Deciphering the High Rate of Divorce In Nigeria – Umar Yakubu

Just like fake news, divorce rates seem to be on the rise, trending mostly in the northern towns of Kano, Zaria, Katsina and Bauchi. A quick survey from open sources, interviews and, primarily, discussions and observations from close circles of relations, indicate a disturbing surge of divorced and unhappy women who are blindly and surely grouping under several torn and unreliable umbrellas.

The roles in our culture have been entirely reversed. The women look for men to make baby, while the men look for women to mother them. – Eli Markus

Just like fake news, divorce rates seem to be on the rise, trending mostly in the northern towns of Kano, Zaria, Katsina and Bauchi. A quick survey from open sources, interviews and, primarily, discussions and observations from close circles of relations, indicate a disturbing surge of divorced and unhappy women who are blindly and surely grouping under several torn and unreliable umbrellas.

While some dangerously seek refuge in marabouts and spiritual con-men, others have turned to the internet to access foreign “evangelists” in their desperate quests and searches for sources of apparent inspiration. They focus on superficial religiosity to ward off the obvious emotional cancer that has metastasized over years of abuse and maltreatment, and which eats deeper into their souls every day. The unlucky ones have turned to drugs, upper-class harlotry and other forms of anti-social behaviour – ill-conceived habits they have adopted in the effort to “forget” “those ‘useless husbands’”. Others have idly accepted their fates and live in patience and hope, in the right spirit, waiting to see if the next day would be better. The other larger group, on the other hand, seems heavily attracted to feminist issues, ideologies and other ‘isms’ intent on promoting the ‘emancipation’ and ‘empowerment’ of women. The simple truth in all of this however is that a lot of these women are suffering! Deep, cold-hearted, soul-wrecking suffering!

One of my teachers, Mohamed Ghilan, accurately x-rayed the problem and pointed to the source of the conundrum as ‘toxic masculinity’. Most women in, for example, Northern Nigeria, are married off at early ages, with little or no experience of the dynamics of society. The poorer ones are married off earlier to relieve their parents of the economic pressures of their upbringing. The well-to-do ones are spoon-fed till their wedding day. Basically, they all start at the same level of feeble-mindedness when they get married to usually, much older men with huge appetites for ‘newer’ things or young men who are not used to shouldering responsibilities. There is really never a structured, proactive, pre-wedding intervention of any nature – say, in the mould of counselling – other than that their parents simply wanting them married off as quickly as possible.

There is no psychological preparation planned for the intending couple – anchored on faith-based values that guide marriages, with a whole lot of them dependent on the often misleading and misguided chatter they glean from soap operas and social media. The most common and perhaps the only constant, well-worn phrase intending couples receive from parents, family members and friends alike is that “marriage requires patience”. This, unfortunately, builds a false psychological state of negative expectations of chaos, self-defence, and the inclination to quietly prepare for the worst. Ladies often enter marriages in full-combat gear, while others behave in meek obedience like computer keyboards; obeying every command!

In truth, the toxicity starts within a year or two. Some say a few months into marriage. The women are turned into legal concubines for purely reproductive purposes. While at that, they make them fully comply with all the religious and cultural obligations in existence, basically, to prevent them from mixing in the society, while the husband is free to go about his dealings in all spheres. It usually starts from denying them access to study, work or running businesses, for the sake of baby-sitting him and the children. This is followed by coercion to change in appearance, application of restrictive schedules and denial of access to other people. More obsessive husbands who are driven by inferiority complexes and who hunger for control, won’t even allow their wives visits to or from relatives, and only, where unavoidable, to attend funerals. She is usually seen when its time to mourn.

With such a hideous outlook to their lives, these women’s dreams and personal aspirations are buried because they are expected to focus her entire attentions to raising children and mothering their husbands. In a short while, they become transformed into glorified maids with little or no options to having lives of their own. Religious texts are selfishly used to coerce them into accepting the intolerable, conveniently evading and ignoring other texts that point towards responsibility and dignity. Instead of mutual respect and the positive show of understanding aimed at shared growth, the home becomes a centre of needless power struggle, with muscles being flexed on who has the final word on every matter – the husband’s veto power having the upper hand almost all of the time. The marriage is now merely a battle-ground. The issue of who is right and wrong takes centre stage, rather than working towards a union built on the foundations of tolerance, love and mutual respect, and which recognise the differences in intellect that ordinarily ought to be harnessed and aligned for mutual benefit.

This is not in any way an attempt to overlook women and their share of negative propensities in their marriages. But given the scope of this aspect of the problem, I should address it in a separate discourse on another day. The point being made in this intervention is that women are being divorced recklessly and then left with no means of livelihood or dignity. At the last count, Kano State alone had over 1 million registered divorcees! Consider the social consequences of such a number being replicated across Nigeria.

Women are now raking in statistics in negative and untoward spheres, hitherto thought to be the exclusive domains of young boys and men. Concerns around drugs, violence, kidnapping, human trafficking are making news headlines with images of otherwise responsible-looking women being paraded as alleged culprits. Some remain in marriages because they want to maintain the prefix of ‘Mrs’. In that state, their psychological conditions make them unknowingly mean to their children and support staff, especially nannies who are treated as modern-day slaves. The vicious cycle goes on.

I am of the view that the institution of marriage needs some form of intervention by religious and cultural bodies. For example, many Church denominations, particularly the Catholic Church in Nigeria, are fully involved in pre-marital counselling for intending couples. The approach is also to make sure parents or guardians are included in the process. From the introduction, a thorough background check is done on both sides in order to mitigate risks. The interesting part is that couples need to go through an intensive course for up to six months, in some instances, with qualified marriage counsellors having backgrounds in various social sciences and other related fields. The Church is also involved in conducting regular programmes for couples on marriage, parenting and dispute resolution.

All faiths can and should develop, adopt or adapt this or other methodologies. In truth, the guidelines are already developed in all Abrahamic religions. What is lacking is focus and implementation and, most of all, prioritisation and addressing of problems. We are more obsessed with superficialities and complexities.

For a more promising future, it is time to take necessary measures because most states do not have the financial resources and social infrastructure to deal with the growing number of abused or divorced women. For me, it would be more useful for religious and cultural bodies to expend their time on this issue than getting all involved in local politics.

Umar Yakubu is of the Counter-Fraud Centre.