September 13, 2014 by Kambili M.A. Chimalu
I was at a friend’s wedding not too long ago and I was amazed at the other worldly ambiance of the event. The bride was gorgeously dressed in a bejeweled dress that announced her the queen of the day, and I could have sworn that I saw the groom fight back tears as his bride sashayed down the aisle in her flowing gown. I was particularly captivated by the moment they said their vows. The bride and groom promised to commit themselves to their marriage and the couple’s friends, family, and well wishers
vowed to become the third party in the marriage acknowledged the creation of a new unit that no longer included them in the innermost circle.
That convinced me that a marriage is normally between two people who have decided to commit themselves to one another. It is a common assumption that all the decisions made within the confines of any marriage is the sole prerogative of the two individuals that stood in the presence of a Priest, Imam, Prophet, or Judge and affirmed their commitment to one another. However, recent developments have led me to believe that Nigerians are increasingly inviting themselves into other people’s marriages under the guise of rendering well-intentioned, but unsolicited advice.
Take the case of the very high profile divorce proceedings between Pastor Chris Oyakhilome and Anita Oyakhilome for an example. Immediately news of the impending divorce broke, some Nigerians rejoiced at having been given a no-holds-barred invitation into the Oyakhilomes’ marriage. Reveling in this unexpected opportunity, Nigerians invited themselves in, pulled up a seat, and proceeded to referee a private match. Everyone, from priests to the ordinary blog reader, decided to offer unsolicited opinions on the issue.
Also, while we are on the subject of divorce, it is important to point to the Premium Times report that details the Emir of Kano’s, Sanusi, desires for the criminalization of divorce. He argues that many people end their marriages based on “flimsy” excuses. Thus, levelling adequate punishments on people found guilty of “flimsy divorce” would not only be appropriate, but would also serve as a deterrent to others.
What do these two cases have in common? It is the arrogant assumption by some Nigerians that they know what is best for two adults that have decided to put an end to their marriage. A lot of people assumed that the Oyakhilomes did not explore all other options available to them before resorting to divorce, but given their positions in the church, I can safely assume that divorce was not an easy decision for them to make. As for criminalizing “flimsy divorces,” that is as sensible as criminalizing not eating Akara and Agege bread for breakfast every morning.
We, Nigerians, must acknowledge that we are not the third party in other people’s marriage. In fact, we are merely casual observers. We must not continue to view divorce as such a taboo that we would force people to stay in unhappy marriages so as not to offend our delicate sensibilities. If Chris and Anita Oyakhilome decide to remain married, it should not be because some Nigerians forced them to. If Sanusi’s people decide to stay married, it should not be because they are afraid of being prosecuted for “flimsy divorce.”
When my friends said their vows in the presence of a priest, I did not stand there with them and vow to insinuate myself in their marriage. When I see two people I don’t know on any personal level considering divorce, I cannot assume an air of superiority because I think divorce is wrong. I cannot presume to offer unsolicited advice to strangers. Chris and Anita Oyakhilome are strangers to me and a host of other Nigerians. We may see them on our TV screens, attend their church every Sunday, but in the end, they are strangers to us and we must accord them the dignity, respect, and privacy they need to conduct their affairs peacefully.
I agree with a lot of Nigerians that divorce should not always be the first option, but sometimes it is the only option because some people are better apart than they are together.