Nigeria: Marital Rape – Spoken About Only in Whispers

Posted on 30 July 2011


Tosin Omoniyi
29 July 2011

In Nigeria, it is a topic many would rather not talk about but its effects are inherently ravaging not only the female folk and family ties but societal values.

Mrs Patricia Ofeme (not real name) was wedded in a high society nuptial about 2 years ago to her heartthrob of many years, an engineer with a multinational firm. Theirs was seen by many friends and well wishers as the proverbial ‘marriage made in heaven.’ Their families clung to the belief that their union was meant to last a lifetime going by the effusive display of affection the duo always exhibited whenever they were in public.

Patricia, a soft spoken, slight in physique banker was seen as the perfect match for the unusually burly and aggressive character template displayed by her hubby. Although many who knew him were witnesses to his sharp outbursts of ire once in a while, his quick manner of making amends whenever he had the inexplicable (at times) fits of rage endeared him to people with many hoping that his more amiable wife would smoothen the rough edges of his temper.

The changes in her disposition was first noticed by her colleagues at work.
Her constant distraction in tackling hitherto basic schedules at office raised a few eye brows at first. Known to be deeply conscientious with office work, Patricia started making careless mistakes at work which earned her reprimands on several occasions from the management. When the stern warnings started increasing with threat of stiffer penalties emanating from exasperated superiors, her friend and confidante, Rose, a colleague at work knew she had to do something fast. What particularly alarmed her was her friend’s sudden inclination to use massive doses of make up powder especially on her eye region, a habit that had been alien to her before.

Having lived a rough life earlier on in life, Rose was not a novice when it came to the issue of violence and its attendant proof. After looking at her puffy eyes, made more eerie by another large dose of mascara one morning after she had made yet another wrong calculation of a crucial bank transaction, Rose asked her a simple question, ‘who have you been fighting with lately or who has been beating you because obviously you seem to always be at the recieving end?’ Her stunned gaze and sharp intake of breath revealed to the quick witted Rose that she had hit the mark.

Over a lunch table and amidst tears a few minutes later, Patricia confided in her friend a tale many women and indeed society prefer to keep sealed lips over. Patricia over the past one year had been undergoing a traumatic experience at the hands of her dangerously transformed hubby which had made her become a ghost of her former ebullient self.

Patricia and thousands of her female counterparts constantly suffer marital rape at the hands of unsympathetic husbands on a near daily basis. Perhaps due to cultural constraints and other militating religious factors, these women are forced to keep mum over such an inhumane act and are more likely to bear the suffering in quiet pain.

Technically, marital rape is any unwanted sexual act by one’s spouse or ex-spouse that is committed without the victim’s consent and/or against a person’s will, obtained by force, or threat of force, intimidation, or when a person is unable to consent. It is as widespread as other sexual offences but grossly under-reported. Lawyers opine that these sexual offence includes “sexual intercourse, anal or oral sex, forced sexual behaviour with the spouse and other sexual activities that are considered by the victim as degrading, humiliating, painful, and unwanted.” It is also referred to as spousal rape and in some societies it is simply called wife rape.

A high number of respondents especially the male ones believe that it is the wife’s obligation to be submissive to the man, adding that when such a woman is submissive such an act would not occur in the first place. This is the thinking of Donald Etim who says that a man cannot be said to have raped his wife for whatever reason as long as he has paid the required bride price. “How can you say that I raped my wife? It is impossible. If it happens in other countries, it is not so in our own country. A wife must be willing to accept her husband whenever he is ‘in the mood.’ That will even minimize the cases of adultery and unfaithfulness. A man cannot rape his wife,” he asserts heatedly.

That no doubt typifies a normal male response in Nigeria. Another male respondent who does not want his name in print is more conciliatory in his response. “A man must be able to have intimacy with his wife whenever and wherever he so desires and our African women are expected to be submissive to their husbands unlike the foreign ones who rush to court on frivolous excuses every time they feel their rights have been tampered with. Although I agree that men should be reasonable when it comes to sexual demands I feel the women should also display the same level of maturity.”

