Jane (not her real name) is a beauty; a sight for sore eyes. In her thirties, Jane who comes from Imo State can boast of the modern equivalents of what Chinua Achebe described as ‘solid personal achievements’ in his novel THINGS FALL APART: a sound education, a well-paying job and lucrative private practice on the side; a de luxe apartment in Ikoyi and a car. Jane is the solid backbone of her family; she set up her unemployed brother in business and takes care of her parents. You would think that Jane’s family and friends will leap over the moon whenever her name is mentioned. Alas, this is not the case. You see, Jane has committed the ‘ultimate crime’: remaining unmarried at thirty-plus.
Our paths crossed years back when we met at the university to register for our post-graduate diploma programmes. Jane’s intelligence and warmth impressed me, though we were not in the same department. A strictly platonic friendship which was enhanced by the fact that we are from the same state developed.
‘Why does our society treat women like rags simply because they do not affix ‘MRS.’ before their names?’ she asked me over lunch in one of the school’s cafeteria. I had no honest answer for her. Poor Jane was not looking for intellectual succour; her Bible-quoting mother was close to consulting their village dibia (native doctor) to find out if some enemy had put a spell on their daughter.
Jane’s question flashed across my mind after reading a blood-curdling account of how a thirty-eight year old woman, Bolanle Abiola, slaughtered her mother for allegedly obstructing her chances of getting married. (SUNDAY SUN, APRIL 8, 2012. p.10). In brief: Bolanle and her male accomplice showed up at the old woman’s and she welcomed them, thinking her daughter had brought home a suitor. In the night, during a heavy rain, the cruel couple ‘murdered sleep’, thus fulfilling Bolanle’s past threats to deal with her mother for ‘tying up’ her marital chances. This allegation was brought to light by Abudu Abiola, Biola’s elder brother, following his sister’s arrest. Bolanle allegedly owned up to the killing.
While this account does not presuppose Bolanle’s guilt or innocence-that is the law’s business- I have been disturbed since I read it and followed a programme run on the story by Nigeria Info F.M. Radio on April 9.
First, why must any human being be defined by his or her marital status? Is an unmarried woman less of a human being than a married one? Nobody should try to convince me with misinterpretations of the holy books or outrageous cultural beliefs. Even the Bible makes it clear that marriage is voluntary. Unless you accept other texts that seek to explain Jesus Christ’s earthly life such as ‘The Da Vinci Code’, he was single while on this side.
‘Marriage is the crowning glory of a woman.’ ‘A woman without a husband is incomplete.’ You hear these statements from our parents, even supposedly educated ones. This reveals one factor about the typical Nigerian, nay Black African: for all his claims to Westernization, he is largely bound to his ancestors’ way of life. This is not necessarily bad because one must have roots with which to grow in the world. But then we tend to have selective memories of the so-called glorious ways of our fathers. For example, how many modern Igbo will recollect that in certain traditional communities that had priestesses to powerful deities, usually the earth-goddess ( Ala ), these female ministers were single, probably as a result of their calling? Try telling that to parents who argue that it is a taboo to be an unmarried woman.
In this day and age many crazy teachings and practices are being passed around in our society. Satan and all his demons must be so occupied in Nigeria that I wonder when they have time to perpetuate mischief elsewhere. Not doing well in business? Demonic attack remote-controlled by your grandma in the village. Not married if you are a girl and over twenty (in some areas, below twenty)? Satan is masking your face from suitors through an enemy, including-as Bolanle’s case would indicate- your own mother! As a Christian I do not doubt diabolical operations on earth but I postulate that the greatest diabolical mayhem unleashed on most Nigerians is on their reasoning.
There is no justification for pressuring anyone, male or female, to get married. Marriage carries a lot of challenges and is a ballgame which some people, in all sincerity, are not prepared for. It has nothing to do with money in the bank, degrees, love for children, religion, etc. There will always be some people, though a minority, who take a dim view of surrendering their identity or freedom to someone else for life.
Then there are people who have been hurt so much in what Don Williams, the country music legend, described as ‘love’s endless wars’. Do they deserve further hurt? Sadly, our sisters often get the short end of the stick in these brawls of the heart. If a woman comes through one and decides to keep her sanity by remaining single-either unmarried or divorced- her right should be respected. Same for men.
The hogwash about immorality and promiscuity being prevalent among unmarried women is just that: hogwash. Who has the data to prove that in good old Naija unmarrieds/divorcees are more licentious than the married ones? One must not generalise or use personal moral parameters to judge others. A woman who is in a relationship with a man, perhaps bears his baby, but is not married to him may not be more immoral than the married woman who sneaks into the pastor or Alfa’s bed for ‘counselling.’ A guy who cares for his kid and the mother in all aspects but is sincere enough to realise that they cannot live as man and wife is, in my opinion, more honourable than a married lecher.
Marriage is beautiful and if you get married for the right reasons it is great. But quite a few people are finding what we married folks have outside the institution: love, companionship, appreciation, good sex, family, etc. Must they be condemned?
The organs of the Nigerian state are blatantly anti-unmarried people, especially women. A single lady, to my knowledge, cannot post bail in our police stations. State assistance is denied unmarried women. The society’s mindset is set against a woman who opts out of an abusive marriage or worse, refuses to marry. Even in some Christian circles girls who opt for reverend sisterhood and its stated celibacy are looked upon doubtfully. Ironically, many of the doubtful eyes are female.
I am not discouraging marriage. But it must not be the beginning and end of anyone’s life. Havoc is being wreaked on our society because of the marriage-at-all-costs mindset. Check out the bogus marriage/dating agencies in town; a number of frustrated 419 fraudsters have resorted to online marriage scams to fleece our ladies of cash and sex. Quite a few well to do women who in saner climes would walk tall and get hitched on a basis of mutuality end up bowing to and hooking up with egoistic, complex-riddled men. Though our cultural setting makes things fairly easier for men, yet, at a certain stage, if they refuse to marry society unleashes its fangs on them.
Last I heard from Jane, her mother ceased developing high blood pressure when she visited home with a Ghanaian boyfriend. The old woman is busy putting together a marriage list for the intended bridegroom. I pray whatever Jane and Kwame share is strong enough to end in a marriage so that both mother and daughter can have some peace. But what if it does not? Oh dear!
•Onyema is a writer and historian. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org