By Odimegwu Onwumere
Newly married couples in Nigeria on the day of celebration wear a cheerful look. This is because every marriage is procedural in the country. There is no form of enslavement marriage, neither is there a slave nor a slave master anywhere. Women are not sold off. Marriages in Nigeria are committed. Co-habiting is never called marriage.
Marriage is one of the things that define our humanity. It is an enlightened combination of man and woman. The man and the woman get better in marriage when they complement each other. The bride is revered because of the biological roles she plays. In some traditions the bride is believed to be the connection between the unborn and the ancestors.
Investigation reveals that lack of marriage is the death of a nation and a people. Such a people become debauched and self-disparaging with an assortment of communal, financially unviable and health issues. Nigeria as part of history of human civilization has traditions of marriage that have stood autonomous of time.
This varies from race, geography and culture of the different ethnic groups. Marriage in Nigeria has been used to unite tribes and nations to secure peace, trade and development. Marriage in Nigeria is a serious cultural affair. It brings the families of the bride and the groom together. The woman automatically would change her name to the man’s family name and becomes part of his family.
Irrespective of the community where it’s taking place, marriage calls for big occasion. Singing, merriment and dancing characterise marriage ceremonies in Nigeria. Such items as goats, palm wine, chickens, cows, tobacco, salt, rice, wrapper, yams, kola nuts and many others are among the rituals that are expected from the groom before he could be given the bride to live with.
The rituals last for months depending on the tradition and culture of the community that is involved. Men and women are not much revered in the society till they are married. Women above the age of 30 who are not married get pressure from family and friends to get a suitor. The men above 35yrs are also not left behind the pressure. The society sees them as irresponsible people till they are married. Public offices and sensitive positions can then be entrusted on them because they are married. But all these are changing for Western philosophy.
The culture of getting married in Nigeria in the traditional way is fast fading away, now becoming more like the Western-style church weddings. Many couples prefer the weddings in the Mosque or Church than the traditional marriage where the two families involved do not need any external hand to give out their son and daughter out in marriage. Suffice it to say that Eurocentric and Arabcentric missionaries have really influenced the Nigerian families that sometimes a lady who has been duly married in the culture and tradition of her people would not see herself as a married person till the husband takes her to the altar. Except she is wedded on the altar, she will not be given her place in the church.
Nigeria is a religious country with Mosques and Churches littered everywhere. In some churches, the lady who is not wedded will not be allowed to baptize her child or receive the Holy Communion. Other wedded women would make jest of her and talk to her in unprintable manners. This compels the ladies to tell their husbands to even forfeit any traditional form of marriage and make sure that they are taken to the altar to evade insults. Even though that couples who go directly to marry in the Church are not recognized by their families and friends and the entire people because they do not pass through the Traditional Marriage rituals of their ethnic group first, a lot of people would rather prefer to be ostracised instead they will not wed in the church.
In the good old days, the clerics themselves will not give consent to such marriage because the couple didn’t recognize the family first. But things have changed. The clerics themselves will be the first to approve of the wedding. Hardly is any cleric observing the Marriage Act, Chapter 218, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 thus: A minister shall not celebrate any marriage if he knows of any just impediment to such marriage, nor until the parties deliver to him the registrar’s certificate or the license issued under section 13 of this Act. They say that the country is applying the 1999 Constitution.
The celebration of Marriage under the Marriage Act, Chapter 218, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990, states that marriage may be celebrated in any licensed place of worship by any recognised minister of the church, denomination or body to which such place of worship belongs, and according to the rites or usages of marriage observed in such church, denomination or body: Provided that the marriage be celebrated with open doors between the hours of eight o’clock in the forenoon and six o’clock in the afternoon, and in the presence of two or more witnesses besides the officiating minister. There has to also be a legal registration of the couple.
Before, it used to be the parents of the parties involved that would investigate the groom and the bride and attest if they could live together as husband and wife. In some cases, the parents find suitors for their children following family ties and relationship of families. But the Pastors and the Imams have taken over that role and are playing it. Although, the traditional rituals are observed, but they are insignificant before the so-called men of God if the marriage is not dedicated on their altar.
Initially, the bride must be a virgin before getting married, either traditional marriage or the Eurpean style. However, that tradition is seen by many as an old order. Unlike before pregnancy outside of marriage was considered shameful. It has become a fad today. Some men say that they would want to impregnate their wives to ascertain her fertility, because of the rate of infertility that is being experienced among many married couples. Some have married for ten and above years without any sign of baby still coming soon. So, people prefer pregnancy before marriage or wedding and the families and their men of God do not shy away in giving their nod to the couples.
It is not an easy thing to raise a family in Nigeria. This is the reason polygamy is merely in vogue. Nigerian homes are patriarch and the men find it very expensive to feed one wife, let alone, two wives. Even though that polygamy is legal in Nigeria, the Christian religion outlaws it. Polygamy is not prohibited in the Muslim marriages. It is a fad. It even qualifies one to be a good Muslim. Unlike in the Christian setting where it is one man to one wife, a Muslim is entitled to take up to four wives. It is the responsibility of a man in such a marriage to provide for his family. Marriage in Nigeria takes many shapes and forms. But in all, no marriage is said to be complete without dowry in monetary terms paid.
