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High rate of divorce threatens marriage institution

By  Chioma Gabriel,  Dayo Benson,  Abdulwahab  Abdulah, Bartholomew Madukwe & Onozure Dania
Roline was happy that after three years of courtship, she was finally getting married to her hearthrob John. The marriage was wildly celebrated with pomp and pageantry.

Roline was on top of the world but her sisters-in-law never wanted her for their only brother.

Three years after the marriage, she was yet to conceive with a child  and the family of her husband began to complain that they didn’t want a barren woman in the home as they wanted their only brother to perpetuate the family lineage.

When they couldn’t get John to take another wife, they began to complain about Roline’s behaviour and began to plan on how to throw  her out of her matrimonial home.

Then, the worst happened. Roline lost her father in a plane crash and had to visit her family for the burial and funeral. By the time she returned to her matrimonial home after the funeral, things were no longer the same. She met her husband with his sisters and greeted them but as she made for their bedroom, the eldest sister of her husband got up and stopped her. She explained to her that she was no longer wanted and should return to her maiden home until things were resolved. Baffled , Roline pleaded with her husband to say something before things get out of hand but her Medical Doctor husband kept mum.

Like a scene out of nollywood movie, Roline watched her sisters-in-law throw her things out  through the balcony of their one-storey apartment. When all efforts to solicit for peace failed, Roline jumped down from the same balcony and landed downstairs in an unconscious state. All efforts to save her life failed. She died shortly after she was admitted in the hospital. Before she died, Roline managed to tell her husband that she would rather be dead than face the stigma of  divorce.

Stella’s case was almost similar. An Optometrist by profession, Stella got married  to a businessman who nearly loved her to death. In the 18months the marriage lasted, her husband monitored  her movements both in the office and in the neighbourhood. Any male she spoke with either in the office or on the streets was perceived by him as her lover. On her birthday, he decided they needed  a quiet time alone and took her to the beach. There he  tried to drown her but she narrowly escaped. She was alive to tell the story of how her husband tried to use torture to make her confess to having series of affairs with other men. That was the end of the marriage.

Edwina another victim of a failed marriage was accused  of using witchcraft to dwindle her husband’s material fortune. A ‘prophet’ had  revealed to her husband that his wife was a witch and was responsible for all the business failures he had been experiencing. Edwina’s husband swallowed  the ‘prophecy’ hook, line and sinker. He bundled his wife back to her maiden home and filed for divorce. He got  it and after the crash of his marriage, the’Prophet’ ended up marrying his ex wife.

The tales of broken marriages are endless. The  courts are inundated with divorce petitions even as marriages are being dissolved on daily basis.

Apart from high profile divorce involving notable individuals across various professions whose marriages were contracted at various  Registries known as Statutory Marriage, there are prevalent cases of the Customary Courts.

For instance, an average of 80 marriages conducted under the native law and customs were dissolved within three months this year by customary courts in Ilorin, Kwara State.

This figure, according to investigations, is similar to what is obtainable in other parts of the country, a development which marriage counselors have attributed to lack of fear of God, intolerance, incompatibility and increased social and economic pressures on families.

Unlike marriages conducted under native law and customs which are summarily dissolved after efforts to reconcile the parties fail, marriages contracted at the registry are subject to the provisions of Matrimonial Causes Act, MCA, and they can only be dissolved by the High Court which is vested with such jurisdiction. This explains why Customary Courts  have more turnover in marriage dissolution than the High Court which is a court of record. However, the grounds of dissolution of marriages are in both instances ranging from lack of trust, infidelity, abandonment, domestic violence, lack of sexual satisfaction, lack of care and mutual suspicion and host of others.

According to Section 15 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, marriages can be dissolved on several grounds including but not limited to the following provisions:-

(l) A petition under this Act by a party to a marriage for a decree of dissolution of the marriage may be presented by either party to the marriage upon the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

(2) The court hearing a petition for a decree of dissolution of a marriage shall hold the marriage to have broken down irretrievably  if, but only if, the petitioner satisfies the court of one or more of the following facts;

(a) that the respondent has willfully and persistently refused to consummate the marriage;

(b) that since the marriage the respondent has committed adultery and the petitioner find it intolerable to live with the respondent;

(c) that since the marriage, the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be  expected to live with the respondent;

(d) that the respondent has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of at least one/year preceding the presentation of the petition;

(e) that the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years, immediately preceding the presentation of the petition and the respondent does not object to a decree being granted;

(j) that the parties to the marriage; have lived apart for a continuous period of at least three years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition;

(g) that the other party to the marriage has for a period of not less than one year, failed to comply with a decree of restitution of conjugal rights made under this Act;

(h) that the other party to the marriage has been absent from the petitioner for such time and in such circumstances as to provide reasonable grounds for presuming that he or she is dead.

(3) For the purpose of subsection (2)(e) and (f) of this section, the parties to a marriage shall be treated as living apart unless they are living with each other in the same household.

An array of cases of dissolved marriages, indeed show that the situation is assuming an alarming proportion.

For example, one of the prominent and celebrated divorce cases was that of  the son of the former president Olusegun Obasanjo,Gbenga and his estranged wife,  Mojisola before Justice Elfreda Williams of an Ikeja High Court two years ago. The petition after almost a year proceedings ended the nine years old marriage.

