Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here.
Please, tell me everything that led to your pastor arranging your marriage
It was in 1993. I was a committed worker in a popular church that was a haven for people looking for miracles during the late 80s/early 90s when revivals were extremely popular in Nigeria.
At 37, I was doing well for myself. I was a senior manager at a bank, my two younger brothers lived with me, and I comfortably provided for all of us. The only thing was I was unmarried. While I wasn’t particularly unhappy, especially at that stage in my life, people around me took it up as a prayer point.
And because I was really active in church for many years, my pastor kept promising I’d marry soon.
How did he make this happen?
It was during one of our special services on June 13, 1993. I’ll never forget it because it was the day after we went out in our numbers to vote for Abiola. My pastor was leading a prayer session, after which he called out to the congregation for all the single people to stand up. After some more prayer, he started picking those who stood up in twos — a man, a woman, a man, a woman, like that — and telling them, “That’s your husband. That’s your wife”.
He got to me and paired me with someone, one of those men who didn’t always come to church but often donated large sums. He was a typical Lagos society man from one of the elite Yoruba families. Our pastor prophesied that God had anointed us to be man and wife, and all that remained was for us to wed.
And just like that, you married the man?
The wedding happened in November of that same year. We tried to court while meeting each other’s families and planning the wedding, but we hardly had time to breathe between work and social activities. He was a widower who already had two kids around age ten. But I wasn’t too concerned about taking care of them because I knew I could afford hired help even if he wasn’t willing to.
There was a bit of friction between families because I’m Igbo. But my pastor was well-known and loved then. So it was a thing of joy and honour that he’d personally anointed our wedding, and everyone did their best to behave.
How was the wedding?
It was a huge society wedding; the talk of town. I look back on it now with both longing and disgust because it was big and beautiful yet we barely knew each other. How were we able to go through with it? Why did anyone allow it to happen? My parents were late at the time, otherwise, I’m sure my mother would’ve never allowed it.
What happened after the wedding?
Around a month in, I knew we weren’t compatible because he expected me to be this domestic wife and was passive-aggressive about me quitting my job. But I kept going because I believed it was the will of God for us to be together.
Why do I feel like you stopped believing this soon after?
He stopped attending our church in the third month of our marriage, and I found out he was really a Muslim. He only went to a few of my pastor’s services because of his popular ministry which drew a large crowd. It was more of a political move; my ex-husband is an active member of a well-known political party.
He was completely uninterested in Christianity and often made fun of it, using my eagerness to marry him because my pastor said so as a reason. He told me he’d just wanted someone submissive to stay home and take care of his children.
What was it like after hearing his true thoughts and intentions?
For a while, it was just disappointing.
During our courtship, he gave me the impression that he was excited to marry me. He’d tell me how beautiful I was, how he admired the way I’d preserved my beauty and also built a respectable career. He’d even compare me to his mum who was a formidable woman in society then. She was a well-known fabric merchant, an enterprising woman who raised her four children alone after her husband died early. Everyone knew her story, and I always felt good that he held me in the same esteem.
Hearing his true thoughts months into our marriage shattered that impression and even confused me. But what really made me angry was how he started interfering with my work and undermining my career.
What was the last straw for you in that regard?
I was up for a huge promotion that would’ve made me jump from general manager to acting senior general manager because the sitting SGM left suddenly. It wasn’t official yet, but I got to know about it and made the mistake of sharing the news with him.
This man then spoke to one of the executive directors of the bank, who was one of his drinking partners. The gossip that came back to me was that my husband didn’t think I was ready for the role since I was just getting used to my new role as his wife, and I wasn’t even focusing enough on the children.
Those were the kind of ridiculous statements men could boldly make in those days and actually be taken seriously. That’s how I was bypassed, and the role was given to a guy who’d just become general manager some months before. Less than a year later, they confirmed him as senior general manager.
I’d started second-guessing myself because of the sudden change of management’s mind, but because things don’t stay secret within a bank for long, I got to know that the order came from my husband, who wasn’t even involved in the bank professionally. After that, we had our first real fight where he got physical. This was about five months in.
I was ranting, screaming at him around the house because I was livid. He suddenly charged at me and punched me in the stomach. I remember exactly how it happened; his face and eyes were so scary in that moment, and I couldn’t recognise him.
Right after, he left the house and didn’t come back till the next week, filled with apologies. The punch hurt so much, I just called in sick that week and laid in bed, crying.
