When he married his wife 20 years ago, Mr. Tasie managed a thriving business. The wedding was the talk of the town as there was plenty wining and dining. The couple’s desire was to live happily together forever.
Subsequently, their marriage was blessed with two children – a boy and a girl. One of their children is already a 300 level student in a public university.
All seemed right until many years after when calamity struck. Tasie’s business could no longer take care of the family’s needs. To make the matter worse, he came down with a serious illness and had to spend the little that the family could garner financially on footing his health bills.
The situation became unbearable for his family members as his relationship with his wife gradually turned sour.
It got so bad that the 55-year-old and his wife recently asked the court to dissolve their union. The court, after much arbitration, granted their prayer based on irreconcilable differences.
On the day that the judgement was delivered, Tasie could barely stand in court because of ill health. He had to sit, just as the floor where he put his legs was mopped at intervals because the sore on his feet kept discharging pores.
Even in that state, he told the court how he had cared for his family and the incident that altered the course of his destiny.
He said that his wife had made his life miserable by not caring for him when it mattered. He even alleged that his wife infected him with the disease.
He rolled on the floor begging the court to let his wife and children go as they desired.
He pleaded, “Please let them go or they will kill me before my time.”
His wife on the other hand, told the court that her husband never trusted her enough to listen to anything she told him.
She said that he usually sniffed her underpants whenever she came back from the market where she traded.
She added that all the profit from her business had gone into taking care of her husband and the family.
She said, “Despite all these, he beat me and stripped me naked in public.”
She cried to the court to dissolve their union based on this reason and denied infecting him with any disease.
But her husband insisted she had been seeing another man, who purportedly was present in court to witness the divorce.
Their 20-year-old marriage was subsequently dissolved and both parties parted ways.
The woman was given custody of the children but Tasie could see them once in a month within the court premises.
The Tasies had their marriage dissolved after 20 years, but the case of a 28-year-old woman, Mrs. Ekeh, was a sharp contrast.
After all the fanfare that characterised her marriage barely one year ago, she had asked for the dissolution of her marriage.
Standing before an Ojo Customary Court in Lagos recently, she said that she wanted a divorce because she had, had frequent disagreements with her husband since they got married.
She asked for the dissolution of her one-year-old marriage, citing incompatibility with her husband as reason for the divorce.
Ekeh told the court that the marriage had virtually collapsed as they had been technically separated for several months after her bride price was paid.
However, considering the duration of the union, the magistrate asked the couple to seek a means of resolving their differences, especially by seeking counsel from elderly members of their extended families.
If, however, they still insisted on parting ways, the court said it would have no other choice but to honour their request.
Mr. Jide Zaid, a lawyer of over 25 years, versed in handling matrimonial cases, told Saturday PUNCH that cases like that of Tasie and Ekeh families were true reflections of recent rising spate of divorce cases in Nigeria.
Although he said that the development was common with younger married people, there had also been a significant growth in cases involving older couples.
He described it as a global trend, citing harsh economic conditions, social networks, absence of children in marriage and loss of African family values as the usual reasons for divorce.
He said, “When a man, who used to spoil his wife with luxuries suddenly becomes unable to fend for the family, it could become unbearable for his wife and usually, the first casualty is the marriage.
“When a girl introduced a man to the mother in our days, they wouldn’t ask if she loved him; they asked what he did for a living. So when the object of attraction is gone, the centre will no longer hold.”
To him, “Social network has also encouraged promiscuity among married people such that even after leaving your girl or boy friends, you can be in bed with their spouses and still stay in touch with them through Facebook, BBM and the likes.”
He identified three contentious issues in divorce cases -the actual dissolution of marriage, settlement of property and custody of the children.
He decried the rate at which he received expression of interest in divorce from couples seeking divorce.
Zaid said, “Compared to 10 years ago when I might not get more than one, I am currently handling 10 divorce cases in court. The number would have been more except that we succeed in persuading some to seek alternative ways of resolving their differences, especially when children are involved.
“The number of divorce cases is astronomical among people who have been married for just between six months and two years.”
At the Ikeja High Court, Saturday PUNCH found that 70 per cent of cases listed for hearing everyday were divorce-related.
Also, statistics obtained at the Ikeja Customary Court showed that in nine months, Lagos State had recorded about 960 divorce cases in customary courts alone. There are 48 customary courts in Lagos apart from the High Courts.
The President of Ikeja Customary Courts, Mr. Ayo Ipaye, gave Saturday PUNCH the conservative figure as he said that the case files of divorce were on a fast rise. He said, “So far, this year, Ikeja has 39 cases out of which 29 have been cleared.
“I don’t think there is any customary court with a higher figure. The other ones in urban local government areas such as Ikoyi, Surulere and Agege have over 20, while those in the rural areas would have about 10.”
He said that the number should have been higher except that the court engages applicants in Alternative Dispute Resolution, giving room for a rethink.
“Many times, we succeed in settling the differences within the chambers, while those that insist are referred to the open court. We also have a good number of cases where one party desperately wants a divorce and the other doesn’t,” he said.
Within the premises of Ikeja Customary Court, there is a marriage registry where new marriages are contracted.
