My name is Omalinze Okonkwo. I am a 33 year old Nigerian woman, who fled to the US to get away from a violently abusive husband/marriage. It had been hell, pretty much from day one of our 10 year marriage, with lots of hospitalizations and two separations in between. And it was ALL forms of abuse, from physical to emotional to psychological to mental to financial. This is the story of how I left, it was not and has not been easy, but I’m glad I’m free.
Ours was a funny history. We met in ‘98 when an 18 year old me (music director/trainee pastor) accompanied my BFF (of blessed memory) to UNEC for her fellowship’s camp meeting. I was to help arrange her music as well as perform in a play and a special Acapella as the alto. As was our usual practice, we didn’t eat all day prior to the performance so as soon as we had sung, my friends and I rushed to the nearest “burger ” joint we could find. As we waited for our eggs to be fried, four young men frolicked rather loudly in our line of vision.
All four were trying to talk to me and I was famished, so I was not in the mood. Eventually, our meal was ready and No four, who was the biggest and loudest, tried to get my room number. I told him and he said he would visit. Unknown to him, we were to leave first thing in the morning so I knew I would never see him again. Good riddance “I thought” as I personally believed it was disrespectful of any man to toast a girl while he was with his friends.
A year later, while I was home on holidays, my family phone rang and it was some guy asking for me. Normally, I would have discharged him to avoid getting caught by my dad but he was out and I was bored so I didn’t hang up. Apparently, he had tricked my friend into giving him my number. Next thing, I knew, we were spending hours on the phone. Before long, I was sneaking out to meet him in front of my gate and we would drive in his mom’s Toyota Cressida to his friend’s place where we would make-out for hours. Soon, though he went for Youth service so we lost touch.
We started dating properly when a year after his service he came back to Enugu. Coincidentally, I was around. So he looked me up and we hooked up the same day (I had lost my faith after a series of tragedies including losing my youngest sister to malaria, failing out of Medical school and losing my best friend in a fire). He left the next day promising to call even though I had told him not to bother. So started our long distance relationship which he broke off by phone exactly a year later because “the Lagos girls were a distraction”.
Years later, we somehow reconnected and became friends even though we had separate relationships. Soon, we were “friends-with-benefits”. Anyway, he had issues that led to his suspension for months and in that time there was a shift in our relationship. Suddenly, the *commitment-phobe* started becoming more controlling, calling to know where I was or flying into rages if I sent him some credit bought with my meager modeling earnings. I figured it was the pressure of the job and soon after, he was recalled to work and became sweet and adorable again.
“Moooommmmmy! I’m coooooooold” wailed Ada, my little 2 year-old daughter as she stood shivering in the bitingly cold, windy and foggy UK early morning.
“Let’s go back in and sleep a little, please Mommy!” begged Obi, my 8 year old son, his voice muffled by my head-tie-turned-scarf.
“I’m really sorry, babies! We can’t go back in. We have to be out of the church at 5:30 am or they won’t let us back another time. Remember what I said about adventures? There are some really-hard parts and some super-exciting parts. This is one of the hard ones,ok? But I promise, it’ll get better, please sweeties?” I tried to comfort them.
“Ok, mommy!” they chorused and instantly start to argue about something inconsequential like they almost always did.
I shook my head, fondly and thanked God for the millionth time at how resilient and easy to please kids were. Or maybe, God just blessed me with extra-special kids! As we sit huddled up at the bus-stop, all of our luggage (2 big boxes and 2 over-stuffed backpacks) strewn around us, I struggled to hold back tears of bitterness and regret at all the years I wasted with Emeka, my husband and father of my kids.
One of the most recent incidents, a few days before I left Nigeria, kind of shook me up a little bit. I had just left the cinema where I had gone to see “The Interns”. I was bored and worried about the time (it was about a little past 7pm) so I left half-way through the movie. On my way out, I saw a former business prospect (I run a small fitness consultancy for women) and we made small talk for a few minutes before we hugged goodbye and I hurried to try to catch a cab.
As I waited impatiently outside the Leisure Mall , I decided to start walking home and catch any empty one. Plus I needed the air, I wasn’t in a good place emotionally. Eventually, I walked all the way home. I was almost at our gate when suddenly, all hell broke loose. I thought I was about to be kidnapped or robbed and my reflexes are less than zero so I stood petrified, chanting “Blood of Jesus!”
Turned out to be only Emeka, my painfully-handsome but spitting-mad husband. He had been in the mall too (coincidence or not? hmm) and had seen me talking to the lady as we had hugged at the end. I didn’t even know he was in he building complex but apparently, he had driven behind me as I walked home and as soon as I got to the gate, he speeds up and screeches to a screaming halt, startling me.
