Tuesday, July 6, 2010

King Down, Women Up

The Ondo State government in Nigeria recently took a historic step as, for the first time ever, a traditional ruler was removed for committing domestic violence against his estranged wife. This represents not only an achievement for the state government, but also for women in the state, the country and indeed the entire continent.

The Deji of Akureland, Oba Oluwadare Adepoju, was deposed, arrested and banished by the Ondo State government and taken by police to an undisclosed town in the state pending the final report on the allegations of wife battering against Mrs. Olori Bolante Adepoju. The Deji and his entourage (including new wife Remi Abiola) reportedly burst into his ex-wife’s apartment, dragged her outside onto a busy street and beat her in public. If not for passerby stopping the beating, it is believed that Oba Adepoju was about to give her what is known as an “acid bath” – an unfortunately popular African punishment for wayward wives. Some acid was poured on Mrs. Adepoju.

Reports did not initially provide details on what instigated the Deji’s attack on his wife, but Oba Adepoju subsequently accused his former wife of adultery and collecting money in his name. She has filed a court action to declare that her two sons by Oba Adepoju – Adeboyega and Adesimbo – are his biological offspring.
The removal of the Deji was unprecedented. In tradition, obas are not only the heads of their towns or kingdoms, but are the personification of deities, representing ancestral authority. Their appointment is partly by divination made by the high chiefs of the jurisdiction in question. Ironically, obas are usually the ones dispensing justice.

The incident sparked protests by women’s organizations, such as the National Council of Women’s Society of Nigeria and Women Arise, who called upon traditional rulers in Nigeria to condemn the Deji’s actions. Indeed, leaders including Alhaji Akeem Yayi Akorede, the Chief Imam of Akureland; Chief Reuben Fasoranti, the Chairman of Afenefire; Chief Olu Falae, Prince Dayo Faloye, Honorable Justice Dare Aguda, Reverend Luyi Rotimi; Chief Femi Adekanye; Chief Sanya Oyisan, and other leaders all joined in condemning Oba Adepoju for what was called unbecoming conduct that “has eroded the sanctity, dignity and respect of the stool (chieftainship).”

The action of the state government and the concurrence of so many traditional and community leaders surely raised a cheer among women of Ondo State and Nigeria as a whole. Human rights reports indicate that as high as 50% of Nigerian women are victims of domestic abuse. The percentage could well be higher, but tolerance of violence against women in Nigeria may suppress the number of attacks reported or recorded.

According to tradition in many African societies, women are expected to take a subservient role to their husbands. African societies, unlike those in the West, are not built on individual rights, but rather on the family and its interests. The reproductive capacity of women is generally considered to be controlled by the husband and his family after marriage. Because of the bride price often is still paid by the husband’s family to his wife’s family, many wives are unable to leave an abusive husband unless her family refunds the bride price.

Injustice against females is ingrained in practices such as female circumcision, denial of widow inheritance, widowhood rites and female religious bondage. Matters involving domestic abuse are widely considered an internal matter for the family and not a public issue. That this case became public was partly because the offense was handled so publicly.

African societies are now in transition from being largely rural to becoming increasingly urban. Women who had previously stayed home or tended to family farms are more often now found in the workplace. Domestic researchers are finding that the increased interaction of women with other people in the workplace and the inability to keep to meal and other domestic schedules that had been established causes growing friction.

Modern African women are more educated, have money they earn on their own and are less willing to remain silent while being bossed or abused. It is a new day in Africa, and men must adjust to the modern African woman. The old days are gone and will not return.

It is even more heartening that governments like Ondo State can take actions to protect all of its citizens and not just men. In speaking with current and former residents of Ondo State, though, it is clear they do not yet realize the magnitude of what has been done. Women throughout Nigeria and Africa now have a precedent on which to base their own liberation from unjust traditions.

The new African woman – hear her roar.