When Rashida Ibrahim’s* brother came back home with a lost phone he picked up on the streets of Kaduna in the year 2007, she did not know that her life was about to change forever.
“I could remember my brother coming in with an unfamiliar phone interrupting an Indian movie we were watching. It wasn’t long before the owner called to confirm the whereabouts of the phone.”
Nigeria got its first introduction to mobile phones in 2001, and even though the population of people with mobile phones increased over the years, not everyone could afford a phone in the year 2007. Rashida understood why he kept calling them to confirm the location of his phone even though she was slightly annoyed by it.
Rashida and some of her cousins met the 35-year-old owner at an agreed location within the northwestern Nigeria state, but he insisted on seeing where they lived because he was amazed by their honesty.
“At first, he started visiting once in a while and we formed a good relationship. Then, his visits started to get more frequent and he later asked me out.”
The 20-year-old, who was still getting her Nigerian Certificate in Education (NCE) was not particularly fond of the man. But her entire family was enamoured by what they thought of as his kindness and generosity.
“I didn’t like him and at first rejected him, but my mother told me to find a new mother if I would not accept his proposal.”
Rashida was terrified of her mother’s utterance and reluctantly succumbed to his advances. In September of the same year, the two got married.
Forced marriage can sometimes be achieved when a parent uses emotional guilt-tripping without giving their children an option to refuse due to the threat of harm, abandonment, or persecution. For many women like Rashida without anything to fall back on, refusing is not an option. Factors such as religion, culture, and economic status contribute to this problem.
The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, one of the most encompassing and inclusive laws against SGBV in Nigeria, criminalises forced marriage by making it punishable with imprisonment of a maximum of 2 years or a fine of N500,000 or both.
“At first, he was kind and supportive and I thought that maybe I made a good choice but soon after I gave birth, he started to change, dropping hints that he does not in fact want children and if I give birth again, he was not going to take care of me or the baby.”
After she gave birth to her second baby, things got even worse but fortunately for Rashida, she got a job offer even before she finished her NCE.
“That was when he stopped contributing financially. I started to be the one who takes care of things around the house because he refused to do anything even when he has the means to, and he started to borrow a lot of money from me without ever returning them.”
Financial abuse is a form of domestic violence that can take the forms of taking full control over one’s finances, financial lies, manipulation, and in cases such as Rashida’s, refusing to discharge financial obligations in a traditional Islamic marriage while also indirectly taking control of the partner’s finances and ‘borrowing’ money with no intention to return them. The ability to take money from the other partner without paying back is usually achievable because of the knowledge that the partner cannot get it back due to power imbalance and social expectations.
According to Section 12 of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, a person responsible for economic abuse is liable to 2 years imprisonment or a fine not exceeding 100,000 naira or both when found guilty. This may include forcing one’s spouse into financial dependence, refusing to discharge financial obligations or depriving one’s spouse of their basic needs.
Rashida felt ashamed to report him at first, because she felt exposing their family secrets would not be beneficial to them.
“We lived in a rented house with a lot of neighbours; I went out of my way to protect his ego. Sometimes, I do things and ask him to pretend as if he was the one who did them just so that people will not insult him because I thought that was expected of me as a good wife.”
But that did not make him kinder and more considerate; in fact, he turned into a completely different person.
“He was cruel with his words and slowly started to hit me even in front of our children. Even after my parents passed away, he would insult them and say terrible things about my family. That cut deeply when I remembered the lengths my mother went to ensure that I married him.”
Rashida’s children would cry with her and try to protect her sometimes during his abuse, but they all lived under the shadow of his anger.
Financial abuse makes one vulnerable to other forms of abuse such as physical and emotional abuse, while leaving the victim’s financial resources limited so they will find it hard to leave the relationship, making them vulnerable to poverty and increasing financial hardship for the children involved.
“I have collected loans on his behalf, especially when he lost his shop in the market, therefore losing his source of livelihood, but nothing I do is ever enough.” Rashida did everything she could to protect her husband from shame, including getting gifts for his family and pretending they were from him.
