Nwokoye Chukwudi
Africa

Marital Tragedies among Nigerians in diaspora

This has been the greatest issue affecting Nigerians in diaspora. Before, it has been about marriage breakdown leading to a bitter separation between the spouses and consequently, divorce. In recent year, this issue has taken another tragic dimension of spouses killing their spouses.

It is coming to an alarming rate and we Nigerians living in foreign lands have to do something about it to preserve our existence. What this article intends to achieve, with respect, is to instigate discussions that would lead to finding a lasting solution to this menace of men killing their wives and wives killing their husbands. Recently, we have heard about husbands killing their wives or wives killing their husbands. Most of these cases normally start from normal disagreements between spouses that were allowed to develop into quarrels, estrangements, divorce and then fatal vengeance leading to deaths or grievous bodily harms. All sides of the issue contribute in one way or the other to these problems. It always boils down most of the time to root of all evils…money. This cuts across all ethnic groups in Nigeria and even many African nationalities living abroad. According to an unconfirmed reports, about 60% of Nigerian marriages end in divorce.

That means 6 in every 10 marriages between Nigerian couples end in divorce. That’s very high! I will start with the men. Many of our men, especially those that have been in this country for a while, say 20 years and having passed through the eye of a needle to get situated in this country finally want to settle down with a ‘home girl’. Many men went through the ‘akata’ problems, getting his green card and citizenships through marriages to foreigners to get their papers. Some gave up on Africa and its problems a long time ago, but when the going got tough, they decided to go back and find a wife from the home country. There have been lots of disconnections about what marriage to African women is all about. Some have been so acculturated with the western ideas. When they finally return to Africa, they become what Walter Rodney, a political scientist, referred to as “a new set as Africans with white eyes”. They become so different from whom they were before they left the shores of Nigeria. They forgot that Nigerian women are quite different from western women. This leads to lots of frictions between these two cultures. Another cause of the problem is that some men after staying in western countries for many year pursuing their careers, when they are ready to get married they come home to Nigeria. Most of them are in their late forties or late fifties. Some men, when they were leaving Nigeria for foreign countries, they believed that they would find everlasting love abroad and would not like to have anything to do with the girlfriends they left behind. But after searching for years for his ‘missing rib’ some found out that overseas do not have angels as spouses after all. When they finally come home to get married, they discover that all their female companions before they left the shores of Nigeria have already got married. The ladies of their age brackets whom they know while they were youth are no longer available or too old for them. So it now becomes a game of chance or ‘try your luck’ as they get married by recommendation. Some of their family members would line women up for him to sample.

They end up getting married to ladies that are available; women they thought are the best for them. They know next to nothing about these would-be wives seeing them through the eyes of their sometimes over-zealous relatives whose agenda for recommending the lady may be different. Moreover, the better qualities then for marriage are mostly in their twenties, who are young enough to be their daughters. There is a generational gap between these spouses that creates lots of tensions. What is obtainable back in the days when our fathers or fore-fathers married young spouses are no longer obtainable. The world has changed a lot. Marriages worked for our fore-fathers because of our cultures at that time. Many women at that time had no choice then than to marry to whomever their parents arrange for them to marry. They stay married because it was honorable thing to do when a woman stays in marriage despite getting raw deals from their husbands, old enough to be their grand fathers. Time has changed! Women are now so liberated that a 20 year old in this 21st century is not the same as a 20 year old in the 20th century. Present women in their 20s are mostly exposed to lots of western cultures no thanks to the internet, pop cultures, movies, cable news etc. They now want more and demand in marriage. They demand more than what their grand mothers demanded during their time.

These cause lots of frictions in marriages when the new found sweet 16s come to live with the husband abroad. The issue of being about to satisfy her sexually is not the problem now, thanks for viagra, cialis or ‘magaji’, the main problem here is that there are lots of value differences. The values differences now involve what the man in his generation likes and what the young lady in her computer/internet generation likes. There is this incompatibility. The man may like classical music, while the girl likes rap, the man may like African delicacies which the girl likes to explore western delicacies and so on. Many succeed in marrying women much younger than they are, but some do not. Another problem which by far is the worst of all is that some men living abroad have two separate lives. One is the ideal lifestyle and the other is the real lifestyle. When they travel home, they paint a cozy picture of life in the America or London; the kind of life that every lady back in Nigeria can only dream about. They pamper these prospective wives and buy them everything they want. They make them to believe that living abroad is next to paradise! Most of these ladies are the cream of the crop back home. Under normal circumstances, they will never date these men if they are not living abroad. They can only persevere because the have found rich men (as they thought) as husbands. These ladies feel betrayed when they arrive here and see for themselves that the streets of America and London are not plated with dollars and pounds after all. I have seen more than ten ladies I know in Nigeria marry old men twice their age with little or no knowledge of the kind of men these characters are. Some of these females are classy ladies: pretty, intelligent, smart and have very good jobs back in Nigeria. They got lied to by these men and got so much enticed with the prospect of marrying these men that they were ready to lose everything they have or worked for.