Before I could react, he grabs me the throat, calling me a “perverted lesbian slut”, that how come when he tried to get me to sleep with a girl on his birthday, I cried rape but I was picking them up on my own. I tried to tell him I was just “counseling” someone referred to me by one of my “virtual” boot-campers. He was already past that point. He says,” I am going to end this tonight.”
He drags me kicking and screaming to the kitchen and asks me to pick out a knife, I begged him to forgive me but he takes the big, pointy one and drags me back to his bedroom. He then flung me on the floor, and put a foot on my throat to keep me still. I break loose and he grabs me and twists both my arms by the thumb and forefingers till the pain forced me to my knees. With his other hand , he loops the TV cord around my thigh so tightly I felt the rope cut into my skin. [picture left]
He starts on the other thigh but the door slams as my youngest sister and the kids return from fellowship. He quickly unties the cord and hides the knife.
“This isn’t finished.” He hisses, seconds before the kids burst in excitedly…
I used to think he was the ultimate Alpha-male. So did everyone else. He’s loud, charming, aggressive and full of energy. He’s the life of ANY party and women throw themselves at him. But as the years passed, I realised he was just a bully. He always sought out people he was bigger than or that he could dominate so women were an easy prey for him. He had NO respect for women and generally referred to them (including myself) as sluts,bitches, and believed they were not fit to be anything other than housegirls or prostitutes. He treated me like a stupid child and would talk down at me like I was retarded.
His favorite phrase was “Let me repeat myself…” And then proceed to repeat loudly and slowly with as minimal facts as possible so I almost always never performed the task the way he liked it. He had this weird entitlement thing where he says things like “Don’t I have the right as your husband to tell you to do something and you obey me unquestionly?”. He had a selfish streak and believed that me and the kids existed solely for his pleasure. He was amazingly self-centred and never once put me or the kids first or even second.
I remember one day , his uncle from the UK wanted a car to use while he was in Enugu and my husband promised him one. Now ,we had only two cars so I wondered but said nothing. As I got ready for school runs and work, he asked me to leave the keys to my car but I snuck out. Later that day, he calls me and asks me to bring the car back so his uncle’s driver could pick up the car and I asked him real quietly,which car he wanted me to use. He was livid that I dared question him and said he was coming to kill me at work. He actually drove all the way from VI to Surulere where I worked and ran menacingly up the stairs.
I saw him from the window and ran down to meet him because I was trying to avoid a scene. I tried to remind him that I needed the car for school runs but he demanded for the keys. When I didn’t comply, he grabbed me roughly by the throat and twisted my arm with the other.When he got the keys, he shoved me hard and I fell into the gutter behind me. He didn’t even look back as okada/keke drivers helped me out. For the whole month, had to do school and hospital runs (my son had frequent asthma episodes) by cab. And he never even dropped us or paid for the fares..
He had a deep unnecessary need to “control” (one of his favorite words) and dominate me which he achieved through derision, criticism, and cruelty. And the more empowered/independent I became the more his need to keep me under his control deepened. For example, when I resolved to build my company from nothing but sheer innovation and faith, he told me that his father and himself had decided that the kids and I should move to the village.
Another way he maintained control was by constantly making contradictory statements so that I was in a permanent state of confusion thereby reinforcing his declaration that I was stupid and retarded. For example, he would berate me constantly that I was lazy and good-for-nothing. Then, I’d come up with myriads of business ideas but none seemed to meet his approval which I needed as he was the one to give me capital. He would tell me that I was useless as a daughter, parent and wife because I couldn’t be of any financial help to anyone, that all I knew was fitness and fashion.
One day, as I wept into the night, I had a moment of clarity and the next day, I registered my business. I’m not even going to bother mentioning his harem of women and how he would tell me that he wouldn’t need them if I was a good obedient woman. I had learnt to block that aspect out of my head.
I’d previously moved out twice over the years, both times following hospitalizations as a result of severe beatings. The first time in December, 2007, I moved to another Local Government Area in Lagos. This was at my uncle’s home as my father had refused to let me stay with him because the family name would be ruined and he’d rather attend my funeral, than have divorced daughter. Moreover, according to him, the bible is against divorce.
I had to take my son out of his preschool to another closer to me. I was there for a few months, picking up extra shifts as a Customer Service Rep to be able to afford basic stuff for my son like diapers and food. But even there, I wasn’t safe. He would sit outside in his car for hours either at work or at my uncle’s home. I had to get my cousin to drive me once or twice so he backed off. He had seized my car and only released it when my huge cousin who lived abroad and was visiting Nigeria asked him to give it back.
And little did we know that he had cut the brakes of my Toyota Camry. He sent his mechanic to come park it at Festac and I didn’t drive it for a few days because I was a new driver and didn’t know my way around from Festac so I would take buses/cabs/okadas. And unfortunately for me, the first day I drove it was the day, I had my son and was on my way to work. As I drove down the winding bridge trying to connect to Orile, the car sped down uncontrollably.
