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Beyond the death of Osinachi

We all know it’s slapping season. And for once, Nigeria was leading on this one before the Americans, always eager to outdo others in games…

We all know it’s slapping season. And for once, Nigeria was leading on this one before the Americans, always eager to outdo others in games they are not even good at playing hijacked it. Hidden from the klieg lights and the clear view of television cameras, the Mrs Obiano/Bianca Ojukwu’s Anambra slapping saga must have hit the Guinness Book of involuntary slapping competition. It’s simple – one had a first lady tinge to it while the other carried ambassadorial heft. The jury is likely to remain hung for a while until competitive Americans reinvented the wheel.

At the 94th Oscars, comedian Chris Rock’s tasteless joke about Jada Pinket, actor Will Smith’s wife earned him a Fresh Prince of Bel Air slap. Prayer warriors are hoping that this whack restores whatever is lost in the home of the Smiths. However it resolves, Smith is likely to be poorer for it. Not long after the live streaming of the slap, companies and productions that had signed the actor were dropping him faster than hot potato. The Oscar organising committee slammed him with a ten-year ban. 

Men have been known to go to ‘war’ to redeem the dignity of their women. Ex-Governor Willie Obiano could do nothing to save his wife who has since moved on in the hope of becoming a senator of the Federal Republic. She would need the capacity to take or issue slaps in the sometimes-rowdy world of the Nigerian legislature. The orientation might be worth it if Iyabo Anisulowo is her mentor. Her colleague, Isa Mohammed who later apologised, slapped her over funds disbursement. Six years later, Elisha Abo, another senator slapped a nursing mother at an adult toyshop in Abuja. The courts slammed him with a N50 million fine. Both men tried to redeem their battered image by crying openly after their act.

Nigerian men are a strong lot who sometimes use their strength malevolently. Our traditionally matriarchal society values women either a little lower or equally as chattels. A tradition that procures suitors for women without their consent and sometimes arrogates to itself the right to fix up any lady of marriageable age, whether single, widowed or divorced by state decree is an unfriendly environment for women to thrive.

This is why the hoopla that greeted the death of gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu beats rational imagination. Are we suddenly awake or are we, as usual, entertained by a tragedy that takes our hearts and minds away from the lingering tragedy of our failed state? Many of us sit as judges on panels that still subject women to ignoble and arcane traditions that are repugnant to natural justice. Such traditions that strip a woman of everything she laboured with a spouse to build while forcing her to remain single or pick a suitor among her late husband’s relations. We hold court with traditions that subject women to other ignoble treatment while pretending to be gender-equality advocates on social media.

Whatever indignity Nigerian women suffer in their quest to earn respect and equality is squandered in these courts where women are subjected to varying forms of degradation and disrespect in the name of culture, religious doctrines or tradition. If proper treatment of women is the hallmark of development, we are what they call  underdeveloped nations!

Late Osinachi Nwachukwu, was the 44-year-old wife of a self-proclaimed pastor who might have died in mysterious circumstances. From interviews by those who know, while draped in the halo of spirituality as a singer, she endured continuous abuse at home. Her medical doctor turned pastor, Paul Enenche released a ten-minute video in which he reels out confessions of stories of abuse of the star by her husband. Enenche could not have kept an eye on every member of his church choir, but the various witnesses to the alleged crime remained complicit in the defence that the singer hoped that prayer would change her abusive husband.

The faith that should liberate humans becomes a shackle where abuse is spiritualised. Dr Enenche heard from several witnesses – the deceased’s twin sister, a music studio manager, who reportedly witnessed a slapping at his studio and reported nothing, and the deceased’s grown son. A timely act on their part could have saved that poor lady’s life.

As in all tragedies, there is a silver lining in Osinachi’s death if we are to move beyond the division of whether in 2022 or at any time, men have the exclusive right to batter their wives into submission or servitude. Abuse comes in different forms, physical, emotional, financial, institutional or organisational. Where a state is a principal culprit by not providing remedy for victims, it becomes the principal abuser of the abused. Physical abuse leaves visible wounds, but other forms of abuse leave emotional wounds often taking more than a lifetime to resolve.

While men and women suffer abuse, it would appear that women are more at the receiving end. Our society is an increasingly violent one in which the state that’s sworn to defend the rights of citizens leaves them vulnerable to all forms of abuse by making remedy non-justiciable. Victims are often subjected to the Will Smith’s law of mindless violence saves the day.

For assaulting his fellow man, Smith earned the respect of valiant men who defer to any means necessary to defend their wife’s honour. A society that values women automatically protects everyone, including furry beasts. One that subjects them to assault is open to anarchy. No spouse should be made to stay in a relationship in which his or her happiness is compromised. However, when the laws and the courts are in the hands of misogynists, society’s helpless are doomed.

Religion should have no overbearing influence when it comes to protecting the rights of the weak anywhere in the 21st century. Young people raised in homes where any form of abuse is rampant are often emotionally wobbly themselves. Many become society’s worst enemies as a result of the damage done to their psyche at home. Our society needs to wake up to its responsibilities and protect its women.

Eventually, it would not matter how the law resolves the Osinachi case. The current campaign for justice does nothing to Osinachi. The reputation of the husband in the court of public opinion is already damaged. The children would have to face the indignity of how their mother died instead of being shielded and helped by the state.

If and when the truth unfolds, one hopes that Nigerians remember the strategy of the losing team in classical football matches of yore. At these games, the rallying cry of the losing team is very often – if you miss the ball, don’t miss the leg. There would be no justice for Mrs Nwachukwu. She obviously would have left for safety if there was a sanctuary designated for victims of abuse. The law must provide protection for victims of abuse against their attackers.  As a society, we must grow beyond spontaneous advocacy to meet instinctive situations to providing the sanctuary that is open and accessible to victims and those close to them.