(Written at Abuja and completed in Atlanta for the benefit of the Nigerian friends I have served as Marriage Coach. Thanks to all Nigerian men and women who offered useful suggestions and who shared some of their marital issues during many confidential divorce-prevention sessions we have had at my home).
Nigerian men are well liked in foreign lands because they are thought to be the cream of the African crop. Nigerian men are egalitarian, open, unrestricted, and uncensored. They have pride, they have class, they are unafraid to speak up whenever the occasion arises, and they are very educated. Nigerian men have distinguished themselves in academia, they are well travelled , they are contributing members of communities as successful teachers, physicians, business owners, realtors, engineers and lawyers in the U S and many land. There are hundreds of Nigerian Professors. Deans, Vice Presidents. Provosts, and Department Chairs on many American and Canadian colleges and universities. In fact, one US college once had a Nigerian college president
American women who date our Nigerian men find them to be socially adaptable, generous and full of life. With all this and many more said about these men, why then are our Nigerian men's marriages plagued with acrimony, bitterness, hostility, bad blood, and rancor? Why do police serve restraining orders in record numbers on Nigerian husbands who are given the option to leave the home voluntarily or be sent to jail? Why are many Nigerian households broken up by divorces or end up with death of one spouse or both? This paper discusses 5 mistakes the Nigerian men seeking wives or are married make that are the proximal causes of the tragic end of their marriages. I will add that Nigerian husbands are some of the nicest set of people, and I know quite a number of them; good men, upright men, and it is not their fault that the women left. Oh well, that is part of life. Don't give up. Life is good. Jisie ike (keep trying).
Mistake 1: YOU WAITED TOO LATE TO MARRY
You are forty-five-year-old, have been in the United States for 10 years or longer, and obtained your Green Card after getting out of a "green-card marriage" with a American lady with whom you have expended money, time and exuberant energy getting to know while you were in the process of growing up in your new country. You left Nigeria when you were in your early or middle thirties, had no real girlfriend, and indecisive about marriage. Now, at 45 years, you suddenly decide to marry, and you want a girl half your age. You know you couldn't have her in Nigeria when you were in your twenties because you weren't an old sugar daddy You weren't Sonny Ade, Fela Ramson Kuti, nephew of the oil minister, the son of an Nnewi transporter Ekele Dilichukwu, or directly in line to inherit the property of an importer of building materials from a village of Osumenyi in Anambra State. You were nothing as I was. I will wager that most Nigerian men in the United States didn't realize they were racing against the clock when they waited too late to marry.
Mistake Two: YOU ARE NAÏVE WHEN IT COMES TO LOVE
In Nigeria, most Nigerian women would marry anyone who could provide a measure of security. I define security as refuse, sanctuary, defense, protection, precaution, safety. Love is the most misunderstood word in the English language. I often wonder what draws women to men. Is it affection? Is it youth? Or can it be physical attractiveness? As I was roaming Alaba Market in Lagos one summer, I stumbled over what I thought was the answer. Here was an unusual Igboman named Simon Onyekwere (not real name) who was married to a lady medical doctor. The man was in his late fifties or early sixties, as dark and greasy as la raccoon laid back as a stretcher, and couldn't be considered handsome by any standards imaginable. Simon Onyekwere had missing front teeth, the few good ones he had were extremely large and gave him the appearance of a chimpanzee. In short, he was oogly (superlative form of ugliness). The only good thing going for this man was that he was a very rich trader, moneyed, miserly, with a lot of incisive investments to his name.
You could have easily knocked me down with a bird feather when this man's wife suddenly appeared on the scene. She was a doctor, and she came weekends to help keep books for her husband's sprawling empire. Rebecca Onyekwere (fictitious name) was young, beautiful, about thirty-one years old, striking, and trim. She was a picture of unadulterated epitome of Nigerian womanhood: married to a rich trader; medical clinic during weekdays; overseer over husband's business on weekends, Rebecca had an entourage of houseboys, maids, and vehicle drivers. Her children under the care of a nanny. I quickly swallowed the question I was dying to ask my guide: "What in hell made this beautiful woman marry this ugly man?" The answer I got made a lot of sense. Rebecca was a brilliant mind from a very poor Igbo family with ambition to make something of herself. Her family quickly married her off to a semi-illiterate trader who paid for her medical training in Nigeria and London. Chief Simon Onyekwere made sure Rebecca had three children in rapid succession before completing university just in case she ran into waiting arms of a more handsome adventurer from overseas, like Nigerians in US or UK.