“My mother-in-law seemed kind to me, so I thought I could report him to her when things got worse about 5 years into the marriage, what I didn’t know was that even though she pretended to listen and empathise when I am there, she blamed and said horrible things about me when I leave or sometimes out rightly denies things he did to me because she doesn’t think he is capable of doing that.”
Rashida later stopped reporting him when her mother-in-law’s behaviour behind her back started to reach her ears. When she started reporting him to her own family, everyone told her to go back to him and be patient like the good wife she was. Telling her that God will reward her for her patience.
Survivors of abuse find it hard to leave because sometimes society normalises harmful behaviour and at first they may not realise they are being harmed, or they get their self-esteem completely destroyed by the abuser or the social pressure involved forces them to stay in the relationship using emotionally manipulative tactics and religious/ cultural guilt-tripping.
“Once, when our financial problem got so bad, I decided to sell the land I inherited to help us through it.” At first, her husband pretended not to be comfortable with the idea but when she gave him permission to sell the land, he refused to give her anything out of the money.
“I begged him to give me at least ₦50,000 to buy gold jewellery as an investment just so I can get something out of it but he refused. I had to keep crying and throwing tantrums before he finally gave me ₦40,000 out of it. In fact, he didn’t use the money for anything that will benefit the family- our rent went unpaid and I still had to continue feeding and taking care of the family.”
Rashida was tired of the life she was living and what her children had to go through. To make matters worse, he hardly ever stays at home or interacts with her. The situation got so bad, she moved into her children’s room just so she could avoid him.
“At first, I started giving him the money for rent when we start getting notices but he refused to pay and spent it on himself instead, so I stopped giving it to him,” she says.
One morning in 2021, Rashida finally snapped when he refused to pay rent for a while. “I didn’t say anything to him, I just asked my family to help me look for a house and knowing he would be out the next day, I spent the entire day packing everything and moving it to my new house. Without leaving the address, I told him to figure things out for himself as I have moved with my four kids.”
He started to get aggressive, telling her he did not give her permission to move but Rashida refused to budge and for months, he kept harassing her family trying to figure out where she moved to. He even tried to cajole her family into believing he had changed and wanted to make amends, she says.
When his efforts proved abortive, he started bringing things during his visits to her family house. He brought a small amount of rice and cassava flakes once. Sometimes, he would bring biscuits or plain Lipton tea with no accompaniments. Rashida was already done with the marriage and kept asking him for a divorce which he refused to grant.
“I got tired and started seeking legal help in 2022. I kept praying for the best outcome. On the day I was supposed to go report him to a Sharia court, I got a call from my family that he has brought the divorce papers.” Rashida was ecstatic that the marriage finally came to an end without a legal battle but when she tried to get some of her money back from him, he turned aggressive.
“I sent him a text to ask for some of the money he borrowed from me so I can take better care of the kids but he started to insult me and use religion to manipulate me into not getting it back.” Rashida is convinced that she will never get her money back from him and is more focused on earning more to take care of her kids.
“I do not want him to find out where I lived because even my kids are terrified of him. Our lives became much better without him in it and we want it to stay that way.”
According to studies, sometimes abuse survivors are scared of what their ex-partners may do when they leave. In many cases, abusers become vindictive when their victims leave, resorting to violence, smear campaigns, and attempts to turn the children against the victim or hide some of the victim’s assets.
Her ex-husband refused to give her back the documents for the land she bought from his sister’s husband, claiming it wasn’t with him even though she was sure that it was because he refused to give it to her right from the onset.
“I have no evidence to prove in court that I have all that money with him and even his family members that knew about it won’t stand up for me. And I have no one to stand up for me because both my parents are dead.”
Rashida says she has resigned to her fate but it’s still very hard, sometimes her children get sent back from school due to her inability to pay their school fees on time and she constantly has to beg the school for more time.
Rashida is doing the best she can to ensure that she meets her children’s needs but there is only so much she can do without the help of their father or access to her money.
“I can never forgive that man and his family and what they did to us no matter what people try to make me believe. I am hopeful that God will take care of us and pay them back for their actions. That’s the only thing that is keeping me going,” she says.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
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