Monday, 14 December 2015 02:27

The Application of Peter's Principle to Nigerian Marital Difficulties

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PREFACE: This essay was written a few years ago in Abuja, Nigeria, and completed in Atlanta, Georgia, after interviewing a few Nigerian couples at various stages of breakup. We were able to save the marriages of couples who were willing to be talked out of divorces and who wanted to change problem behaviors and learn new skills.

Marriages can be saved if and only if the man and woman involved seriously want the marriage to survive so much they are willing to reconcile and admit that they still love each other despite the occasional strurm und drang (Gr); that they have made some mistakes which they will be willing to rectify by learning new skills; and that they are open to forgiveness and giving each other a second chance.

Though a marriage is heading pari-passu toward the divorce court, it does not mean the end is imminent. Things can be turned around. We take the position that difficulties in marriages are due to incompetence which is defined as lack of ability or skills rather than innate deficiency. Attempting to remain in a marriage without acquiring the prerequisite marital competencies renders the exercise futile. This is a speculation, an attempt to build a theory of marital dysfunction in Nigerian marriages. Please critique so we can refine and rewrite.

You will agree that Amaghi  (Igbo for "Not Knowing") is responsible for some of the nefarious UMBA's (unexplained marital behaviors and attitudes) one sees many married Nigerian couples display in America. I disagree with a colleague Adachukwufulunanya (fictitious name for a real Nigerian divorcee) and others who characterize these UMBA's as hardheartedness or wickedness. One is at a loss to explain how the people (Nigerians and non-Nigerians) have learned the hardheartedness in the first place, or how the wickedness originated. Readers are invited to explain reasons for the cases that follow:

Sixty-year-old Edna was married and lived in Nigeria while husband completed his education to the doctoral level in America. Edna was finally brought to Chicago with the U S Green Cards along with the couples' 3 marriageable daughters. Edna chose to abandon husband with the encouragement of her daughters, who felt their father was ruling with iron fists. The girls frequented Nigerian parties around town to perform the "traditional  Owerri dance" till 3am. The traditional dances continued for years with the mother's sanction while the father's complaints to his wife and daughters that he found the dancing highly embarrassing, was largely ignored.  "Why don't you study nursing or something?" He pleaded with his teenage daughters. His pleadings fell on deaf ears.

Alfred, who had a wife and 7 children, suddenly filed for a divorce after seeking to destroy wife's career by attempting to demolish her professional medical license. Alfred did not cooperate with his wife and behaved in ways that led to the loss of family pieces of rental  property through foreclosures. Now, the wife has to raise 7 kids alone without help of Alfred who played AWOL from fatherhood and shuttled between Nigeria and America without a care about how the family would raise 7 children in these United States.

Word had it that Alfred was living with a series of young women.  Now,  Alfred in Nigeria, was watching his wife struggle alone with kids he had helped to bring into God's earth. College semesters come and go; and wife and children are left worrying about costs of tuition and boarding. And when his children ask for help, Alfred thoughtlessly tells them: "I have no money; why don't you see your mother?"

Pauline left her husband unattended in Atlanta apartment after he was crippled in an accident while he was operating a taxi cab.  Pauline moved out with the couples' 5 children to undisclosed location and left Charles to die a miserable death alone. He was transported home by fellow Nigerian sympathizers who accuse Pauline of killing her husband.

A man beat his lawyer wife to a pulp for calling the police to the house on him after he threatened to murder her because ("I brought her here").  Incidentally, the husband was so jealous he couldn't  handle his wife's  $400,000-a-year contract with a law firm while he stewed in his paltry or miserable yearly $35,000 job.

Chief A, unable to stand his "village girl's" transformation from dependent village housewife to independent BSN/RN nurse, planned a Christmas vacation that enabled him to take the family to Nigeria. While in Nigeria, the husband kidnapped and concealed the 5 kids in undisclosed Nigerian hideouts. Now, wife doesn't know the whereabouts of her kids and has not been able to bond with them for 5 good years (Wife cries: "My kids, oh, my kids").

Could Peter's Principle provide an explanation for the scenarios described above?We use the Peter's Principle as a platform to explain why many Nigerian marriages fail or end up in divorce or homicide. The marriages fail because neither party is competent enough to handle the demands that modern marriage places on couples in the Western world. Neither spouse is prepared to go through the rigor which marriage entails. The man flies to America without sufficient dating experiences with Nigerian females, and his Papa is a poor model who doesn't show Mama adequate love, especially in front of his offspring. Sexual activity is an exercise in forcible rape and only performed to produce children.

A Nigerian girl notices nothing in the way of how a man should treat a woman, though the family reminds their daughter constantly to prepare for her own family. She has no steady boyfriend, and there is none she considers suitable enough to be her husband. She might have grown up in boarding schools at Enugu, Onitsha, Lagos, or some big- name expensive private school where she competes with schoolmates in "puppy love," and snatches illicit sex here and there from boys who don't care a damn about her, except to break her virginity and enjoy the contents.

