Domestic violence in Nigeria

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Domestic violence in Nigeria is a problem as in many parts of Africa.[1][2] There is a deep cultural belief in Nigeria that it is socially acceptable to hit a woman to discipline a spouse.[3][4] Domestic violence is widespread and shows no signs of lessening in Nigeria. The CLEEN Foundation reports 1 in every 3 respondents admitting to being a victim of domestic violence. The survey also found a nationwide increase in domestic violence in the past 3 years from 21% in 2011 to 30% in 2013.[5] A CLEEN Foundation's 2012 National Crime and Safety Survey demonstrated that 31% of the national sample confessed to being victims of domestic violence.[6]

Domestic violence takes many forms including physical, sexual, emotional, and mental. Traditionally, domestic violence is committed against females. Common forms of violence against women in Nigeria are rape, acid attacks, molestation, wife beating, and corporal punishment.[7]

The Nigerian government has taken legal proceedings to prosecute men who abuse women in several states.[3][8][9][10] There is currently a push in Nigeria for federal laws concerning domestic violence and for a stronger national response and support for domestic violence issues.

Physical violence[edit]

Women often face physical violence at the hands of their family members. The most common forms of physical violence include rape, murder, slapping, and kicking.[11] Some of the reasons that were given for physical abuse include their husbands being drunk, financial issues, and the rejection of a partner's sexual advances.[12]

Relationship inequality is also a strong indicator of physical violence. High levels of wife beating occur when the woman is making more money than her husband or partner is. This has been attributed to the lack of control the male partner feels within the relationship.[13]

Women also often link the perpetration of physical violence with husbands who are very controlling.[13] Women who justify wife beating are more likely to be victims of physical violence.[13][14]

Another form of violence which has received a lot of recent attention in Nigeria is acid baths. Acid baths are actions of violence where the perpetrator throws acid onto his or her victim's body, resulting in disfigurement and possible loss of eyesight. Acid baths are a large issue for women that needs to be addressed. In 1990, a former beauty queen rejected her boyfriend's attempts to rekindle their relationship. In retaliation, he threw acid in her face with the words "let me see how any man will love you now".

Sexual violence[edit]

Sexual violence in Nigeria largely goes unreported because of the burden of proof necessary for conviction as well as the social stigma it brings.[15] Nigerian police have not been seen to arrest for sexual assault resulting in less reporting of the act.

About 25% of women reported forced sex at the hands of either their current partner or a former partner.[16]

Furthermore, the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey showed that over 30.5% of married women have experienced at least one or more forms of physical, emotional or sexual violence in their marriage.[6]

Influencing factors[edit]

The social context of violence in Nigeria is based largely on its patriarchal society. Violence against a wife is seen as a tool that a husband uses to chastise his wife and to improve her.[17] The common loss of women's rights upon marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa and the implicit obedience and deference towards men is socially encouraged within their society.

The Yoruba women refer to their husbands as “olowo ori mi” meaning "the one who paid my bride price".[18] In effect, marriage gives up a woman's right to herself. In practices where a bride price is paid, it is common for the husband to believe that by paying the bride price, he now owns his wife.[18] The act of marriage is seen to give the husband full ownership of the woman. She surrenders her right to her body to him as well as her agency.[19]

Other factors linked with domestic violence are lower socioeconomic classes, substance abuse, couple age disparity, and unemployment.[20]

Another cause of domestic violence is infertility. When looking at a study taken by infertile woman visiting a fertility clinic, many women reported some form of domestic violence- whether physical, mental, or emotional. There were also trends showing that the Yoruba tribe women were more likely to experience violence in this case.[21]


The perceptions of domestic violence vary based on region, religion, and class. For example, the Tiv view wife beating as a “sign of love” that should be encouraged as evidenced with the statement, "If you are not yet beaten by your husband then you do not know the joy of marriage and that means you are not yet married".[17]

