Naomi got married at the age of 22 with many people calling the entire thing crazy. Her parents were happy though. Her marriage meant that they were going to carry their grandchildren very soon and everyone knows that’s the ultimate hallmark of success for the average African parent. Her siblings and friends, on the other hand, worried that it wasn’t the right time, nor the right person. According to Ire, her friend since secondary school, ‘I’m not saying anything is wrong with Vincent, or with both of you getting married. But I know something is wrong – and I really wish I could place a finger on it.’
Naomi had smiled.
Perhaps she understood the concern almost everyone seemed to communicate, perhaps she did not. Two things were sure for her – she was getting married to Vincent and no one else understood him as she did.
You see, she had met Vincent in the year she turned 21, and in fact, it was the exact day she turned 21. He was having a solo dinner in the same restaurant she was having her birthday dinner and their eyes had met more than three times. But by the time she and her 5 friends had finished dinner, Vincent had left the restaurant without so much as a ‘hello’ acknowledging the connection between them. However, when they called for the bill, the waiter, instead brought a receipt and said, “The gentleman who sat at that table said to tell you ‘happy birthday’”. Naomi was grinning ear-to-ear and the teasing from her friends seemed unending.
Her parents’ house was just a 5 minutes drive from the restaurant, perhaps that was why her Uber driver angrily zoomed off after dropping her at her gate. A card trip that cost only N400! She stood at the gate fumbling with her handbag searching for the key. As she searched, she suddenly felt someone creep up behind her. Turning sharply she could not believe her eyes when she saw the guy at the table at the restaurant with the hugest bouquet of flowers and the widest smile. Creeped out, she pressed her back against the gate and stuttered, ‘Are you not… what do you….how did you…what are you’
“Relax”, Vincent replied. “Did you really think I’d leave without saying hello? I just needed to ensure that my ‘hello’ was substantiated” he winked.
Substantiated. She thought. Who the hell uses that word in everyday talk?
“Okay.” he continued. “Don’t be freaked. I know this is creepy. But I just wanted to tell you Happy Birthday and give you this.” he handed over the bouquet of flowers and a gift bag.
“Umm… Thanks?” she replied, collecting the gift and staring at him, heart still racing.
“Alright, bye,” he said. “And thank you. I’m sorry for freaking you out. My number is in the bag in case you want to communicate with me. Cheers” And then he left.
Later on, Naomi will realize that this singular behaviour was the first sign she needed to never communicate with him. As earlier said, they went on to date, and then get married. They stayed married for 4 years but everyone who hears Naomi’s story always wonders why she stayed for that long.
Oh well, doesn’t everyone wonder why victims of domestic abuse wait for so long?
Plainly put, Naomi was viciously abused in that marriage. In the last 3 years of their marriage, Vincent took sexual, mental, emotional and psychological advantage of his wife, Naomi. He beat her sometimes to the point where it hurt her to feel the wind on her face. He would wake her in the night by choking her and would yell the most ridiculous things like ‘Why are you laughing in your sleep?! Tell me why?! Or ‘What was the message you deleted from your chat with Ire?!’.
It was insane. Sometimes, he walked from the bathroom with faeces in his hands and put it into the whole pot of stew she was cooking. He stole money from her. He banned her from seeing her parents more than once a month – and she couldn’t even see her friends at all. He twisted and broke her right arm once and then asked her to make him Pounded Yam that afternoon. He never asked for sex, he just took it. And her two miscarriages were his doing. Whenever he smoked weed at home, he would tell her to open her mouth and would puff into it – sometimes, spit into it, sometimes, pee into it. One could go on and on about the messiness that was the mind of Vincent, but that is not necessary.
Last year, Naomi finally spoke out and sought a divorce. In court, one of the reliefs she asked for was gotten from section 30 & 31 of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015. In that section, it is said that the court may issue a Protection Order (what we sort of know as a restraining order). And according to Section 31, the Order may prohibit the respondent (which in this case is Vincent) from doing a bunch of things including:
- Committing any act of domestic violence
- Entering a shared household (or a specified part thereof)
- Entering the complainant’s residence
- Entering the complainant’s place of employment
- Or committing any other act as may be specified by the Order.
The judge granted Naomi’s application to issue such an Order. Therefore, coupled with the dissolution of the marriage, Vincent was ordered by the court not to physically, emotionally, mentally, sexually, or psychological cause or attempt to cause harm to Naomi. He was also ordered that he must neither enter her home or place of employment without express invitation. Furthermore, he was ordered that for a period of 2 years, he was to distance himself from her – constantly maintaining at least 500 meters between himself and her.
The night of the judgment, Naomi sat in a living room with her 5 friends and they drank champagne until they were all drunk. They also danced until they slept off one after the other. It was, however, the constant buzzing of her phone that woke her up. She looked at her phone screen and saw 50 messages from a strange number. She had blocked Vincent’s number a long time ago and had registered a new sim card, so she wondered who it was. Opening her message app, she froze. The messages were definitely from Vincent but that was the least of her problem. The texts indicated that he undoubtedly knew where she was. They read something like: “These girls are not your friends” “They did not tell you how ugly you look in that pink bum short” “You look like a hobo. So dirty and ugly” “Gosh, I can even smell you from here”.
This was only the beginning for Naomi. It has been one year since the Protection Order was issued in her favor but that has not stopped her abuse. In fact, she is certain that Vincent has been on an 8-month work trip to The Gambia. But the texts won’t stop. The threats won’t stop pouring in. She constantly gets texts that say, “I know where you are” or “I know what you’re doing” or “I’ll come for you anytime now. And when I do, you won’t live to tell the story”.
Today, just as she was about to leave the house, her phone beeped and it read: “Are you sure you want to leave right now? Seems like a good day to be run over by a car?” The digital surveillance seems unending. There is no real difference between when she was in the marriage and now that she’s out.
I entirely painted this scenario, above, in my head. And although all characters are fictitious and similiarities to any real person (living or dead) is merely coincidental, I’ll daresay that this is the exact reality of many people.
And so I wonder, what’s the proactiveness of the law (in Nigeria) regarding scenarios such as this? Do Protection Orders envision digital surveillance in restraining abusers?
Protection Orders need to issued with the understanding that the definition of distance has now been blurred by technology. If a person is ordered not to be within meters of another person, then consideration must also be given to the fact that proximity can also be digital. And such proximity can be as dangerous as a physical one. Domestic abuse can be carried out effectively both offline and online and our laws and reliefs have to factor this in.
In the making of this article, I googled ‘spy on my boyfriend’ and I got countless of app suggestions. These apps are apts to let me know that I can know what my boyfriend is doing without touching his phone, I can know where he is, I can read messages on all of his social media platforms and so on. More technology is being developed to enable spying and surveillance.
So I ask, what stops me from having a virtually invisible camera installed in his house if I have a Protection Order against me from entering his house? Aren’t they the same thing?
And what stops me from using GPS tracking if I have a Protection Order against stalking? Aren’t they the same thing?
Well, they need to.
This was a little different kind of gem, but gem all the same. So I’ll need you to:
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