By Ebun Sessou, Florence Amagiya, Aderonke Adeyeri & Olayinka Ajayi
My church doctrine misled me into being a single mother—Augustina
For Augustina Chigozie, the journey to single parenthood is painful and regrettable. Narrating her experience to Saturday Vanguard, she said, “I did my traditional and white wedding. That was a few months after the man proposed to me. We did not go into a long courting before I got married to him. This was due to the fact that I met him in my church yearly camp meeting.
I attend a very popular church and we have this yearly conference that brings people from all walks of life together. So, I met him in the Youth Forum and we started seeing ourselves even after the programme ended. The church was brought in, we went for counseling and the eventual wedding took place. As it was our church custom; long courtship was prohibited.
I was of age numerically; I had thought that was enough for me as a woman wanting to be married. On the other hand, they made us believe in church that God would bring a man our way; who would take care of us; that it doesn’t matter what the man does. That God in His infinite ways would take care of our needs. So my husband didn’t have much doing and I on the other hand was working with so much faith in God. But that was not the case.
I went into marriage with the hope of a brighter future, but I didn’t have a job or business I was doing at that time neither did my husband have sufficient something doing. From the day one of the marriage; it was a case of hope against hope. But nothing really was happening from my husband’s side.
This led to untold quarrels and cases between us. It became so bad that outsiders were brought in to settle us. I picked up a teaching job because l went to school and studied Economics Education, but my take home pay was useless because my husband and I lived in a village environment.
Meanwhile, l took in almost immediately after the marriage and this brought up a lot of issues. My husband could not raise money for ante-natal but somehow, I managed to do that myself, but the due date came and I had delivery complication because my blood pressure had risen due to too much thinking and lack. He was asked to deposit fifteen thousand naira, N15,000 and that nearly cost me my life.
Meanwhile, l was wise enough to have collected some money from my mum prior to my delivery date because of the obvious hand writing on the wall. So, when my husband couldn’t deposit the money he was asked to drop; l was advised by the doctor to save myself if l can. I had to give my husband my ATM card to get money from my account to save my life.
I spent three weeks in the hospital because my husband couldn’t raise money to discharge me. All these l swallowed. Whilst in the hospital, my husband couldn’t as much as provide food for me to eat until its evening and l was already breast feeding the baby. When he eventually did, it was just bread or pap. However, we went home.
Meanwhile, when I met my husband, he told that he has a degree; that he finished from one of the Nigerian Universities. But I found out that he didn’t go anywhere, but only has Secondary School Certificate. Yet he refused to go out to look for work and each time l complained; there would be a fight. The fight continued until l got some money to get a place for us in town; so l can get a better job because l needed to feed myself and my child as I was already living on left overs from neighbours.
We moved to this new apartment. All of a sudden, he claimed he got a job elsewhere and stopped coming home and each time l called him on his mobile phone, he would have a new story to tell. I called his family to complain that my husband had abandoned me and my child; I was advised by my husband’s father to move back to their family compound in the village if my husband wasn’t taking care of me. I refused to move into his parent’s house in the village. At some point, my husband changed his mobile line and all access to him became nil.
My church tried severally to reach him but they couldn’t. My husband refused to come back to the house and his family refused to come to my rescue because I refused to move to their village. It’s already one year since I had my baby and just a little more than a year since my wedding. My husband abandoned us 3 months after his child was born. He hasn’t as much as called or sent ten naira for his child’s upkeep.
I cannot say that I am waiting for him because I believe he has his reasons for leaving me. But I have picked up the pieces of my life back by getting a job and singularly taking care of my child the way I have always wanted to. Perhaps, I may have a second chance at love someday, but at the moment, I am not even thinking about it.
My advice goes to the single ladies who are desperate to be married without making attempts to add value to their own lives. Marriage is not a place where your troubles are solved; so if you haven’t settled your own singular problems before marriage, it becomes double woes in marriage.
You do not go into marriage without preparation; you go into marriage equipped and prepared. As a woman, you must have something that you are doing to help out. A problem you haven’t already solved before marriage becomes magnified in marriage.
