By Ray Ekpu
The President of Nigeria’s Senate, Dr. Ahmed Lawan has just done what someone with his educational attainment should not do. He is funding the marriage of “300 indigent intending couples” in his Yobe North senatorial constituency. A statement from his office says that “beneficiaries must be of marriageable age and with nobody or means at all to finance their wedding.” Lawan is to pay their dowry and provide them with furniture. This is pittance. It did not cover the field. Where are the couples to live? What are they to eat from day to day? When children come who will take care of them?
This is a wrong-headed decision. Lawan’s action may look to them and him like a benevolent mission for indigent people of marriageable age but it is the beginning of the deepening of their misery. All that they will have will be sex followed by a wretched life. Why would Lawan, a well educated man, do this to his own people? If the intention is to keep them down on the floor then his strategy is right. But if the idea is to help them become somebody in life, then he has scored zero because marriage is not a job or a profession from which anyone can earn a living. In normal, sensible thinking, you have to have a skill or education and a job that can help you to take care of the financial responsibilities of marriage before you venture into it.
You must arrive at that threshold before venturing into marriage. Marriage is not a profession. Did Dr Lawan get married before he had a job? What Lawan has done is the primitive thinking that has been going on in parts of Northern Nigeria to the detriment of the North’s and Nigeria’s development. Some governments and some wealthy persons in some parts of the north sponsor weddings of poor people routinely. The Kano State Government appears to have made this bad habit an important part of governance.
In May 2019, the Kano State Government spent N300 million on the wedding of 1500 couples. In 2018, 1520 couples got this “blessing” from the State government. On August 7, this year the State Government married off 100 widows and divorced women. These 100 persons form part of this year’s 1000 persons who are “benefitting” from this year’s mass weddings. This is a very foolish policy because it discourages people from striving to learn a skill or acquire education for employment. It gives the people involved happiness for one day and uncertainty and misery for the rest of their lives if they are unable, to overcome their initial impecuniosity. To overcome that moneylessness becomes increasingly difficult when they begin to breed children.
Many young people may be blinded by either love or lust and seek to get married but their eyes are only opened when they begin to grapple with the realities of marriage. They then realise that marriage involves a lot more than acrobatics beneath the sheets, that it involves responsibilities to each other, to their children and even sometimes to family members on both sides of the wedding cake. Many people rush into marriage even when they are not financially or emotionally ready for it. Some do so because parents push them to give them grandchildren; others marry because their peers have done so or because people are mocking them for being bachelors for too long, for being left on the lurch. These are sentimental expressions which are totally out of the sensible reality that people should get married only when they are, practically speaking, ready for it.
When you get married your parents are no longer obligated to give you financial support except they wish to because at that point you and your wife are expected to be able to build the blocks of a family that will accommodate children when they come. Some people probably think that marriage is a duty that they owe to their parents, themselves and the society.
Not really. There are people in the world who don’t feel like getting married because they cannot handle the constraints of the marriage institution. They are entitled to the right to stay single if they wish. But society generally thinks that marriage leads to societal harmony, the continuation of the human race and the fostering of responsible relationships among persons. Some corporate organisations do not offer highly responsible positions to unmarried persons because there is the presumption, only a presumption, that married persons are more responsible than unmarried persons. Many banks and corporate organisations, leave financial matters only in the hands of people who are married because, they assume, that marriage has a mellowing and moderating impact on people’s otherwise rascally behaviour. All of these views recommend marriage as a worthy institution that has received societal recognition as a stabilising agent despite its imperfections which have led to many break-ups in many families.
Despite its benefits, no one should rush into it or be forced into it when the partners are not ready for it. Despite the magnetic pull of the woman’s femininity or the man’s masculinity, despite the wild pumping of one’s heart for the other’s heart, every person must look before he leaps into marriage. The reason there is a high level of poverty in Northern Nigeria, much higher than in Southern Nigeria, is the low level of education in the north. Dr. Lawan and the other leaders in the north should be crusading for a revolution in education rather than a revolution in marriage. The culture of sending children only to Koranic schools to the near neglect of western education is a primitive ideology that has kept the north backward. The lack of attention for young people’s education in the north has made them jobless, hewers of wood and drawers of water, okada and keke riders, maiguard and beggars in many of Nigeria’s cities. The utter helplessness of these children has been very much exposed during this period of COVID-19. Many states had to drive these children out of their states, even contiguous states, because of the fear of the spread of the pandemic since many of them even lacked the basic means of complying with the COVID-19 protocols.
The strategy of sponsoring the marriage of people who cannot afford the marital expenses seems to be a means of perpetually keeping the beneficiaries in subjugation. If they did not acquire a skill or education before the marriage they are less likely to do so when they come under the crushing weight of marriagedom. Their continuous impecuniosity is firmly guaranteed and if no miracle happens, the future of their offspring is doomed too.
Is that what the governments and some of the rich people in the north who give these Greek gifts want for the region and the country? They are simply sowing the seeds of a poor and pauperous life for their people. Boko Haram is able to make the kind of inroads it has made in the north not because of Islam but because of low education and poverty. In any case, low or no education is a fertile ground for the planting of poverty. That is why it is easy to hoodwink young northerners into becoming child soldiers and bomb carriers for Boko Haram. In South West Nigeria there is a large Muslim population.
So why does Boko Haram not thrive there? Because with rampant education in the South West no young person can be sweet-tongued or lured into becoming bomb carriers for people who want to destroy their communities. In many parts of the north it is easy because of the twin evils of poverty and lack of education. No meaningful development can take place if the region continues to, largely, ignore western education. For Governors in the zone education should be carried out like a crusade, a revolution without arms.
If that is not done the north will continue to be mired in poverty and underdevelopment which invariably affects the general development of the country. Such unevenness in development is part of the schisms and altercations and scheming for offices between the North and the South. That affects the country’s unity and integration. The north must provide more opportunity, far more opportunities than hitherto, for northern children to gain western education. It is sad that while the rich and educated send their children to elite schools abroad, their duty to children of the poor is to marry wives for them. That is the trick to ensure that the children of nobodies will grow into nobodies like their parents. With this formula children of nobodies will almost never become somebody in future. That is feudalism in its most sophisticated attire. So poor men in the north who have rugged masculine appeal will be helped to get married. Poor women in the north who can send shafts of electricity coursing through men’s reins with their ravishing beauty can be carried away into the slavery of “arrangee” marriages. Their future is uncertain, in fact doomed, because that is the way the sponsors of their marriages meant it to be: a marriage that is uncertain and doomed to fail. That ensures that the competitive public space is closed to them. Only the children of the elite who were beneficiaries of education from elite schools can play the game of grabbing what is on the nation’s table for themselves. That is the sad reality, the marriage mausoleum of the poor.
-Ray Ekpu, veteran journalist and one of the founders of Newswatch plus, writes from Lagos.
Credit: The Guardian