I pumped and pumped my brakes as I prayed and prayed and cried and cried. It was really early, like 4:30 am because I tend to get lost a lot and generally just like to leave about 2 hours earlier than the required 6 am. So, because of the time, there were few cars on the highway . And the fact that I can barely see at night heightened my fear. Miraculously, I got all the way to my office at Orile-Iganmu without running into anyone or anything and the car having lost a little momentum on flat ground, was brought to a halt only at my office gate. I rolled the car into the compound and sat, shaking like a leaf till early light when people started coming.
I tried to call and email him about the car, hoping it was a mistake but he called me all sorts of shocking names, saying , he will still get me some other way. I told this to the case-worker, Dr Sanya at the Surulere LGA Welfare who was supposed to be mediating our case. It was only when I caught them one morning ,exchanging hugs with Dr Sanya saying, Thank You for the other day” with my husband replying, “There’s more where that came from” that I knew he had once again bought him off. I was well and truly sunk. So, when my uncle and my father summoned me to tell me that my “holiday” was over and I needed to “stop all this nonsense and go back and be a good wife and save the family name.”
The second time, in Dec 2011, I decided to move all the way to Abuja. I’d hoped he’d be too busy to come there. This time, I didn’t tell my parents right away that I’d left. I gave them the impression that I was just visiting for Christmas. Eventually, my inlaws had told my parents that I ran away . So, my mom who was at the Abuja home at the time, had told me that I was welcome to stay out the Christmas but that I had to go back and try to make it work.
When I tried to explain to her that my life was in danger, her heartbreaking response was that “ There has never been a divorce in our clan. So, your father and I would rather keep it that way even if it meansattending your funeral . Moreover, as long as he pays the kids school fees, then he is pretty much a model husband. Close your eyes to everything else and try not to do things that would earn you a beating.”
When I refused to go, my mother got upset and violent , slapping me and shoving me out and feverishly throwing all our bags out in the streets, screaming “This is exactly why your husband beats you.” “You are stubborn and disobedient and frankly, I think you deserve everything because of the shame you bring to us. Please, go to your husband’s house. There is no room for you here.” ”You are not the first woman and you will not be the last that her husband beats. If I lived through it so will you.”
I was sobbing and wailing “What of my children? Are you also going to throw them out?”
Her response, “ They ,like you , are their father’s property . Take them back to him.”
And she slams the door.
My kids and I sit huddled out in the drizzling rain and my son, wide-eyed, asked me , “Mommy, is it because Im naughty that Maa-Maa is upset?” I weakly reassure him that it was not the case.
“Mommy, why does no one love us anymore?”
“I love you, baby!” I whisper fiercely and hugging them to my tear-soaked chest. “And God loves you. That is all that matters!”
I try to call my brother in Canada to let me stay at his Abuja apartment and after a few moments of silence, he says he’d get back to me. And that was the last, I heard from him on that.
When I saw that the kids were cold and hungry , I knocked and begged my mom to please let us stay a few more months till the school term runs out. She would hear nothing of it and after numerous calls to my uncle and siblings and father, I told her I would have to call her fellow politicians to see if they’d house us for a while. Then she grudgingly agreed.
In the meantime, I had to deal with violent phone-calls from my husband and he even showed up at the family home a few times. He would whisper to me “See? I will kill you and your family will do nothing about it.”
He would also threaten to have me bombed and people would think it was Boko Haram, which had just started attacks that same period. And my daughter’s school was in one of the churches (Dunamis International ,Garki) rumored to be on the list to be bombed next so I was terrified daily. And I knew it was true. He had the means and connections to commit murder and get away with it. And as no one had at the time figured out their target, I was naturally afraid.
So, between him and my parents making life painful for me and the kids and the terrorist situation in Abuja, I fearfully moved back to Lagos around Easter, 2012. But, of course, I had to go back to the village to be judged by the clan and was humiliated again for days and the kids taken from me before I was grudgingly allowed back to my marital home.
Myne’s note – October is Domestic Violence awareness month and Oma thinks this was a great time to share her story and reach out to other women for support and also to encourage others to speak out or take action.
Over the next few days, you’ll read more of Oma’s story. Names, Dates and Places have been changed to protect Oma and her children. Oma is currently in need of help, financial and otherwise and if you’re able to, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re trying to work as quickly as possible for the safety of Oma and her ability to keep her children.
Harrison “Harry Baba” Nwozo’s note-
Folks, this is a True story. Please Help. Let’s Save our Women. Let’s Save this young woman. Please email Myne above and see how you can be of assistance.
Join me in saying NO!! to Domestic Violence in Nigeria and Around the World!!!
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