Till Death Do Us Part: Wife Murder and Our Deadly Habits

by Enitan Doherty-Mason

Not too long ago I wrote a short fiction about sexual molestation of a young girl by her uncle and it stirred quite a bit of emotion. I have recently received several pieces of communication regarding Nigerian men killing their wives. I find this equally disturbing, perhaps somewhat more disturbing because once a life has been taken, it cannot be restored. It is not just for us to criticize others for their actions but to call our communities back to a place of sanity. It is not just about the murderer. It is about all of us.

It is madness. The wave of Nigerian men killing their wives is truly outrageous. It is typically centered on greed, ego, anger and personal in adequacies. That Nigerian “got to be rich already”, “got to be better than the next person” culture has become so intense that it is driving some of our people to commit murder. We can no longer say that our attitude about the acquisition of wealth has not undermined our nation. We can no longer say that it is just those isolated people who murder their spouses who are unable to cope. Nigeria is under attack…an attack launched by our egos and unrealistic expectations.

Marriage is not an easy institution under any circumstances; troubled marriages in a setting with different rules than we are accustomed to or choose not to accept, are much more difficult. There is widespread misinformation in the Nigerian community that if you divorce your wife in America she will automatically be impoverished because everything will go to the woman; this is not necessarily true. We have to trust that American judges may not understand Nigerian thinking but they are not fools. They are guided by laws – albeit Laws of the United States not Nigeria. Judgments are based on evidence; guided by law and influenced by legal expertise.

Some of our men refuse to adjust to the culture in America although they choose to live in the United States. They are crushed when they find that they are held responsible for the “old boy” ways that are often acceptable in Nigeria. They live in America rejecting everything American except the money, the women and the drink. When they do not have their own way they are deeply frustrated and lash out. They see any interference in their violent reactions as intrusive and turn to murder as a last show of power. Sad but true.

Our culture generally does not encourage conversations. It is in some respects highly authoritative and seeks only obedience and not reflection or compromise. Some aspects of our culture lead us to be extreme about only our ideas. Our emotions often run too deep and we typically seek to have the final word – EGO! The need to control supersedes the need to be fair, just and compassionate. We move further and further away from the idea of cooperation; each person wants to be the final word and have his own rule prevail. Some of our leaders are prime examples of this, ruling with the rod/gun in hand. Prodding the masses along like cattle and chiding citizens as if they were commandeering cattle. We all know that too many cooks spoil the broth, but we won’t let up.

I extend my condolences to all who have been touched directly by the inexcusable act of the murder of a spouse by another spouse. I wish them peace, healing and the strength to continue their life journey fruitfully.

I thank those people who have invested time and heart in responding to these articles about these senseless killings born of greed, frustration and desperation. Murder is either the act of a sick mind or a desperate one. Perhaps our collective and continued outrage will drive this evil from amongst us.

Home/Nigeria is no longer a haven for many of us. Some of us continue to live away from Nigeria to find some peace. It is disheartening and disturbing to learn of what is becoming of our community away from home. The violence that we are now becoming more aware of just goes to prove that you cannot run away from problems that are rooted in your community and culture. Further more we must all come to the realization that when misfortune touches one of us it touches all of us. Anyone who thinks it is not her/his business is living in a dream world. Reality will eventually catch up to them.

It is time for us to be brave and to look our problems squarely in the face or we will continue to move further and further away from each other only to be followed by that which we fear may destroy us. As one cannot run from ones shadow, we cannot separate ourselves from our kinfolk. Some of us still remember what our culture was like before the advent of ruthless greed and ostentatious living. Some of us still choose to abide by the rules and ethics that governed relationships between people and made for respectful boundaries in society. Those of who do, often feel isolated, much like fish out of water because our relative simplicity and lack of gloss makes us appear “non-Nigerian” to observing outsiders. It does not make us feel proud to be seen as different/ non-Nigerian. We are annoyed that we are not seen as what we are – just another group of Nigerians living in America. Law abiding quiet living Nigerians should not be thought of as anomalies; they should be seen as part of the mix of Nigerians.

The culture that we inherited was lively but not crass. It was reflective and dignified. Some things have clearly changed for the worse because many of us have become so loud and desperate to be seen that we are causing masses of our people to rush into acquiring things that are far beyond them in order for them to be in vogue. Being in vogue means acquiring the gigantic house in the United States and Nigeria, frequent and elaborate parties, and Texas sized egos and volume and volume/ self promotion. This puffiness deceives no one but our selves and it translates into a desperation to acquire wealth at any cost, physical and mental abuse of ourselves and our families and even death for some of us. We work endless hours and ignore the well-being of our selves our families and our community. For some of us who do go on vacation, the vacation spot has become more important than the vacation itself because we have a need to have something to brag about when we return to the “less fortunate” who cannot afford to do so. We have acquired the problems of Western World and multiplied those that come with ours. We are dying from trying to keep up with multiple Jones’. We seem to have forgotten who we are.

Some of us separate ourselves from those we consider crude and boorish to maintain equilibrium in our lives as our culture undergoes massive change. Unfortunately this waiting for the storm to pass strategy has lapsed into a sort of snobbery and further alienates us from each other. Some of the most boisterous and fraudulent sorts among us boldly declare that they have nothing to do with other Nigerians while they rush to Nigeria to show off their ill-gotten fortune seeking validation and causing ordinary people to think that they are failures since their steady, if not hard work has failed to yield such fortune. It is without doubt that ignoring each other isn’t working either because the empty barrels among us are setting the trends for the ignorant amongst us while the rest of us then feel coerced into living on our own cultural island unable to bridge the widening gully between ourselves and some of our gullible relatives and friends who are caught up in the lies about who they should be.