My experience as a single mother has made me wise—Ifeoma
Ifeoma Azubuike’s story is not so different from other single parents’ tale only that she had stayed unmmarried even after separation for over 18 years. She was only 16 years old when she met her children’s father in Lagos, Nigeria. At that time, she was only a teenager staying with her elder brother in Kaduna, who took her from their mum in the village and brought to the city.
She grew up with his children as though she was one of them. She finished her secondary education and visited Lagos for Deeper Life camp programme at Sagamu in Ogun state. After the camp meeting; she visited a cousin in Lagos and stayed for a week before embarking on her journey to Kaduna. It was on one of such visits that she met Okafor. Okafor is an older guy who was already a movie producer when they met; hence he worked with a lot of actresses and actors.
She didn’t know why he wanted to marry her from the word go, but she felt like a princess because there were more than enough beautiful ladies coming to see Okafor but he claimed it was her or no one else. The marriage was consummated and she had her first baby, which turned out to be a girl. The second child; a boy came not too long after, then another boy.
“My husband would leave me with pregnancy and go to what I would describe as unending location trips. At first, I thought he was honest. As time went on, I knew something was wrong because friends of his would come home to visit and claimed that they saw him in the neighbourhood. But each time I complained, he would say they are wrong because he was in Abuja or Zamfara for his normal filming. I believed his stories until I saw him myself one fateful day.
I was returning from a church programme one evening when I saw his car driving pass; I was walking on the side of the road that was not close to where he was driving from, so perhaps he didn’t see me. I followed him on a bike. He was in his car with a lady who was all over him. He branched at a supermarket and went in it to get something. I waited and confronted him. Okafor gave me the beating of my life.
But he didn’t stop there. We got home and he threw all my belongings outside his apartment including my young, tender children. With the help of my neighbours; my children and I packed our things to our church auditorium. All attempts to reach him from my family proved abortive. The church gave me three thousand naira N3,000 at some point to start petty trading because I didn’t have any money whatsoever on me. I didn’t have any certificate except Secondary School Certificate. I couldn’t feed my own children.
At that time, things were better than now; so I went into selling female wears. My husband and I never reconciled; infact I do not want to go back to that marriage again. My petty trading blossomed into full blown business and I have two big boutiques in good areas in Lagos. My daughter got married when she clocked 20 and has a child of her own already. My first son is in the Higher Institution; my last boy, but not my least is through with his SSCE.
I am not saying that I do not believe in marriage, but I am happy that I got a chance of becoming my own person instead of begging a man daily for a piece of the action and having heartbreaks for all the lies they tell.
More Nigerian single parents recount painful experiences
“The ordeal encountered as a result of being a single parent is enormous and painful. Infact, it is difficult to tell how hard it is for me to be a single parent”.
These were the words of a 60-year-old journalist who would not want his name published. He told Saturday Vanguard that since his wife left him, his life has been miserable.
According to him, “One must think well before going into marriage as marriage cannot be predicted because as some people are rushing out, some are rushing in. Therefore, one should think before marrying. One should know the woman very well to be sure of compatibility before going in; to also know if she is the supportive type and the man also”.
Sharing his experience with our correspondent, he said, “I was working as a Senior proof reader with Daily Times. I worked for 11 years before I was retrenched. The problem started after I had spent my gratuity during the first year of retirement. Though, I was publishing a magazine, the money I realized from the business was not adequate for my family upkeep and my wife left after a few years because she felt I would not be able to provide for the excessive wants and felt I would not secure another appointment on time. But as God would have it, I secured another job and I moved on.”
Asked in whose care were the children kept, he said, “She left with our children and went to remarry, I have really suffered. Anytime, I think about this incident, I weep because, my life has been shattered”, he lamented.
For Helen, not a real name, the journey of her single motherhood began when she discovered she has missed her period and was dumped by the man who impregnated her.
