I can vividly remember that fateful day in November 2017, when a friend told me he just returned from the funeral of his cousin who was stabbed to death by his wife. I said, in as much as there is no excusing the act, but the culprit is the one to be pitied not the victim. He is dead and at peace now, but she; will never be at peace even if she lived a thousand years.
It does not matter what the verdict of the court case will be, she may never be able to get over this. I said that, based on my own personal experience, first as a widow then, a divorcee. I know how extremely difficult getting over the death of a spouse can be. I cannot quantify the grief she has to live with; then the guilt, living for the rest of her life her hands covered with the blood of the man she loved. He died at her hands, by her hands, her doing and actions. There is no worse fate to befall anyone.
At that time, I would ordinarily have taken to my computer to scribble my own commentary on my blog and columns, but I was also then going through my own midlife crisis. Today, 2 years later, the court gave its verdict; death by hanging. And of course, as is typical of people, many came out to celebrate with words of praises and commendation of the judge’s rulings. Curiously, the majority of the commendation is coming from men, the gender responsible for 90% of the violence that is being perpetrated in our societies and world, which got me thinking that the ‘an eye for an eye, a life for a life’ argument used in support of Maryam’s sentence is only not only discriminatory and biased but also misogynistic and hypocritic.
The 2019 United Nations Population Fund statistics states that despite the progress made by the Nigeria government, approximately 80 million women and girls are still victims of Gender-Based Violence, GBV, and 90% of it is done by men known or even closely related to the victims; such as family or friends. These statistics were released almost two years after Maryam stabbed her husband.
Gender violence has always existed in our society. Men have abused, assaulted, killed and maimed women for centuries. Brothers abuse their sisters, husbands abuse their wives, boyfriends abuse their girlfriends; we not even talking about that from fathers to daughters. Even the police in Nigeria never take any case of gender assault and violence serious, ‘madam go home and settle’, it is a family matter, you deserve it’ etc are words women are used to hearing from police and other people who should protect them.
Today, most families still repose the responsibility of making the marriage work squarely on the frail shoulders of the woman, blaming her for even the man’s faults and misdeeds admonishing her to stay put and make her marriage work even when she has no strength and will left. It is always the woman who is told to stay put and make her marriage work by any means possible while giving the man free will to do as they wish.
It is a man’s world, men are polygamous by nature, you are to submit to your husband no matter the cost, you must endure, you must be patient’ are words used to justify the irresponsibility and lack of self-discipline by men.
Our society has been so conditioned to accept and tolerate violence and aggression from men often resulting in violence against women, to such an extent that it is never an issue of concern. Hence a death sentence has never been passed on any of the many men that have been in the dock for murdering their wives. Both them and the ones who have not been at the dock are today walking freely and could very well be amongst those celebrating Maryam’s conviction. Apparently, gender violence only causes an uproar when the tables are turned in Nigeria.
As a woman who has been both a widow and a divorcee in conservative northern Nigeria, I can’t help but wonder what could have pushed Maryam to such extreme and dark places. The conservativeness and fear of social victimization of divorces in Nigeria especially the North are all too real and strong to such an extent that some parents would rather their daughter die from the abuse than be divorced. Women are explicitly told to remain in the marriage and die in it as it is their only way to salvation (how and why many people still believe this in this day and age beats me). Yes, many families would rather their daughter die in the marriage than be divorced, and the society, judges, blames, criticize, victimizes, admonishes, intimidate, harass and malign only the divorced woman, but not the divorced man. It is one of the reasons why many women stay back in abusive relationships, while the men who are also victims hide their suffering to escape being ridiculed.
In the wake of the Emir Sanusi’s recent caution against reckless polygamy, Maryam’s conviction is being used by many misogynistic men as a foothold to bash ridicule, malign and invalidate women’s rights and sufferings, reinforce men’s right to promiscuity and polygamy. Even though there are some voices of reason amidst the chaos who encourage and advise women to leave toxic relationships rather than stay and risk losing sanity; which is only right, but it still begs to question how we will ever be able to reconcile justice and misogyny.In an extremely patriarchal and misogynistic society like Northern Nigeria, the possibilities that Maryam’s the conviction has misogynistic undertones cannot be overruled because despite the high record of gender violence across several decades, no man has been sentenced to death by hanging yet.
Maryam is not only a victim to her anger, lack of self-control and sense of entitlement, but also to the cruelty of misogyny, patriarchy and perhaps an unknown childhood trauma. The guilt of Binyamin’s death is not only hers to carry alone but on the shoulders of a lot of people involved in both the couple’s life and to a large extent, the society. The victim himself has a share in the blame by refusing to grant her a divorce when she demanded for it, anyone who has ever told her to stay married no matter what, family or friend, and the society that refuses to support women to leave toxic relationships, but instead demonizes them when they get divorced. We are all complicit.
It does not matter if the judgment is appealed or not, whether Maryam lives or dies is not important because her life literarily ended that fateful day in November 2017. The question now is, have we learned anything yet?