All the major ethnic groups in Nigeria- Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa- have strong patriarchial societal structures that lead to the justification of domestic violence. However, the Hausa are more supportive of domestic violence and viewing it as an inherent right of a husband.[22]

There are differences in the perceptions of domestic violence varying across reasons. There are higher numbers for instances like neglecting the children or going out without telling the husband and less for refusal of sex or a mere argument.[17] Many of the reasons that are viewed as acceptable for domestic violence are largely subjective to a husband's interpretation. For example, common acceptable beatings among men are lack of respect for husband, stubbornness, imposition of will on husband, and failure of wifely duties.[18]

The 2008 NDHS did a study to view the acceptability of wife beating in Nigeria. They put forward five scenarios and asked both men and women. With women, there were trends found in viewing wife beating as more acceptable. It was viewed as more acceptable in rural areas, among married versus unmarried women, uneducated women, and poor women. The reason most viewed as justified for beating was going out without telling the husband. The relationships were about the same for men.[23]


Women experiencing domestic violence have varying responses and differences in who they report their abuse to. In a study done in Ilorin, Nigeria, a large number of women reported their abuse to family and friends while not many decided to go to the police to file a report.[7] The rationale behind not going to the police is various such as the fear of victim-blaming, acceptance of violence as proper reaction, and the lack of police action.

One major issue facing the domestic violence issues in Nigeria are the tendency for low reported rates. A study looking at domestic violence in southwest Nigeria found that only 18.6% reported experienced or acted violence between themselves and their spouse.[18] However, the same study also shows that 60% of the respondents claimed to have witnessed violence between a separate couple.[18] These statistics show that there may be a tendency for underreporting which can occur for various reasons.

One main reason for the high levels of under-reporting are that it is seen as taboo to involve the police in family matters.[24] They view the separation of the two as important and the police force ascribes to this notion as well. Police hesitate to intervene even with lodged complaints unless the abuse goes over the customary amount usually seen in the region.[25]

Experience of pregnant women[edit]

Pregnant women experience high levels of domestic violence in Nigeria. They are subject to violence not only from their spouses, but also from their in-laws.[26] In a study, they found that the most common type of domestic violence was to be physically assaulted and then, also be victims of forced sexual intercourse.[26]

A study in the nation's capital, Abuja, carried out over a course of 3 months in 2005 showed physical, sexual, and psychological abuse among pregnant women. One third of the female respondents reported experiencing domestic violence. They found psychological abuse to be the highest type of abuse followed by physical and then sexual.[27] Women who experienced psychological abuse also experienced physical abuse.[27] In terms of the physical abuse, about 20% of the women required medical treatment due to the abuse and the most frequent medical complication reported was premature labor.[27] A big issue across many African countries, not just Nigeria, is the poor reproductive health systems women are provided with. Most of the women in need are women who have been exposed to sexual violence and rape, yet the country is not able to provide them with the aid they need.

Overall, the trends of domestic violence against pregnant women permeate across different ethnic groups and Nigerian states. The trends are consistent with other parts of Africa and the attitudes towards violence against pregnant women are in conjunction with the aforementioned trend viewing domestic violence as permissible under certain circumstances.[26][27]

Experience of HIV infected women[edit]

In Nigeria, there is a correlation between being infected with HIV and domestic violence. Women who are diagnosed with HIV are at high risk for intimate partner violence. With HIV, there is also a tendency to stay in abusive relationships.