Mistake Three: YOU DID NOT CAST DOWN YOUR BUCKET WHERE YOU WERE
Meanwhile, you have been wining, dining, and romancing American women who are well-educated, well-read, well-mannered, and reliable until the marriage bug hit you. You decide to go home to marry Isuochi girl your family recommends. You are under the illusion that the women you hardly know back home are innocent, un-spoilt, and virginal. It is an ego-inflating thing to demonstrate to yourself and folks back home that you can bring one of your own to the United States. Additionally, you think African girls in the United States have all gone bad, rotten, too exposed, too independent. My friend Frank 's idea of marrying a "homegirl" started after he was enraged at being asked by several college female students he had dated: "Frank, let's do oral sex." His answer was "Why did you ask that? We don't do that where I come from." From that moment on until he imported a bride from Nigeria, Frank believed that all American women, including those born of Nigerians parents were wayward and unsuitable for marriage.
It is funny because your parents have warned you against marrying one of those "Europeans" because they can prevent you from coming back to your people or compel you to remain away for life. Your mother or uncle may say to you: "Mr. So-and-So's son has taken his brother and sister to Europe, and why haven't you taken anyone from this family?" You are constantly under pressure and tremendous guilt. Bringing a 24-year-old bride to America will (1) make you feel important to yourself; (2) redeem you in the eyes of relatives back home who have long written you off as a lost cause ; and (3) give you the opportunity to experience unadulterated love.
For 48-year-old Chief Okeke, bringing 24-year-old Paulina to the United States to be his bride masks his failures and shortcomings because he can tell Paulina's parents that he is an Economics Professor when, in fact, he drives Yellow Cab with the PhD degree in economics which he has carefully tucked away in a dresser. You cannot mask your true self in America because the women you are seen with know more about you than you care to know. They know you are from the "jungle", that you eat foo-foo, drink Heinekens, go to the Hole In the Wall night club, and have an accent they hardly can understand. They like and respect you after you told them you were a prince from the royal family of King Inyang who owns oil wells. Sooner or later, the Americn girls will discover you are not all you say you are, but they are too sure because you might well be Prince Ifediora when you return home.
The women back home know your family doesn't have much, at least since you paid inadequate dowry. But, through telephone calls, Western Union money transfers, and other gifts you bombard your bride and future in-laws and convince them you are "a damned rich man" in America, the land flowing with milk and honey. You want the women back home to look up to you as "Big Oga" moving up on the economic ladder because it makes you appear to be more than you really are, at least, in the initial stages. Because you hardly know the girl you are marrying from home, love is not a criterion for selection. Although there is no empirical research to support my contention, it appears that blind marriages may dissolve much quicker at least within the first few years than marriages where couples know themselves for a year or two.
You've convinced yourself that (1) you can wake up stupendous love with the woman you are bringing from home; (2) she can love you back, bear your children, and support you financially, and (3) make your nuclear family complete. Lo and he hold, how mistaken you are! The woman you are importing does not share your lofty ideals. She agrees to marry you not because she is madly in love with you. She hardly knows you. She has been in abject poverty, squalor, and hopelessness; and sees marrying you as opportunity to escape from imprisonment to freedom, from year-round heat to cold snow. So, when presented with the opportunity to escape, your unspoiled bride is literallybeside herself with excitement, she quickly packs her bag, her friends hurriedly throw send-off parties, she hops into an airplane and lands on you.
Mistake Four: NOT ALL THAT GLISTERS IS GOLD
After initial lovemaking and showing her off to envious friends and neighbors, you prepare to get into the serious business of keeping a home. A disquieting period of disillusionment sets in. She is disappointed because you are not in a mansion neighbors have back home. American roads are not glistering with glittering gold. Where is the Mercedes Benz you told her you have, which she had seen in the photographs you brought home last December? Where are the riches and glamour she sees on Nigerian Nollywood movies? She calls you a liar and deceiver in her heart, She hangs in with you not out of love but just in case someone better than you comes along. You are disappointed on your part for many good reasons. She has wasted her life acquiring useless credentials she cannot use in America, such as NCE, OND, HND, WAEC, Diploma in Secretarial Studies.