The Nigerian boy in private or public schools may steal occasional sex when he can, but he has no sense of sexual accountability. This continues until the boy goes for further studies overseas, and leaves all those puppy love affairs behind. Suddenly, years later, Sebastine wants to marry. Nothing prepares him for marriage. He has no contacts with girls back home, and  most of the girls he dates in Diaspora can be considered  GCE (Green Card Experiments).

He's done with immigration problems, gotten his Green Card and now is seriously considering marriage. He finally settles down on a career or employment and now his desire for a real wife becomes superseding. What prepares him for marriage? Nothing. The Peter's Principle offers an explanation of what comes when one dabbles into marriage without preparation.

What's Peter's Principle?In his published book Peter's Principle (1968), Dr. Laurence J. Peter sums the principle with the saying "the cream rises until it sours," meaning that employees will get promoted as long as they are competent, but at some point will fail to get promoted beyond a certain job because it has become too challenging for them. In other words, employees will rise to their level of incompetence and stay there.

We define competence as capability, ability, fitness, aptitude, proficiency, or just know-how. Incompetence is tantamount to cluelessness, ineptitude, ineffectiveness, stupidity, or simply crass ignorance. Compare this to a man who starts a job he finds both perplexing and defeating. In conversations with his friends, he laments: "I don't like this job."

Peter's Application of the Principle

The Peter's Principle has identified a problem which businesses attempt to solve through continued training or education. Although proper employee training has salutary effects on performance, Peter's Principle predicts an employee will eventually get to a position where he is incompetent because of the promotion, not on account of the training he receives. In other words, there is a relationship between promotion and incompetence.

In Peter's Principle, no causation, or cause-and-effect is intended. The Nigerian man or woman gets promoted from "okokporo" (young bachelorhood or spinsterhood) to "ilu di na nwunye" (marriage of man and woman) which he or she finds challenging, awe-inspiring, and painful. To break it down to the nitty-gritty, newly married Nigerian couples have not mastered the basic fundamentals of marriage. We are saying that it seems one is an incompetent wife or husband because one is married and moved out from being a spinster or bachelor.

This sounds like a tautology (unnecessary or meaningless repetition of an idea, statement or word), does it?  We reject any argument characterizing Peter's Principle as verbiage, circumlocution or redundancy. A person counseling troubled Nigerian married couples would readily see incompetence written in bold letters on faces of h8sbands and wives in Atlanta, Lagos and Abuja, or California, for examples.

What has Incompetence got to do with Nigerian marriages?It has a lot to do. Because there is no school or course that prepares one for marriage which is a learn-on-the-job-trial-and -error thing, Nigerians' marriages  fail for the simple reason that Nigerian married couple lack the general competences conducive to successful union . They lack skills that make marriage work. That the man possesses a strong penis or good liberal college education is nothing to make marriage work.  Furthermore, that the woman has good income-producing  BSN/RN nursing qualification doesn't ipso facto guarantee the couples'  marriage is secure. No level of education or socio-economic status is a panacea or prophylactic for unhappy marriage. A panacea is a cure-all while a prophylactic is prevention.

This Nigerian woman calls and weeps while telling the author how unhappy she is with her professor husband of fourteen years. Husband has the PhD in economics from a prestigious university (I believe Harvard). The wife is a nurse practitioner with a six-figure income. "Hey, what's the problem, Madam?" I dared to ask. The man doesn't love or care at all, she says, with the exception that he has been banking wife's monthly income for 10 years and giving her $20 per week gas money.

At the end of her tearful complaints, the wife says: "I have four children. And I don't want a divorce." Impressive. Absolutely amazing. Husband is as incompetent as a speeding cab driver heading in the wrong direction on a one-way street. Why is he exploiting his wife and thinking she will trust him not to subject her to serious bodily injuries? After series of beatings and upon advice of her pastor who feared for her safety, the abused wife finally moved out on her own.

Nigerian couples seeking to maintain long and stable marital relationships may consider acquiring the competencies outlined below:

They should understand love for what it really is. Adachukwufulunanya (fictitious name for a real Nigerian woman) says: "Love is a SACRIFICE, WHERE YOU LET GO, FORFEIT, GIVE UP, FORGO, AND SURRENDER To THE OTHER PERSON."

Nigerians are advised to stay away from thinking marriage is all about control of body, money, mind, and spirit. Nigerian women complain that their men are too controlling, and too autocratic. Words used to describe the Nigerian men include despotic, tyrannical, oppressive, dictatorial, domineering, and high-handed, he acts as Almighty God,  controller of one-day-old baby.

Couples ought to understand that marriage is first and foremost a deep friendship, companionship, amity, acquaintance, comradeship, camaraderie, closeness, familiarity, or an alliance. In other words, I married a wife because I wanted to not be alone; I needed  ezigbo enyim (a good close friend) to play with as a children do, confide in, and act like kids. Alas,  adults should envy kids who occupy themselves, amuse themselves and fool around with no cares in the world. Remember David-Jonathan friendship.

Couples should study each other's ways: The first 2 or 3 years of marriage should be spent studying each other's likes and dislikes, and ways each does things or solves everyday  problems. Learn that in a marriage no one is always right or always wrong; and that sometimes a spouse will win and at other times he or she will lose to make things work. We learn to compromise: when to take, when to give; when to fight, and when to forbear.

Put your spouse first : Put him or her ahead of money, children, career, your in-laws, her in-laws, and your own parents, your personality; be willing to die for your spouse if need be. If your parent is more important to you why didn't you marry the parent? If money is your overriding interest in marriage, why didn't you marry your BSN/RN six-figure akpa ego (money sack)?

Put your marriage ahead of the children. I repeat: My spouse comes before my child. It is unfair to put children ahead of your spouse. It's like putting the cart before the horse. Didn't you marry the spouse before you produced the baby? Many Nigerian wives may want to get rid of their husbands and raise the children by themselves, and most Nigerian men at home send wives home and claim the children as belonging  to the  husbands. This habit initiates custody battles in Diaspora, and many men have killed the children to make sure the wives don't enjoy the benefits alone. Why use children as a weapon to defeat or humiliate someone?

Fight effectively: Fight not to tear each other down with insolence, abuse, profanity; but fight to educate, convince, or ensure the family stays afloat. Fight against anything that would negatively affect the other person. Fight to boost your spouse's self-esteem. "Maxine, I' m tired of your teaching those little summer classes and getting yourself unnecessarily tired when you can write a paper to present at Oxford University Round Table and take a vacation in England at the same time. We don't need that summer money, do we?' She did present a paper and came back with Oxford award. I valued that Oxford University award because it made her proud.

Forgiveness involves a multiplication (70x7). Forgive even when you are right and he or she is as wrong as two-headed goat. Unwillingness to forgive is like wearing your dirty underwear as a man's necktie or as a woman's ichafuisi (headdress). It is like drinking the cup of poison you meant to give an enemy. Forgiveness takes the teeth out of the bite of the serpent or the  steam out from the locomotive engine about to demolish your house.

Forgiveness   cleans your blood of suffocating toxic substances as a kidney machine does a patient . Tell your spouse; "I forgive you and please forgive me for initiating the fight." Experience the deliverance and joy forgiveness provides. Do not die from the poison you've saving for the other person. That poison is inability to forgive. Not forgiving will kill and is related to strokes, depressions, and other ailments.

Develop Survival Skills: The globalized world is rapidly changing away from the village you grew up with your Mama and Papa. Recognize marriage is a business partnership that emphasizes saving against a rainy day; eating healthy and living long for the other partner; and instituting a financial planning. "James, I don't like your drinking with your Fraternity friends every weekend and leaving me at home with the kids. Have you thought of what might happen of you drink and drive or get into a mess with a drunken pal?" This writer hasn't had alcohol in over 30 years. Why? It is because it makes sense to stay alive. Being a teetotaler (non drinker) is a small price to pay for my late wife's love and safety of my sons.

Focus on developing skills of the other spouse: There is no better way to show irresistible love and devotion than in maximizing your spouse's skills. Joseph (real Umuahia friend) has a beautiful wife and MBA in business when we worked together in North Carolina. His wife had complications during pregnancy. When she said: "Joe, you're such a smart man; and I know you know more than my doctor about pregnancy," Joe was mightily surprised. He then fought through premedical program and enrolled at a State medical school and has been MD (Medical Degree) for 10 years. His wife developed that good fellow. Lucky Joe!

Develop self confidence: The "I-can do" attitude can be learned and rubbed off on your spouse. I often tell my students that to achieve anything requires 10% IQ and 90% ICD. IQ is the Intelligence Quotient , and ICD the I Can Do motivation, the self-reliance, self-assurance, self-belief, self-efficacy, and buoyancy.

Discover some skills your spouse has that you may want to help him or her to develop or maximize and encourage him or her to do so. Tell him or her:"I believe in you and I believe you can do it because it is good for you and me."Although Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala did not win the World Bank leadership, her attempt to run tells the world: "A Nigerian can do this job if given the opportunity." Brilliant attempt. YES, I CAN DO IT.

Develop commitment which is stronger than mere love. Commitment is the will to say: "I-will-make-it-with-you-no-matter-what–happens." You dig in, like the Marines, expecting to kill or be killed. God demonstrated His commitment to mankind: "For God so loved the world that He gave (committed) His own Son  to death  that..............

Relax and enjoy the journey that is marriage.

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James Agazie Ed D

A retired college Professor  with educational backgrounds in law (JD) education (Ed.D, MA) counseling,( MS) and and mathematics.  Write on topics dealing with Nigerian families, marriages, education, and employment.