• Frustrated suitors impregnate, cohabit with preferred brides to avoid parents’ demands for high dowry
From MURPHY GANAGANA, EMMANUEL ADEYEMI (Lokoja), ROSE EJEMBI (Makurdi), GANG BERE (Jos), LAYI OLARENWAJU (Ilorin), JOHN ADAMS (Minna), and LINUS OOTA (Lafia)
Young women of marriageable age in several communities across Nigeria’s North Central geopolitical zone are increasingly turning into objects for satisfaction of sexual pleasure and pity due to a hike in bride prices. Even more troubling is that eligible suitors have resorted to impregnating their intended spouses and then cohabiting with them, following their inability to meet parents’ financial demands.
Worried by the unpleasant trend, which is said to be responsible for an alarming proportion of broken marriages and other related vices, some traditional and religious leaders are battling, albeit, unsuccessfully, to initiate measures that would compel parents to cut bride prices for marriage rites.
The snag, however, is a contention over the propriety of traditional, religious or statutory institutions determining a permissible amount to be accepted as bride price by parents.
In Plateau State, findings revealed that communities with relatively heavy bride price are Mwaghavul and and Tarok ethnic nationalities, who are predominantly in Mangu and Langtang Local Government Areas of the state respectively. Our reporter gathered that bride price in these communities are assigned by respective families according to the custom and tradition of the people. The marital obligation varies from one family to the other as there is no fixed amount of money attached to it.
Investigation however, revealed that in Mwaghavul land, dowry is paid between N300,000 to N400,000, depending on the family, apart from other prerequisites, such as providing six goats, four bags of guinea corn, four bags of millet, a round hut and sundry items which could amount to an extra N200,000. It was gathered that at the initial stage of introduction to the family of the prospective spouse, a suitor is required to pay some money not less than N10,000 to N20,000 to his would-be in-law as a sign of commitment to the lady.
Similarly, in Tarokland, Southern Plateau, the bride price ranges between N150,000 to N300,000 depending on the family. Apart from that, the intended husband is expected to give four goats and some tubers of yam, among other items. Markus James, hails from Mangu, but could not afford the heavy bride price given to him when he sought a girl for marriage in his community.
The 38-year-old man, who grew up outside his community had no choice but to discard the idea of tying the nuptial knot with the woman he had wished to marry when he was given a bill of N350,000 as dowry, apart from being asked to provide other items. Eventually, he opted for a spouse outside his community, on whom he spent a sum of N80,000 for the entire marriage process, including payment for a dowry of N5,000.
“Where will I get money to pay a dowry of N350,000? I can’t marry now because I don’t have the money to pay dowry and take care of my wife. I am earnestly praying for a door to open, but until then, I am not thinking of getting married now”, says Timothy Samson, a bachelor who works in a restaurant, as he emphatically declared his resolve to remain single.
Gukas Mathew’s predicament in achieving his matrimonial dreams seemed to be worse. An orphan, he has no tangible job, but desires to marry without having the funds to foot the bills. Though he cringes when the amount for bride price is mentioned, he has decided to wriggle himself out of the situation, even if it meant dealing an unkind cut on his supposed in-laws.
“To be honest with you, even if I am going to get married, I don’t need to go through the rigorous process of paying dowry of N300,000 to N400,000; I prefer impregnating the lady and then, convert her to my wife if I really love her. I have friends who struggled to pay dowry, but the union did not last”, he posited.
Checks revealed that women of marriageable age now move outside their communities in search of suitors as several enlightened men from their areas had resorted to marrying from distant communities. It was gathered that following the demand for high bride price, no fewer than 15 would-be brides are desperately in need of spouses, but yet to be hooked up at Pompe, a community in Mangu, just as some others are said to have moved to urban areas to look for menial jobs and search for prospective hubbies.
A 37-year-old woman who simply identified herself as Nankling said she had lost several suitors due to high bride price. Her worry is that age is no longer on her side and men now only take advantage and abandon her to wither like a flower. “Most of the guys I have had, abandoned me when our relationship got to the point of discussing marriage. At the beginning, I did not know that they were running away from payment of heavy dowry until I was, again, disappointed recently. I felt embarrassed to a point that I threatened to leave home,” she said.
Agnes (real name withheld by us), is happy in matrimony, but the thorny path she scaled through before actualizing her dream is still fresh in her mental landscape. Her uncle had demanded a dowry of N250,000 aside from other items amounting toN75,000, before she could be united with her suitor who got angry and threatened to quit the relationship. She pleaded through her mum for a downward review of the price to N200,000, and had to source for the funds herself before her spouse agreed to continue with the marriage.
