Home Column - Thursday In search of vaccine for toxic marriages, By Azu Ishiekwene

In search of vaccine for toxic marriages, By Azu Ishiekwene

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Azu Ishiekwene

Bad news has almost become a regular feature of Nigeria’s daily narrative and recently, it’s been like a flood of it (pun intended).

But the news of the ordeal of two-month-old Miracle Chikwe at the hands of his father in Owerri, Imo State, takes the flood of bad news to the realm of an epidemic. We need to find a moral vaccine — and urgently too. 

According to press reports, the 31-year-old father, Confidence Amatobi, had beaten the baby with a plastic hanger in the middle of the night for disturbing his sleep. His wife had briefly left the room to ease herself, and the baby’s cry irritated him. In order to shut him up, he lashed at the little baby so hard and furiously that his hand broke.

He didn’t stop there. 

When his wife confronted him, he locked mother and child in a room after seizing her phone, to prevent her from calling for help.

And so, for two days, little Miracle was left in indescribable pain, shut in with his mother, while the broken hand rotted away.

It was only after she managed to escape from the room (the reports didn’t say how) that she could take Miracle to seek help.

She has also narrated how hospitals in the community refused to treat the baby before she eventually got to the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri, where the amputation was done.

And so, little Miracle is now an amputee, with his right hand gone, and his father is still on the run.

It’s improbable that the man’s cruelty to the baby and his conversion of a room in the house to temporary prison, was the first time he would be showing such brutality at home, especially towards his wife.   

When a popular Gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu, died in April from alleged consistent battering by her husband, many of us were heart broken, literally.

It was such a needless death. Osinachi’s unique delivery of gospel songs over the years had endeared her to many that she only needed to cry out and help would reach her.

She was loved and adored.

But public love and acceptance weren’t the only viable currencies readily at her disposal.

She was also a business success. Reports had it that Osinachi was the more financially strong party in the marriage, while Peter, the husband, was freeloading off her talent and hard work.

Yet, she was unable to leave him, until she ended in a body bag.

But who would have thought that after the tears, the countless analyses, speeches and all that went down after Osinachi’s death, that we would be mourning yet another so soon?

But here we are, barely six months later, in lamentation over yet another woman whose life is broken because she lacked the will to leave a marriage that had long stopped serving her, her children or even anyone else except the brute of a man?

And if you thought Osinachi story was heart-wrenching, then Bimbo’s death would literally grind the pieces of that already badly broken heart into fine dust.

Abimbola Ogbonna, nee Martins, who died on October 15, was only 34 when death came calling in such a gruesome manner. Reports had it that the larger part of her teenage and adult years were spent in a horribly toxic marriage.

All came to a head on October 15 when she succumbed to the burn injuries sustained after she, her husband or both of them had set their home on fire, depending on which account you’ve heard.

The truth, of course, remains that no matter the version – and there are quite a number of them – of this couple’s story you read, there was very little comfort about their marriage. From the beginning, it was a roller coaster of violence.

And though family and friends have said they did all they could to pull her out, Bimbo appeared to have taken the “till death do us part” of the marriage vow only too literally.

For example, he was said to have beaten her into a coma in early 2019, while she was eight months pregnant. She regained consciousness sometime in May that year and still stayed in the marriage. There are also reports of him threatening her with a gun in front of their children at home on several occasions but she was not outraged enough to take a walk.

She simply refused to budge.

And now, everyone is talking about her in the past tense. Her husband, Ikechukwu Darry Ogbonna, also known as IVD, though has been arrested, is still alive to tell his own side of the story, true or contrived.

And just like Osinachi who left four young children who would never see their mother again, Bimbo has also left behind five children, with the youngest barely out of her diapers.

Unfortunately, in less than six months from now, there will probably be yet another woman who has taken the ‘till death do us part’ part of the marriage vow too literally. Then the cries, condemnations, protests, and possibly an arrest would happen, and then we rinse and repeat.

The facts remain that it doesn’t matter what anyone says, the average Nigerian woman has shown that she would rather be dead than labelled separated or divorced.

Even for a country notorious for her lack of regard for data, available statistics have shown that Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a major concern in Nigeria. Whether physical, emotional or sexual violence, women are mostly usually at the receiving end.

An article published in 2018, in the BMC Women’s Health, cited a study conducted in 2013 among 20,802 women aged 15–49 years, which established that almost one in every four Nigerian women in that age bracket has experienced one form of IPV.

We also know that with better access to data, this figure would just be scratching the surface. 

And while many are quick to point out financial dependency as a reason, and for good reasons too, we also know that the Nigerian woman’s reluctance to quit abusive unions surely goes beyond lack of financial freedom. 

Osinachi Nwachukwu made more money than her husband, but that didn’t stop her from absorbing every blow he landed on her, while wearing the virtuous wife toga.

It also goes beyond not having formal education. Just two years ago, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State had played the peacemaker between a medical doctor, Ifeyinwa Angbo, and her husband, Pius Angbo, whom she accused of turning her into a punching bag.

Diligence in pre-nuptial background checks, which used to be undertaken by families (and which ought to be easier now with better access to data), is failing. Even the law doesn’t seem to be enough to save our women and children from these unions. 

The Violence Against Persons Prohibition’s Act (VAPP), which was passed in 2015, offers protection against different forms of IPV. Lagos even has the Protection Against Domestic Violence Law (PADVL) operative in the state.

So, what then is enough? Well look in the nearest mirror and ask yourself how you have made every single woman of marriageable age feel less than her married counterpart.

Look again and remember the many assumptions that have coloured your disposition towards any woman who has left her marriage.

Whether we realise or not, every time we make any woman feel inadequate or even worthless, despite everything she could be, just because she never married or had left a marriage, you’re just telling women and girls to place marriage above their self-dignity, personal safety and even their lives. Even worse, you are also inciting unconscientious men to take liberties.

The result as we all can see are avoidable deaths, children whose lives would never remain the same, and sometimes, a two-month-old baby who is now forced to live out the rest of his life without a right arm.

•Ishiekwene is Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP

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