some men even make sure that the get them pregnant before they come over here for fear that the ladies would decamp once they come to learn that the ideal man is a fake after all. Some will not tell their prospective wives that they were previously married and had kids that they are already paying child support for. When they new wives come from Nigeria, they find out the truth. It now becomes a problem since the wife would not want part of her money to pay for a child support of some akata she does not even know. There is this pretty lady I know named Stella. She had a promising career in one of the leading banks in Nigeria. She was well paid, lived in a beautiful flat in Ikoyi which she shared with a colleague of hers. She got married to this man after knowing this man that was introduced to her by a mutual friend within one week! They did their wine carrying and church wedding within a month. Stella felt highly embarrassed and betrayed when she cross-over to USA only find out that most things that she assumed about her man or about America appear not to be the case. The husband was two old for her as it started to show in everything they do. She started to discover that all the man told her while she was in Nigeria were all lies. This man lives in a dilapidated one bedroom apartment in the most ghetto area in Washington DC. This man has a good job. He has been a pharmacist a few years before Stella was born and he works for the leading US drug company. However, he had a very nasty behavior. He is a chronic womanizer and gambler. He makes lot of money as a supervisor in the pharmaceutical company but can barely afford a roof over his head. Stella found out too late that the man has been leading a life of ‘efulefu’ or ‘akalogoli’. He gambles a lot and chat with many strange women on the internet. Stella later found out that the man writes lots of checks to strange women he met on the internet chat rooms every month. When Stella confronted him about that, the man became very hostile and told her either to deal with it or leave. Their marriage fell apart after accusations and counter accusations between them. There is a story of an exceptional lady named Beatrice. She has two university degrees. She was a well-mannered lady brought up in a very decent, conservative and staunch catholic tradition. She and her parents lived while she went to school. She got married to Ben in her final year as a law student. Beatrice and Ben had known each other when Beatrice was in her 1st year in university. Ben was already a medical doctor in Nigeria. But while in Nigeria, their relationship wasn’t that intimate. It was off and on as the lady wanted only a platonic relationship. Ben later left the country for USA but they still retained their relationship. He came to USA and passed his board exams. They wrote each other and he continued to visit home during summer every other year and they see each other but their relationship remains platonic.

Finally they decided to get married. It was on the night after the marriage that they know each other sexually. Their platonic relationship spanned over 10 years before marriage. One would think that the fact that they know each other for a long time is a plus, but it was actually a minus. However, unknown to Beatrice, Ben was leaving a life of play-boy. His life style as a chronic womanizer, liar and cheat continued even after Beatrice came to live with him. He put her through hell. He was domineering, mean, condescending. He taunts her, brought other ladies home when she leaves for work and even gave her some form of STD. He didn’t even tell other women he was dating that he was already married and they still call his house even after his wife arrived. When she started to complain about his behaviors, Ben became aggressive and began to accuse her of being ungrateful after bringing her to USA. He refused to file for her permanent residence and even made arrangements to have her deported to Nigeria. Finally Ben became very abusive to Stella and they were involved in a very serious altercation which culminated into a deadly physical abuse. She spent about a month in the intensive care unit in the hospital as a result of injuries she sustained from the attack. Their marriage had since hit the rocks; just 4 months after Stella came to live with him. Later she find out that Ben married her in order not to lose her to other suitors coming her way while in Nigeria, and not because he was ready for primetime. Another problem is that many Nigerian men that want to get married to Nigerian ladies put the issue of money before love. We have these situations of Nigerian men targeting Nigerian ladies that are in the nursing schools, pharmacy schools and medical school. They care less about whether there is love or not between them. They go after nurses, pharmacists and doctors. They get married for wrong reasons, which is for the wife to come over here, pass her board exam and make quick money for him. Some Nigerian men treat their wives that they ‘imported’ from Nigeria like their slaves or their personal business empires. Some, after helping their new spouses through Nursing Schools, they now see them as their meal tickets. There was a story that had it that a certain Nigerian man used to collect her wife’s pay checks at the entrance to their house. The story had it that whenever the wife got paid, the man would wait for her at the door and forcefully take the pay check she received. Some men grow very lazy immediately the wives complete their training in nursing and start working. The men would stop working as hard as he used to do or even work at all. They now prefer to work part time and depend almost solely on the wives income. Some will be traveling to Nigeria at every little notice to ‘enjoy’ the fruit of their labor. They see them as their entitlements or investments. My background in the law and law enforcement exposed me to a lot of Nigerian men that get locked up in US jails over domestic violence and other related cases.