Mishkaham Mwaghavul Jos, Timothy Tanko Yawus, the traditional ruler of the Mwaghavul people in Jos, the Plateau State capital, expressed dismay over the demand for high bride price by some families in Mwaghavul land. He blamed this for the predicament of most young girls who get impregnated and cohabit with their supposed spouses. The trend now is that these girls marry with pregnancy.
The monarch, who lamented that his people have been associated with the demand for high bride price in the state, said the situation has resulted to several broken homes after payment of huge sums of money by suitors without mutual relationship with the in-laws.
“Some families charge N200,000; others charge N300,000, while in some families, it could amount toN700,000 or N1million, inclusive of all other items”, he said but added that efforts were being made by the traditional council to fix an amount as bride price that would be imposed on people of the ethnic stock as permissible dowry.
A religious leader and President of New Life Gospel Church of Christ, Rev. Ezekiel Lah, said biblically, payment of dowry is the only condition that gives a man the legal right to take a woman as his wife. He lamented the high bride price demanded in some communities, which, according to him, encouraged fornication and adultery whereby young men cut corners to avoid being put through proper marriage procedures.
Investigations revealed that only Jos South and Jos North local government areas out of the 17 councils in Plateau State have functional marriage registries. Findings showed that Mangu Local Government Area had a record of 20 marriages in 2016 and 18 in 2015.
Meanwhile, a parent, Mr. Stephen Garba, who hails from Langtang North, said he charged a sum of N300,000 as dowry for one of his daughters, Julchit, a university graduate who got married to a Mwaghavul man last year, besides the provision of other items. Similarly, he gave out another of his daughters for marriage in December, 2016, at a bride price of N280,000.
Garba justified the high bride price on his daughters as reaping the benefits of their education up to tertiary level, while he laboured and deprived himself of the good things of life, to improve their societal standard. He described his demand for a dowry of N300, 000, as cheap and affordable for anyone who desired an educated wife.
He said he accepted N280, 000 as bride price for his second daughter whose spouse hails from Kafanchan, Southern Kaduna State, due to the current economic recession in the country, declaring that those who want lower bride price should go for uneducated women with a bride price of between N100, 000 to N150, 000.
“My daughter, Julchit, married a Magavul man and the bride price was 300,000; I don’t think that is too much. I know that I am not selling them because there is no amount in this world that can buy any of my daughters; I have always wished they get a man that would take care of them and have a peaceful marriage. I also married a Tarok woman from Langtang too, but the bride price as of that time was not up to the present amount. I paid most of the cultural things and it was a burden for me to pay at that time, but I had to pay because I needed her to be my wife,” Garba contended.
In Kogi State, the bride price is high in a few communities. Adeola Thompson, a 32-year-old man who recently formalized the process for his wife at Agassa, Okene Local Government Area of the state, said he had lived with her for more than seven years and had three children before he could afford her dowry and other ancillary items required for the marriage rites.
Thompson met his wife, Sophia, at the university and they cohabited as husband and wife after completing the mandatory national youth service in 2010, but he could not afford the long list handed him by the parents of the bride to seal the union, including payment of a cash sum of N120,000 as bride price, 120 tubers of yam, 20 litres of palm oil, and a big black goat, among others, aside items needed for entertainment of guests at the ceremony.
He was lucky, compared to the Ojodale Samuel, who had to cough out about N1.5 million to marry his heartthrob, including payment of her dowry and sundry expenses. “I paid through the nose to marry my wife, Cecilia, at Ofante in Olamaboro Local Government Area of the state,” he recalled.
Investigations revealed that many bachelors in areas that ask for high bride prices are scared of marrying women of their choice, while dozens of depressed single women recoil into their shells in various communities.
A Pentecostal church pastor in Lokoja, Johnson Joshua, said the development has become a major problem confronting religious leaders, and stressed that urgent measures be taken to check the trend.
“When an altar call of those who wish to marry in 2017 was made recently in my church, I was surprised to see the huge crowd of people that came out with girls outnumbering the boys by over 80 per cent. Demanding high bride price encourages promiscuity and fornication among the youths, with some cohabiting illegally and bearing children without passing through the necessary marriage formalities as laid down in the Holy Bible”, he noted.
Mohammed Kabiru, aged 36, who is yet to be married, blamed past leaders for the woes befalling youths in the country. He identified unemployment as a major cause of delayed marriages.
