Recently, the authoritative world news outlet The Economist focused for the first time on changing social trends in the institution of marriage in Nigeria.
In one of their materials, published in 2016, contributors writing for this web portal stated the following: “Official statistics suggest that divorce is exceedingly uncommon in Nigeria.
Just 0.2% of men and 0.3% of women have legally untied the knot, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. And well under 1% of couples admit to being separated. Yet such counts exclude the vast majority of Nigerians, whose traditional marriage ceremonies are not governed by modern law.”
However, despite such statistical data, one cannot ignore the fact that, unfortunately, the situation with the number of divorce cases in this African state has significantly changed for the worse over the past few years. Of course, the total number of official marriage dissolutions in Nigeria cannot be compared to those in the United States and European countries. But even the existing statistics mirror a rather negative trend that has managed to form in a very short period of time. Without a doubt, there can be no consensus on this issue because married couples can push the decision to officially end their joint married life for entirely different reasons, which are often very individual and personal.
The media representatives of the Catholic community, whose opinion is very influential and strong among the inhabitants of Nigeria today, cite incompatibility and intolerance of couples as the main reasons for the rapid increase in registered divorces and initiated processes. In his commentary printed in the Nigerian Catholic Reporter, Ukoma Andrew, the priest of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, located in Lagos, attributes the high rate of divorce in the country to western influence on families, greed, and negative impacts of Nigeria’s dwindling economy.
He stated with great regret that the basic foundation of marriage has almost been destroyed, and consequently, many couples no longer have respect for the institution of marriage. He declared the following: “Marriage is no longer seen as a sacrament whereby a man and a woman are married for life. The injunction that they will remain married till death does them part no longer means much to a Westerner. Unfortunately, they are trying to impose that on Africans, and particularly Nigerians. Today, people marry for the wrong reasons either because the bride or groom is from a rich home or is rich.” Of course, such an opinion has a right to exist; however, there are other points of view and theories with a broad index of rationality and objectivity.
According to psychologists, the path to solving a problem should always begin with its acceptance. But, as for the real problem with reducing the number of official marriage cancellations, it can hardly be entirely solved since the very mention of conflicts within a family or a married couple has long been considered a strict social taboo. Divorces in Nigeria are hardly ever discussed in public. Family members are often reluctant to admit that a marriage is in trouble since a person who initiates divorce is still not accepted in society. In fact, even the idea of divorce is considered a taboo and unfit for public discourse.
However, there are several crucial grounds for divorce in Nigeria, and they are based on unacceptable behavior from a spouse and bad habits, which can have negative consequences. A few examples of such factors include infidelity, anti-social behavior, drunkenness, and criminal convictions. One of the leaders in online divorceservices for remote preparation of divorce documents, the Online Divorce сompany, has conducted its own case studies on this topic. They found that the most common reason for a divorce proceeding in Nigeria is living apart for more than two years. According to the law, the so-called separation has already taken place, and it merely needs to be given legal status.
While it is becoming increasingly apparent that the legislation in this African state in matters of family law has long required reforms and revisions of the established rules, some features and requirements govern local courts. One of the important features is that the spouses must have lived together for a minimum of two years. It is legally impossible to file for divorce any sooner, even if the marriage turned out to be a total disaster.
Thus, the general statistics of the number of divorces in the country is artificially restrained, and early marriage dissolutions lose their status. The other divorce legislative requirement in Nigeria states that both spouses must prove their incompatibility and show a strong desire to terminate the current marriage. The court may also prescribe a cooling period before the divorce is finalized, and this period can range from six weeks to twelve months. It is both a bureaucratic complexity and an artificial deterrent.
Recent statistical studies on this issue confirm the fact that married couples in Nigeria are increasingly drifting apart. The cumulative spousal separation rate increased by 14% over the past calendar year across the country’s population. Today, in one of the actively developing countries on the African continent, many aspects of social life are still outside the attention of the authorities. It is necessary to consider an approach to resolving the problem in more detail, as ending a marriage often becomes too damaging to the entire family.