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.
First things first, marrying at 19 seems like a Gen X thing to do—
I was in love. Or I thought I was. It turned out to be toxic, and people now say he “groomed” me. It’s so upsetting to hear it, but maybe it’s true.
Why do people say so?
I was 19, and he was 39. Also, he already had two wives living in separate houses, but he was open about being married to them. He didn’t hide one wife or anything. He’s a popular big man in Ilorin.
Your parents allowed this to happen?
No shade at my parents, but they saw the money. I also insisted that I loved him and didn’t mind being a third wife. He was very caring and gave me everything I asked for. I know people will say I also saw the money, but honestly, he used to talk to me like I was a person. He’d make me feel smart and special, unlike other adults who naturally talk down on younger people and treat them like they don’t know anything. I could really be myself around him.
How did you meet him?
At a big family get-together to mark the 20th anniversary of my late grandfather’s death in 2012. He came to honour the invitation of my uncle who was his childhood friend. I was introduced to him the way they always introduce the young people in the family — someone called me to come and kneel and greet an important guest. I’d just turned 18 then.
I remember when he saw me, he called me “The most beautiful girl in Nigeria”. He called me that till we separated years later.
And how did the relationship start?
He must’ve collected my number from a family member because he called me later in the evening. He told me he’d love us to get to know each other, so I should save his number. Then he started sending me expensive gifts: he changed my Nokia to the latest Blackberry and bought me a MacBook when I said I was about to start school.
The relationship really started when I got into Unilorin later in 2012. He’d visit me on campus every week, bringing foodstuff and toiletries in bulk. At the end of my first year, he bought me a Toyota RAV4 because I had a first-class result.
Did you know he had two wives at this point?
Yes. I also met his first wife at the event I met him; she was very nice to me. At some point during the first year we met and started talking, he informed me about his second wife. He said they couldn’t wait to meet me.
At what point did he mention that he wanted to marry you too?
The first time he came to visit me in school. He told me, “I don’t date for fun. I want you to be my wife whenever you’re ready. If you don’t want that, tell me now and I’ll leave you alone.”
He even said once I gave him permission, he’d let my father know his intentions. At that age, I found his interest exciting and romantic, to be approached by someone so sure of what he wanted. He made me feel comfortable and secure.
I told him I was ready to marry him when I entered my second year, so we had a traditional wedding after the first semester.
It was a great thing we didn’t do a court or white wedding.
It was easier to get a divorce three years later.
Yes o. Married life was too chaotic for me. I always had to be available whenever he wanted — for sex, to accompany him to events, to travel. I had to relate with his other wives and extended family, who all always wanted one thing or the other from me: my time, food, a room in my house, the list was long.
I was in school for most of the marriage, but I moved into his main house after the wedding, and it became almost impossible to balance being his wife with my studies. One day, I realised I barely had a life. I no longer had time for myself, talk less of book. I was lucky to have graduated with a 2:1.
Was he still supportive, at least?
By 2015, the second year of our marriage, he was suddenly never there for me except when he wanted sex. He never touched me before we got married, but as soon as I moved in, sex was all he wanted. I had my first child with him in the same year I’d just turned 21.
Now, he was too busy with his business to have time for me. He even told me that I was a wife and mother and shouldn’t be expecting his attention every time like he was still toasting me. Somehow, I took that as a challenge to behave more maturely and becoming of a married woman. But mehn, I was so lonely.
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What about your friends?
My friends gave me gap. They were still friendly and especially liked when I could fund our girls’ trips now and then. But they also said I was no longer fun to hang out with or willing to do the exciting things young girls do, like attending parties. I always had to consider my husband and baby. Soon, they became busy with their own lives; most ended up moving to Lagos.
My family members were the same. I was a married woman now, so I couldn’t just be showing up at my father’s house to gist with my siblings. I was miserable in my big house with so many responsibilities. Then I found out I was pregnant with my second child — a son — five months after the first.
When did you decide on a divorce?
After my son’s first birthday in 2017. My husband was hardly ever home. He just came and spent less than an hour at our son’s birthday celebration — you won’t even see him in any of the pictures we took that day.
He’d moved to Abuja without me, and I didn’t know whether he was courting a new wife. He ended up marrying again sometime in 2018. He has five wives now.
Around that time, I used to just sit in bed and cry a lot. All the initial euphoria had faded, and I was a mother of two, living with house staff in a big house and nothing to do. My young mind couldn’t understand why my husband no longer wanted to stay home or spend time with me. I didn’t even have the motivation to start job hunting. My mum would laugh at me about complaining despite not lacking anything.
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How did the divorce idea come up?
By chance, I started confiding in one of my older family friends who was a marriage counsellor, and he advised me that my husband’s absence was one of the major concrete grounds for divorce in Nigeria. He thought I needed it because I was exhibiting signs of depression.
My parents were against it because he was sending me money every month and paying all the bills. They also thought that if he died, I’d have a right to his assets. Of course, that wasn’t true since the man was smart enough not to marry any of his wives in court.
