“I have something to tell you.”
“What is it? You know you can tell me anything. Nothing you say would change the way I feel about you.”
We sat facing each other and holding hands. Her fingers gripped mine tightly as she shared a chapter in her past with me.
“You know that I was once married but I never told you about my life then was like. My husband was an older man. He was a friend of my father’s. I was nineteen when we met. He took an instant liking to me and he wanted to court me. My parents liked him. He was well respected so they had no objections even though he was twice my age. I was flattered by his attention but I didn’t love him. We saw each other for a while and then he asked my parents for their permission to marry me. They readily gave it. I accepted his proposal and we were married in a lavish ceremony.
“A couple of weeks after the wedding, we left Abuja and moved to Kano where he was from. At first things were good between us and I settled into my new life. Then, a couple of months later, he complained that I was putting too much salt in the dinner. I didn’t think I was. I tasted the food and it seemed fine to me. One night when we were having dinner, he suddenly stopped eating and pushed the plate away.
“Is something wrong with the dinner?” I asked.
“It has too much salt.”
“But I tasted it and it was fine.”
That’s when he got up and dragged me to my feet, muttering, “I will not have you disrespect me.” He took me into the bedroom. “I repeatedly told you that the food had too much salt in it but you wouldn’t listen. Well, I’m not going to tolerate any disrespect from any woman–least of all my wife.” He beat me and left me there on the bed, shaking like a leaf and went out. I don’t know where he went. Maybe he went somewhere to have something to eat. He didn’t get home until after mid-night and he forced me to have sex with him. I stopped putting salt in the food and there were no more complaints.
“I was afraid of him after that. He had turned into a monster. He beat me for different things after that. It seemed like no matter what I did, he would find a reason to correct me. Several times I wanted to pack my things and leave but where could I go? I couldn’t go to my parents. I realized that after I told them about the beatings and they said that husbands had a right to beat wives who argue with them, burn the dinner, go out without the husband’s permission, neglect the children or refuse sex. I reminded my mother that my father never beat her and her response was that she never transgressed against him. I lost my respect for her.
“I had no one I could turn to. I continued to suffer in silence. I wasn’t working. I was a house-wife. He beat me while I was pregnant. I had two miscarriages and a stillbirth. After that, I prayed that I would never get pregnant again. I didn’t want to have any more children with him. I didn’t want to expose them to the pain I went through almost everyday. I didn’t want them to think that it was okay for their father to beat me because it wasn’t. I prayed that my younger sister would never end up like me. She was the only one who felt sorry for me and she told me that she prayed for me everyday. She was the only one I kept in touch with.
“One day I told my husband that I was going to visit my sister but he told me that he wanted me to stay home. We argued. He beat me until I was unconscious. When I came too, I was lying in a hospital bed. I ached all over. He was standing over me. “Do you know why I beat you?” he asked.
“I didn’t answer.
“I told you that I didn’t want you to leave the house but you insisted so I had to correct you. I’m your husband and I will not have you disobeying me. You will visit your family when I say you can.”
“I didn’t answer. A couple days later, I returned home. The beatings continued. He blamed me for them. He said that I drove him to it because I deliberately provoked him and challenged his authority.”
I sat there listening, feeling sick inside. She told the story with her eyes–her beautiful eyes which were filled with painful memories. Anger towards her husband, her parents and the complacent Nigerian government rose in my throat like bile, almost choking me as she continued speaking.
“You know when the police showed up at the apartment to tell me that my husband had lost control of his car and it ended up on an embankment, instantly killing him, I didn’t shed one tear. All I could think about was that I was free. I was free from him and our marriage.”
“After the funeral, I sold the house and used the money to start a new life. My sister and I came here. I got a job, helped to put her through university and now she’s happily married to a wonderful man who adores her. And I met you.”
“Baby, I promise you that I will spend the rest of our lives loving you and treating you the way you deserve.”
Her eyes became watery. “After eight years of living in hell, I have finally found my paradise.”
This story is fiction but in Northern Nigeria, 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 problem with this kind of provision is that can promote or perpetuate violence against women and girls. Such laws should be struck down.