Narrating her pre-marital ordeal, Mrs. Lola Adams, who got married two years ago, said she had to support her spouse financially to enable him meet up with the demands, because she had delayed in getting hooked up and she could not afford to wait further. So, she had to shoulder the expenses for some of items required for the bride and gave to her spouse and as well donated part of her monthly salary towards achieving her aim without the knowledge of her parents because she loved her man and she would not want to lose him for any reason.
However, Pa Solomon Eneojo, 82, who recently gave out his daughter for marriage, said no amount of bride price taken over a woman was too high, since valuable things don’t come cheaply. “In our time, we differentiate the boys from the men by the quantum and quality of the bride price you paid for your wife; even the Holy Bible supported dowry payment. Jacob had to labour for 14 years before Laban could release Rachael to him as wife. So any man who wishes to marry must be prepared for it; it is only once in a life time,” he emphasized.
In Nasarawa State, there are about 29 languages with different culture and peculiar demands. The bride price is high among the Eggon, Kambery and the Kolo tribes, located in Akwanga, Lafia, Awe, Nasarawa and Obi local government areas of the state, where some families collect as much as N100,000 and above as bride price, said to be beyond the reach of several suitors.
Mallam Abdulkarin Sule, 37, a Kambery man who owns a provision shop in Lafia and still single, told our correspondent that he is yet to marry due to the high bride price in his area which hitherto, was N20,000 but now jerked up to N150,000, and above. It is the same fate for 29-year-old Audu John, of Kolo extraction, which charges a minimum of N150,000 for bride price.
“I was engaged to a guy but some outrageous demands by my parents as part of the marriage rites caused a lot of problems for my ex-fiance and his people decided not to go ahead with the marriage,” lamented Miss Linda Kuje, a disappointed bride-to-be.
James Bako, 33, is in pains following his inability to actualize his dream of marrying Felicia, an Eggon lady and the love of his life, on whom he needs a sum of N250,000 for the bride price alone, apart from a long list of items required for the marriage. The lady, Felicia, who would soon be 34 is worried that her parents were about throwing spanners in the works because they sponsored her education to tertiary level.
“The pressure from my parents is telling heavily on me; my mother would wake me up at midnight on phone to remind me of how my younger sister married a rich man who paid N250,000 as bride price, and wonder why I should present a man who cannot afford even N100,000, as bride price. She would also draw my attention to my classmates who married wealthy individuals in the society. The love I have for Bako is there but the pressure from my parents to cut off our relationship is drowning me psychologically, more so, when the only reason is that he cannot afford the bride price they are demanding,” Felicia said, regretfully.
It was a long, bumpy road to marital bliss for 29-year-old Joy, also of the Kolo ethnic group and a graduate of Nasarawa State Polytechnic, who got married to her beloved Kenneth barely four months ago. Her parents had rejected any amount below N150, 000 as bride price from him, but she resisted getting into forced marriage until January, last year, when Kenneth secured employment and saved funds towards paying the amount requested till eight months later, precisely in August, 2016, when he paid up and took her at last, to her dream home.
Sarah, 35, a native of Eggon is still on a victory dance presently, after surviving the dictates of a shylock culture of high bride price, an albatross of most young women of marriageable age in the state.
In October, 2016, she eventually married 35-year-old Daniel, a barber struggling to put food on the table, from who her parents had demanded a bride price of N120, 000, excluding other expenses. “I had to venture into hair plaiting business to assist him in making up the required amount for us to finally be hooked up,” she disclosed.
Commenting on the trend, a traditional ruler in Obi Local Government Area of the state, Audu Muku, told our correspondent that traditional institutions have commenced a process of intervention. “Very soon, we would send a private bill to the House of Assembly to pass into law, to peg pride price at not more than N50, 000 for all tribes in the state irrespective of the educational status of the girl involved,” he stated.
A check on marriage registries at Lafia, Akwanga, Keffi, and Obi Local Government Areas of the state, showed a progressive decrease in formalized marriages from 60 per cent in the last four years, to 40 per cent in 2016.
In Niger State, the current economic recession in the country and not high bride price is said to be responsible for the drastic decline in the number of contracted marriages in the state, which is one of the most liberal in terms of bride price among the two major ethnic tribes which rely on mutual understanding between families of the bride and the groom, for the amount to be paid as dowry.
Although the Gbagy and Nupes have different bride prices for Christians and Muslims, they are however, what an average young man desirous of getting married can afford.
