Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why Being Unmarried Is The ‘Ultimate’ Crime In Nigeria

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 programmers. 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 sccour; her Bible-quoting mother was close to consulting their village dibia 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 downpour, 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.

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, family, etc. Must they be condemned?

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PS: 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!

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