My people, we need to get to get to the root of some of our problems so our people can breath again. Do you really need to change into seven outfits at the 30th birthday party you are celebrating for the 5th time? Do you need to have all your 1,000 “best friends for ever” buy aso-ebi at $2,000 per person? Do you need to work 4 jobs to buy that outfit you will only wear once? Will some of the time you spend working endless night shifts not be better spent with your husband and children? Will the nights your child spends at grown up parties that start at 1:00am after your second job not be better spent at home getting some sleep and much needed rest? Will you not be better off following established rules so that your child will not have to lie and hide to protect your deceitfulness? Will you not feel better paying off your debts and not having to dodge bill collectors and not having to change your name so many times your friends don’t know what name you will answer to when they see you in public? Will you not feel better in the morning if you did not spend the night before looking for ways to turn a quick buck to purchase things to impress other that you can neither afford nor need?

We must be brave as a people and reject the “What will they say?” syndrome. If one chooses to be a slave one will be treated as such. We have trapped ourselves in our undesirable habits and our unfounded beliefs. We fail to take responsibility for our actions. The foundation of the habits that are killing us and causing us to kill each other are largely rooted in our thoughtless busyness, insecurity, lack of confidence and ridiculous competitiveness. Yes the colonial masters wreaked their own havoc…with out help. We cannot blame where we live. We need to rethink how we live. We wreak our own havoc on ourselves all by ourselves. What ails us lies within us. What will heal us similarly lies within. Let us return to reason and abandon the things that do not work for us. Our motto should proclaim: “Let the change begin with me”.

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Ijeoma Njoku October 11, 2008 - 2:35 pm

Frank truth hurts. But let the change begin with me.

Yetunde Olayinka September 18, 2008 - 4:23 pm

Excellent piece!!! I believe so much in “cut your coat according to your size.” There is nothing wrong in celebrating a birthday milestone or what ever suits once fancy, but the ultimate question is-can your conveniently afford it? The answer to the question 90% of the time is No. Nigerians, we need to wake up and set our priorities straight. Integrity and family value should come before “Karimi”

Rosie September 2, 2008 - 9:07 am

A reflective piece. Frustration goes both ways for both men and women. men may lash out violently, women simply implode quietly and behave irrationally. We need to work on being thankful for what we have achieved in life rather than working four jobs to keep up appearances. Every year, i dedicate myself to working less and earning more. I dedicate myself to working smarter and never ever doing a job i would not love. Life is short.

Hassan August 28, 2008 - 12:36 pm

I applaud the effort of the writer in touching this issue. However, I vehemently believe that she only touched the surface of the problems with Nigerian couples here in America and perhaps, elsewhere outside of Nigeria.

When time permits me which I do not know when as I indulge in the ever growing need to please relatives in Nigeria, I will touch on the real issues preventing healthy marriage relationship among Nigerians in Diaspora.

Hassan Salami, MN

Ifywanne August 27, 2008 - 8:54 am

true talk

Onyekozuru P. N August 24, 2008 - 7:21 pm

I believe that all these article is true but the most true of all saying is that the society we live-in had forsaken GOD’S law and ordinancies. The society we live-in had given most people the opportunity destroy themselves in the name of freedom.There is no fear of GOD in the society, the Families and in oneself.So all these abominable things is the order of the day.For instance the then of Sodom and Gormorah.Here in this blessed nation of America,the abominations that took place in the then Sodom and Gormorah is taking place in America today.e.g same sex marriage, bi-sexsual,Transexsual to mention but a few.The only solution is that mankind should turn-back to GOD in truth and in spirit.When we do so, the GOOD ALMIGHTY GOD will forgive us our sins and He will heal our nation.

Akinola August 23, 2008 - 8:19 am

The writer should have given us some statistics to back up the wife-killing epidemic for which she blames Nigerian husbands. In relation to all the married Nigerian couples in America, for example, what is the percentage of Nigerian husbands who murder their wives? As a percentage, do Nigerian men in America murder their Nigerian wives more often than American men murder theirs? Is Nigeria a mono-cultural society as the writer seems to believe? Are there Nigerian wives who have murdered their Nigerian husbands either directly or indirectly in America? There can never be any justification for the death of a wife at the hand of her husband, Nigerian or not. But to use few cases of such horrible act as a blanket excuse to give all Nigerian married men a lecture on cultural issues is to try to remove a fly from a friend’s forehead with a machete!

Adewale Ajani August 23, 2008 - 3:18 am

You did capture what a people that used to personify impeccable character (omolúàbí) have degenerated into. We now celebrate vanity; materialism and mediocrity rejecting integrity, values and astuteness. May we find the courage and will to rebuild our broken down value system. May we embrace the change. Let it begin with me!

Ifywanne August 22, 2008 - 1:15 pm

Wonderful writeup, hope more people will read this and adjust their mentality and make this our prayer “Lord let the change begin with me”. This situation is getting alarming these days and we need to wake up and realize it. Thanks for speaking out.


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