Many Nigerian men I see in jail over the period of my research were locked up over silly monetary issues, some were very ridiculous. The common complain I hear almost every time from these men that got involved in domestic violence and get locked up in jail is always: “After all I did for her, after putting her through Nursing School, she is now making more money and she wants do dominate me. This is how she is going to pay me back after I brought her to this country, I took care of her and her family” Many Nigerian men work hard everyday. Even before they get married, they are used to working two jobs to support their family. Many put their wives through schools; there is nothing wrong with that. However, some men become lazy after their wives start working and making money. Most Nigerian women I know, especially those of them in the medical fields, work very hard. Some of them put 16hrs of work every other day to maximize their ability to bring fat checks home. But some men see them as their money makers. They left everything for these hard working women to take care of. They women start to pay mortgages and all the bills that the men used to pay. Some men take off to summer vacation in Nigeria every year to catch some fun back home in Nigeria. Many of them quit their jobs and depend on their wives’ incomes. There is also this issue of many men in order to avoid the agony of getting wives from Nigeria and going through the US Embassy wahala, they decide to marry Nigerian women here love or no love. The want to get it cheap, forgetting that they have to exercise sound judgment based on whether there would be a lasting marital relationship and not based on business judgments. Marriage is different from business. I have seen lots of people that get disoriented about stories they hear about wives ‘imported’ from Nigeria that come here and kick the man out after getting what she want. Many men do not want to fall victim of that and they try to start early to ‘guard’ themselves, whatever that means. Many go for already established women and want to share in their wealth. The first question they ask is “what do you do for a living”. If the answer is “I’m a nurse” or I’m a pharmacist” then goes the next question. “How long have you been working”? On the other hand if the answer is: “I’m still in Nursing School”. The almost instantaneous question is: “when will you graduate?”. Having satisfied the first requirement, the next question is almost obvious….”how well can you cook”? and so on. Another problem is that of third party influence. Many marriages break up due to parent-in-law problems and friends influence. Most people get of well in their marriages as they come to understand each other. They have fashioned out a system that works for them taking into consideration the kind of society we find ourselves in. However, when one of their parents or relatives visit them, thing start to change. Some men start to behave differently for fear of being seen as weak. In order to show that they are in charge, they start to command or boss their wives around. They demand them to do certain things that were not the case before their august visitors came. They give their parents some reasons to step in and hijack their domestic affairs. There was an old woman that came to visit her daughter and husband. When she came, she found it difficult to believe that her daughter would come back home without asking her husband what he wants her to cook for dinner. It was surprising to the old lady to find her son-in-law in the kitchen trying to warn some food already stored in the refrigerator for his wife that just came back from long day of work. She got on her daughter for letting America change all she had taught her in Nigeria. She failed to understand that that is the way they have been taking care of each other and that this has been working for them. Many fall victims to some disgruntled people whose marriage were broken and who hate to see other people succeed in their own marriage. Many men start to listen to external advice whenever the have a little domestic issue with the wife. They forgot that no two marriages are the same. That one marriage fails does not mean that the other would fell also. Some men try to intimidate their wives immediately they come from Nigeria. Some try to start on time to ‘cut her tails’. They try to maltreat them believing that if they do so; the women would not have the courage to do stupid things that some Nigerian women living in USA are notorious for. Some men even resort to verbal or physical abuse on these women that knew next to nothing about what life in USA is about. When these women finally get exposed to life here, and have some financial muscle, they decide flex their financial muscle. They try to get their own pound of flesh since they can now afford to threaten their men. The women have their own share of the problem. There is this fallacy that this problem is prevalent among female Nigerian nurses. However, the main issue is that many women from Nigeria become nurses when they come to USA irrespective of whatever their professions were back home in Nigeria. Many women while they were single and living in Nigeria fall victim to material wealth. Many of them look at the men’s pocket when they come to ‘toast’ them or ask for their hands in marriage. The mere fact that a guy is based in USA is enough requirements for getting her. Irrespective of what kind of person the man is or what kind of job he does for a living in America is immaterial to her. There are no more questions! Everything is based on assumption. Even relatives do not care any more to ask questions because immediately a man touts his ‘credential’ as living abroad, many relatives see dollar signs everywhere. Her mother would want to go to America for ‘omugwo’. The father will dream of getting a car and getting help in training the other siblings of his daughter. No one will ask any question about the prospective son-in-law. It is as a result of the economic condition back home that cheapens our value system. Every lady’s dream is to marry a rich man, after all their parents went through to train them, they do not want to continue to struggle. So when they finally settle with the supposedly rich guy living in America, they become disappointed when they come over here to live. Some do not care how old their prospective husbands are or whether she has any atom of love for their husbands provided the dollars are there. Some even harbor the ambition of ending the marriage immediately they come to the states and receive their green cards. There was another story of a lady that married this guy that lived in Philadelphia and came over to live with him. Little did the guy know that the lady had her own plans. Her plans was to marry the guy, come over to the states, get her green cards and then leave the man to marry her heartthrob that was back home in Nigeria and bring him over. She finally succeeded in getting her wishes of ditching her husband after she got her green card but her heartthrob had his own plans, your guess is as good as mine. Some women back home in Nigeria have hardly seen a dollar back in Nigeria, but when they comes here, and after the husband put her through school and she starts making money; she will want their husbands to turn into her house boys. When some of them get their salaries for the first time, they start to make naira conversion of the dollars! They start seeing themselves as millionaires in Nigeria. When they start sharing financial responsibilities with their husbands, they start seeing themselves as breadwinners and now the boss. There will no longer be respect to their husbands just because they see money. There was a lady that was boasting to people in a gathering that the house the husband recently bought in Lagos was actually bought with her own money. “I bought the house for my husband”. No one asked her whose money was used to buy the house or how the house was bought. As I said before, most marital tragedies are caused by relatives on both sides. Some women let their mom that came to look after their kids for them while she works to run their marriage.

