent of women experienced physical violence within 12 months, while 25 per cent of married women or those living with their spouses have experienced violence.