Somehow, almost all human creations have good and bad sides to them, social media platforms inclusive. While the existing platforms and the new ones that are springing have irretrievably changed the face of social communication and interaction in the 21st century and the foreseeable future, available statistics shows that the latitude that comes with the usage may be wreaking untold havoc on relationships, particularly homes.
Information obtained from the Lagos State Domestic and s3xual Violence Response Team, police and courts handling divorce cases in Lagos State points to the social media as one of the leading causes of domestic abuse, marital crises and, unbelievably, a source of credible evidence of adultery for partners seeking divorce.
The registrar of the Agege Customary Court, Mr T. A. Sulaimon, told Saturday Tribune that the number of divorce cases received weekly at the court varies.
“The divorce petitions we receive on a weekly basis vary. Sometimes we receive two per week and at other times, the petitions just flood in. People come to this court with various reasons for the annulment of their marriages. We try different means of mediation which sometimes work but those involved sometimes insist on divorce.
Sulaimon, however, lamented the high rate of divorce. “The economy, intolerance, cheating and even the social media are to blame for the high rate of divorce. We enjoin couple to try and be tolerant of each other. We also admonish them to try and seek help through counselling,” he said.
Also speaking on the issue, the Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja, Mrs Grace Onanuga, said the court registry had the accurate number of divorce cases filed in all the customary courts in Lagos. However effort to get the figures from the registry did not yield result as one of the clerks said it would take some time to compile the figures for the first quarter of this year.
Screenshot or smokescreen?
A source at the Lagos State Domestic and s3xual Violence Response Team told Saturday Tribune that some of the cases of domestic violence being handled by the team usually stem from spouses spying on each other on social media.
“Some couples even come here with screenshot messages that reveal their husbands’ or wives’ illicit affairs. Some of these allegations later form exhibits should such cases proceed to court,” he said.
A number of marriages have hit the rock due to unresolved differences borne out of issues arising from social media exposure. In September 2017, a man approached an Igando customary court seeking the dissolution of his four-year-old marriage because his wife was always on social media.
According to the petitioner, Mr Ayinla Quadri, his wife, Romoke, would feed her habit of going on social media rather than communicating with him or taking care of their children. He claimed that his estranged wife used social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to connect with men, some of whom, he alleged, she had started sleeping with. He further told the court that his wife had a Facebook lover, one Ijagbemi, who constantly bought call credit for her. The petitioner further claimed that his wife usually chatted with strange men on WhatsApp and asked them for favours. “My Lord, I am tired of this union. I want the court to end this marriage because I can’t deal with this woman anymore,” he said.
The evidence was overwhelming, the marriage had to go.
Because the social media messages are electronically transmitted, they are seen as incontrovertible by the institutions that manage legal relationships and it is the reliability that is now making it the toast of wives and husbands suspecting infidelity on the part of their partners, according to the wife of a certain Mr Ola.
Pinging and prying
The fight began in the midnight. Neighbours had heard an unusual noise. The man was challenging his wife to a fight. This sort of disturbance was strange to the compound, having been known for its serenity, despite the fact that there were families with kids occupying two other flats in the building. The midnight incident might have gone with little or no reference but for the continuation of the battle between the husband and wife the next morning, which was a Sunday.
A loud argument was heard from the same flat. And having been asked by the wife to help broker peace between her and her husband, one of the neighbours, Emma, a few minutes to 7 o’clock, checked up on them to help resolve their differences. She was banking on the belief that being a clergy and a respected man in the compound, they would listen to him. However, Emma was shocked when he heard what culminated into the huge fight between the hitherto peace-loving couple. The husband, Ola, had scolded his wife for spending too much time on her mobile phone, something that had been going on for months. But the wife would insist it was none of her husband’s business if she chose pinging over sleep.
Accusation and counter-accusation
This, however, brought about accusations and counter-accusations. For one, the wife explained to the neighbour how she searched through her husband’s phone (something she claimed she had never done before) and discovered something that confirmed that her husband was having an affair with a lady, whom she had noticed trying to get close to her since her husband’s birthday, where the lady presented a cake with an inscription “Happy birthday, Olami,” to her husband. The wife was particularly pained by the revelation because her husband always ensured his phone battery did not run down when chatting on the phone and would ask her to buy petrol for the generator even at ungodly hours. This anger made her to react rashly when her husband challenged her that particular night. She threatened to jump down from the first floor, from the balcony, because her husband locked the doors, preventing her to use the stairs.
In her own case, alleged illicit activities online by her husband using his mobile phone got anger bottled up in her and she decided to use the same social media to seek her own revenge.
Nice and rough
When Saturday Tribune took a peep into homes, honest disclosure by partners showed that in the final analysis, social media platforms are doing more harm than good in marriages. Nearly everyone in a marriage admitted the social media’s addictive nature. But the fallouts are handled differently. While platforms like the popular WhatsApp and Facebook are creating tension in homes and breaking marriages up, a tiny fraction of respondents claimed that the platforms, particularly WhatsApp, have helped deepen communication between them and their spouses.
A housewife wrote: “For marriages, communication is the spinal cord which holds every other part together. It could also be said that communication is the blood which takes air to all parts, making it the life of marriage itself. Whatever means the communication might be, within the circle of marriage or outside the circle, with the intrusion of technology, particular care must be applied to ensure a peaceful relationship devoid of drama. Yes, drama would spice things up but that is when it is controlled. Like it is said, a bad tongue can set a house on fire.”