The couple may be living happily until the wife’s mother comes from Nigeria. When these parents come to USA and find out how much money her daughter makes every month, they will start thinking that their daughters are now the head of her husbands’ family. I’ve seen an older woman that came to the states to stay with her married daughter and her daughter’s husband for a year. Prior to her arrival, these two wonderful couples were living very happily as a team. But when she arrived, she started taunting her hardworking daughter about how foolish the daughter was for letting her husband control her finances. She started advising her to open her own bank accounts. She said that it was her son-in-law’s duty to take care of her daughter and not the other way round. She saw the pay check brought home every month by her daughter and was marveled. She told her daughter that all she makes does not belong to the husband but to her family as she has to build a house in her father’s house. She told her to be start money home secretly to her father’s house to enable them build a mansion in her father’s house. This lady stupidly and irresponsibly heeded to the advice of the mom. When the husband found out, they started having problems. It took wise counsel before the lady came to her senses and repented. They finally send the old woman home for peace to rein. Some married women listen to lots of advises about how to deal with their husbands with regard to money issues. As the Bible say “bad company corrupt good manners”. Some women that are already divorced from their husband, almost always do not feel very happy seeing other people who are enjoying blissful marriages. They are always envious of seeing other people succeed when they failed. Another problem is this issue of which wife was ‘imported’ from Nigeria and which wife was already here prior to marriage. Some women that got married after they have already been in the states see themselves as gold. Some feel so important and self-assured that there is nothing the man can do to her since she was already a self made lady. Some think that they know too much and that they are better than ‘imported’ ones. There was a lady boasting that: “I’ll kick him out of the house if he acts stupid, after all he didn’t parcel me here from Nigeria”. Some think that since they came here on their own and been to the states before her man married her, that she knows too much about US laws protecting women. They challenge their men to do their worse. When the husband packs out of the house, the lady may not be able to pay the mortgage alone or carter for the kids no matter how much they won against the man for child support. All the above discussed are the main causes of marriage failures that lead to some men and women taking laws into their own hands leading to these kinds of marital problems among Nigerians in diaspora. Most times, these lead to bitter divorce and the division of marital property lead to tragedy. Normally women get the upper hand in the short run, but some men determined to get their own revenge, took laws into their hands. The solution lies in our hands and in the hands of God. But we will do our own part and let God handle his own part. First of all by our culture, marriages are meant to be forever. Divorce is strange to our culture. Strange in the sense that it has lots of stigmas and bitter taste to our respective families. Our fathers and forefather succeeded partly because they had no choice and partly because the saw it as an everlasting thing. They decided to put in lots of works to make it succeed. Right here, what I mean is that every marriage is worth fighting for and saving despite all odds. Marriage is not meant to be all rosy and smooth. It could be very rough most times. However, I am not saying that a woman or even man should stay in an abusive and dangerous marital relationship just to fix it. If the man or a woman is dangerous to continue to live with, by all means leave the marriage.

