Akolade Arowolo pastured young people at a branch of Redeemed Christian Church of God in Lagos. One day, last year, he murdered his wife, stabbing her 76 times in “the left eye, right eye, upper chest area, right chest and collar bone.”
He claimed his wife was possessed and inflicted the injuries on herself.
Forensics expert showed the court his wife couldn’t have done all the stabbing to herself. He got a death sentence, to die by hanging.
When the judge read out the statement, Arowolo fell down in the dock, screaming, “Jesus, have mercy.”
In Jos, Nanbur Vongtan, is in court for stabbing his wife to death when she returned to her father’s home and refused an order to cook for him.
It is not the first time a husband has killed his wife, or a wife killed her husband.
Police in Kano are on a manhunt for a teenage bride who poisoned her husband and fled after he died.
Mariticide (killing a husband) and uxoricide (killing a wife) have been in human societies as long as they have existed. It is not new. They are only popping up more frequently in the news these days.
“Close proximity of spouses makes it conducive for one to take offence against the other or fail to do,” says Chukwunonso Okafo, criminology expert and dean at the faculty of law, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
The situation can escalate depending on how each partner handles it, but both necessarily contribute to the outcome. But increasing media focus on the goings-on in families is bringing dirty family linens into public view.
“These days, when you have the focus of society on what goes on in the family more so than you had in the past, these things are bound to come to light,” says Okafo.
And the media-both formal and informal, with everyone able to collect and disseminate any incident, “circumstances within the family can now be made available to a larger public,” says Okafo.
That’s part of the larger focus. Last year, Maryam Sanda, married to the son of a former chairman of the People’s Democratic Party got in the news for stabbing her husband to death.
Investigation into the murder hasn’t thrown up hard facts, but the public has been agog on social media, debating details, conjectures and mostly speculations.
Law enforcement is investigating a crime.
“There’s no reason to assume that because they are related, it is something less than killing,” says Okafo.
“Spousal relationships means there is need to look closer because there must have been some very close contact between the individuals, some of which may excuse the offender.”
Extenuating circumstances abound in the eyes of the law. Take provocation, where the offender acted because of activities of the victim. It is different from when someone just gets up and does the killing without instigation.
Nearly every wife or husband killer has claimed some provocation, but not all of them can stand as excuse.
Maryam’s story points to her finding compromising messages on her husband’s phone, which may be basis for provocation and acting in “the heat of the moment”.
In Bayelsa, Stephen Akpata also suspected his wife was being unfaithful. The couple had just finished having sex when he found the messages. But it didn’t stop him picking up a knife.
But the facts are sketchy. A husband-and-wife relationship is the closest any two humans can get into and each day comes with friction.
In Anambra, Everitus and his wife Fidelia got into a fight over Christmas food. An ex-boxer, he beat her to death.
In Oyo, Lowo and Yewande Oyediran lived the perfect life-she in Ibadan, him in France. But he returned to work on a project, and another project was to take him to Denmark. He wanted to go; she didn’t want him to leave. She stabbed in a fight, he got treated. The later stabbing that killed him was while he slept.
Friction “is fairly common in spousal relationships,” says Okafo. Think moving a toothbrush or not replacing the water in the fridge. Not all sources of friction should call for murder or qualifies as basis of action, especially violence.
“A reasonable person will not always go that far in terms of reacting to every little thing,” says Okafo.
“It is the big things we are interested in, that could be the basis for provocation.”
The big things start in the individual mind, psychologists say. Psychologist Rukkaya Mansur didn’t like the tweets and posts delving into Sanda’s story with little understanding of the facts of the case. Those have pushed the truth so far off track, it has gone into hiding.
A pastor in Benin City, Henry Odion, murdered his wife in the presence of their six-month-old child, then fled. Police found 10 questions he’d penned, presumably, for his wife before her death.
A rule of thumb is that multiple stabbings imply rage-when one is so blind with anger, they can’t see or think clearly-and a problem managing anger.
“It is a psychological issue where you haven’t controlled yourself or had help controlling your anger-to the point where you can explode and harm someone,” says Mansur.
“Anger is very psychological. If your anger isn’t checked, anyone is capable of doing anything.”
And there is a lot of it going around these days.
“Society is angry at just about everything. It is not just wife killing husband, there are so many killings that you find that the cause of killing is anger. I feel there is so much pent-up frustration and it so much going on. Mindfulness and learning how to be calm might also help.”
Marriage, in months or years, is grounds for things to go wrong.
“In two years, a lot can happen in a relationship, on both sides,” says Mansur.
“Both parties could have felt wronged at some point. That’s how marriage is. But to get to a point where violence is the end, it feels like there might have been a building up and then an explosion.”
Mindfulness requires a calm temperament, she adds. People with calmer temperament never go that way, but people who are hot headed might if they are not very good at anger management.
And society has a lot to do and say about factors that could depress a spouse to the point of violence. Psychologists look at the individual, sociology looks at factors in society that predispose individuals to mariticide or uxoricide.
