As told to Mariam
In a group chat conversation about Nigerian parents, Tega said her parents were toxic. When I asked how, here’s what she told me:
Trigger warning: Physical abuse
I’m the first of three girls. My father was distant when I was younger. He was rarely around except when there was a problem he had to attend to at home, like one of my siblings falling sick. My mum, on the other hand, was always available. She would drop us at school and come back with food during our lunchtime even though her office was very far from my school.
I was about four years old the first time my dad hit my mum. I was playing with my sisters downstairs when I heard my mum screaming. We ran to her rescue, and I heard her telling my dad that if he ever tried to hit her again, she would deal with him. When they saw us, whatever was going on between them dissolved. Sometimes I wonder if I imagined it all.
As I grew older, I heard them arguing more often but whenever I got there, it stopped. I noticed that whenever my father brought home foodstuffs or paid for anything in the house, he would gather us to tell us that he bought something for the house. He would say,“It’s not just your mum that buys things in the house.” My mum would laugh it off but I could tell that she didn’t like it.
Things between them became worse when I gained admission to the university and moved from home. Sometimes, my sister would call me that my parents were fighting again. I never knew what to tell her because I didn’t know what was going on between them. In 2019, when I returned home for the holidays, my mum told me she was trying to divorce my dad. That day, she told me she was fed up with him and his attitude. She said she had been calm because she hoped that one day he would change. I asked her what was going on and she said it was a lot of things. I asked if he was cheating on her and her response was, “If it was just cheating, I would have left him before your youngest sister was born.” She was born in 2006. I wasn’t surprised because I was old enough to see how other Nigerian men behaved towards their wives. She told me she bought the house we lived in and paid 90% of our bills because my dad wasn’t contributing money to the household. I was glad she had come to the decision to leave him, so I was stunned when she called me a month later to say that she was calling the whole process off because the lawyer advised her against it. According to her, the lawyer said, “You have your whole life ahead of you and you won’t get to enjoy it if you leave your husband.” I told her it was bullshit. She was angry that I used such a strong word, but it didn’t make any sense to me. This was in 2019.
When I returned home in 2020, the pandemic happened and the government declared a nationwide lockdown. Those months were the longest time I have spent with both my parents at the same time. I saw some of the things my mum couldn’t tell me about my dad’s behaviour. He always had something to say about what she was wearing. He complained about her cooking — The food either missed a pinch of salt or a maggi cube. One day, I asked him to put the salt in the food himself since he knew what was missing. I expected my mum to side with me because I saw her face when he made these comments but she shot me an angry look. Another time, he did it again and I said the same thing. My mum immediately started begging me to keep quiet. That’s when I realized she was scared of him.
Sometime in May last year, my sister told me she saw his phone ringing and someone named Becca was calling him but when she handed him the phone, he said, “Hello, mechanic, when are you coming to collect the car?” What annoyed me most was the fact that he thought she wouldn’t understand what was going on — she is ten years old, for christ sake. I told my mum what happened but she brushed it off as expected. Some days later, at dinner, he was complaining about my sluggishness because I did not make his food earlier than I usually did. I told him not to speak to me in that tone and he raised his hand to slap me. He’d always beat me but for the first time, I held his hand and told him not to try it. My mum swung in between the two of us, shouting at me, “Where did you learn to be so rude?” I was surprised how she made it about me being rude, not him attempting to hit me for an inexistent problem. I left the room and went to bed.
The next morning at devotions, she prayed against the spirit of stubbornness in me. She called me aside later to say, “He is still your father and you must respect him. That’s what the bible says.” I asked her how she can say that in spite of everything he does to her. She said, “Stop fighting my battles for me. “
My relationship with my mum went bad after that. It was almost as if she was looking for any reason to yell at me. I didn’t even have to do anything. One time, I got a contract to make pastries for someone’s party. I agreed to do it because they stopped giving me money during the lockdown. When she came home, she asked what the pastries were for. I told her, and she asked how much I charged. When she did, she said it was too small and that I was wasting my skills. I was so confused because I was trying to fend for myself despite their ineptitude, and she was mad at me for that. I realized that she was pouring the anger from her marriage on me.