Delivering her judgment, Justice Williams ordered the separation of the couple immediately and granted the custody of the two children of the marriage to Mojisola, Gbenga’s former wife.

Four years into their marriage, the two of them according to Gbenga in his petition had been living together like cat and mouse, until he filed a petition in court asking for the immediate dissolution of the marriage, which he said had broken down irretrievably.

Another case was that of a Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Festus Keyamo who dragged his estranged lawyer wife, Isioma Irene to court.

Keyamo got married to Isioma Irene Keyamo on May 15,2004 in Benin City. The union which produced two children only lasted for six years. Keyamo had on April 2010 instituted a divorce suit against his wife. In his petition, he claimed that the marriage had broken down irreparably. He alleged that his wife was “absolutely irresponsible, foul-mouthed, ill tempered and could not cook.”

Their divorce suit commenced on January 25, 2012, at the Lagos High Court, Igbosere, before Justice Elfreda Williams-Dawodu .

In the petition, Keyamo accused Isioma of packing out of her matrimonial home for two years. He also narrated how his wife refused to open the door of his house for him when he came back from work around 10p.m. on a  particular day and he  had to go back to his office to sleep.

He further alleged that on several occasions, his wife came to his office to harass him. He said in a feat of her anger ,she used a knife to deflate the four tyres of his Toyota Jeep. His also alleged that his wife did not ask  of his whereabouts until after a month when her upkeep allowance was due. In her defence, Isioma said her husband is “tight-fisted, philandering and grossly irresponsible.”

Aside agreeing with her husband for the dissolution of the marriage,she also asked the court to grant her N20 million as alimony. She said the amount is to compensate her for the trauma the break-up has caused her, particularly her failure at the Nigerian Law School examination.

Also, Nollywood stars are not left out in the misfortune of failed marriages. Some of those whose marriages had hit the rock included Eucharia Anunobi, Kate Henshaw.  Sophia and her estranged film director husband, Tchidi Chikere have also gone their different ways.  The list also included Stephanie Okereke who recently remarried and Monalisa Chinda.

Also in this category was another Popular Nigerian Yoruba actress, Nancy Shaibu whose marriage of 19 years to Mr Michael Shaibu also crashed.

Another case worthy of mention was the divorce petition instituted by the estranged wife of the late elder statesman, Dr. Tunji Otegbeye, Otunba Fadeke before his death.

The wife, Otunba Fadeke, among others, had sought for N10 million as damages after the  marriage suffered a setback. Until his death, Dr. Otegbeye had attended the proceedings even while his health was failing.

In the  same vein, prominent preacher and former presidential candidate, Rev. Chris Okotie recently announced to his congregation that his marriage to Stephanie was over. This was Rev Okotie’s second failed marriage, having broken up with his first wife, Tina.

At the customary court level, the stories were not different, except for the personalities who are in most cases are of the lower rug of the society.

Samples:- A woman, Habiba Sulaiman of Tudun Wada Area of Kaduna, had urged a  Kaduna Sharia Court to dissolve her 17-year-old marriage for alleged lack of feeding allowance and impotence. The petitioner told the court that she was married to her husband, Yahaya Mohammed of the same address, for 17 years but that he started having sexual disabilities seven years ago.

In Lagos, a 33-year-old woman  prayed a Grade ‘A’ Customary Court in Agege, to dissolve her 13-year-old marriage over alleged abandonment by her husband for four years.

Another one was in Ikorodu, where the president of an Ikorodu Customary Court  dissolved the 12-year-old marriage of a trader whose wife left him four years ago.

The Court President, Mrs Risikat Adesanya, dissolved the union between Ayodele Lawal and Olutosin, saying the court’s efforts to reconcile them proved abortive as the husband  insisted on divorce.

In Ilorin, Kwara State,  the court separated a mother of  four, Aminat Rasaq from her husband, Alao.

The petitioner had claimed  that she could not continue to live  with her husband  who she  said  was irresponsible.

In his ruling, the presiding judge, Mr Yusuf Abdulkareem, dissolved the marriage.

Speaking on the rate of divorce, Mr Abdulkadir Ibrahim-Umar,  a president in one of the courts in Ilorin said that the divorce petitions were “saddening and disheartening.”

He called on civil organisations to enlighten prospective couples before and during marriage contract.

Ibrahim-Umar attributed some of the social vices experienced in Nigeria to broken homes.

He added that divorce was only allowed in time of necessity and people should not be coming to court as if they were going for a wedding ceremony.

A marriage counselor with Redeemed Christian Church of God, Mrs. A. Akinwale said, Most divorce  cases occur because of lack of trust.

She said, “Before you go into marriage, let God decides, ask from God, put God first.”

Talking about those that cheat on their spouses, she said, “that is where the issue of trust comes in. Once there is no trust the whole  thing will collapse. Immediately the trust is gone, there is nothing you can do because in any move, there will be suspicion which may lead to separation.”

Another marriage counselor, Pastor Femi Faseru emphasized the need for respect and honour between couples. According to him, “ When you treat your wife with honour, she will honour you back, same also applies to the wife.”



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