By Magnus Eze, Aidoghie Paulinus, Patrick Ochife, Nsisong Morgan & Judith Chukwuma
Marriage could be described as the intimate union and equal partnership of a man and a woman. It is also a natural institution and sacred union ordained by God.
The church teaches that the valid marriage between two baptized Christians is also a sacrament, a saving reality and a symbol of Christ’s love for His church.
In every marriage, the spouses make a contract with each other, while in a sacrament marriage, the couple also enters a covenant in which their love is sealed and strengthened by God’s love.
However, this common feature in Christendom is gravely under attack by the current economic downturn in Nigeria. While the number of weddings consecrated in many churches visited by our correspondents in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) dropped drastically in 2016, some others did not celebrate any wedlock at all.
At St. James Catholic Church, Dawaki, the church secretary, who refused to be named, disclosed that the number of weddings in the church in the outgone year was very low. He said only about three couples wedded, campared to seven in 2015.
He explained that the parish council, worried about the situation, on inquiry discovered that the high cost of living occasioned by the economic crisis was the immediate cause.
The parish scribe disclosed that some form of incentive has been instituted by the parish to encourage bachelors and spinsters to wed in the church: “As the situation is now, the church council has agreed to give whosoever that is ready to wed in God’s Holy Ordinances the necessary support. The last wedding ceremony we conducted, the church played a vital role for the success of that wedding while we are ready to do more.”
At the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Nyanya Diocese, only five weddings were conducted as at November last year though one member of the church took his wedding to a town in Ogun State.
A source in the church said that it had not been this way for several years but prayed that 2017 would be much better. Our reporter gathered that nine weddings were consecrated in the church in 2015.
At the Gwagwalada branch of Living Faith Church, the pastor (names withheld) stated that the branch had not celebrated any wedding as at mid-November when our reporter visited but he said that a prospective couple suspended their wedding plans because of the economic situation in the country.
He disclosed that the church would plan a mass wedding in 2017 to make up for those who could not wed last year.
This came as another source in the church who would not like to be named told Daily Sun that some intending couples violated the rules of the church by indulging in pre-marital conjugation leading to the cancellation of their holy matrimony.
The trend was the same at the Dunamis International Gospel Centre, Durumi, where checks revealed that applications for marriage in 2015 was 30 per cent higher than that of 2016, as many of the sub-branches were not permitted to join couples except with approval from the headquarters.
A marriage counsellor in the church could not explain the the low level of marriage applications last year but another member, Mr. Odeh Anthony, blamed it on the economic crunch in the country.
‘Abuja marriage’ returns
‘Abuja marriage’ was a way of life, a survival strategy in Abuja, following the sudden movement of civil servants from Lagos to the nation’s capital in compliance with the directive of the then military leader, General Ibrahim Babangida, in the early 1990s.
From then till early 2000, several marriages suffered and many homes were shattered because the spouses stayed apart: while one was in Abuja, the other lived in another part of the country. Many of the married men succumbed to the temptation of ‘Abuja girls’, just as their female counterparts had love children or the burden of infidelity to contend with.
As for the countless singles that cohabited because of limited accommodation in the FCT, a reasonable number of them ended up as husbands and wives.
This sort of union, in most cases, was without the knowledge or approval of the parents and families of the couples.
According to Isa Taidi from Kaduna State, who works in a publishing company, an Abuja marriage is one in which a lady wants to be accommodated with the intension of having the man shoulder responsibilities as a lover, while an irresponsible man falls into the trap and becomes an unprepared husband because “Such people are mostly people who love cheap things and do not want to pay dowry.”
A respondent, Miss Chioma Daniel, who recently graduated from the university, told Daily Sun that such marriages do not last, which was why there are now many cases of divorce in Abuja.
Daniel noted that many parents of couples entangled in Abuja marriage only get to know when unforeseen circumstances like death or fatal accidents occur.
Notwithstanding the hazards inherent in Abuja marriage, our checks indicated that the present economic hardship is seemingly pushing bachelors and spinsters into it. While difficulty in paying rent now makes people to cohabit, unlike in the recent past, some others who might want to get married lack the resources to formalise their union, hence they resort to livingtogether.
A civil servant, Stella Irabor, told Daily Sun that she was considering moving in with her fiancé, because they cannot continue contemplating marriage without actualising it for almost four years.
To Irabor, “Going to live with him now is the only option for me. We had thought our wedding would hold in November, but the hardship in the country this time around is unbearable. How can we be talking about marriage with the cost of ordinary rice, not to talk of other requirements?”
A wedding planner, Kennedy Odittah, expressed doubts about whether any conservative wedding could be organised with less than N500,000 in Nigeria now, explaining that the venue, entertainment of guests and clothes for the couple alone would cost as much or even more than that amount.
He noted that the intending couple would also be expected to have taken care of their traditional marriage rites: “All these scare young people away from marriage, while some of them merely marry according to their own tradition and begin to live together.”
Recession in God’s house
Daily Sun can authoritatively report that the church is not immune to the economic crisis.
Priests of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, who spoke to our reporter separately, confirmed that the economic crunch was taking its toll on the Church.
According to the chancellor, Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, Very Revd. Fr. Chris Bologo, who, among his duties is to receive the various Church collections such as Seminary collection, Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) collection, Pontifical Missionary Society (PMS) collection, Laity collection, Peters Pence, Central Fund, Social Communications collection, et cetera, on behalf of the Archdiocese of Abuja, said, “Some priests are able to meet their obligations, some are finding it very difficult to do so.”
Also speaking, the administrator, Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral, Area 3, Garki, Very Revd. Fr. Jude Nwigwe, said recession was also affecting the financial contribution of parishioners towards the development of the Church: “The truth is that if the recession we are suffering is economic recession, then the same people who come to Church are the same people who are suffering the same economic recession.
“Economics is a social science. So, the behavioural attitude you see in the economy, is the same thing that comes to the Church. Economically, when people come to the Church, it affects the Church too.
“For instance, when things were economically okay for someone who would want to give the Church N10,000, because he is in an economy that is suffering recession, where he is not paid salary, where his salary may be delayed, where other economic factors affect him, maybe inflation, reduced allowance, delayed allowance and high foreign exchange, when he has spent a lot outside and he is coming to the Church, he is not able again to give his usual N10,000 that he gives to the Church. It may come down to N5,000.”
Asked if recession has affected the number of weddings being celebrated in the Cathedral, Nwigwe said “we may not really say so. It is not significant. Wedding is just almost insignificant compared to the way the Church maybe feeling recession.”
Nonetheless, while some churches are incentivising wedlock to lessen the burden on intending couples, Daily Sun, was not able to find out whether the various cultures were disposed to cutting down on traditional marriage requirements to make the rite more attractive in this hard time.