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Murder she wrote

In November, 2017, Nigeria stood still after the murder of a young man who belonged to the so-called elite class of Arewa. Bilyamin Bello had…

In November, 2017, Nigeria stood still after the murder of a young man who belonged to the so-called elite class of Arewa.

Bilyamin Bello had been stabbed repeatedly by his wife, Maryam Sanda, and later died of injuries at the Maitama Hospital, Abuja. The Nigerian media went into frenzy, with each media house trying to outdo the other in dishing out the latest scoop while fishing for details of the case and rubbing it repetitively in our faces. I remember entering the hospital in the morning and it was the story on everyone’s mouth: the security guards, patients, cleaners, hospital staff, everyone – all analysing how a woman could stab her husband to death. It is almost three years now, yet, we still make reference to the blind rage that can engulf a woman so much so as to kill a man she claims to love.

Last weekend, news broke of a 26-year-old woman, Hauwa, who allegedly stabbed her two children aged six and three to death. This time around, in a cruel twist of fate, the suspect killed her children in protest of her husband’s decision to marry another wife. The relationship between the first wife and her husband had turned sour for some time ever since he married the second wife. The suspect was said to have issued threats and thrown tantrums after the wedding but nobody took her serious – after all, jealousy is an emotion that is as old as time, and therefore her outbursts were brushed. Reports are that she complained to her mother several times about her insomnia, nightmares and the rising hatred she felt towards everyone around her, including her children. She criticised her children and hit them repeatedly while lamenting that they (her children) wanted to kill her. Alas! Nothing was done. She was just another jealous woman who would calm down with time. And did she eventually calm down? The answer is of course “no”. And for that her children paid the ultimate price.

The first thing that came to my mind – the doctor part of me – reasoned that this woman must be suffering from some kind of mental illness. Was she suffering from severe depression with psychosis? Was her husband’s marriage a trigger to an underlying illness? Was she having a sort of manic phasic? Was she schizophrenic? Did she suffer from the voices in her head telling her that killing her children was the best way to spite her husband? Was she in a dark place? Was this a cry for help? Another part of me – most likely the part dominated by oestrogen – understood that she most likely had been overtaken by cold-blooded fury. How dare he marrY again after all the sacrifices she had made for him? Sometimes, when overtaken by emotion, a person can commit a crime so heinous that they will not believe they did upon reflection. And this is where Emotional Intelligence (EI) comes in.

EI has been defined as the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately and to therefore use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour. There are many components and models of EI, but the backbone is to have self-awareness and empathy. Once a person is aware of his emotions and is able to put himself in another person’s shoes, that he empathises with them, the person will automatically have good social skills that can only lead to positive relationships. So, in this instance, if the woman had recognised that the emotion she was feeling was that of jealousy, which led to her anger, she would have employed coping mechanisms like venting, crying and meditation to calm her down before the anger would ascend to blind rage where one is no longer thinking rationally. Empathising with her children and family would also have prevented the senseless killings.

However, this only applies to mentally stable individuals.

I keep saying that sane individuals do not just wake up one morning and decide to kill their spouses or children; there are usually warning signs which we, as a society, ignore. In the case of Maryam Sanda, reports are that she repeatedly complained to her mother about her marriage and that on the night of the fatal stabbing, hours earlier, she had stabbed him with a broken bottle which had necessitated him going to a pharmacy with a friend. The friend was said to have then brokered peace between the couple and returned Bilyamin to his house. Abegi! How can a woman stab you in the evening and then you return to her bed to sleep? How? How can a man hit you repeatedly and then you return to the house to sleep? How many women have been killed this way? Domestic violence does not just start in a day – there are signs. Signs that victims ignore at their own peril. In this case, the suspect’s threats and behaviour were dismissed as mere “talk” or attributed to “jazz” that the new wife sent her way. Did anybody sit Hauwa down and hear her out? Was someone she respected or a religious leader asked to counsel her? Was her mental health assessed? Was she on drugs? The questions are numerous and are left for the forensic psychiatrists and lawyers to answer.

In the past few years, the incidences of domestic violence in Nigeria have been on the increase. Whether it is a man throwing a woman from a six-storey building or a woman poisoning her husband with insecticide or the craziest I have heard – the one where women were throwing their step children into a well in Katsina – the facts remain that we have a problem of monumental proportions on our hands.

Three factors, if not addressed, will continue to contribute to the incidences of domestic violence, especially in Northern Nigeria: substance abuse, neglect of mental health and our “sai hakuri” mentality. The first factor needs no introduction as the rising incidences of substance abuse have been overflogged with little outcome. Young men and women who take these narcotics will continue to fail in marriages and contribute to the burden of domestic violence in Nigeria.

However, it is the neglect of our mental health as a society that continues to irk me. Mental health has no barrier – rich, poor, professor or illiterate – those who experience symptoms should go to the hospital for evaluation, not attibuting it to “evil spirit” or “aljannu”. They too, are tired of us constantly blaming them. E don do! Haba! Nigerians have to learn to recognise symptoms that require medical evaluation. We also have to learn to teach our children EI. It is pertinent that we emphasise on it as we do Intelligence Quotient (IQ) as both are necessary for healthy development in adults.

Additionally, the issue of sai hakuri in marriage should be addressed. Parents should learn to listen to their children properly and pick out warning signs. Some complaints are actually cries for help that warrant critical appraisal. We should not bury our heads in the sand in hope that hakuri or patience is the key to solving all problems. Some problems require counselling sessions, medical evaluation and separation to avoid physical harm. The next victim may be our sister, brother, daughter, son or relative. These tragic stories keep coming closer home.

May the souls of those children tragically killed receive the warmest reception in Jannah and may justice be served on their murderer, ameen.

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