Sigh. If you didn’t marry in court, why then did you need a divorce?
I still needed a customary divorce, so I wouldn’t have any issues when I wanted to remarry. And I’m glad I did that because I’ve heard some husbands will take all kinds of contentions to a customary court when they find out their wives want to marry another man.
Because I didn’t need to do a statutory divorce like for my second marriage, it took three months to finalise the whole thing. My ex-husband’s only term was keeping his son. When I agreed to that, he signed everything. I never even had to meet or talk to him directly. But he also wasn’t obligated to give me any more money or pay for child support.
Wow. You mentioned a second marriage and divorce?
Yes, you would think I learnt from the first one and thought twice before jumping into another marriage and doing a court wedding. Ah. The second divorce was bloody.
I don’t know what to say
I met him in 2018, about eight months after my first divorce was finalised. I’d moved to Lagos, leaving my daughter with my parents in Ilorin, to pursue better job opportunities. My first husband later came to collect her.
I went to stay with an aunt, and my second husband was her landlord’s eldest son. They didn’t live in the house, but he came to the compound to check on things for his father every once in a while. We met and got along very well.
After I got the bank job, he offered to pick me up and drive me to work every day — he worked in a bank close to mine. That’s how the love started o. We started dating, and by 2019, we were engaged. We did a simple court wedding and moved in together.
I’m scared to ask what happened next
I didn’t tell him I had two kids already.
I don’t even know why. When our relationship got serious and he asked me to marry him, they were no longer a huge part of my life. I just found myself not telling him about them. I know how bad that sounds, but I just omitted that part of my life in our conversations.
How did it come out?
During the Christmas holiday in 2020, one of my relatives told his father, and that was it.
I’ll never forget how it happened.
We’d all been indoors for months during the COVID lockdown. So that Christmas, our families decided to take the risk and have a house get-together at his father’s place.
My cousin and other extended relatives were around, so they attended too. I remember seeing that particular relative having a quiet conversation with my dad-in-law in the sitting room. An hour later, people were whispering to each other, as if one juicy news was moving around the house. Me, I thought it had something to do with the pandemic and was planning how I’d grab my husband and escape.
Towards the end of the night, I noticed his countenance had changed. He was quiet the entire drive back home, only answering me in monosyllables. And to think the gossip was in the car with us and didn’t say anything to me.
It really be your own family sometimes
Immediately we got home and entered our room, he confronted me with the news. It was much worse that it didn’t come from me directly to him. It was barely two years in, BUT our marriage never recovered from the revelation. I was the one to ask for a divorce though — I guess because I already had experience — but mehn, did it have complications?
Tell me about it
First, I was seven months pregnant, so the court mandated that I gave birth before the hearing could proceed. Please, what does giving birth have to do with getting a divorce?
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I gave birth to a son in 2021, but the hearing didn’t resume until six months later, and I’d moved out of the house because my husband had turned hostile.
When we returned to court, the judge said he expected that we would’ve fallen back in love and forgiven each other during the nine months pre and post-natal period. That in Nigeria, protecting family values and the children of the marriage is paramount.
You don’t say
According to Nigerian law, the only grounds for divorce in our case was failing to comply with the restitution of conjugal rights for not less than a year.
I won’t even ask what “conjugal rights” means
We had to prove that we hadn’t consummated the marriage in a year.
The judge said my contention that the marriage had broken down due to failing to tell my husband of children outside the marriage didn’t hold water because I was the woman and the erring party. I shouldn’t be the one to say the marriage had broken down.
To make matters worse, my second husband lied that he didn’t want the marriage to end. I don’t know whether he just wanted to make me suffer. That’s how the case was adjourned for 18 months, so we could live apart for at least two years before the case could be revisited.
What did you do during that period?
Omo, I moved on with my life o. Since I’d already moved out, and he’d been keeping malice with me even before that, I jumped on the japa train and started applying to schools in Canada. By January 2022, my visa was approved for me to relocate with my son. This caused another wahala.
I had to get written permission from his father to take him with me. And that one was doing shakara to sign o. I literally had to go and kneel down to beg him that all I want to do is give his son a Canadian passport and a better life. He eventually relented. We travelled in March, and in July, I was able to attend our eventual hearings remotely via Zoom.
We’re officially divorced now. Twice divorced at 28, can you imagine? Anyway, I’m happier than ever and looking forward to 30. Praise God.
What’s life like for you now, considering these experiences?
I’d say my life is normal for the first time in forever. Moving forward in life is what occupies my mind now. I’m juggling a master’s program with nursing a toddler where there’s nothing like nanny or family assistance. I have to pay for the expensive daycare at the university, so I got a remote job as a virtual assistant to help with funds.
But still, I feel free mentally, like I have nothing to worry about anymore. I’m finally in charge of my own life. I miss my older children though, and sometimes, regret leaving them behind, but their father is spoiling them rotten, so my mind is at rest.
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