In a study of 652 HIV positive pregnant women in Lagos, 429 women reported being the victims of violence. Of those reporting violence, 74% of the respondents said the abuse occurred after the disclosure of her HIV status.[28] Women reported verbal abuse, threat of physical violence, and sexual deprivation once they disclosed her HIV positive status. Psychological abuse was the most commonly reported version of received violence.[28][29]

Predictors of violence were women's age, marital status, disclosure and partner's educational status. The highest levels of IPV among the HIV infected were found in the age group 25–33 years old. Among the husbands, the highest levels came from those with an educational attainment of secondary school. More of than not, they were in a polygamous marriage.[29]

Women who are victims of domestic violence are also at a higher risk of contracting HIV through various mechanisms. It becomes more difficult for them to adopt safe sex practices especially in the case of sexual abuse and forced sexual acts. The trauma of the domestic violence also ends up impacting later sexual behaviors.[30]


While domestic violence is a violation of fundamental human rights, which the Nigerian Constitution is against, there are still provisions that make it legal to engage in domestic violence against women. The provision of the Penal Code applicable in the Northern part of Nigeria specifically encourages violence against women. Underneath its provisions, the beating of a wife for the purpose of correction is legal by use of (Section 55 (1) (d) of the Penal Code).[31]

Nigeria ratified the convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 1985 but international treaties can only go into effect when Parliament has put in a corresponding domestic law thereby limiting the international treaty to disuse.[32]

Rape is criminalized and under the law, the sentence can range from 10 years to life. There are also fines of about 1,280 dollars.[25]

Amnesty International criticized Nigeria's judicial system due to its conviction rate of 10 percent of rape prosecutions.[25]

In an attempt to battle the issue of police discretion and inactivity, Lagos (big city in Nigeria), held a two-day sensitization workshop on Domestic Violence law as it applied in the state.[33]

In May 2013, Nigeria's National Assembly passed a bill to reduce gender-based violence, which is awaiting Senate approval before it becomes law. The Violence against Persons Bill gave harsher punishments for sexual violence and also provided support and measures such as restraining order to prevent the continuation of abuse.[34]

When cases do make it to court, they are usually stagnant. In 2010, the traditional king of Akure physical and bloodily assaulted one of his wives resulting in her death. At the urging of the public, the police made a statement that they would press charges.[25] The case was dismissed in 2012.[35]


Nigeria has some non profit organizations and non governmental organizations that attempt to provide support for victims of domestic violence.

The Women and Child Watch Initiative is a nonprofit providing support to women and children who are victims of domestic trials such as violence and forced marriages. They also organize training programs for female lawyers to defend women's rights in domestic violence in court.[36] The “Unite to End Violence against Women” campaign was initiated alongside the declaration of “16 days of activism against violence against women”. This campaign was especially important in Nigeria when calling attention to the issue of brutality against women[37] In 1985, Nigeria validated the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, otherwise known as the CEDAW.[6] The organization works with the sole purpose of abolishing discrimination against women.

Organization Focus
Project Alert on Violence Against Women Example
Center for the Protection of the Abused Example
Women Action Organization Example
Women Justice Program Example
Women's Centre for Peace and Development Example
Women's Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative Example