I asked her why she was shouting at me, and she slapped me. I asked her what I did to her and because my voice gets high when I cry, she said I was shouting at her. That day, she left the house and went to sleep at her friend’s place. She did not come back for a week. Our relationship worsened after that.
One time, we were praying during devotion and she asked me to close my eyes. I said my father’s eyes wasn’t closed so why should mine be? She called me a bad child. I tried to keep calm because even though I hated that she was taking out her anger on me, I still love her. Meanwhile, my father was enjoying himself, making his phone calls, thinking we didn’t know he was talking to his side chick. She always wanted to use the bible to challenge me whenever I rejected my father’s nonsense. I think my mum is blinded by Christianity or in denial about her pain.
In March, my cousins came over to our house to spend a weekend with us. I gave them my laptop to watch movies while I did my chores. My dad was passing by and saw them with the laptop. He called me and in front of them, asked me why I gave them my laptop. “Don’t you know they will spoil it?” I said it’s not his business, after all, my mum bought me the laptop, not him. He slapped me and I fought back. I know now that his power is in being able to beat us so I refused to let him win. I am almost as big as he is. My mum rushed to the room to separate us. As usual, she blamed me.
The next week, he told me to clean the house. I tried to do everything quickly so I could meet up with my best friend later in the day. Both my parents were aware that I was going out but by the time I was done, my mum had gone out. When it was time for me to go, my dad came out of his room and asked why I was going out with a boy. He had known my best friend was a boy since I was a kid so I didn’t understand where that came from but I refused to let it slide. I said, “I’m not you”. He was so angry he started hitting me. I called him a cheat, an abuser and a liar. I made sure our neighbours could hear me. I don’t even remember how that ended but I woke up with red eyes and a bad headache the next day. My sight was blurred so I didn’t see when I stepped on his phone that was plugged in the corner when I passed. He called me a blind bat when he noticed. I said I’m not blind. He asked what I said and was rushing at me with his belt. I ran to get the hammer in the house and charged back at him since he wants to be mad. He was so shocked he asked me to leave his house. I said he’s not the one that paid rent, my mum did. By this time, my mum had come out and as usual, picked his side. I didn’t care anymore. I just knew I was done with the abuse.
Since then nobody has tried to hit me. If you give me gbas, I will give you gbos. My mum would cook and dish everyone’s food but mine. I wasn’t bothered because I was getting makeup jobs. In a week, I could get about ₦50k from doing five people’s makeup and it was enough to keep me from eating their food. One day, my mum walked into my room and said I am the reason her marriage is failing. I couldn’t say anything back but man, it hurt.
I became depressed. I would spend days alone in my room until I had to eat. One time, I put sniper in my Fanta and kept it beside my bed — the plan was to take it at night. My friend came over that day and she tried to drink it. I grabbed it from her and threw it away. She was angry but I couldn’t tell her why.
Christmas, which used to be my favourite holiday, came and passed. I was relieved when some days into the new year, my school announced that we were ready to resume. I took more makeup jobs to raise money to prepare for returning to school. They were aware of my plans. Two days to my proposed date to travel, I went for an overnight makeup job. The next day after I returned home, I went to pack the clothes that I left out to dry in a pair of shorts and a tank top. Upstairs, my mum blocked me and asked why I went downstairs naked. “Do you know you have become a thorn in my flesh?” Before I could respond, she rushed to my room and started tossing my things out of the door. She was saying a lot of things as she was doing it. “If you don’t want to be a part of this family, just go.” “Leave my house.” Nobody can tell me this is love and this is how people who love you should treat you. My dad came to say, “I am not begging on her behalf oh, but it’s 11 pm, our neighbours will say we are wicked.” That’s how she left me.
I left Abuja for school as planned and honestly, I am not going back. I will do whatever it takes to make sure I don’t return to that toxic space. There’s no love there. I feel bad for my mum but she is capable of fixing her problems herself.
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