In Nigeria, domestic violence is prevalent and incidents of abuse are reported frequently, with scarcely a week passing without such cases coming to light. Regrettably, not all states in Nigeria have legislation specifically addressing domestic abuse.
Prior to the implementation of the legislative measures addressing domestic violence, the legal framework in Nigeria exhibited a generally unfavorable disposition towards women who endured physical harm and abuse at the hands of their partners. Despite provisions within the Criminal and Penal Codes that prescribed penalties for assault, numerous women displayed hesitancy in initiating legal proceedings against their spouses, citing various factors as deterrents. Moreover, law enforcement entities, notably the police, exhibited a minimal inclination to actively pursue cases of domestic violence, assigning priority instead to offenses deemed graver, i.e. robbery.
As per the United Nations, domestic violence encompasses a recurring series of actions within a relationship aimed at acquiring or retaining power and control over an intimate partner. These actions may take the form of physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological behavior, as well as the use of threats to exert influence over another individual.
Domestic violence is a pervasive and deeply rooted problem affecting societies worldwide, and Nigeria is no exception. It is a form of abuse that occurs within the confines of personal relationships, primarily targeting women and children. Recognizing the urgency and gravity of the issue, Nigeria has taken significant steps to address domestic violence through legislative measures and legal remedies.
TYPES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
- Physical Abuse: This refers to any deliberate action that causes harm or injury to another person, such as hitting, kicking, beating, or employing physical force.
- Psychological Abuse: This involves a recurring pattern of degrading or humiliating behavior towards a victim. It is the intentional infliction of emotional anguish, distress, or intimidation through verbal or non-verbal actions, as well as the denial of basic civil rights. This can include repeated insults, ridicule, name-calling, or threats aimed at causing emotional pain.
- Sexual Abuse: This encompasses any abusive sexual behavior perpetrated by one person against another. It often involves the use of force or taking advantage of the victim. Examples include sexual assault, rape, or any unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature.
- Economic Abuse: Also known as financial abuse, this refers to the unreasonable deprivation of economic or financial resources that a victim is entitled to under the law or requires for basic needs. It occurs when one intimate partner has control over the other partner's access to economic resources, thereby diminishing their ability to support themselves and forcing them to depend on the perpetrator financially.
THE LEGAL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.
According to The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) report, there are no national laws in Nigeria that expressly addresses domestic abuse, however, VAPPA, a federal legislation, forbids violence in general. However, this is only applicable to the Federal Capital Territory, and it is only binding if states choose to adopt it, as noted here. It is pertinent to note that only 13 of the 36 states (Oyo, Ogun, Lagos, Osun, Ekiti, Edo, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Benue, Cross River, Kaduna, and Plateau) have adopted this act.
Additionally, there are also laws in Northern Nigeria that encourage violence, including using domestic (wife) beatings as a form of correction (Section 55(1)(d) of the Penal Code).
The law states as follows;
"Section 55 (1) (d) of the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria provides that an assault by a man on a woman is not an offense if they are married if native law or custom recognizes such "correction" as lawful, and if there is no grievous hurt."
THE REMEDIES ARE AS FOLLOWS:
- Seeking a protection order as provided in The protection against domestic violence law of Lagos State 2007(PADVL):
Section 2(1) of the PADVL provides that any individual who is or has been in a domestic relationship with a respondent, and who has experienced or is claiming to have experienced an act of domestic violence (including any child under the care of the complainant), has the right to seek a protection order. Moreover, Nigerian courts possess the inherent authority to issue protection orders in accordance with the laws that establish them. For instance, the Lagos State High Courts have the jurisdiction to grant protection orders in both civil and criminal cases under Chapter 2 of the High Court of Lagos State Law.
The law provides a comprehensive framework for ensuring the safety and well-being of individuals who may be subjected to domestic abuse. By establishing a system of court-issued protection orders, the law aims to address situations where there is a potential threat of violence within domestic settings. These protection orders serve as legal instruments that empower victims to seek immediate relief and protection from their abusers, ensuring that necessary measures are put in place to prevent further harm.
Also, section 18(g) of the Law defines domestic violence to include among others; physical abuse, sexual abuse exploitation including but not limited to rape, incest, and sexual assault; starvation; emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse; economic abuse and exploitation; denial of basic education; intimidation; harassment; stalking, etc.