For Halima, a Muslim housewife, social media platforms serve as escapism from her unhappiness. Her husband, Ahmed, generates spat constantly and she resorted to taking consolation in her phone by chatting away her unhappiness. “Not that I talk about my marriage to friends and strangers online; we just chat about old times, especially with friends from way back, ex-school mates, childhood friends,” she said.
Halima recounted a particular day, some days after one of the Islamic festivals, when her husband was unusually edgy and found faults in everything she did. She tried different means to communicate with him to know what exactly was wrong, but all efforts were fruitless. The situation was so bad that the children started avoiding their father, being little kids who were surprised to see a change in their father’s attitude from a loving, playful dad to a growling one.
“At that point, I could not take it any longer. His attitude had started affecting me negatively and I did not want to talk to anyone about issues in my marriage, which is considerably young (five years). I have done a lot of thinking which had resulted in huge headache for me. I thought maybe he was having some challenges at work; maybe he had a fight with his mother, because I know they are very close. I pictured lots of different scenarios in my mind but none was adding up. We were all walking on eggshell at home and I believe if my questions get too much, he might vent his anger on me, at which point, if he did that, I am not going to take it easy with him at all because I have done nothing to warrant such,” Halima said.
So, Halima decided to make herself happy by downloading more chat applications, in addition to the WhatsApp already on her phone. She joined different chat groups like the one for home decoration lovers, Cooking Guide for beginners, Happy Mom Chatline, among others. She decided to make her time productive instead of brooding over what her husband might or might not be thinking. While not ignoring her role of taking care of the husband and children, she put on a cheery face around the house and focussed on learning new things while the phase fizzle out.
“My husband wanted to pick up a fight from my unusual frequent usage of my mobile set but I gave him no chance at all. For example, he might growl that don’t I know it is time for prayer instead of pressing phone. I will quickly apologise, drop the phone and go for prayers. At times, he might say offensive words like ‘are you deaf?’ Instead of taking offence, I decided to ignore. After two weeks, he eventually came around, which was a huge relief for everyone,” she said.
Ahmed later told his wife that he was just being on the edge because he was calculating how to recoup the excess money he spent during the festival, which he did not want his wife to be aware of so as not to feel guilty for helping him spend so much. He said he just needed to find a way to unleash the anger and when he noticed that his wife was not even taking the bait; he had to call himself to order because he was doing himself more harm than good. After the whole episode, Halima said she had to quit the chat groups that had made her sane during her trying period because, if kept on her phone, they might take more of her attention.
Facebook fake divorce
A housewife, who trended her story (where else?) on the social media, wasn’t as lucky as Halima. While still believing to be married to her husband and living as a couple under the same roof, she had been declared dead, with the ‘death certificate’ issued in that respect, so the husband could obtain visa!
The wife had found out through her husband’s chats on Facebook that he was already married to his mistress and both had planned to elope to the United States of America after telling the US embassy officials that she was dead. The man even tendered as evidence to the consular officer, his wife’s death certificate, which, evidently, was fake!
For this family, like countless others, they were not able to ride through their hard times brought about by social media usage.
In some homes today, the creators of social media platforms take the credit for the everyday honeymoon some marriages are experiencing. The home of Chinyere, a newlywed wife, is one. She told Saturday Tribune that but for chats on WhatsApp, her young marriage of six months would have been having issues which she only heard about before entering the sacred institution. She recounted that during their courtship, she and her husband did the major communication on WhatsApp, being a distant relationship. She stayed in Imo State, while her husband was in Lagos.
“We were so used to communicating through the social media. We do text chat, video chat, audio calls and what have you. When we got married, we decided that we would still keep the habit up, especially when we are not together. There was a day we had an argument, which I can’t even recall what it was all about now. Anyway, he left home angry the following day and would not even listen to me before he was off to work. So, I resorted to chatting him up. He ignored my messages through the morning but when I threatened that I would not chat with him ever again if he refused to reply my messages, I got a video call from him,” Chinyere said smiling, adding that “he apologised and I apologized and we moved on. At least, on a very busy day, we must chat once. I am so used to chatting with my husband that chatting with other people is always boring. I prefer to make calls to friends and families when need be than chatting with them. My husband is my only gist partner,” she said.
Don’t make WhatsApp god –Cleric warns
Many marriages have not been as lucky as Chinyere’s, as cases of divorce abound in the numerous customary courts scattered around Lagos. Apparently, many of the divorce cases are fuelled by couples pointing fingers at one another on the use of social media. The question of whether social media has helped save marriages has been a subject of debate.
Speaking to Saturday Tribune, a pastor at the Love of God Gospel Church, Dejo Oladeinde, pointed out that couples need to moderate their use of social media. “Nobody is saying that the use of social media is bad. But when it becomes an object of adversity in the home, it should be curbed. Some people take their problems to social media instead of seeking adequate counselling,” he said.
Why we hardly intervene –Police
The image maker of the Lagos State police command, Chike Oti, while speaking on the rising cases of divorce as a result of addiction to social media from either of the partners in a relationship or marriage, described the matter as a civil one. He it was not the responsibility of the police to interfere in such cases.
“Cases like that are civil cases. It is the court that decides such cases. The wife or the husband will only tell the court why he or she wants to divorce their partner. The police cannot handle such matters,” Oti said. He, however, clarified that “the police can only come in when such matters become a criminal case. The police can only handle the case when the man or the woman becomes violent,” he added.
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