Dowry is a serious aspect of the marriage culture in Nigeria. It makes a woman to be valued both at her place of birth and at her matrimonial home. She is expected to respect and be submissive to her husband. In return, the husband should love her. This is applicable to polygamous marriages. The harsh economic situation in Nigeria is making a lot of men to frown at getting married; hence retinues of spinsters are increasing in number. If the economy is good, a lot of men would not see anything wrong in polygamy. After all, polygamy has been characteristic in not only Africa, but the world at large. This can be found to have expressed itself in the Jewish, Islamic and the native traditions.
Women have their rights in any of these traditions and the laws protect them. It was Colonialism which Nigeria saw in the hands of the British from 1861-1960 that made polygamy become a taboo. With its mingy nature for exploitation, Colonialism brought with it Capitalism. This disintegrated families due to Shylockic mindset to sharing of large families’ inheritance. In some theories, Nigerians are not primordial with the traditional belief in polygamous marriages. It was the Western philosophy of “one man, one wife” which Nigerians have bought deeply into that churlish the practice. The Christian bible to a large extent supports polygamy, albeit the bible frowns at this form of marriage very little. It is not a taboo with many Christians.
Theologians authoritatively say that the New Testament does not explicitly deal with the probity of polygamy. This text however, states in the bible verse of 1 Timothy that certain Church leaders, like a Bishop, should have but one wife and he will be not apportioned with blame. In chapter 3, verse 2, a bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach. It is also evidence in verse 12, where deacons are admonished to have only one wife. This admonishment did not end there; it is repeated in the first chapter of the Epistle of Titus. The 1 Corinthians (chapter 7, verse 2), however writes, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let ”every” man have his own wife, and let ”every” woman have her own husband.”
While many see polygamous marriages as not ideal, African theologians of the Roman Catholic wing, have bickered that polygamy can be a legitimate form of Christian marriage following what the bible says about polygamy. What matters most is that every form of marriage should build spiritual, material, and intellectual capacities around it. But modern marriages in Nigeria hardly see anything truthful in that. This is also to say that division of labour in the homes is not adhered to as wives (do not expect their husbands) to look at them to do everything those before them did as they relate to family chores. They expect a 50/50 ratio of these works with their husbands. This is evidence in the fact that men are not 100% the breadwinners of families in the recent times, women most times earn money more than the men. This is causing havoc in homes coupled with the imbalanced western philosophy called human rights.
This 50/50 ratio with the men that Nigerian women are clamouring for has made couples to be less tolerant with each other. This intolerance in Nigerian marriages has brought about divorces, a sign of a flawed system, hypnotised by Western mentality. It has become a culture especially, with celebrities celebrating their divorces on the pages of the newspapers, this act once seen as a taboo. Initially, no matter how a couple quarreled they make up without the help of an intruder.
But the case is different today. A quarreling couple rather than settle amicably would prefer the help of their Pastors or Imam. The issue of inviting kinsmen known of our forebears in a case like this has been relegated to the background a long time replaced with the cultures of shamelessness and indignity. The Christians especially, hardly associate with anything that has to do with our tradition and culture. The Pentecostals among them masquerading as “born again” were hoodwinked to believing that anything African is satanic, voodoo and every other thing that represents negativism. But this is shear untruth. It was the creation of the Western philosophy as is evidence in the bible.
Harmony in Nigerian marriages used to be more than 100% harmony. But this was lost when our people started to see marriage from the periscope of the West. Today, instead of at least 100% harmony, the issue of 100% gender egalitarianism characterises Nigerian marriages. Men and women hardly conduct themselves. Family structures have collapsed. Many scholars have captured the loss of virtue that is gulping the African, saying that the overall African philosophy is that life and the reproduction of life sit at the core of human society.
Men and women have children who ritualise their parents and ancestors. Individualistic societies selfishly place emphasis on personal rights and so-called freedoms over the rights of the unborn, or the community. Choice begins with birth control and using a condom. There are situations (rape, incest, severe deformity, health risk) that lead to abortion. But abortion in Western societies with its over sexualised conduct is more of a birth control, which is used as the last resort after a irresponsible night of lustful pleasure. Why should the life in a woman’s womb be destroyed because of low maturity or lack of sexual control between consenting adults?
It is regrettably that many Nigerian children are not living with both of their biological parents because of the arrogant culture of divorce. Illiteracy is a disease of proper marriage relationships debilitating the proper marriage relations among Nigerians. The story of sexual health issues such as gonorrhea and syphilis among married Nigerian couples is not sugercoated. Some people have even questioned why is it that the rate of HIV/AIDS among married Nigerians is also increasing. Is it economic disparity, social instability, poverty, gender inequality, sexual violence and so on that are making couples not to settle their flaws in marriage? Some would say that it is caused by high mobility, rapid urbanisation and modernisation, and ineffective leadership of husbands.
Written By Odimegwu Onwumere