Unofficial figures made available to our correspondent showed that not less than 100 notifications of marriage intention are received every month.
A judge, who would not want his name mentioned, because he was not the spokesperson of the Justice ministry in the state, told our correspondent that except something was done, the number of divorces would soon be at par with the number of marriages.
He said, “Unlike few years ago when only about 10 marriages got dissolved; today, about 100 get dissolved within three months.”
It is usually a tale of two worlds at the Ikeja Local Government premises on days when partners in some marriages walk in angrily to file for divorce, while those just entering the union will be rejoicing on the other side.
Kano State Government, last year, organised a mass wedding for many couples in order to rid the society of unmarried women. The newly married people were however, issued with a stern warning against divorce “without our permission order.”
A report by Al Jazeera said half of the mass wedding couples were divorcees, widows, or young unmarried girls. It said the move was in a bid to combat skyrocketing divorce rates in the state.
“The mega wedding in the district of Kano in mid 2012 was not limited to mere matchmaking, however. The Nigerian government went all out, nanny-state-style, stocking newlyweds’ cupboards with provisions of food, loading them up with furniture, and even giving them some financial assistance to make sure their marital lives would start off right.
Another lawyer, who has handled matrimonial cases for 26 years, Mr. Kunle Fadipe, shared his experience with Saturday PUNCH.
He described the growth in divorce cases among young and old couples and even pastors as phenomenal.
“The most disturbing aspect of my experience is that more pastors and their wives are seeking to dissolve their marriages in spite of the Biblical stand against such.
“Right now, I have a number of them that I am handling. Unlike some years ago when I did not get more than two such cases in a year, I now get at least five families in a month asking that their marriages be dissolved.
“With many entreaties, one or two of those five end up in court. The work is overwhelming for lawyers. There was a case involving a pastor and his pastor wife. The Judge had to appeal to them to go and settle their differences as ministers of God. He thought they should know better, but they would not go back on that decision. More than 50 per cent of marriages contracted these days end up in divorce.”
On the reasons for the trend, Fadipe said economic factors, immaturity of people going into marriages and fake dispositions during courtship were chief.
Asked to give a comparison between the ratio of marriages and divorces, the General Overseer of Evangelical Ministries, Lagos, Bishop Stephen Ogedengbe, said that more divorces were taking place than marriages.
He said that although people do not always inform the church that they want divorce, it eventually comes to light. As for marriages, he said that the harsh economy had made it difficult for many young men to marry.
He said, “It is correct that the cases of divorce are rising. From my observation, there are more divorces now than there are marriages because young men can’t even afford to get married. Many do not have jobs.
“In most families, the woman is the one footing the bills, yet the man wants to lord it over her. It gets to a point that the woman becomes tired.
“There are more of these cases among pastors, especially those I call the reactionary pastors: those who are not groomed or mature for the job. There are those that are still susceptible to infidelity; those who got into the ministry because they had failed in their actual vocations. Some pastors are also unfortunate to have been married to ladies that cannot fit into the position of a pastor’s wife. Eventually, they call it quits. Of course, you know that the church will never accede to that.”
A professional marriage counsellor, Pastor Bisi Adewale, said marriages crashed mainly because of ignorance, pride and promiscuity.
He said that while many couples shied away from seeking help when their marriages were threatened, others simply did not know the right places to seek such intervention until things got to a head.
“Most pastors are not trained counsellors, so they may not know how to tackle threatening divorce in marriage. Besides, some men fail to meet their responsibilities to their immediate families, creating cracks in the wall,” he said.
Adewale, who runs a college of marital success, noted that it was disturbing that so many pastors now feel it is right to seek divorce over irreconcilable issues -a rare case in the past.
He said that divorce cases were also common with the rich.
He said, “Research has shown that divorce cases are higher in the cities while they are lower in the villages, where there is greater communal spirit.
“In a relationship where each partner can afford all they need without the assistance of their partners, divorce is easier compared to where the couples rely on one another to get things done.
“Another factor that encourages divorce is the negative use of the social media options, which encourages people to perpetuate infidelity and extra-marital activities on a virtual platform.
“A young man goes through school, graduates and gets married without reading any book on marriage; he believes he is an expert in marriage. That is part of the problem.”
A sociologist, Mr. Monday Michael-Asiboju, corroborated the earlier views. He said that divorce among younger couples was common because of the need for comfort. He said that with the current poor economic condition in the country, the rate of divorce would increase.
He said, “Most people meet in office places and get married and fail to separate the person in the office from his/her domestic part.
“Some divorce because they cannot cope with parental interference which is common with some parents-in-law today.
“Work pressure could affect sexual responsibility and create crack in the relationship. A woman goes to work at 4 am, returns home at 11pm too tried; the house help does the cooking.”
Meanwhile, the Chief Missioner, Ansa Ud Deen Society of Nigeria, Imam Abdulrahman Hamad, said divorce cases were on the rise because of environmental, economic and social factors.
He said, “The environment is more stressful than it was some years ago. Family ties are becoming weak; values are breaking down. Economic problems are greater now.
“Besides, many of those getting married today are products of broken homes or homes where parents were too busy to groom them. They didn’t have role models of true family life.”