By Halima Abubakar
When Zulai Ahmed, now 20, got married in December 2017, she dreamed of a lasting relationship with her partner. But that dream was soon cut short.
Five days into the marriage, she started experiencing physical abuse and two years after, she now sought a divorce at the upper sharia court Kofar Kudu Kano.
“It is my second year of marriage and here i am seeking divorce because i can no longer bear the pain i go through. My husband does not have a job, he beats me at every given opportunity. This all started five days after our marriage when he slapped me claiming that I wasted foodstuffs,” she said.
At the beginning, she saw no reason to report the abuses, even to his parents who live in the same compound with them.
“Things started getting worse as I lost two pregnancies in the cause of beating. In all these my parents are the one paying for my hospital bills each time I had a miscarriage but that doesn’t stop them from sending me back to him saying it was too early for me to be divorced.
“The last instance almost caused me my life as I passed out in the process of him beating me and I was rushed to the hospital almost lifeless and bleeding seriously.”
This was in March 2019. After lying unconscious in hospital for two months, Mrs Ahmed finally recovered and heeding to the advice of a friend, she headed to court to seek divorce and is now a free woman.
“Even if the divorce was based on khul’ i, the most important thing is I got what I wanted finally after Six months,” she said.
In Islam, Khul’ i is an islamic way of seeking for divorce by agreeing to pay back the dowry paid on a woman and mostly women who do not have enough evidence to hold their husbands for domestic violence resolve to Khul’i”.
Mrs Ahmed decried the stress involved in getting divorce, a process which lasted for five months.
”Sometimes my husband will refuse to show up in court giving flimsy excuses that will cause adjournment of the case but I was determined to get the divorce at all means and thank God I have it now,” she concluded.
Although the Nigerian constitution is against domestic violence, there are still provisions in the country’s law that make it legal. One of them is the provision of the penal code applicable in Northern Nigeria.
The law encourages violence against women. As provided in Section 55 (1) of the code, beating of a wife for the purpose of correction is legal.
“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 Penal Code was enacted in 1960 and came into force on 30th September in the year 1960, the provisions of Penal Code are similar to that of the Criminal Code, if not for the inclusion of some Islamic base provisions. E.g the criminalization of Fornication ( which is termed adultery) in Section 387 and 388 of the Penal Code, which is absent in the Criminal Code of the South.
The code, guides matrimonial justice in Kano, one of Nigeria’s most-populated states and the focus of this report.
Gender roles within the state remain unequal, the pervasive norms surrounding the role of women in many communities and the vulnerability of women to violence and abuse in Kano State remains high.
Reporting of such incidents and access to justice also remains limited, especially when many perpetrators are in position of power and trust or believed to have the “right” to abuse women and young girls as they are considered part of the household.
The Nature of domestic violence prevalent in Kano includes; verbal abuse, physical abuse, lack of provision (which include shelter/accommodation, feeding. Some other forms are; deprivation and restrictions on liberty such as access to health services, education, family relationship and psychological torture.
A Judge (Alkali), Halhalatulkhuza’i Zakariyya, of city number 2 Upper Sharia Court, Kofar Kudu, Kano, said poverty and illiteracy often are causes of domestic violence.
“Illiteracy and poverty are the major causes of domestic violence on our women. Women here do not even know there rights, they already grew up believing that a husband has the final say and reporting of any case in your marriage is like telling the whole world your secret.
“Though some women now report issues of domestic violence but only when the situation has gone out of hand and so much damage has been done than good. In 2018, I treated over 1700 cases concerning women and 60% of it is on domestic violence which sometimes caused by lack of civilization and polygamous marriage,” He said.
More women speak
Getting victims to share their experience for this report was a great challenge due to the conservative nature of women in northern Nigerian. Only few agreed to share their plight and the journey in seeking justice.
Shafi’a Abdullahi, a mother of three, lives in Yakasai in Kano Municipal local government of the state. Due to her husband’s constant abuse, inability to fend for the family, and refusal to allow her work, she now seeks a divorce.
She approached the court in April 2019 but her request is yet to be acceded to.
