By Chikelu Chinelo
14 JUNE 2013
It is no longer news nor surprising that, women in modern Nigeria afford to share their spouse with another woman. But the rate at which this practice is increasing in Nigeria has become worrisome.
Not minding their level of education, the consciousness of the average African man especially those raised in the cultural setting, has not changed. Regardless of the level of westernisation imbibed by an average African man in terms of his academic qualification, exposure, dressing, among others, when it comes to marriage, he remains an African man in his consciousness.
Hence, the moment they are able to achieve some measure of success materially, there is always the tendency to let go of the inhibition that the white man's religion or education imposes on them and find them marrying many women. And if the white man's religion becomes a challenge, they find a way around it by keeping many mistresses. Invariably, an African man is still an African man underneath. It is purely more a cultural issue than any other factor. What then are the other factors that encourage this concept?
Why some men practice Polygyny - Modern Practices of Polygyny
A number of factors contribute to the high rate of polygamy in the modern day Nigeria. Basically, there are cultural reasons, biological reasons, religious or practical reasons such as satisfaction.
By some cultural nuances across the African continent, it is permissible for a man to have more than one wife. Some religious tenets such as Islam allow a man to have more than one wife provided that he is capable of loving and taking care of all of them equitably. Islamic religion allows a man to marry four wives for several reasons: fulfillment in terms of infertility, sexual prowess, the number of female births in comparison to male child and the belief as stated by the Prophet Muhammad that the more the people, the larger his community.
To correct the misinterpretation usually alluded to this, Alhaji Ibrahim Moshood Lawal lamented that faithfuls should not take the teachings of the Quran at face value, as if forced to do so. The Quran, he explained, made allowance for polygamy on the condition that the man love all four wives equally and also effectively foster the four pillars of marriage in Islam: to clothe, feed, educate and shelter your wife.
The Quran instructs Muslim men to "marry women of your choice two or three or four," but warns that "if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them) then only one or your (concubines). That is more fitting so that you do not deviate from the right course." The Prophet Muhammad said, "Whosoever has two wives and he inclines towards one to the exclusion of the other, he will come on the Day of Judgment with his body dropping or bending down".
In some instances people, Alhaji Moshood adds, ignores such conditions. Illiterate Muslims blatantly ignore these conditions which he terms Human-Created Polygamy, polygamy without justice and finance. "Some of our Muslim brothers are stark illiterates, a literate Muslim finds it difficult to hold a family while the illiterate ones (western education and Islamic religion) has four wives. How can you cope? There are such people in government offices looting government treasury." According to reports of cases filed at the Upper Area 1 Court, Mpape, in 2012/2013, 5 out of 8 cases were based on abandonment (includes lack of care and support).
For example, a husband who makes N800 to N2000 per day marries four wives and eventually leaves his family incommunicado for a year or two. Secondly, according to a particular cultural tradition across Africa, Polygamy is an acceptable practice. It is important to be mindful of the fact that African societies used to be mainly rural. A man would get married to two or more wives in order to have a large family to assist him in the farm. The logic of division of labour provides rational basis for polygamy in that era.
In some cases, family members may encourage some men to marry more than one wife for the purposes of procreation. According to African cultural tradition and the bible, marriage or conjugal relationship exists so that procreation can continue. Where after a while, a marriage has been consummated and children are not forthcoming, members of the extended family may start getting worried, eventually, the man is encouraged to explore elsewhere by taking another wife.
Another reason outside the problem of infertility is when a man is not happy with the marriage or with the wife he is married to. Rather than going on conjugal escapades outside of the matrimonial home, he might be compelled to look elsewhere for marriage and the exploration may get consummated. There are men who take Temporary Wives. The length of temporary marriage is defined in advance and can last anything from hours to decades as practiced by some Muslims in Britain.
In Nigeria, the man uses every method of injection or family planning (they warn these women they do not want children) to ensure they do not bear children for them. This case holds true in the case of the rich director who almost every year divorces one of his wives to marry another. "Men that practice such by Islamic Laws are wrong, they have decided to ignore their religious teachings and marry a woman, two to three months he divorces her because he has gotten what he wants from the union - sex. Islamic Law teaches that you must maintain your wives. Temporary wives, Amnesty International reports, generally face social ostracism, and their children may face difficulties in accessing public services such as education because if the marriage is unregistered, it may be hard for the mother to prove paternity.