In addition to safeguarding and supporting victims, the law also grants them the right to take legal action against their abusers. It empowers victims to file a criminal complaint, enabling them to seek justice and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. By providing victims with the means to seek legal redress, the law sends a clear message that domestic violence is a serious crime and will not be tolerated.
In order to obtain a protection order, the complainant must file the application for the order and an affidavit to the relevant court
It is crucial to acknowledge that in order for someone to file an application for a protection order on behalf of the complainant, they must obtain written consent from the complainant unless the complainant falls into one of the following categories: a minor, mentally disabled, unconscious, or a person whom the court has determined to be incapable of providing the necessary consent.
Overall, the protection against domestic violence law of Lagos State strives to create a comprehensive system that addresses the various aspects of domestic abuse. It not only focuses on immediate protection through court-issued orders but also recognizes the importance of long-term support and empowerment for victims. By combining legal remedies, support services, and the right to seek justice, this law aims to combat domestic violence effectively and create a safer environment for all individuals in Lagos State.
- Support Services:
Seek support from local organizations that specialize in assisting victims of domestic violence. They can offer counseling, shelter, and other resources that may be of help.
The Lagos state government has set up a specific agency that protects domestic violence victims, it is called the Lagos state domestic sexual and violence response team.
Victims of domestic violence are advised to contact the Agency directly. The Agency should be able to provide guidance and support for domestic violence victims. The agency may also instruct on further steps to take, such as filing a police report or seeking a restraining order. It is advisable to follow their guidance to ensure your safety and protect your legal rights.
- Application for a restraining order as provided for in The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law 2015; applicable in Abuja.
This is a comprehensive legal framework aimed at addressing various forms of domestic violence. Section 28(1) of the Actprovides that a complainant can apply for a protection order that would be effective throughout Nigeria if granted.
This law provides protection and remedies for individuals who experience domestic violence. It encompasses a wide range of abusive behaviors, including but not limited to:
- Deprivation of liberty: This refers to the unlawful confinement or restriction of a person's freedom against their will.
- Property damage with the intention to cause distress: This involves intentionally causing harm to someone's property as a means to inflict emotional distress.
- Forced financial and economic abuse: This includes actions taken to control or exploit an individual's financial resources, denying them access to money or forcing them into financial dependency.
- Forced isolation or separation from family and friends: This refers to intentionally separating or isolating an individual from their loved ones, social support networks, and communities.
- Verbal and psychological abuse: This covers various forms of non-physical harm, such as insults, threats, intimidation, humiliation, or any behavior that undermines a person's self-worth and mental well-being.
- Abandonment of spouse, children, and dependents without sustenance: This addresses situations where a person neglects their responsibilities to provide the necessary support, including financial support, to their spouse, children, or other dependents.
The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law is designed to promote the rights and safety of individuals, especially victims of domestic violence. By criminalizing and providing legal recourse for these abusive behaviors, the law aims to create a safer and more equitable society.
In conclusion, Nigeria's legal remedies for domestic violence reflect a commitment to protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable. By continually strengthening these measures and addressing the underlying causes of domestic violence, Nigeria can foster a society where every individual can live free from fear, abuse, and oppression.
Nevertheless, to enhance the effectiveness of these legal remedies, it is essential to focus on awareness campaigns, education, and training programs aimed at eradicating domestic violence at its roots. Collaborative efforts between law enforcement agencies, legal professionals, social workers, and civil society organizations are crucial in ensuring that victims receive the necessary support and that perpetrators face appropriate consequences.
- Civil and Criminal Actions: Victims can pursue both civil and criminal actions against their abusers. Civil actions may involve seeking compensation for damages, while criminal actions may result in the abuser facing prosecution and potential imprisonment.
- Dissolution of marriage: Spouses who have experienced domestic violence can choose to seek a divorce to terminate their marriage because of the abusive circumstances. According to Nigerian law, domestic violence constitutes a significant legal basis for pursuing a divorce. One of the grounds for divorce as stipulated in The Matrimonial Causes Act is when the respondent's behavior has been such that it becomes unreasonable for the petitioner to continue living with the respondent since the time of their marriage.
1 Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act (VAPP Act) of 2015
2 The Prohibition Against Domestic Violence Law of Lagos, State Law, 2007
3 The Matrimonial Causes Act 2009
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.