While the average dowry paid by both Christians of the Nupe and Gbagy ethnic stocks stands at N20,000, but could be less depending on mutual understanding between the families, it is pegged at N50,000 for the Muslims.
However, a lecturer, Mallam Umar Garba, of Nupe extraction, said the issue of bride price both for the Nupe and Gbagy tribes, is strongly tied to religion. “In Nupe land, there are more people getting married today because the bride price is affordable; so if you see any marriageable boy or girl that is not married, it is not because they cannot afford bride price,” he clarified.
Mrs. Mary Noel Berge, a Gbagy and staff of the Nigeria Television Authority, (NTA) Minna, who got married 22 years ago, spoke in a similar vein. “In my culture, people are not deprived of marriage because of bride price. It is what every aspiring young men can afford, because charging exorbitant dowry could amount to selling your daughter, and this is not common in this area”, she noted.
Head of the marriage registry in Chanchaga Local Government Council, Ahmed Isah, said legal marriages had declined especially in the last two years, with an average of four in a month, compared to what obtained three years back. “In the last two years, we have recorded only 15 weddings, both contracting and registering. In fact, I don’t think we have recorded up to 2,000 weddings both contracting and registering, in the last five years,” he disclosed.
While Pastor Sunday Leke of Hope Assembly Bible Church, Minna, said he administered over 3,000 weddings in his church alone in the past three years, only about 20 couples were joined in matrimony in his church as at November, 2016, even as an Muslim cleric, Ustaz Mohammed Ibrahim, Imam of the Kafin Tela, Tunga mosque in the Niger State capital, said though he had no accurate record of the number of marriages that had taken place in his mosque, he had administered about 1,500 wedding Fatiha in the past three years. He, however, noted that religious institutions cannot dictate to parents how much to fix as bride price.
In Idomaland, the people of Otukpa and some parts of Igumale, especially Ai-Anazi community in Ogbadibo and Ado local government areas respectively, as well as Adoka people of Otukpo Local Government Area, charge high bride price, while in Tivland generally, like in many other parts of Idoma, the bride price largely depends on families and the groom’s financial strength.
Sunday Chukwudi who married his wife from Ai-Anazi community said it cost between N1.5 million and N2 million to completely fulfill the traditional marriage rites in the area, but that anyone who could not afford it, could still be allowed to marry with a lesser amount of money, except that the wife would not be allowed to participate in some of the meetings in the community until the full marriage rite is done.
It was for this reason that the traditional council had to peg the money for the marriage rites known in Idoma local parlance as ‘Ij’echi’ (money for the occasion or money for date) at between N150, 000 and N200, 000 as a way of regulating the high cost of marriage in the land.
However, it was learnt that the amount is a token meant to entertain guests on the day of the traditional marriage, pending when a would-be-groom is able to pay the total summon required, and then given a date to come with his family for the proper marriage. But our correspondent gathered that though the Idoma had pegged the Ij’echi, some families discreetly collect far more than the amount, especially from would be grooms coming to marry their daughters from other parts of the country.
It was further gathered that what usually scared young men from marrying within those communities isn’t the bride price per say, but the amount of money they have to pay for entertainment and other necessities, which sometimes run into hundreds of thousands of naira.
In Tivland, it is a popular belief that payment of bride price by a man does not end as he is required to ‘renew’ the bride price anytime his wife is delivered of a child.
Kajo Martins, who agreed that bride price could be high in his native Tiv land, revealed that he didn’t spend more than N40, 000 on the marriage rites for his wife, because her late father had committed his brothers to a vow not to collect more than necessary as bride price from his daughter’s would be husband, while he was alive.
Interestingly, when our correspondent visited the Benue State Marriage Registry located at the Pauline Maka Center, Makurdi, state Marriage Registrar, Mrs. Mary Ochenjele, disclosed that available statistics showed an increase in marriages in the last five years, with a record of 231 marriages conducted at the Registry in 2010, 248 in 2011; 314 and 345 in 2012 and 2013 respectively, 322 in 2014, and 298 in 2015.
While noting that over 300 couples have registered and had their marriages conducted at the registry last year, Ochnejele identified some factors as being responsible for the increase in marriages despite the prevailing economic crunch in the country.
Kwara State being a multi-cultural state with diverse languages and three predominant religions, the Yoruba, Fulani/ Hausa, Nupe and Batonu/ Bariba, have different requirements for contracting marriage, though bride prices are generally affordable, with official records at the state marriage registry indicating that 3,358 unions were consummated in 2015; 2,876 in 2016, 2,689 in 2013, 2490 in 2012, and 2379 in 2011.