In July 2013, one Maryam Yahaya made a confessional statement to the police in Plateau State that she killed her husband, Lawal Bala, by stabbing him with a knife on his neck while the deceased was sleeping in his bedroom in his home at Layin Sidi, Gangare, in Jos North local government area of the state, shortly after he returned from his business.
The 17-year-old Maryam, who claimed to have been forcefully married to the deceased, not long before the incident, told the police that she had to end her late husband’s life because she could no longer contend with his insatiable appetite for sex, alleging that he often had sexual intercourse with her up to six times in a day and would force her against her wish most of the time.
Stories of men having forceful sexual intercourse with their wives against their wishes abound. As Africans, it is unheard of in this part of the world that a woman would accuse her husband of raping her as she is deemed to be his property by virtue of the dowry he paid on her and can do with her as he wishes, including having sexual intercourse with her even against her wish. Cases of marital rape abound.
Marital rape is a situation where someone uses violence or the threat of violence to force their wife or husband to have sex. Reporting rape in marriage may become even more complicated because of a woman’s relationship to her assailant. Women raped by their husbands may hesitate to report because of family loyalty, fear of their abuser’s retribution, inability to leave the relationship, or they may not know that rape in marriage is against the law.
In November 2013, a 45-year-old trader, Muina Adelami, asked a Lagos Family Court in Lagos State to dissolve her eight-year-old marriage to her husband, Shuaib, a clerical officer, on the ground that his sex drive was high. According to her, the husband would have sex with her against her wish and beat her if she resisted him. She recalled an incident when she fainted and after assisting her to come round, he continued having sex with her.
“We start having sex every night just before midnight and this goes on till the early hours of the next day. Many times, immediately after he comes back from work, he starts demanding for sex. He would refuse to stand up even when I am crying and will start beating me whenever I complain. There were times I did faint, but when I regain consciousness, he would start again. The way he’s going, he will kill me. I now look older than my age mates due to too much sex,” she told the court.
In his defence, Shuaib admitted to having a high sex drive, but added that it was his right to have sex with his wife, adding that sex cannot kill her.
Speaking on the issue of marital rape, a lawyer, Emmanuel Adoga stated that “both the Penal Code which is applicable in northern states, and the Criminal Code (in the west) define rape to be sexual intercourse with a woman or carnal knowledge of a woman when consent is obtained by use of fraud, force, intimidation, threats to life, or physical harm. “Carnal knowledge” and sexual intercourse are defined for the purposes of both codes as acts of penetration. Under the Criminal Code, a woman may be prosecuted under the law prohibiting “unnatural” intercourse for “permitting” a man to have such intercourse with her. It is thus only when it can be proved that a person has contravened the ingredients of an offence as defined by the relevant penal legislation that such a person can be found guilty of committing that offence.”
Continuing, he said, “concerning marital rape, the question is whether or not a man can be liable for the offence of rape against his wife and therefore necessarily entails the consideration of the provisions of the Criminal Code Act Cap C17 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (applicable as Laws of the various States in the Southern part of Nigeria except Lagos State where the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011 applies) and the Penal Code Act (applicable in the FCT, Abuja and also applicable as Laws of the various northern states) to ascertain the physical and mental elements of the offence because Rape is defined in Section 357 of the Criminal Code and by Section 358 of the Code; the offence is punishable with imprisonment for life with or without caning. Section 357 of the Criminal Code provides: Any person who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm, or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act, or, in the case of a married woman, by personating her husband, is guilty of an offence which is called rape. But Section 282 (2) states that, (2) Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife is not rape, if she has attained puberty and because of this law, in the North, a man can only be guilty of the offence of rape against his wife if his wife has not attained the age of puberty. And that is why when women report cases of marital rape to the police, they find it hard to provide adequate assistance. The victim who has found the police to be unresponsive will then refuse to open up again. They will rather speak to their religious advisers who don’t really help except to encourage them to bear it. Women who are raped by their husbands are likely to experience multiple assaults and often suffer severe long-term physical and emotional consequences. It is most times more traumatic than rape by a stranger because a wife lives with her assailant and she may live in constant terror of another assault whether she is awake or asleep.”
A psychologist, Mr Adebayo Adewuti, said, “emotional reactions to marital rape can be very dramatic and severe because the act is done by an intimate partner. The effects could be injuries to the vaginal and anal areas, scrapes, cuts, bruises and soreness, torn muscles, fatigue, vomiting, broken bones, injuries caused by weapons, miscarriages or stillbirths, contraction of sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV, shock, anxiety and intense fear, depression, suicidal ideation, acute and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), loss of trust, shock, anxiety and intense fear, depression, suicidal ideation and acute and PTSD. Marital rape survivors may have flash backs, inability to trust, depression, and traumatic stress disorder, indignation and persecution of all forms of rape will take time. The physical effects of spousal rape are the same effects suffered by any rape victim and it could be that, some marital rape victims don’t realise they have been raped as they are under the mistaken impression that partners cannot rape each other.
