Let’s talk religion a bit, and, thereafter, interrogate the actions of the late Osinachi Nwachukwu in relation to her Igbo marriage. The late gospel singer qualified as nwa Jesus. Ndigbo brand Christians who genuinely strive to be holy and upright as nwa Jesus (son or daughter of Jesus). The tag is a fulsome praise for folks living exemplary lifestyles anchored on Christian ethics. Nevertheless, Ndigbo equally used the tag as a backhanded salute to the hypocritical who seek to impress with their hollow displays of piety.
In Osinachi’s case, nwa Jesus is positive praise for a God-fearing woman ‘martyred’ during the holy season of Lent in 2022. Her life and death mirror that of Jesus Christ in many ways. For one thing, her suffering and death reflect her name. Loosely translated, “Osinachi” means “destiny” in Igbo. It is a declaration that who we are and what we become are subject to God’s will. Thus, humans experience things to fulfil a purpose, our destiny. Her death, therefore, looks like martyrdom preordained. Viewing her passage from this window opens us to parallels between her life and the life of Christ. Because this happened during the holy season of Lent, characters that witnessed her death have assumed biblical associations. The characters we refer to are us, and we come in three shades of action as spouses, pastors and relations.
Biblical actors in wife abuse
Spouses that abuse their partners are the Pharisees and High Priests of our time. They have antiquated philosophies of what it means for two persons to come together as partners in marriage. In different Christian denominations, separation and divorce attract terrible consequences for the female partner.
Some have suggested, for instance, that if Osinachi separated from her husband or asked for divorce, her career would crash. This was how one member of her sect explained it to me: “No Pentecostal church will invite a separated singer or divorcee to perform at their events. What kind of message would we be sending if we allowed that? She knew this consequence. It explains why she begged everyone not to trigger an action that potentially leads to separation or divorce.”
Wives, like foot mats
I have heard more than one pastor preach about husband-wife relationships and the role of the wife in that relationship. Listening to Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, for instance, the wife can as well be a foot mat for the man to step on. Again, most churches preach against divorce. But there are nuances in their approach to divorce and separation that differentiate the Christian sects. This is a subject for another day.
For our purposes here, let’s leave it said that Osinachi’s pastors carried on like Pontius Pilate on the matter of her avoidable death.
Finally, consider the role of the Congregation of Christians that saw her serial abuse, friends, colleagues and brethren who witnessed the abuse are like the Biblical Peter. We stood by and watched. Like Peter, we denied three times the opportunity to identify with a suffering soul. Increasingly, urban Nigerians are no longer their neighbour’s keeper. Elsewhere, people report to the authorities those who mistreat human beings and animals. Authorities also make, and enforce, laws against rights abuses. For us as urban dwellers, expressing outrage depends on how close to us a victim is.
When victims are not close, they become like logs used to light a fire. The late gospel singer Osinachi is not Jesus the Christ and can never be. But she is created in God’s image and is, therefore, like God in all things, minus sin. Despite the way she played with our emotions to connect us powerfully to the creator, she remained a sinful pilgrim, groping in the darkness like the rest of us to find a pathway to eternal life.
The Igbo marriage custom
The Igbo culture does not lionize a wife abuser, and a woman abusing her husband is an abomination. A man who raises his hand on his wife acquires the image of a coward and a loafer. He is a coward for leaving the “stronger sex” with whom real men test their strength to turn on his wife. And he is a loafer because only idle men abandon onerous family responsibilities to bicker and fight at home. What we have read thus far gives Osinachi’s husband the image of loafer and coward, a true ambassador for wife beaters.
Because this was an Igbo couple, it is difficult to appreciate the conduct of both Osinachi and her relations. Her people, like Jews of old, watched from the sidelines and did nothing to save her. Modern social convention forced them to play sympathetic but largely inactive parts. It is not enough to offer sympathy, sighs and a sense of resignation at her reaction to the oppression. This makes us liable for negligent conduct. As for the Christians among us, we become Judases, accepting 30 shekels of silence to helplessly watch our relation suffered unto death.
That this was an Igbo marriage makes it not only annoying but downright wicked that she had to die.
Both Osinachi and her relations misconstrued or forgot custom and conventions that nurture Igbo marriages. Every public account of how Nwachukwu abused his wife is a desecration of Igbo tradition.
The Igbo recognize that physical abuse happens in marriages. Our wise old men know that they demonstrate levels of maturity and tolerance at a given point in a marriage. The husband undergoes informal counselling from older, more experienced folks. But, at some point, everyone draws a line. The Igbo wife flees to her father’s house to escape physical abuse when it reaches the point.
Separation and divorce
Fleeing from an abusive marriage triggers various remedial community actions in Igboland. Although not encouraged, such physical abuse rouses incensed brothers to waylay and beat the living daylights out of their brother-in-law. What the community encourages is for a repentant husband to go with his relations to plead for forgiveness. They take wine and kolanut as peace offering. This action demonstrates that the wife beater was acting under influence and actually adores his wife. Expectedly, he also undertakes never to lay hands on her again.
However, where a husband decides not to beg his wife to return, she lives in separation, free to re-marry. When she finds a new husband, her family returns the dowry paid by the barterer and the marriage formally ends. Similarly, the husband’s plea hits the rocks if his wife refuses to return to the marriage. Separation begins for a woman at this point. It ends only if she remarries or her bride price is returned. Separation and divorce are, therefore, clearly established in Igbo culture.
All things considered, we – modern people and Christians – figuratively murdered our soul-lifting singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu. When tragedy results from criminal silence, the eyewitnesses become accessories to murder. We spit on the body and grave of abused spouses with every attempt to tell the truth of what happened, after enabling it with criminal silence. Osinachi is another example of how we crucify justice, truth and compassion in the country. But at the end of the day, she won, and we lost. She is a winner because God lifted the crown of suffering she wore to the bitter end. We lost a powerful voice for moral and ethical change, for justice, truth and compassion.