But if the marriage is workable, try and work it out. Successful marriages in USA by Nigerians in diaspora are as a result of team work. Both spouses work as a team. Some men even want the wives to take care of cooking, doing dishes, and taking care of the kids etc even after long hours of work. We cannot have it both ways. It is either you want to be the man like our culture stipulates or you share the woman’s duty which is mostly on the home front. It’s either you are the bread winner or you are not. We live in a foreign land. If you go to Rome, you believe like Romans. It’s either we live by our culture which puts a man in charge of the family or we live like our adopted country people. In this case, we get ready to cede some of the powers to the wives who have come to be co-bread winners. I do not see anything degrading about a man cooking for his wife, doing dishes, doing laundry or picking the kids up from Day Care. If the man comes back from work earlier than the wife, there is nothing wrong with that. This is what marriage is all about. If the bedrock of the marriage is love, every other thing is secondary. The relationship with our wives here should be in most cases that of a partners, not that of a king versus his subjects. If we see our wives as part of our own body as God ordained in the book of Genesis, all these friction should be uncalled for. There is nothing like a man’s job or a woman’s job in USA. Women do men’s job and vice versa even at home. It does not make a man less of a man to wash his wife’s dishes, do laundry, change diapers, pick the kids from day care, baby sit the kids or even cook for your wife if you have the culinary capabilities (not many people have it). These are the intangible things that make for the intimacy between a man and his wife. Theses are the things that make love grow. There is nothing wrong with a woman helping her husband to pay bills. In Igbo, we say, ‘aka nni kwoo aka ekpe, aka ekpe akwoo aka nni, aka adi ocha’-right hand should help wash the left hand and left hand should help wash right hand, so that both hands would be clean. Every couple should do what works for them. If the cap fits, wear it. Do not look at other people because all circumstances are not the same. You can only emulate good examples from others and no copy their bad examples. We are Nigerians, no matter how long we stay here. We can only emulate American cultures that are good and leave the bad ones for them. We cannot be more catholic than the pope. We should be able to blend our cultures with their cultures that are beneficial to us. Women should know that whatever money they make belongs to both them and their spouses. Men should also know that it is not always ‘my house’ ‘my car’ ‘my this’ ‘my that’. The wealth acquired by both spouses belongs to each other, the law also says so. Most of our men should also step up and be men. If you want respect from your spouse, you have to earn it. After God created Adam, He took pity on him and said “I will make him a helper fit for him”. Our wives are our helpers if we look at the word of God. A helper does not need to take over the responsibility of the person needing her help! Our wives are here to support, assist, encourage etc and not to take over our job while we fool around.

It is a different story if the man becomes incapacitated as a result of illness or some other things; then that’s understandable. Moreover, after Adam and Eve fell out of favor from the lord, he cursed them. The curse that the man received was that “out of the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread” this means that a man’s responsibility it was to provide for himself and his family. Some even want the wives to take care of cooking, doing dishes, and taking care of the kids etc even after long hours of work. We cannot have it both ways. It is either you want to be the man like our culture stipulates or you share the woman’s duty which is mostly on the home front. It’s either you are the bread winner or you are not. We live in a foreign land. If you go to Rome, you believe like Romans. It it is either we live by our culture which puts a man in charge of the family or we live like our adopted country people. In this case, we get ready to cede some of the powers to the wives who have come to be co-bread winners. I do not see anything degrading about a man cooking for his wife, doing dishes, doing laundry or picking the kids up from Day Care. If the man comes back from work earlier than the wife, there is nothing wrong with that. This is what I understand marriage to be all about. To my mind, if the bedrock of the marriage is love, every other thing is secondary. A man should love his wife and vive versa. If see our wives as part of our own body as God ordained in the book of Genesis, all these friction should be uncalled for. However, all said and done, the bottom line is that a man is always the head of the family regardless of whatever his financial position. Our relationship with our wives here should be of partners, not that of a king versus his subjects. If we see our wives as part of our own body as God ordained in the book of Genesis, all these friction should be uncalled for. Marriage is a full time job. If you put in much work in the marriage early enough, it pays most times.

(First Published in Nigeriaworld.com on September 24, 2006)

CSN: 46815-2008-18-47

 

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