When did you decide to leave him?
Maybe not immediately after that punch, but before long, I started considering it. I wasn’t comfortable in the house.
Although he never hit me again, there were little things that made it clear we weren’t in a partnership and I was just a visitor. Like, we’d be in the TV room having a casual conversation, but once something more sensitive — something about his close friends or financials — came up, he’d just get nasty and tell me off.
It was always a sharp statement like, “That’s none of your business” or “What kind of question is that?” And he never thought there was anything wrong with his snide comments. He could just continue on with the casual conversation like nothing ever happened.
Did he ask about your own business?
Not really, but he often interfered.
He always tried to convince me to sign over my properties to him. I didn’t understand why I’d want to do that. Also, he had so many properties of his own; why did he want mine too? His logic was he was my husband, and so, they were legally his anyway. And that he’d be better at protecting them than I could.
One time, he planned a vacation for only himself and his children. When I asked about it, he claimed he’d just gotten used to being a single dad. I was so hurt, I stubbornly didn’t follow them to travel, but maybe I should’ve. I don’t know. I just couldn’t handle the process it seemed we needed to actually be a real couple. I also hadn’t fully forgiven him for meddling in the career I worked so hard to build.
So quietly, day after day, I considered leaving. It was only shame about what people would say, how our pastor would feel, that made me hesitate for so long. I wanted to help my pastor save face, to not show the world that he, that God, had failed. Then one day, I realised the pastor himself was a politician.
A what? How did you discover this?
I started meeting him at more and more social outings I attended with my ex-husband from time to time. These were exclusive society events only big politicians — the most wealthy, decadent ones — and powerful people in the corporate world attended.
And there he would be, looking just as ostentatious as them. The more I met him at these things, the less he sat well with me. The whole thing just seemed like one big joke. And that exposure actually made my faith falter for some time.
What did you do in the end?
Exactly two weeks to our first wedding anniversary, I woke up one morning. And instead of getting ready for work, I packed my most important belongings and moved back to my house, where luckily, my brothers were still keeping things up for me. They were shocked to see me because I didn’t warn them ahead, but I told them not to ask me any questions. They never have, till today.
How did your ex react to this move?
He never came for me, if that’s what you’re asking. He never called my house or office. It was as if I was never in his life even. Two years later, he sent his lawyers over with divorce papers.
I honestly don’t understand why he even went through with the wedding. He really didn’t need me in his life, so why waste my time? I don’t know. He could’ve just asked if I was interested in leaving my career to fully rely on him as a homemaker beforehand. I would’ve said no and saved him the trouble.
And he wouldn’t have found it hard to find a willing woman, him being such a well-positioned man.
Right? Did you ever ask him why?
Yes, and his response was, “What kind of question is that?” Haha.
It’s good that I had that experience in my life. It was an interesting one and adds colour to my mostly career-related life. But I feel so much more satisfied outside the marriage that I’m inclined to think it’s not compulsory for everyone to marry. I don’t feel I’m missing anything.
If there’s one thing I miss from the marriage though, it’s his children. Oh, they were lovely. So well-adjusted and grounded. He did a good job raising them on his own, I give him that. I honestly regret not having my own kids. That’s the only thing I’d say I regret, family-wise, not marriage.
Not to sound rude. But why did you never marry in your 20s or early 30s, like most people do?
It just happened; you don’t plan for these things. Or perhaps, other people plan, and that’s why it works out for them. It’s possible.
For me, I was dating a man for five and a half years from when I was about 28, and I was sure he was the one I’d marry. When we were finally ready for a wedding, he jilted and relocated to America a week after family introductions. I just noticed his house phone was no longer going through, and he’d quit at his own bank.
Ahh. Did you ever see him again?
No. But he called me from over there a month later, saying he’d won a US visa lottery and didn’t want to have to get me involved and possibly complicate the relocation process. Someone he would’ve married in some months if he hadn’t gotten the visa? Anyway, he asked me to forgive him, and by the next year, I heard he’d married someone else.
I’m so sorry
I was heartbroken. I felt betrayed. But I didn’t dwell on it. My work helped me pull through, and I never got into another serious relationship until my ill-fated marriage.
If you could go back in time, would you still marry your ex-husband the way you did?
Knowing what I know now, why would I? It was a waste of time. I gained nothing from it if not experience. But luckily, I lost nothing from it too.