Long after five brilliant girls (please read, IT Geniuses), from Anambra State beat teams (some of them made up of all-boys) from around the world at an information technology competition, held in the United States, and won accolades for Nigeria, it is sad to still find men who display 19th Century attitudes to women, in the name of sustaining an antiquated tradition. Let me give three examples.
First case: Mrs Comfort Ibegha, who is an accomplished attorney, author and a widow, lost her husband not long after they had their second son. Upon his death, she got an unpleasant treatment in the hands of her in-laws and her experience gave birth to a non-governmental organization called ‘The Women Business Foundation’ through which she provides succour and various forms of empowerment to widows, the less privileged and other women. Her help to these people ranges from financial assistance to healthcare, litigation, counseling, just to name a few.
In the course of her activities, her NGO was able to attract the financial support of donors in Australia, who agreed to sponsor a medical outreach targeted at rural women in her community. Under the three-day programme beneficiaries were to receive free eye care just as five outstanding daughters in the community whose mothers were widows were billed to get university scholarships. Some other widows/women were to receive soft loans, foodstuffs and gift packs. But as soon as she informed women leaders about the planned programme, which was supposed to start off in the village of her birth before spreading out to other nearby communities, including that of her late husband, one of the traditionalists from her husband’s family harshly criticised and opposed the initiative. His grouse was that the programme should have taken off in her marital community before spreading out to the village of her birth and then beyond. Soon opposition to the laudable initiative built up, and almost marred the beautiful programme. While some saw it as a welcome idea to uplift women, others insisted that traditional rules must be followed in choosing the venue for the take-off of the programme.
Interestingly, the traditionalists played no role in conceiving the initiative neither did they source the Australian donors, yet they wanted to have quasi-control of the project and dictate to Ibegha how to execute it: all because she happened to be a woman and wife of their late kinsman.
Second case: A successful nursing professional from Imo State, residing and practicing in the United States with her family visited home, to see relations she had missed for years. Upon arrival in the country, she was received at the state airport by her biological relations and driven home to see her aged parents, the two primary people that made her embark on the trip to Nigeria. Her in-laws took her to the streets, and spread tales that she committed ‘sacrilege’ by going home to see her parents first. To them, she ought to have gone straight to her husband’s community to settle down before going to see her parents.
It did not matter to them that the nurse-wife of their brother had been humbly and lovingly bearing the greater financial burden of the US-based family as she was earning more than the husband. To fund the trip home, she sacrificed her sleep, to earn extra money. In the course of shopping for the trip, she bought things for everybody on both sides of the family and paid off the mortgage on their US home before embarking on the journey. Yet, the in-laws felt she was in no position to decide where to stay and enjoy her holiday and the company of her aged father, mother and other relatives. Thank goodness that her husband did not take side with his family. When they sent word to him that his wife chose to stay with her parents, he strictly told them to leave her alone, stating that the wife had a every right to her life, happiness, comfort and care. His disposition did not go down well with them, but there was little they could do about it.
Third case: A drama played out some years ago during an academic contest organised by the elite in a community. After the top finalists were chosen, their next assessment was to be based on verbal interaction with the panelists. When the first lady on the list was called and required to introduce herself, she started by mentioning her father’s name first before giving her marital name.
A member of the panel took offence at this, demanding, “Must you mention your father’s name before that of your husband? Please take that introduction again.” The lady responded that she was not claiming another person’s personality but hers. “Chief Ferdinand is my father while this other man is my husband. Moreover, my father came first in my life before my husband,” she said and stuck to her gun. The panelist disqualified her. The women in the house protested with their blood and disrupted the whole process because of the shabby treatment given to the lady. They refused all entreaties to calm down, except the lady was re-admitted into the contest. But it was not to be because the lady in question had left the venue. The exercise came to an abrupt end.
It is now common knowledge that some successful women choose to retain their maiden names or add the husband’s surname after their maiden names. This is not a fall-out from the Beijing Conference, targeted at men. Rather it is about the love and bond between a father and daughter relationship. This is particularly so when the lady’s maiden name had become a household name that rang a bell and opened doors long before marriage happened. So why should she be compelled to drop the name, if she prefers to retain it? Has Joke Silva loved Olu Jacobs any less because she did not adopt his surname? Their marriage has turned out beautiful and become the envy of many other couples?
Fourth case: Rita (not her real name) was pilloried for mentioning the name of her town first before saying her husband’s name. Newly married Rita relocated from Warri to Lagos to join her husband. At her first attendance to register as a member of her husband’s town union meeting, she incurred the ire of the traditionalists, who felt that having become married to their kinsman, she automatically became the “property” of the clan.
Marriage does not strip a woman of her pre-wedding near-kin relationships. Neither should it dilute or hinder such relationships. A lady’s biological home is a natural place where she finds comfort and peace. That is why ladies run back to it when she is confronted with pain in her marital home. Many widows raise their children with the supportive comfort of their own families.
In this day and age, it is important for Nigerian men to recognise the wisdom in not preventing their wives from sustaining the loving relationship they built with their family before marriage happened. To do so would amount to reducing her in esteem before her family and among her people. Men should bear in mind that they will give birth to daughters. How would they feel when their own daughters face this kind of treatment, in the name of upholding tradition?
A wife is someone’s pride all the time. Someone nurtured and trained her before she became your wife, and now you want to regard her as your property. A wife is someone’s daughter, sister, niece, aunt and a grand-daughter. She has relatives, and comes from a community and state.
The arch-traditionalists among men (those with analogue mind) need to change their mindset. In fact, they should format their hard disk (brain).