“If society doesn’t think that it is wrong and unheard of for my husband to be cheating on me and beating me in this game of marriage, why then should I think of what the society might say if I decide that he spends a while where human animals like him are kept?”
In my last Family law class, there was a powerful discourse and debate among my learning colleagues. The debate had something to do with whether it is actually practicable for a wife to send her husband to jail for his matrimonial misconduct with reference to having another wife.
Just before you ask why a wife would want to do that, let me explain something.
In Nigeria, there are three types of marriage recognised by the law: the statutory, the customary and the islamic marriage. The statutory marriage is what many people do when they say they are going to registry and call it court marriage. Whatever you decide to call it, it simply means you are married under the laws of Nigeria and you have promised to enter into a ‘one man one woman’ marriage. Some churches that are licensed place of worship can also validly conduct this statutory marriage. If you get married in church without going to court and the marriage certificate you are given does not have Nigeria’s coat of arm, instead it has the logo of your church, then you have not entered a legal ‘one man one woman’ marriage, so if your husband should stray, you just have to keep praying for his life.
Let me get to the main gist. For statutory marriage, the Nigeria Criminal Code Cap 38 Section 370 provides for the offence of bigamy. Not to bore you with the legal jargons in the section. The section is saying that, if while you are still legally and validly married to your wife or husband you decide to marry another wife or husband despite the fact that your first husband or wife is not dead, the law says you have committed a crime and that you should be sentenced to SEVEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT.
This provision relates to both the wife and husband but the debate was basically in relation to the husband. That is, where after contracting a statutory marriage, Toke’s husband gets ‘tired’ of her and he decides to get back into the playing and fishing arena. Along the line, he hooks Joko, gets Joko pregnant and goes to do ‘traditional marriage’ with Joko in her family house. Then the ever-ready elders of Toke’s husband family house comes to Toke, make some funny prayers and hands Joko over to Toke as her younger wife.
The scenario I just painted is something we all understand. Okay, after the handing over, Toke decides she is fed up and wants out of the marriage and since her husband has committed a crime, she sues him and he is sentenced to prison for just SEVEN YEARS.
Is there anything wrong with that?
The society has answered this question in a number of ways, based on sentiment. The society we are in is ‘men’s world’. A society where the man is always right because he is a man and the woman is wrongly simply because she has ovary instead of testes. The man can be forgiven for having another wife but the woman is ostracized for straying.
This is not about being a feminist, but if you think it is, then so be it. It is totally unheard of for a woman to sue her husband for bigamy in Nigeria, even if the husband has ‘married 100 extra wives’. The wife would simply be told to exercise patience and that it is not a new thing. To add more salt to her injury, she would be told to remember her children and that he is the father of the children. To top it all, they will tell her that it is a normal thing for men. And so, the woman begins her gradual journey into mental, emotional and physical depression but the society will have nothing to say to help her.
Seriously speaking, where was the society when he was straying and couldn’t control his animalistic traits. He entered into a ‘one woman one man’ marriage with his eyes wide opened and signed to that effect. He could have easily decided to go into customary marriage where it is ‘a man infinite women’ marriage. There was a time when divorce was unheard of in this society but the trend has changed, though, it is not very common but it still exist. Just like that, suing your husband/wife for bigamy will soon become a “not too strange” affair no matter what the society thinks. Personally, I give it ten to fifteen years maximum.
In as much as the society doesn’t change its thinking cap on some issues, what the society think will soon stop being of any importance.
Toke didn’t marry society. Society didn’t follow Toke to court to enter into a ‘one way’ marriage. Society won’t join Toke in going through the abuse that might follow. It is not society that will suffer depression, it is Toke.
So, if Toke says, to hell with society and sends her cheating and unfaithful husband to jail, then so be it. Society should learn to mind its business especially where it can’t help.
Some are like, ‘what will you tell your children when they ask for their father?’ ‘how will you tell them you sent their father to jail?’
The answer is simple. You open your mouth and tell them what kind of cheat and straying animal he was and why he needed to be sent to a place for people like him.
Who knows, you might even be saving him from trouble by sending him to jail for seven years.
If you can however stay in it, then do so because you want to not because of what the society expects of you.
Our society expects so much but gives nothing in return.
Oyekan Oluwaseun O