•Records 30,000 failed marriages in nine months
By Sunday Ani [email protected]
Marriage is supposed to be a lifelong commitment. Spouses are expected to be together till death do them part. However, marriages are now crashing at the speed of light, and the case of Badagry is legendary.
In this ancient town, divorces are two for a kobo. Almost every family has a divorcee. It was learnt that over 30,000 failed marriages were recorded between January and September 2016 in Badagry.
When our reporter went to the Badagry Customary Court, the registrar, Mr. Oduntan Olufemi, did not mince words when he confirmed that, actually, the divorce rate was increasing at an alarming pace in the area. He said that even though most people do not understand that they need to approach the customary court when there is a crack in their marriages, they finally end up there after they have approached human rights organisations and the welfare department of the Lagos State government in Badagry for solutions to their marital problems, without success.
“It is when the issues cannot be resolved by these agencies that they come to the court, often through referrals. Most of them will tell you that they were referred to this place from the human rights organisation or from the state welfare office in Badagry. But, the welfare office of the state basically handles the issue of the convenience and safety of the child in marriage,” he said.
But, is there an increase in divorces in Badagry? Olufemi said: “I can categorically say that there is a tremendous increase in the rate at which people want to divorce their wives or husbands. The rate at which people come to file for divorce is actually on the increase. It is getting alarming because we see four or five of such cases in a week. Sometimes, they end up not filing the matter, not because they don’t want but probably because such marriages were legally contracted. So, we refer them to the appropriate court that could handle such matters. Some of them will equally promise to come back but at the end, they don’t come back.
“However, there is great number of people coming here on a weekly basis seeking divorce. Sometimes, when we counsel some of them, they would rescind their decision, but most often they would go ahead to file for divorce.”
Asked to be specific on the number of divorce cases the court records in a week or in a month, he said: “Actually, the issue is that, most times, when cases are filled, a date is given for hearing but that may not be the date the case is done with. There may be several adjournments, possibly because of certain issues that need to be clarified before the judges will be able to say this is our verdict on this matter. In that wise, it becomes difficult to just say this is the number of cases that we handle in a week or a month because that means that some of the cases that have been adjourned over time may not be fresh cases. Sometimes, we could have four or five cases and maximum of six cases but on rare occasions in a week here.”
It was gathered that from January 2016 till the second week in October, the Badagry Customary Court alone recorded about 53 divorce cases. A look at the divorce records from 2007 till date at the court showed the following sequence: 2007 – 73 cases; 2008 – 58 cases; 2009 – 85 cases; 2010 – 90 cases; 2011 – 86 cases; 2012 – 70 cases; 2013 – 51 cases; 2014 – 67 cases; and 2015 – 63 cases.
On the number of pending divorce cases out of the total number filed so far in 2016, Olufemi said: “You cannot say that any of the cases is pending until the person files. If somebody approaches the court that he or she wants a divorce, you cannot say it is pending, until the person proceeds to file the case. So, the figure I just gave you, that is 53, is actually the number of people who have gone ahead to file for divorce this year.”
Olufemi also disclosed that only marriages contracted according to customs and tradition are brought before the customary court. “Here, we don’t handle marriages that were legally contracted. We can only handle marriages that were contracted through the traditional methods. These include marriages that involve the process of going to the woman’s family and finalising the marriage rites or couples who just decide to live together as husband and wife and begin to raise children. Such are the kinds of marriages that we handle here in the customary court. Those that were legally contracted, that is, in the registry, are referred to the High Court for resolution,” he explained.
He also stated that, oftentimes, the court tries to explore the possibility of mending the relationship, resolving whatever issues are in contention, so that couples could live together amicably once again. “We explore that opportunity first and it is only when that is not possible that the court will proceed to look at the issues and circumstances surrounding why the man or the woman wants to opt out of the relationship and finally break the marriage,” the registrar said.
Why do Badagry couples like to pack it up, as it were? Hear Olufemi: “Among the common reasons is irresponsibility on the part of the men. Most of the time, it is women that come to file for divorce. However, men also come but on rare occasions. Men always complain that the women are troublesome. But for women, it is either that the man is irresponsible or that he beats them and disgraces them in public. In extreme situations, women also complain that the men are threatening their lives.”
It was also gathered that at the customary court level litigants do not need the services of legal counsel to seek divorce. All they are required to do in order to start the process of divorce is the payment of N5,000, which is the cost of opening a file, and the case starts, “but sometimes, some of them will come with legal counsel and the judges will still allow that because some people feel that, for them to be properly heard, they need the services of legal counsel. The court won’t object to that.”
Findings showed that only a negligible number of the cases that have already been filed at the customary court do not end in divorce, possibly because the parties stopped going to the court. When such happens, it is possible they have settled out of court or divorced in their own way.
Also sharing his thoughts on divorce and separation within the Badagry division, a staff of the state welfare department in Badagry who would not want his name in print, corroborated the fact that the trend is on the rise. He said: “The matter has been on the increase in Badagry division in recent time. The question of who takes care of the children at the point of separation is a big issue and that is very rampant. I may not be able give you the exact statistical data because it is not in my purview but, with the experience we have on the field, we treat like four or five cases of separation per week. Although we would always try to reconcile them, in most cases, they must have separated before coming to us to help them decide who takes custody and care of the children. So, in most cases, they only come to us to determine who takes care of the child.”
On the common reasons for divorce or separation, the welfare officer maintained that, as a professional, he does not think the reasons they always give are strong enough to end a marriage. However, he itemised such reasons to include family interference, which is peculiar to both parties, and the economic status of the man.