In today’s fast paced world, the issue still remains a contentious one with many schools of thought. In some of these issues are raised. “Marital rape is a controversial issue because people continue to believe in the following myths and misinformation about spousal rape: there are those who believe that marital rape is contractually impossible because wives gave up their right to give consent when they became married. Many believe in the concept of marital unity and that a husband and wife are one person under the law which means to them that the legal existence of a wife is suspended. There is concern that possible marriage reconciliation would be prevented by marital rape laws. Culture plays a role in this controversy because in many countries, a wife is still considered as property of the husband, so a husband can’t be convicted of hurting his own property. There is also the fear that out of revenge or for their own personal gain, women will destroy their husbands’ lives by making false allegations of marital rape. And finally some worry that the legal systems trying to deal with marital rape would be bogged down by cases that would be impossible to prove.”

Are there physical and emotional consequences of marital rape? It affirms so: ‘yes, marital rape survivors often experience sexual dysfunction, problems in sleeping and eating, bladder infections, miscarriages, infertility, sexually transmitted diseases, vaginal disorders, broken bones, bloody noses, black eyes, bruising, fatigue, and other wounds. Emotionally, marital rape survivors may have flash backs, inability to trust, depression, and traumatic stress disorder.”

It is of course a source of concern for many understandably the female gender. According to Diana Russell in her explosive book, Rape in Marriage, “More than 1 in every 7 women who have ever been married, have been raped in marriage.”

A lawyer, Barrister Carol Arinze-Umobi who specializes in Women and Minority Rights in her piece: “Rape in Matrimony: Entrenched Global Disaster and Underdevelopment of Women, Nigeria in Focus” explains the challenge explicitly: ‘the offence of rape is the most heinous sexual offence under the Nigerian Criminal Code1. The abhorrence and repulsion of this sexual offence by the civil society informed the prescription of a very stiff penalty for it by the draftsmen of the code.

Under section 358 of the Code, it is punishable with life imprisonment. Even an attempt to commit it is also an offence punishable by a term of 14 years imprisonment with or without whipping.” On spousal rape she says inter alia that, “apart from some statutory exceptions, arguments have been that a husband cannot be guilty of rape of his wife by the mere reason that she has given a single blanket consent on the day she accepted to enter into the contract of marriage with the husband, violent sexual intercourse also inclusive.

More so, the incident of rape of a wife by her husband is unknown in customary law as the wife is the property of the husband and so he is free to have her at will. The wife is not expected to complain. One major reason given to justify this form of violence is that it is based on payment of bride price and once that is paid, husbands now own their wives and therefore could discipline them; this gives the impression that consent perpetuates the idea that a woman is a piece of property owned by the husband. The only concept that is constant is change, and for there to be dynamism, growth and development, change must be constant.

It will therefore be wrong for the world, particularly the developing ones like Nigeria to cling tenaciously to the pronouncement of Sir Matthew Hale in the 17th century that because a woman has given up her consent, she cannot retract that even in the face of a very violent relationship.” She adds sadly that, ‘most rape cases, particularly spousal rapes are unreported and thus continues unabated. Most women have lost their lives as a result of violent sexual relationships (particularly rape from their husbands).

Be that as it may, a few bold ones have taken the gauntlet and are speaking out. But in a nation where the rights of women and children are grossly underrated, this is fast becoming uncommon and many more women are forced to suffer in uncomfortable silence. More discouraging is the warped judicial system which apparently does not seem to offer women foolproof alternatives to seek redress. But victims like Patricia on the advice of her friend are taking a first step in protecting themselves. A week later aft

er another of such attacks, she made a formal complaint with a divisional police post and is already consulting a human rights outfit in her locale which deals with such abuses and legal redress of such. With the active support of select members of her family she is equally looking at the possibilities of a legal separation if these options fail. But unfortunately many more of her co travelers will have to continue their silent agony until perhaps they are able to speak out.

Posted in: Marital rape, Nigeria