Leaving an Abusive Spouse – Should a Woman Remain Unhappy? The Nigerian/African reason

This article was written originally by: Faizat Badmus-Busari*

Please note that this article concerns only abusive marriages, particularly where the wife is the victim and not the perpetrator.

abusive marriageIt is no news that a lot of Nigerian women stay in abusive and unhappy marriages due to numerous reasons. Divorce is one word that is hardly discussed or spoken about in the Nigerian society; it is not even considered an option despite repeated spousal abuse in the marriage. Even those brave enough to go through the justice system have to endure the stigma that attaches to a divorced woman.

The most tangible reason why Nigerian women in abusive relationships find it difficult to leave their spouse is due to the fact that Nigerian Law is not favourable to the plight of Nigerian women. Comparing the United States (US) and Nigerian laws on matrimonial causes and divorce, it is apparent that matrimonial causes and divorce laws in Nigeria are hardly on the side of women. Although divorce laws in the US vary from state to state, all states allow “no fault” divorce proceedings and in many states a court may still take into account the behavior of the parties when dividing property, debts, evaluating custody of children, and awarding spousal support for either spouses.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, once a man and woman decide to call it quits, the woman is automatically sent packing out of their matrimonial home regardless of the extent of her contributions to the acquisition of the home. Depending on the age of their kids (which at times is also irrelevant), the man retains custody of the kids while the issue of spousal support is a “no issue” and there is nothing like division or settlement of property between the spouses. In effect, the woman is basically left homeless, without any property from the broken marriage and could even find it difficult to return to her parental home as even culturally some parents may refuse to accept a “divorcée” daughter back in their home. Unlike in the US where the option of a shelter, government loan, Section 8 housing or subsidies housings are available, Nigerian Law has no succor  for women escaping abusive failed marriages or other forms of broken unions.

As a result, a typical Nigerian woman, despite been severely battered in the marriage, would remain in such a union after considering all the above factors and sometimes this leads to death. Notwithstanding all these factors, the question remains, should a woman remain unhappy in an abusive relationship? Or gather her strength and move out of the home/union irrespective of the fact that she has to start all over again to rebuild her life?

The major factor restricting Nigerian women from taking the bold steps in such situations is the fear and uncertainty of starting afresh in an unforgiving hostile economy without any form of social security welfare or government support. Often therefore, remaining in the abusive marriage appears a better choice than the uncertainties that abound in having to start afresh. Until the government introduces concrete social support measures targeted at women to enable them stay on their feet financially and economically even after leaving their abusive/failed marriages, Nigerian women will continue to be stuck in abusive relationships without any way of escape.

In your opinion, what is the way forward?

Faizat Badmus-Busari is a qualified Lawyer, and recently obtained her masters of Law in International & Comparative Law. She is expected to start her doctoral studies focusing on Gender/Child Rights and Religious/Cultural pluralism in Nigeria. She is happily married with a daughter. Her LinkedIn profile can be viewed here



  1. Ameenat

    I agree with you on some of the issues raised and it is trite that most women all over the world experience one form of discrimination as well as physical,sexual and or psychological abuse either in marriage, work, and the community as a whole.

    Interestingly your focus is limited to Nigeria whereas violence especially spousal abuse is a global social epidemic as emphasised in the provision of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms discriminations against Women.

    The Nigerian constitution recognises equality in law hence enshrined in the grund norm are equal rights, obligations and oppurtunities before the law. Nigeria has ratified and domesticated most of the international treaties on violence on women and other forms of violation of fundamental human rights an example is the African Charter on human and people’s on the rights of women in Africa.

    But in spite of these declarations and condemnation of violence against women and the apparent growing awareness, spousal abuse is on the raise in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.

    There is a need for states to implement legislation on all forms of violence against women and monitor it’s application and administration. It might interest you to know that under penal code (55) in the northern Nigeria husband’s are allowed to physically assault their wives if they err within a reasonable threshold!!. Question is who determines the threshold? The battered wife or the husband? Why make the husband’s judge in their own cause!

    We also have to look at the clash between customary law, norms, public opinion, and the compatibility and the repugnancy tests.

    Gladly, the Lagos State government has taken action to reform repugnant and discriminatory laws that promote violence against women.

    I will like to refer you to the Domestic Violence Law in Lagos State which is now commonly known as “beat your wife and go to jail Law”. It is a law to provide protection against domestic violence and for connected purposes which came into force on 18th of May 2007. The Women empowerment and legal aid and the citizen’s mediation centre under the Lagos State ministry of justice to mention a few are also fully involved in their advocacy on eradication of violence against women.

    The poverty level in Africa is also a big factor to be considered as most women still rely totally on their spouses for sustenace. No amount of abuse will make them leave!

    On a lighter note some women in Nigeria would prefer to drive a range rover with a black eye as a result of spousal abuse than to
    be alone, happy and poor!



  2. I think the Nigerian cultural environment plays a strong role as Faizat suggests, in deciding whether or not a woman should endure suffering. I think a way forward would also be for sensitization and creation of awareness on domestic violence and abuse.

    Another problem, I think, is the attitude of Nigerian law towards “personal” and/or “domestic” matters. For example, it is still the position that a man cannot legally/criminally rape his wife i.e. the notion of marital rape is still foreign in Nigeria. Thus, considering that abuse takes different forms e.g physical violence/abuse & verbal violence/abuse, we must not forget that sexual abuse is very predominant in Nigerian marriages and there is no criminal sanction for perpetrators of such acts.

    Being the “ADR advocate” that I am, I’d suggest that since our culture and laws don’t inspire/propel victims of domestic abuse to file for divorce, 2 options ought to be explored:
    1. Mediation
    2. Restorative Justice.

    Option 2 would only be useful if the Nigerian laws become more proactive and protective towards the resolution of domestic issues, particularly where violence abounds.


  3. Nemi

    We need prenuptial agreements in Nigerian marriages supported by the State.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: