ANOTHER CRISIS NDIGBO MUST ADDRESS
The gold-rimmed invitation card said it all. It is the announcement of the traditional marriage taking place somewhere in Isiala-Mbano. It read in part. 'The families of Chikezie Okonkwo of Umukalla in Isiala-Mbano LGA Imo State and Chief Olabode Ibironke of Surulere in the Akoko South LGA, Ondo State, cordially invite you to the traditional wedding of their daughter, Chika Magdalene Okonkwo and Adeyinka Ibironke.
It went on and on to supply the names of the RSVPs and other little information a proud holder of such an expensive piece of invitation would need. If you looked closer, you would notice that there were something unique about the invitation. Yes, its uniqueness lay in the tribal differences aplenty in the card. Chika, female is Igbo. Yinka, male is Yoruba. They soon would be getting married. This type of invitation is now common in Igboland. Hardly any weekend passes in Igboland without a segment of its population giving away one daughter or the other's hand to marriage, to usually a 'stranger' – a non-Igbo.
Igbo girls are deserting their homelands – in droves. They are going to other parts of Nigeria particularly, the North and the South west in search of better halves. It never used to be so. We are not talking about a millennium gone by. We are talking about say, last year's Xmas period and the following Easter. Keeping it in sharper perspective, Igbo women marrying men from other tribes gained a dramatic upsurge immediately after the Nigerian Civil War. Then desolate and desperate Igbo girls of marriage age, married whomever there was, that was available largely because their Igbo male marriageable counterparts had been decimated – in their hundreds of thousands by the war.
Now, there is a new upsurge. Why are Igbo girls deserting Igbo men of marriageable age in their thousands? The answer is multifaceted. The most obvious, Ngozi told this writer is the shortage of Igbo men of marriageable age. Reader, do not panic yet. Igbo boys have not been decimated in war as was the case between 1967 and 1970. The latest brand of shortage of marriageable Igbo male has a lot to do with economics of numbers.
There are many marriageable men around but not enough to get married to the girls – thus the upsurge in the number of Igbo girls to other lands, in search of husbands. In awe I had asked her to explain. 'Uncle', she began in obvious resigned mood. 'The reason is simple. Our men of marriage age have no jobs. The unemployment palaver is hitting the marriage industry hardest in Igbo land. I had a fiancÃ© while I was in school.
We agreed to get married some day. But can you believe that, ten solid years after graduation, he has no job. I am marrying Aminu from Zonkwa, who is a Muslim and 20 years older than me out of desperation. Aminu, you may not believe it, Aminu already has a wife. I am going to be his wife number two. Age is not on my side. At 32, biological time for me is ticking away fast – if you know what I mean. I need to have a life. I need to settle down, bear children and begin to raise them.
There are no Igbo men who are ready to marry me. I would have even married any Igbo man, even as a second, third wife, but most Igbo men who are married are tied down by the dictates of their Christian faith which preaches one man one wife. It is not so in the northern and western parts of the country. That's why I am going up north to find a life partner. It is not the best for me. Desperate situations call for desperate solutions.'
When I spoke with Chika, whom I attended her colorful wedding (to Yinka) at one of the Pentecostal Churches in Owerri, recently she was even blunter. 'I'll rather marry anyone other than Igbo, than get into prostitution. I am 34. I have no hope. My childhood boyfriend has left the country to Ghana. He keeps making promises that I should wait for him to make it, no matter how little. But you know a woman's biological clock ticks faster than that of the man. I do not know how long I would wait. I am a born again Christian.
I am not given to wayward type of life. I want to marry and settle down and begin to rear children. Unfortunately, I could not marry myself. So when Yinka showed up, I did not have to think of his tribe. All I needed was a husband. And that's why I am where I am now. I do not know what would have happened if I married any other person, but I am married and I will try to live with it. It is the best I can do for now.'
It was not fashionable to find Igbo girls marrying across the Niger River. If anything, the reverse used to be the case. It was the days gone by when men such as Nze Akanu Ibiam, Emeka Anyaoku, Nze Nwachukwu (Ike Nwachukwu's father) Chief Gideon Atuloma, former Speaker old Imo House of Assembly and other prominent Igbo personalities including this writer, went across the Niger or up north to go get married.
To put this record straight. It was after the Nigerian Civil War that there was a surge in mass marriage of Igbo ladies to men from other parts of the country. It was part of the war booty, the girls having lost everything including their men and pride. It was in fact, then, a favor unto them done, that the surplus Igbo girls of marriageable age who could not be married were taken away by the all conquering members of the Nigerian armed forces. That was when Nigerian gallant soldiers like Olusegun Obasanjo married an Igbo lady and IBB married yet another.
It was not so, on the Nigerian side.
There, what happened was typical. After every war, there usually is a marriage boom, particularly on the side of the victorious. It happened at a lower scale, after World War I but happened more rapidly and very pronounced after World War II when the Allied forces of Europe with the aid of the United States, vanquished Hitler and his collaborators. The marriage boom of the years following the end of World II produced children known in American parlance as the baby boom generation. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and even Obama were products of the baby boom generation 1945 to 1960.
We can say without contradiction then, that Nigeria's baby boom years occurred soon after the civil war. With the no victor and no vanquished stance of General Yakubu Gowon, the defeated Biafra, which largely comprised of the Igbo race, rose to the occasion taking advantage of the three 'Rs' of reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation, thus a delayed but sure case of baby boom occurred. The Udorji awards of 1974 helped too.
While the American government took a preemptive measure to prepare for the upsurge in the baby boom era, including what to do with their kids, education, employment, their welfare and retirement age, the Nigerian government it seemed never took any steps to address the expected upsurge that always came along with the successful prosecution of a war.
The effect, as events are now turning out, are being felt in the east, particularly, in Igboland, where women of marriageable age stayed at home without husbands and the attendant frustration that inevitably followed. Coupled with the twin evil of unemployment and global economic meltdown which began about a decade ago, the Nigerian marriage sector has also been affected.
Fortunately for other parts of Nigeria, social behaviors tied to cultural values have in one way or the other helped to lessen the burden of the inability of young adults to get married as at when due. It's not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with Igbo girls wedding young men from other tribes of Nigeria. The one thing that is wrong is the alarming growing number of these marriages without a reciprocal equivalent in the number of Igbo men marrying from other tribes. As the girls go so they go with Igbo culture.
As the girls, most of them highly educated leave, so do they drain Igbo brain. As the girls leave in droves so they leave with a big hole in Igbo economy. Ohanaze Ndiigbo should step in. The governors of all the Igbo speaking areas of Nigeria should see this as a crisis and address it accordingly. It is as important as having a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction.
Offoaro writes from Havensgate, Owerri.