The year 2016 was famous for husbands who killed their wives. But 2017 turned the trend upside down: women were the ones lashing out, and sociology bears them out.
In Nigeria, as elsewhere in Africa, the demands of culture and attitudes suppress women, sociologists believe.
“There is a limit to which you can suppress before there will be an outburst,” says Anthony Agbor, development sociologist at the Kwararafa University, Taraba.
“What we are witnessing at the moment is outburst as a result of imbalance in gender mainstreaming. If there is no balance in relationships, there is likely to be an outburst and the outburst is most likely to come from the one on the receiving side.”
Cultural factors give men leverages and positional attributes to women. Sayings abound how women are to be seen, not heard; to be felt, not to feel or express themselves.
“The stooge attitude we have created has created a backlog of suppressed social action,” he says.
African societies give men a right to receive incomes, keep it to themselves and use it to better themselves. The woman doesn’t even have to know about it. A woman exposed and working beside men gets to know she can earn same or even higher.
“And then she comes home to see a man who does not want to take that into recognition and feels like the woman doesn’t have a position in family structuring, decision making around the family, society or community,” says Agbor.
“This denial of outlet to express yourself is technically an endangered action that predisposes women to be built the way they are.”
Another scenario. A man can dress how he likes, drink as much as he wants, enjoys as much as his wealth can carry, but a woman hasn’t got the same opportunities. Instead, she is predisposed to venereal infections, childbirth with little or no hope of surviving.
“And all the man puts up is, ‘I can provide income to take care of her maternal fees and if she gives birth, I can get her a home to bring back her child in,’” says Agbor. “That’s all.”
That’s recipe for disaster, sociologists believe. What’s missing is compatibility. Agbor did a study defining compatibility as better off as not plus-plus but plus-minus, where strength and weakness prop up each other.
“There is a level to which a man can express his strength and he should be able to admit his weakness, as well as the woman,” he explains.
It all comes down to patriarchy, and it is “dangerous when you look at the position of Africans and Nigerians in contemporary times,” says Agbor.
“We are yet to actually define our culture and tenets of relationship. We want to copy the white man’s lifestyle but we don’t want to really understand what makes him behave in the manner he behaves.”
For one instance, traditional rites for contracting marriages are being downplayed in favour of western-styled “white weddings” yet the clinging on to traditional rites is strong.
“If we are neither here nor there, this conflict in thoughts and positioning is what is bringing out this upset,” says Agbor.
Sociology proposes a couple of theorems. Acculturation. That’s “adopting the culture of strange societies without knowing the consequences and placing it higher than our own culture,” says Agbor.
Another is cultural diffusion. “We have allowed the intrinsic side of western culture to penetrate our core culture, and now we are sitting on the fence; are we really Africans, or Nigerians, or westerners?
“We want to empower our women but we are afraid of them dominating us, then why are we trying to empower them? We want to create a balanced gender relation but we think the women are too powerful to be given equal rights and justice. We are yet to take a stand as to what will work effectively for us.”
Society has fashioned marriage in such a way that what goes on within isn’t for public consumption. And how society reacts when people open up on the goings-on, dealing out ostracism and stigma makes it certain that people go back to their marriage and “continue to endure the situation,” says clinical psychologist Samuel Adekunle.
Maureen Adejo endured abuse in her five-year-long marriage to Olaoluwa. She is reported to have suffered torture, being whipped with a belt and cut with a machete, according to statements by the couple’s five-year-old son.
He told newspapers how his father forced rat poison down his mother’s throat.
“For it to get to the point of murdering their spouse, apparently they must have been enduring abuse in the relationship, whether male or female, that gets to the point where they cannot tolerate it anymore. The likelihood is for one to end it all.
“Initially we used to see cases of suicide from spouses that are abused, but now they tend to attack the perpetrator. In doing that, they hope to get a respite from what they are passing through.
A separation doesn’t come easy when a woman’s livelihood and identity are tied to her spouse’s.
“If you stay away for a while how do you sustain a living, sustain an identity, manage the perceptions society will throw at you. That option becomes very difficult to take.
Outright divorce, according to people who have gone through it, is only easier when a woman has some independence already.
“You get to fill a form and on marital status, you fill divorce, the way you are looked at, the op being offered is approved different from other people. There is a whole lot of stigma surrounding people who are divorced.
So a separation isn’t easy, divorce comes with stigma, and murder comes with jail time. Why take the chances. Something happens in the brain when it comes to that now-or-never, do-or-die moment.
“Someone who gets to that point of taking that step must have felt all other options will not lead to resolving that issue. It can be rage. Someone provoked, by the time they lose it, the person is difficult to calm down. It can lead to actions they take and afterwards regret.
In rage, the forebrain which controls logical thinking is suspended. Activities there slow down, and blood supply rushes to the part of the brain responsible for fight-or-flight response.
It is survival. “You attack or you flee,” says Adekunle.
“Attacking that source of danger could be you taking something to harm the person or escaping. There are several things that can go in. that’s what research shows of the brain during rage.”