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Domestic violence". Punch. Archived from the original on 2013-09-20. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  2. ^ "Entrenched Epidemic: Wife-Beatings in Africa". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-04.
  3. ^ a b "CULTURAL BELIEFS FUEL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE". Daily Trust. Archived from the original on September 26, 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-21.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  4. ^ "Why fewer men are beating their wives". Standard. Retrieved 2013-10-05.
  5. ^ CLEEN Foundation. "National Crime Victimazation Surveys". 2013.
  6. ^ a b c "Nigeria." Social Institutions & Gender Index. Social Institutions & Gender Index, n.d. Web. 01 May 2016.
  7. ^ a b Noah, Yusuf. "Incidence and Dimension of Violence Against Women in the Nigerian Society". Centrepoint Journal, 2000.
  8. ^ "Eradicating domestic violence in Nigeria (1/2)". Daily Times. Archived from the original on November 18, 2012. Retrieved 2013-09-21.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  9. ^ "Police to Clamp-Down on Bully Husbands". Daily Trust. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  10. ^ "Domestic Violence Threatens Social, Family Stability". Naija. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  11. ^ "No Safe Haven: An Annual Report of Attacks on Women in Nigeria". Project Alert on Violence Against Women.
  12. ^ Project Alert, “Beyond Boundaries: Violence Against Women in Nigeria, Lagos, 2001.
  13. ^ a b c Antai, Diddy. "Controlling behavior,power relations within intimate relationships and intimate partner physical and sexual violence against women in Nigeria". BMC Public Health. 2011.
  14. ^ Kunnuji, Michael O. N. (2014). "Experience of domestic violence and acceptance of intimate partner violence among out-of-school adolescent girls in Iwaya community, Lagos state". Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 30 (4): 543–564. doi:10.1177/0886260514535261.
  15. ^ Bazza, H.I. Societies without Borders. 2009.
  16. ^ Watts and Zimmerman. Violence against women: global scope and magnitude. 2002.
  17. ^ a b c Oyediran, KA and Isiugo-Abaniher, U. "Perceptions of Nigerian women on domestic violence". African Journal of Reproductive Health, 2005
  18. ^ a b c d e Ogunjuyigbe, Akinlo & Ebigbola. "Violence against Women". Journal of Asian and African Studies, 2005
  19. ^ Arisi, Regina. Cultural Violence and the Nigerian Woman. African Research Review. 2011
  20. ^ Obi, SN and Ozumba, BC. "Factors Associated with Domestic Violence in Southeast Nigeria. Journal of Gynaecology, 2007."
  21. ^ Ameh, Onuh, Okohue, et. al. "Burden of domestic violence amongst infertile women attending infertility clinics in Nigeria". Nigerian Journal of Medicine, 2007.
  22. ^ Kritz MM and P Makinwa-Adebusoye. Ethnicity, work and family as determinants of women's decision-making autonomy in Nigeria. Population and Development Program. 2006
  23. ^ Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey. National Population Commission. 2008
  24. ^ Ilika et. al. "Intimate Partner Violence among Women of Childbearing Age in a Primary Health Care Centre in Nigeria". Women's Health and Action Research Centre. 2002
  25. ^ a b c d United States Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012.
  26. ^ a b c Ameh, N. and Abdul, M.A. "Prevalence of Domestic Violence amongst Pregnant Women in Zaira, Nigeria". Annals of African Medicine, 2004
  27. ^ a b c d Efetie, ER and Salami, HA. "Domestic Violence on Pregnant Women in Abuja, Nigeria". Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology,2007
  28. ^ a b Oliver Chukwujekwu Ezechi, Chidinma Gab-Okafor, Dan I. Onwujekwe, Rosemary A. Adu, Eva Amadi, Ebiere Herbertson. “Intimate partner violence and correlates in pregnant HIV positive Nigerians”. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics. 2009
  29. ^ a b Zubairu Iliyasu, Isa S Abubakar, Musa Babashani and Hadiza S Galadanci. Domestic Violence among Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Kano, Northern Nigeria. African Journal of Reproductive Health. 2011
  30. ^ Maman, S. et al. The intersections of HIV and violence: Directions for future research and interventions. Social Science & Medicine. 2000
  31. ^ Nnandi, Ine. "An Insight into Violence against Women as Human Rights Violation in Nigeria". Journal of Politics and Law, 2012.
  32. ^ Akosile, Abimbola. "Nigeria: Enact Domestic Violence Act". AllAfrica.
  33. ^ Nigeria: Lagos Law on Domestic Violence. All Africa. November 2011.
  34. ^ Repila, Jacky. "History is made as Nigeria passes domestic violence law". OXFAM Policy and Practice, 2013
  35. ^ Ayobami, Abimbola. Court dismisses suit filed by fighting, dethroned monarch. Premium Times. 2012
  36. ^ The Haven Wolverhampton Annual Review 2012-2013. 2013
  37. ^ Nnadi, Ine. "An Insight into Violence against Women as Human Rights Violation in Nigeria: A Critique." Journal of Politics and Law JPL 5.3 (2012): n. pag. Web. 02 May 2016.
  38. ^ The Wellbeing Foundation. Commending Nigeria Domestic Violence Agencies.