“He always tries to block all necessary ways that can bring in money. This is my fifth month in the court and he is proving stubborn because he doesn’t like attending court session and he is insisting I have no prove to back up my allegations . I am pleading with the court to hasten the process because he is making life a living hell for me and my children,” Mrs Abdullahi said.
The story is the same for 29year-old Amina Muhammed who used to live with her husband in Rijiyar Zaki. They got married in April 2016 but she now wants a divorce because her husband couldn’t afford rent. Worse still, he already sent her packing.
She said, “I have been in my parent’s house for two years now because my husband sent me home based on the fact that he couldn’t afford our rent any more. I came to the court to seek divorce because aside not being able to cater for my needs my husband maltreats and sometimes beats me to a pulp,” Mrs Muhammad narrated.
Mrs Muhammad filed her case in July this year and is still yet to get justice due to adjournments.
Khadija Ibrahim’s husband does not beat her but she would have preferred battery to what he makes her go through.
“I want the court to bring an end to my marriage as I can no longer bear the insult and harassment I receive from my husband,” she says. Alhough he doesn’t beat me but the beating will even be better because if he start insulting me, he always end up including my parents and it has become a habit for him. Whenever I complain he will send me packing then come back after some days to take me back. “This is getting out of hand as I’m tired and also frustrated. On countless occasions, I have asked him to divorce me but he refused so i came to the court at least here he have no other choice as I do have witnesses.”
The issue of domestic violence does not only happens in urban areas some victims from some rural areas in Kano also shared their ordeal.
This reporter met Yahanasu Mohammad at the Upper Sharia Court Dambatta local government on the 16th of September, 2019 She came to file for divorce. 34-year-old Yahanasu who has been married since 2012 said maltreatment has always been the order of the day in her matrimonial home.
“I have been married for seven years and nothing good except my children has come out of it. My husband has three wives, i am the second wife. The third wife who is the youngest ran away when she could no longer bear the maltreatment. I have three kids but my husband cannot provide us with our basic need, which include, housing, food and clothing.
“This is my first day in court and I want this honorable court to ask my husband to man up to his responsibility, on countless occasion I have been driven out from our rented apartment and on such occasions i have to stay with some friends am acquainted with because i have no relatives here in Dambatta,”
“Even when our child was sick and needed blood my husband never showed up so i packed up and left. When it was obvious my husband will not show up, i decided to come back and seek divorce or get the court to ask him to man up to his responsibility”, She added.
It was still same story for Harira Suleiman.
“I have been married for two years with one child but i have a daughter from my first marriage. My husband has other children too. My problem is that my husband does not take care of my daughter and myself. He beats me almost every time and does not provide food.
“I have never known that the court can help me get my rights all this while I would have come earlier but now that I’m here I pray the court helps fight for me and get the justice that I deserve,” She said.
Mitigation of trend
The chairperson of Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA) Kano chapter, Nibrastahir Jalalain, explains how the organization helps in access to justice.
‘The measures we take are awareness and sensitization programs on their (women) rights and responsibilities towards each other. Educating them on the dangers of refusing to speak out about the abuse meted against them, discouraging them from taking the laws into their hands and educating them on the Sharia perspective on marriage institution.”
“Cases of divorce are sensitive cases because it involves 3 parties; woman, man and children. We try as much as possible to get an amicable settlement. Where all means to settle are exhausted, we resort to divorce. Divorce is always the last option. Actually women suffer a lot in cases of divorce because they don’t get support from their families and even the courts. The men are always favored especially where the woman does not have a lawyer to represent her.
“We always get such cases to their logical conclusions we seek for divorce after which we apply for maintenance and shelter and custody where children are involved.
When asked how many cases of domestic violence FIDA attends to daily Mrs. Jalalin says “As to how many we get on a daily basis, I can’t really say because we can get almost 10 and sometimes none. Actually it depends on our availability because we are all lawyers. We attend the legal clinic after court hours.”
“In a situation where the woman in picture does not have a lawyer, the orgainsation offers a pro bono by providing lawyers who will stand for them on the case till the very end.”
This investigative report was supported by Premium times center for investigative journalism.