Narrtaing her ordeal to Saturday Vanguard, she said, “My friends gossiped about me. My family members called me a shame and called me names. Some said I was going to bring a “bastard” child to the world. Those who were supposed to support me turned their backs against me. After my delivery, I could not secure a job.
“I could not even buy the cheapest baby food. My parents turned me away when I needed them the most because they couldn’t get over their pride, they didn’t think of how I would survive with the baby.”
Also, Modupe, not real names, a young single mother of four kids (three by her first man who later abandoned her with the kids and one by an in-and-out man) loathes her stigmatized single status. However, she has not given up hope of someday settling down with a husband. Conscientiously church-going, she however admits that, her predicament both keeps her away from the church’s Holy Communion and her children from infant baptism. She is traumatized by the stigmatization of the society that she is morally debased.
Explaining the issues surrounding single parenthood, Dr. Uchendu Alaefule, a medical director said, “the economy is responsible for most of the changes in society. She further opined that what has contributed to the increase in single parenthood is money and education”.
According to her, “An instance where the woman has so much money, she finds it difficult to come down and stay under a man and wonder why she should answer “sir” to a man when she can fend for herself.
Adefule is of the view that these children need and miss that fatherly love and at a point in life when they grow up, they would begin to ask questions, wanting to know who is their father. Naturally, the mothers would not want to disclose their father’s identity but will try to cover up by telling them their father is dead or that he had an accident.
“This at times results in how the child behaves and in turn gives a negative perception of who the child really is. Single mothers who may still be open to marriage find it hard to get someone who would want to marry them with the extra load of children fathered by another man.”
At times, children innocently in their own way blame themselves for their father’s absence, leading to self-crushing sadness, depression, disappointment and anger.
Her words: “Parenthood is challenging enough even under the best of conditions. So, being a single-parent in our society is tasking, to say the least. This is because, with one parent, the challenges are multiplied. Single parenting in our society has been the focus of much interest and research in recent years, no doubt due to divorce, death and the increase in the incident of birth outside of marriage.
“Single parenthood may occur for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common reasons are by choice, as in divorce or adoption; or as a result of unforeseeable circumstances such as a death, child abuse, child neglect, or abandonment by biological parents.
“Single parenthood is circumstantial; resulting from occurrences and situations such as divorce, death, child abuse among others”, she added.
Ruth Olurounbi, a veteran journalist suggests, “it is an option for freedom and independence. Single parenthood contrary to the general belief does not just happen as a result of unsuccessful relationship or divorce; it is sometimes created through widowhood, unplanned pregnancy, adoption and other life-changing situations. And those who choose this path, according to them, crave freedom and independence, among other reasons.
“While any of the parents may be involved, majority of single-parents are women, who by nature, are ‘primary carers.’ So, when the subject of single parenthood is being discussed, it would almost certainly involve women. And, as a single parent, the situation of a woman is rather complicated. Apart from being the primary care giver, she becomes the bread winner and head of the family.”
Another speaker, Obot who corroborated the assertion said, education was a possible cause of single parenthood.
Explaining the challenges involved in single motherhood, he said, “Single mothers are often perceived as being promiscuous. Single mothers will often encounter the problem of explaining their single status to their kids”, he said.
A visit to the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, WAPA, Lagos State Government revealed that, the ministry presently has a 150-bed hostel / transit shelter not majorly for single parents as said by one of the officials but for victims of domestic violence, abuse and trafficking.
According to the source, the transit shelter for the traumatized women and children is located in a serene place in Lagos state. Rehabilitation of victims is effected through counseling, free legal aid in conjunction with the Office of the Public Defender, Lagos State; vocational training, literacy programmes for school age children, assistance with accommodation rents when possible; and reconciliation with family members.
Several women and children who are survivors of domestic violence, abuse and trafficking have been sheltered in the transit home and have subsequently moved on to live a more peaceful and productive life.
Catering for the children by single parents is a huge task —Odumakin
In her contribution, a human right activist and President Women Arise for Change Initiative Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin in an interview x-rays issues surrounding single parenthood and the legal implications
“There are numerous emotional challenges which face single parents particularly in this part of the world where the living standard of an average family has been on a daily decline.