“In this part of the world, the economy plays a big role in the success or otherwise of marriages. Virtually all the men in Badagry are into one direction of business and that is what they call fayawo, which simply means smuggling business. They smuggle goods such as rice, shoes, clothes, turkey and vehicles, among others. To me, that is not a meaningful means of livelihood. But often, you see them keeping women in the house as wives and when things turn around for the worse, the woman will cry out that the man has been giving her only N300 to feed three children in a day. But, before they move in with such men as their wives, they won’t consider the kind of job they do to see whether it could sustain their family when children begin to come. So, as far as I am concerned, such a man has no job. More than 90 per cent of women have this as reason for wanting to separate from their husbands,” he said.
A trader in Badagry who also craved anonymity said battering was a common reason. He alleged that most men in Badagry are in the habit of beating their wives and inflicting serious injuries on them at the slightest provocation, which has forced many women to seek divorce. “Men in this part of the state are fond of beating their wives. They beat and inflict injuries on the women and for the women to come out and take it up legally is another problem. So, they are suffering in silence and when they can no longer take it, they seek divorce,” he said.
A woman who simply identified herself as Mama Seyi, also disclosed that marriages were crashing faster than they were contracted in Badagry because most men are not psychologically prepared before dabbling into marriage. “When you see their sense of reasoning and maturity, you begin to wonder who is marrying whom. That matters a lot because they are still glued to their culture and that explains why they beat their wives. Modern ways of life have not really gone into them. They indulge in domestic and sexual violence and when a woman is sexually and physically assaulted in a marriage over and over again, she is bound to seek freedom through divorce or separation,” she said.
The welfare officer equally threw light on how difficult it was to reach an amicable resolution of family disagreements: “because there are always lots of interferences. When we want to resolve such a problem, all the parties would be carried along; we would get their feelers. But one problem with us in Badagry is that once your brother complains about his spouse, you take sides with him instead of hearing from the other party. That would have solved a lot of issues at the beginning but the person would just take sides and escalate the matter. In our office, we try to let them see why they should resolve the issues amicably and come together again as husband and wife, at least, for the sake of the children. But that has always been difficult because, most of the time, threats to life are involved and when that is the case, we allow parties to do their wish. We don’t want to record any casualty, so once life is threatened, we allow the parties to go their separate ways as they wish.”
It was Mrs. Sesi Sebinun, coordinator, Family Reloaded Organisation, an NGO, who disclosed that over 30,000 failed marriages were recorded between January and September 2016 in Badagry.
Commenting on the rate of divorce in Badagry, a sociologist at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Ogba, Lagos, Mr. Isaac Otumala, said it would be hard to pinpoint exactly why it was high in Badagry, but he offered perspectives to divorces generally.
He identified cruelty as one of the major reasons for divorce, saying, “If the man is being too cruel or harsh to the woman, it could lead to divorce.”
Enumerating other causes of divorce, Otumala said: “Even this present economic recession or prevailing socio-economic circumstance that we are currently facing could also lead to divorce. If the man could no longer provide for his family, it could lead to divorce.”
He also identified infidelity as a common factor for divorce, but emphasised that it has always been on the part of the woman. “Here, it is more on the part of the woman because most often, when the man is unfaithful, it does not easily lead to divorce, as the woman would always endure. But, once the infidelity is on the part of a woman, divorce is most likely to happen because men with their ego will never like to share what belongs to them with anybody. So, in the case of a woman, it quickly leads to a divorce but, if it is the man, women tend to endure,” he said.
Otumala also averred that the status of the woman was a major determining factor as far as divorce was concerned, especially nowadays that women assert equality with men. “If the woman’s profile is higher than that of the man, it could lead to a divorce. In other words, when a woman is no longer submissive to her husband, when she no longer sees herself as being under the man, maybe because of her position, it could lead to divorce. Status here could be by academic qualification or financial acquisition. The financial position or the accumulation of wealth by a woman could lead to divorce as well because when a woman feels that she has an edge over her husband, in terms of finance, she tends to look down on her husband and that could lead to divorce,” the sociologist said.
He also attributed the cause of divorce in marriage to some form of ill health. He said: “Sometimes, high rate of disease and sickness could also lead to divorce because not all families may be able to accommodate such a perennial or terminally sick person. In some cases, if a man discovers that his wife has some ailment or the woman discovers that her husband has a terminal disease, except with the intervention of a good counsellor, such couples may not tolerate each other and the result will always be divorce.”
He did not forget the role of the extended family as far as divorce was concerned: “Again, pressure from the extended family could lead to divorce and that is why it is advised that third parties should not be allowed into the marriage. This is because there are some people who are so attached to their family that whatever decision they want to take they would always consult their family members, especially their mothers. Such action could lead to divorce.”
Otumala also threw light on the role of the environment in divorce. He said: “You should also remember that environment plays a big role in this matter. There are some environments where the woman would find herself and all she would be saying is, ‘I don’t have time for my husband; I want to pursue wealth and all that.’ This negative influence of the environment comes in two ways. If a man goes to live with his wife in an environment that is largely populated by ungodly women, they could influence his wife negatively by luring her into infidelity.
“Secondly, they may not lead her into infidelity but they could inculcate the mindset of pursuing financial freedom in her in such a way that the pursuit of wealth comes first before her family. Such behaviours could lead to divorce. When a woman finds herself in an environment where most women are interested in pursuing wealth instead of taking care of their husband and family, and she decides to mingle with such women who have such a mindset, they will definitely influence her. And when that happens, her husband would no longer be relevant or as important as he used to be. She would feel that, without the man, she can be on her own and gradually, it could lead to divorce.”
Efforts to speak with the Akran of Badagry in his palace on why his subjects seem to prefer the divorce option to their marital challenges failed as he was said not to be available.