Contrary to Temporary Wives, there are situations of some wives that are aware of the second wife as she is moved into the same house as the first. The Abdullah's is a household of ten including husband, two wives and seven children. The children all attend the same school, two of the wives ‘children are in the same class although the children of the second get better grades in school.
Their husband provides the children equal opportunities and attention that they both live happily since the husband does not show his preference for either one. Abdullah married his second wife three months apart from his first marriage. Sources close to the couples explained that the first wife was his parent's choice while the second was his true choice, the one he met before his first wife. Forced Marriage results to polygamy, especially when the couple involved have nothing in common.
Another modern form of polygamy is the instance exhibited by Mr. F. Mr. F is married to three wives who are aware of the other wives' existence. However, they live under separate roofs. Mr. F has no permanent residence rather spreads himself around to the wives. He spends two weeks with each wife. On occasions when he travels, he takes one along with him, spends quality time with her depending on the timetable of each wife. He never takes two at a time.
Single mothers lack the choice of picking a husband, thus, they practically seek the position of second wives especially from men who view polygamy as a religious purpose. For religious purposes, men marry many wives to keep the widow and 'wallflowers or almost on the shelf ladies' from the streets. Mr. Ahmed Musa (not his real name) believes that these women have sexual as well as financial and security stability needs. Rather than leave poor widows exposed to the dangers in our socio-economic environment, he advised that men should legally assume full responsibility of the woman in question and her children.
'Wall flowers' and 'almost on the shelf ‘are graduates. They tend to accept marriages as second wives out of desperation and fear of hitting menopause without giving birth to a child. When suitors come asking for her hand in marriage, even if they were men who already have a family, they quickly jump at such opportunity to have children, and on many occasions, financial security.
A more callous approach to polygamy is where the woman in question is not aware that the husband she is legally married to is keeping another woman, away from home. There have been several stories circulating about women who find themselves in such situation. Sometimes they discover too late after the death of the husband and accommodate them as concerns inheritance and the will of the deceased. On other occasions they do recover on time but had to tolerate the act. According to Honourable Raphael Igwu of the Customary Court, Mpape, one of such cases brought before the court was of a couple married under the native law and custom.
The husband brought home a house-help to live with them; she lived with the couple for a long time. The wife took good care of the girl and ensured she was enrolled in a school. Unknown to the wife the husband was grooming the house-help for marriage. He later secretly married the house-help and accommodated her elsewhere and then came to file divorce against his wife (the first wife). At this point, the first wife made an appearance. "The man withdrew the case, which the court had to strike out. It is probably due to heavy public criticism".
On The Trail Of Ascertaining The Impact Of Polygamy In General
Hon Igwu confirmed that roughly 40 per cent of cases brought before the court cite incidences of polygamy being the root cause of marriage breakdown. Out of 100 cases presided over by the court from 2010 to date, 75 per cent were divorce cases, while 6 out of the 75 were polygamous cases. With the existence of 39 Customary Courts in the FCT, one can expect a higher statistics than the above mentioned figure. He also attributed increase in marriages breakdown in the FCT to economic or financial reasons.
Loss of intimacy between couples as the man becomes deeply involved in providing for his family to the detriment of the home and the loss of homes resulting from relocation or demolition, where the man keeps his family in a separate part of the town or another state. This he asserts creates room for infidelity. Better still, it creates room for the popular polygamous practice tagged Abuja Marriage. Monsignor Ajayi of St John the Baptist Catholic Church, Mpape, described this marriage practice as "Men who get married in the village, come to the city and for the fact that they have no accommodation meets a lady who has one and they begin living together and eventually get married."
Hon Igwu reiterated the fact that Marriage under native law and custom allows for polygamy. One cannot use the basis of polygamy to ask for dissolution of marriage. "It does not matter whether one is coming to court because the other married another, one cannot use that as a reason to dissolve a marriage. The native law and custom does not provide any strict condition for dissolution of marriage.
Once any of the parties shows an inclination of lack of interest in the marriage, the court is always compelled to dissolve the marriage, so long as there are clear evidence that the parties are no longer interested for whatever reasons. Even without reason if one of the parties indicates that it does not wish to be married to the other any longer that would be the end of it." "This is unlike the English Law/English marriage or marriage under the Act. In marriage under the Act, one must prove the reasons for seeking divorce. Engaging in extra-marital affair and polygamy are some of the very cogent reasons why the court will or can dissolve the marriage."
Christians looking to get married and couples who seek divorce in courts must know the difference between Marriage under the Act or English Law as against Marriage under Native law and Custom.