Here is a story of a man with four wives and eighteen children. He was an educated man who studied law in the UK.
When asked by friends who had a similar educational background but who were content with two, three children, he was quick to tell them he did not plan it that way. And indeed, he did not. He married his first wife when they were both students in the UK.
They both agreed on a small family. Everything changed when he got to Nigeria. He was young, he had a good job and women threw themselves at him. It wasn’t long before someone got pregnant for him. He started spending more time with her.
She cooked for him and provided him a soft bosom to rest on. He claimed it was all his wife’s fault. She was too wrapped up in her job to care for him. Besides, she was too English for the traditional respect he wanted as the head of the family. Soon, his comforter, the girlfriend got pregnant again. He decided to formalise what everybody had known. After all, he could afford it. Money was rolling in. He represented good foreign companies. He went into property development. He went into stocks. He went more into women.
A third woman became pregnant. And a fourth. He decided to build a massive house in a good part of town and surrounded it with four one-storied buildings. He moved the wives in and made the first wife the head of the family to appease her. ‘Big Mummy’ had three children. Each successive wife wanted to outdo her predecessor and ‘Big Mummy’. So they had four, five and six children respectively.Their aim was to have more say in the family estate.
The first wife as the head of the family but with the least number of children, was determined to thwart that aim. So she insisted that each mother be given a large but fixed amount every year for feeding and training of the children. The result was that the children had different levels of education. The result was that each mother trained her children according to her values with little, if any family interactions. So, instead of one big family, there were four families in one. Yet with love, mutual respect and unity of purpose, there would still have been enough to go round.
When it came to fixing the children in the family business, the first wife who was in charge of allotments, put her children in more lucrative positions. After all, they were older and therefore more privileged. This angered the other women who threatened mayhem. But they had their different agenda and could not come together to confront the situation as one. Besides, years of backbiting each other had taken their toll. The family business soon became a cow to be milked and not fed. It was only a matter of time before the cash cow became anaemic. And the man, the de facto head of the family, had become disillusioned and deeply unhappy with the home front. He started spending more time at his prestigious social clubs with another young, pretty woman. Pressure started mounting on him to prepare his will and make it public. The wives and children wanted the estate partitioned along a more equitable line as they had lost confidence in ‘Big Mummy’. Even the fifth woman who was neither a wife nor a mother, wanted her own share too. Every move within the family was suspected; every show of affection among half siblings was suspected and sometimes shunned. The cracks had become so deep that misfortunes were often attributed to the handiwork of someone within the family. Wives made clandestine moves to undermine other wives.
Mothers gloated at the downfall of step children and hardly acknowledged their good fortune. The house, once a gleaming, proud edifice, had lost its shine. The visible cracks on the walls were symbolic of the spiritual cracks within the walls. Fetish, amulets, gourds and horns were now openly displayed in attempts to suppress and intimidate perceived enemies. Pastors, Priests and Imams of different hues became regular visitors. Some even became residents as their ‘prayers’ could be heard in the dead of the night. This house of four wives and eighteen children had become severely battered – by natural elements on the outside and spiritual elements on the inside.
The cry for partitioning and sharing of spoils had become strident. The cry for a break-up of the family unit which started from the more recalcitrant and disillusioned children had gained momentum. ‘To your tents O Israel’ had risen above a whisper to a chant.
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All but ‘Big Mummy’, her children, and of course the man, were for a pulling apart of sorts. The man bemoaned his loss of control over family affairs and discipline of some of his children forgetting that it is easier as they say, to build strong children than to repair broken men. He should have taken time to build a strong home. But he was too busy being a society man to think of building up the character of his children. Too, late, he had become an object of ridicule and even disaffection among his children. They fed off him but showed him little love.
Yet, in spite of this, he wanted to hold on to the illusion of a family as a break-up would make him a failure. ‘Big Mummy’ on the other hand, wanted the status quo maintained as that gave her power and gave her children an unfair entitlement. Some friends and village elders, fearing the effect of an acrimonious break-up, came together to do some patchwork. But the neglect of the things that made up for family unity and cohesion had lasted too long. ‘Big Mummy’ had under the guise of self-preservation, put a knife at the things that could have held the family together.
Did it all have to come to this? The man wondered. He looked back, realised when things started going wrong and wished he could turn back the hands of the clock. It is pertinent to stress that this is someone’s story. A man endowed with so much but who chose to live for the day and was too irresponsible to build and keep a strong, united home. It would therefore be your imagination if you saw your own story– or the Nigerian story – in certain areas of this man’s sad story.
I wish every Nigerian a happy 60th Independence Anniversary and urge that it is not too late to build a strong united Nigeria which everyone can call home. But it has to be built on equity and justice. The Nigerian estate will accommodate us all if we are responsible and give as much as we take.