He further categorised rape as battering rape, which occurs when physical and sexual violence occur together, saying in this instance, victims may experience physical and sexual violence at the same time or one may occur after another and that the rape may occur after the physical violence as an attempt to “make up.”
“There are different types of marital rape and these include force-only rape that does not include physical violence, obsessive rape involves torture or perverse sexual acts,” Adewuti added.
A Muslim cleric, Mallam Yahaya Sani, stated that forcing a wife into sex or marital rape is forbidden in Islam.
“If a man calls his wife to bed and she refuses, and then he sleeps angry, the angels shall curse her until he awakens.” Qur’an, 2.187 ‘they are garments for you and you are garments for them,” and this is how each spouse acts, emotionally, physically, and spiritually for the other. The spouse should fulfil the sexual needs of the other such that their desires are brought into check and they are able to stay away from the haram, both major (such as fornication). Muslim couples who are happy in bed are happy in their marriage. Islam is a religion of peace, and honours women and most of the hadith talks about how to treat women. Ibn Abidin says, ‘among the rulings of marriage is that each spouse is allowed to derive sexual pleasure from the other. Both husband and wife have the right to fulfil each other’s sexual needs.
“That is why the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said that, “If a man calls his wife to bed and she refuses, and then he sleeps angry, the angels shall curse her until he awakens.” It is not sexual abuse rather, it is to protect the marriage bed and keep it undefiled, where each spouse rushes to fulfil the rights and desires of the other. The messenger of Allah also stated that, ‘the most perfect of believers are those most perfect of character; and the best of you are the best of you to your spouses. The best of you are the best to their wives, and I am the best of you with my wives. He created for you spouses from yourselves that ye might find rest. A Muslim husband is forbidden to harm or abuse his wife! He has to act kindly towards his wife. Islam also says that ‘O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may take away part of the dower ye have given them, except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and God brings about through it a great deal of good.’ Qu’ran An-nisa 19 also says, ‘we all know that, husband’s urges are so strong, and to prevent him from acting out on them illicitly, a wife’s duty therefore is to submit (but cannot be forced) in order to preserve the marriage”.
A Christian cleric, Pastor Tunde Adegboyega of Resurrection Power and Life Ministry also condemned marital rape, saying, “1 Corinthians 7:1-5 says it is a husband’s duty to provide sexual satisfaction to his wife and it is a wife’s duty to provide sexual satisfaction to her husband, the sexual act within marriage is honourable.
“Marriage is honourable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). Sex within marriage is considered something pure and undefiled. As Christians, though we know it is lawful, we want to be like Jesus. That’s the reason why forcing sex on the spouse is a sin. It’s a sin of hypocrisy. 1 Corinthians 7:4 says the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. But a husband forcing sex on his wife without her willing participation is sinning because he is abusing his wife. It says quite clearly that the husband has authority over the wife’s body, and the wife has authority over the husband’s body. However, the husband cannot forcibly take what his wife has not offered. His physical need is not an excuse for abuse.”
In Benue State, though the issue is not very common as victims seldom talk about it, it has been discovered that there are a few cases of men who forcefully have carnal knowledge of their wives without seeking due consent. Sometimes the act is attributed to lack of understanding and harmony in a marriage.
Commenting on the matter, a clergy in charge of Faith Cathedral, Makurdi, Archbishop Yimam Orkwar described marital rape as act of irresponsibility, saying that it does not portend a good quality of Christianity.
According to him, when couples are legally married, they are entitled to each other except where disharmony is found, adding that before having carnal knowledge, the consent of both must be sought.
He said the act of rape is unholy and ungodly and urged those who indulge in it to desist in order to inherit the kingdom of God.
“The issue of matrimonial rape is not holy at all. When couples at married, they are legally joined together and are free to have physical contact with each, but it must be done in agreement of both parties.
“It is wrong when a man rapes a spouse rape another who are legally married. Women are expected to be submissive to their husbands but in doing this, the men too must realise that women has the right and so only harmonious coexistence can prevent this unholy act.” Orkwar stated.
A Muslim cleric, Alhaji Abdukadir Abubakar said the issue of matrimonial rape is against the tenets of Islam and urged people to desist from it.
According to Abubakar, though women are supposed to be submissive to their husbands, it is equally imperative for men not to forcefully have carnal knowledge of their wives. This, he said, will uphold the true respect of men on womanhood.