If luckily she has any aptitude in nursing , it is minimal and her proficiency is so low she cannot pass the American GED (General Education Diploma) examination without massive remediation. The GED gives a successful taker the equivalent of a high school diploma. You try to enroll her in nursing classes, but she cannot handle the fractions, decimals. percentages, ratios, science, and basic algebra. Seeing herself in sinking sand and feeling she has been dealt a raw deal, she races to the 4-6 week CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) training which enables her to work round the clock in nursing homes at $7:50 - $9:00 per hour. If she passes the CNA licensure examination and is hired in a hospital or nursing home, she cannot handle the 40-60 hour schedule she must do in order to bring in enough money to keep you barely surviving.
Mistake Five: CHANGE IS UPON YOU
There is a tremendous change going on around the world. Times are hard everywhere; economic downturn; foreclosures, bank failures, and huge unemployment. American is no longer the land flowing with milk and honey. A 40-hour work week is no longer adequate to pay your bills which keep mounting, and greedy creditors call around the clock, even after you tell some "fuck you, man, don't call here again, your Mama," and they still call. I just received a call from the wife of a professor friend of mine (from West Africa, not Nigeria) in Maryland. Her county property tax "suddenly came to over $1,500 this year." I quickly hung up on her and asked to speak with her saner husband as she was talking about people committing suicide over creditor calls. How stupid! I had wanted to tell her to (1) cut down on luxury expenses like cable TV, entertainment, frequent cruise vacations with husband and children, driving across states to visit family members, and such things; (3) make arrangement to consolidate your bills and refinance if you can; or (4) let they do whatever, take the house, sell and cash out; (3) try taking you to small claims court where you tell the judge you can pay one dollar a day.
No American law permits throwing people in jail for not paying all their bills, and if I am ever jailed for what I cannot pay, I will tell the jailors "Thank you for the free bed, free meals, free medical attention, free cablevision the prisoners enjoy," and I will sleep, do nothing , or write a book until they get tired of me wasting public resources and free my Nigerian "big oga" freeloader. (Chineke mu-oo, I have saved a few hundred dollars worth of grocery bills).
As I just said, change is upon you. Lucky are those who anticipate and welcome changes in life. Please read the books, 1984 and Animal Farms, or Future Shock. Changes may include (1) consider marrying persons other than nurses who themselves are going through terrible changes as a result of newfound economic windfall; (2) consider marrying school teachers, store owners, travel agents, secretaries, older women settled into careers; (3) consider having business partners with whom you work hard to build wealth rather than persons to depend upon for economic advantage.
If you must marry Isuochi girl from home, here are my suggestions:
Do not stand outside a teaching hospital to grab the first nurse, doctor, or pharmacist.
Do not tell lies to appear more than you really are
Say things like (a) America is hard, not bed of roses; (b) I want a lady that is willing to work hard with me to live and share whatever we get; (c) I am not rich and have no mansion, Mercedes, or such things; (d) I am a hard worker, sensible, and honest, and I expect the same qualities from you; (e) Think about what I have said and see if you can marry and work with me.
Don't rush things or be too anxious to bring her over to America, but let the seeds you've planted germinate and sink into her dizzy head
During telephone calls, emphasize your poverty and, in fact, make yourself much poorer than you really are, so she will take you at her own risk
This is a serious WARNING: DO NOT BE WESTERN UNIONING CASH, OR SENDING GIFTS TO IMPRESS ANYONE BECAUSE YOUR ARE DIGGING YOUR OWN GRAVE BY CREATING FALSE IMPRESSIONS.
If you visit her, take a few souvenirs, not a plane-load of clothes, jewels, and shoes for the entire family
Stop being "Mr. Big Stuff." Be "Mr. Small Man."
Don't beg any woman to marry you; it is "marry me at your own risk or take it or leave it."
Warn the lady about bragging to her Nigerian friends who would fill her head with ideas like: Can he find me a husband from over there? Can he send a wedding gown similar to yours? Isn't American wedding better than Nigerian with special rings, dinners, pictures, and so and so?
Make your wedding simple, quick, inexpensive, and solemn. Don't make it too big in case you have to have a court wedding after divorce/dissolution of church wedding.
James C. Agazie (JD, EdD, MS, MA, BA) completed his primary and secondary schools in Nigeria before emigrating to the United States for advanced degrees in mathematics, education and law. His teaching and counseling experiences have taken him to primary schools in Nigeria, Enugu IMT, several secondary schools and undergraduate and graduate universities in the United States. Dr..Agazie lives in and writes from Georgia, USA. Please check website www.chatafrik.com for some of his other essays.
Dr. Agazie runs a small divorce-prevention program where he teaches, coaches, and mentors couples seeking divorce. He has successfully persuaded many Nigerian husbands and wives to drop divorce and save their marriages.