What is the legal position on single parents?
From my own understanding, most common factors responsible for being single parents are basically that of conception outside wedlock and divorce by couple. The law permits divorce and hence doesn’t make being single parents a crime under any law. Nonetheless, in the case of divorce, certain conditions are given and are expected to be met by the separated parents.
How are the children catered for?
In most cases, catering for the children by single parents have often been a huge task especially when you consider the economic realities and the challenges of bringing up the children most importantly in giving them quality education and their basic welfare. It is actually challenging.
In case of children who are underage, how do we reconcile them? What does the law say on such children?
In most scenario, the law usually grants custody of the young children to their mother and the fathers are legally mandated to be responsible for the upkeep of such children. Even in the advanced world, the needs of children being catered for are directly deducted from the income of the father thereby ensuring that such children do not suffer under any guise.
In whose care are the children placed?
Usually the mothers.
What is the legal implications on who takes care of the children?
That is an issue clearly spelt out by the law, custody can only be given to the father if a separating mother concedes or feels incapable of ensuring the welfare of such children. But often time when the court is involved in a divorce, custody is given to the mother.
About single fathers
There have been calls for single-fatherhood to be embedded in constitution around the world for the purpose of accountability and impartiality relating to child maintenance. Oftentimes, men are being denied fundamental rights which is allowed and sometimes even sanctioned by the courts.
In customary courts, public discussion is driven by empirical data; so it is with the fact that reactions have continued to trail the issue. Saturday Vanguard sought the view of some single-fathers on the challenges that spur them into such action.
Sunday Obi, a civil servant with the Nigerian Ports Authority dragged his wife before the Ifelodun customary court to dissolve their 20 years old marriage. He stated that his wife’s fighting and adulterous attitude necessitated the motive for his single-father hood. His words: “if you have not come across a troublesome woman as a wife, you won’t think about being a single parent. My wife fought virtually everybody in the compound and she was caught having illicit affairs with a pastor and when I confronted her, she embarrassed me publicly. All efforts to make her turn a new lifestyle were to no avail .Family and friends tried in their own ways to make her amend her ways but she fought them in return. I have been a single parent for six years now with my three lovely children but the court is yet to endorse them staying with me because I am a man,” Obi lamented.
In the same vein, Tolu Makinde, a businessman in his late 30s also narrated the ordeal that spurred him to be a single-parent; “My wife has been having extra marital affairs since our marriage. She left our matrimonial home for two months and every effort to see her was abortive. My wife’s friend hinted me of her whereabout in another man’s house somewhere in Ajah. On getting to the place, I showed the man a photograph of my wife and our baby but to my greatest surprise, the man said I was showing him his wife and his baby’s photograph. I left the place in utter confusion.
“The next morning, my wife came with the baby and when I challenged her about what her boyfriend said and also that the young man is claiming the paternity of the our baby, she denied everything, saying there was nothing like that between her and any man.”
He further said that the ordeal was what spurred him to be responsible for the up-keep of his family for 12years, not minding the challenges of taking proper care of his children as a single father.
Ladi Adoyi, a native of Kogi state also narrated the challenge that propelled him into a single parenthood. His words; “My five year old marriage crashed as a result of my wife’s inability to cook regularly for the family. My wife from the beginning of our marriage finds it hard to cook regularly but my hope was that when we start having children, she would be committed to her primary duty as a woman but to my uttermost amazement after having three children, I was still the one catering for the welfare of the family without her assisting me even in the kitchen. I left my matrimonial home with my two grown up children to another apartment where I gladly look after there well keep as a single parent.
When one considers the increase in single-fathers worldwide alongside with the sprouting of those advocating for the judicial backing, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is time to take note.If fathers, long labelled as absentee, are acknowledging that they have to be responsible for their children and are willing to do so rather than being forced by court orders, they naturally should be allowed opportunity to be declared fit and be fully engaged in their children’s lives.