By Ray Ekpu
On the last International Women’s Day, Nigerian Senators bared their minds on the issue of women in Nigeria. The views of two Senators caught my attention: Remi Tinubu and Senate Leader Ali Ndume. Mrs Tinubu, former First Lady of Lagos State, and now second term senator, urged men not only to befriend women but also to marry them. This is a reasonable advice from someone who is married. But the implicit assumption here is that all men and, indeed, all women would want to get married. It is not true since there are some men and some women who prefer to be single because they think marriage is a prison. They would rather be free to relate to whoever they want without the encumbrance of a permanent, till-death-do-us part relationship. But it is fair to say that most people appreciate the virtue of marriage, the companionship, the bonding and the offspring of such a legitimate union even if they experience some difficulties.
However, Tinubu’s advice is hinged on the assumption that any woman who is befriendable is automatically also marriageable. But the qualifications for a girlfriend and a wife are different. If you check your weekend newspapers, you will be thrilled by the shopping list of relationship seekers. These are either people who want a relationship that can blossom into marriage or one that has no long term agenda.
Most of the women who send their relationship requests to the newspapers want a Mr. Right, a God fearing man, tall, handsome and rich. In other words, they want a perfect man, with all the right qualities and no blemish, a man manufactured in heaven. But do they themselves have all the right qualities for marriage? How perfect are they themselves? Girls who are on the wrong side of thirty like to say “it seems all the good men have been taken.” Who took all the good men? It must be the good girls so, if you are not taken, examine yourself. To have a good spouse you must be one yourself.
Mrs Tinubu’s advice should be adjusted and despatched to the ladies urging them to show that they can be good wives when they get married. Many of the girls today are unrealistic about life: they want to carry a shiny N300, 000 phone, wear a N200, 000 Brazilian hair and wear a N100, 000 pair of gladiator shoes. Which struggling, but hardworking young man can afford that lifestyle for a twenty something year old girl who doesn’t earn more than, say 30,000 naira a month? A rich man who wants a flashy, trophy girlfriend may go for her but that relationship may not even endure.
I believe that most men would like to marry a girl who is down to earth, realistic about life and living, and has a sense of compassion. If you are going to spend all your life with a woman, she must understand that life is full of hills and valleys and she must be ready to take both in her stride, through rain or shine.
Senator Ndume’s advice, namely, that men should marry more wives is obviously controversial. He has been appropriately tackled by several women groups and some other persons. They accuse him of talking about women as if they are mere sex symbols. Mr Ndume must be thinking that if the unverified population of women in Nigeria is higher than that of men the way to help the women is for men, to marry more than one wife. This is nonsense. People do not marry out of pity. They marry because there is a felt need, and if that need is satisfied by the marriage of one wife, the need to marry more than one does not exist.
In many Christian communities, well- to-do men opted in the past to marry more than one wife, so as to have several people working in the man’s farms or factories or simply to ensure that even if some of the children are killed by witches, there will still be some children to carry on the family name. That has faded out today, and the families are getting smaller. In moslem communities, some men think they are obeying the Islamic injunction that permits a man to marry four wives. But there is a caveat which people, out of greed, prefer to ignore. The injunction is that you can marry four wives “if you can love all of them equally.” But no one on this planet can love more than one person equally. So the real meaning is that moslems should marry one wife. Marrying one wife is the true meaning of being a good Moslem. Many Moslems have chosen that sensible path. Mr Ndume’s ill-informed advice is likely to be ignored, even by moslems, because life is getting tougher in today’s Nigeria.
Marriage is a difficult but interesting institution. Many people are anxious to get married, but not ready to work hard to stay married. In this institution, the women are the ones always holding the short end of the stick in Nigeria. Some years ago, the Babangida government came up with a four – child per family policy. They made it four children per woman. Mariam Babangida, then First Lady, said in an interview that when she went home that day, she confronted her husband on the issue. As she put it, “I raised shirted – hell.” Because it was not intended to be a serious way of population control, it died on arrival, and nobody has resurrected it.
Population is a serious issue, and population is related to resources and food security. That is why China enacted its one-child per family policy and now that it is a net exporter of food, it has reviewed the policy. Family can now have two children.
Some children are born out of wedlock but most children are products of a legal union. So, the more marriages, the more children we are likely to have. And as at today, we are a net importer of food. We simply cannot feed ourselves so marrying more wives and producing more children is the worst advice that anybody can give to Nigerians today.
Besides, people should get married only when they are ready financially and emotionally. No compass has yet been invented for navigating the high seas of marriage. Not yet.
This article was first published in The Source Magazine, March 28, 2016.