Between 2006 and 2008, 10 successful Nigerian nurses were brutally murdered. They were shot, stabbed, beaten to death. These numbers might seem small, but among the Nigerian Association of Nigerian Nurses of North America (NANNNA) those numbers were only the tip of an iceberg that included hundreds of documented and undocumented cases of domestic violence, rape and assault. At first it seemed endemic of the violence against women that is pervasive in North America, reports have suggested as many as one third of all women in America are from due to violence from an intimate partner and half of all African American women die from partner violence. But Grace Ogiehor-Enoma, president of NANNNA was unconvinced. She decided to do some digging and what she found prompted her to move. She began a hotline for disillusioned Nigerian husbands considering violence against their partners.
In 2011, Enoma through the NANNNA put her medical expertise to use, starting a study that investigated domestic violence among Nigerian communities in the diaspora. Through medical and police reports accessible to the public, anecdotal evidence from families of victims and gossip on Nigerian-centric blogs, and the anonymous calls she had gotten on her hot-line. Her findings were sad but unsurprising to anyone who had studied Nigerian history and gender dynamics. Many of the Nigerians in America emigrated in search of better jobs, but only the women, who often studied ‘practical’ disciplines, did end up getting lucrative jobs. Jobs like Nursing and palliative care for adults often requires long hours and keeps women from domestic duties, leaving these duties to their often unemployed or underemployed husbands who studied disciplines like ‘law’ and ‘engineering’ and found the entry requirements for those fields in the United States too stringent.
Feeling ’emasculated’ by wives who are literally unable to combine domesticity and singlehandedly providing for their families (many Nigerian men still go on to pressure their wives into having several children, even when they know they can’t provide for them), and pressured by their Nigerian communities in the diaspora, these men resort to the ‘time-honoured’ Nigerian practice of domestic violence as a way to reassert some level of control over them. The mere idea that women have rights under the United States law frustrated these men, normally used to being obeyed and waited on.
It also revealed a clash between a particular strain of patriarchy – as embodied by the Nigerian man accustomed to the norms of his male-dominated homeland – and feminism, as represented by the acculturated Nigerian woman. Women were accused of “losing their identity” in the US and being corrupted by its “women-friendly” legal system.
But more importantly, Ogiehor-Enoma found that many of these nurses were forced into Nursing by Nigerian American men who married them out of Nigeria and pushed them into the field (which is relatively easy to get into). These men expected gratitude and subservience and resorted to violence when that didn’t happen. Enoma offers them counselling, through a hotline they can call anonymously. She says she receives as many as 15 calls a month, many of whom she refers to the leaders of their respective local chapters of the Nigerian diaspora and to the relevant authorities in the event that the caller is an abused woman. She is also conducting a formal inquiry into the matter alongside clinical psychologists Theddeus Iheanacho and Charles Dike. All three hope that the discussion that comes from their eventual report, to be released in November, will be a good place to start the conversation on Nigerian patriarchy and violence against women.
For now however, Ogiehor-Enoma is talking Nigerian men down from the ledge, one phone call at a time.