January 30, 2020
Five years ago, Maryam was seriously in love with Bilyamin Bello. They married and hope to live happily ever after. Then the vagaries of life that brought fear, suspicion and danger; intervened. Two years into their marriage, they have had a child (some report said two) and they were the envies of their neighbours. Both were from privileged backgrounds and Bilyamin had joined the select rank of estate developers in Abuja. He was struggling to have money. He was young and the future stretch out before him like the airport road, Abuja. Then his life journey ended on November 19, 2017.
Last Monday an Abuja High Court sentenced Maryam Sanda to death for the murder of her husband, Bilyamin Bello. The court heard that on November 19, 2017, Maryam had picked up a quarrel with her husband whom she accused of infidelity. When he returned from work, she had picked his mobile phone and found a lady’s nude picture in it. She would not accept his explanation and soon the barrage of words degenerated into a fight. The court was told that Maryam picked up a broken bottle and stabbed her husband on the chest and neck. According to evidence, he was stabbed many times and was pronounced dead when his body arrived at the hospital.
Apparently, Maryam quickly contacted her mother and her brother who with the help of another person quickly helped her cleansed the blood stains left by the slaughter. She later told the police that her husband fell on a broken bottle and fatally injured himself. The court did not buy her story. The court believed she wilfully killed her husband and then methodically tried to hide the evidence. That broken bottle ended her marriage. The court has now ordered that, unless she has a reprieve on appeal, her life should end at the gallows.
Domestic violence is not new, but it is assuming a new dimension of callousness and violence. There are too many stories of husbands killing their wives and wives killing their husbands. Few years ago, a woman was said to have plotted the death of her husband in Benin, Edo State, when she discovered she was pregnant for her lover. Her husband, a staff of a leading oil company, had travelled to Europe for a six-month course. While he was away, his wife fell into the arms of her pastor. His return from Europe did not deter the two love-birds. Instead, they plotted his death. Both lovers have been sentenced to death.
Marriage is the oldest of human institutions. It predated every religion and every civilization. Nowadays religious bodies, especially Christianity and Islam, try to regulate and moderate the institution. In traditional societies, marriages were more stable, though not necessarily less stressful. A man with ten wives must necessarily worry about the sheer logistics of his equation regularly. Orthodox Christianity has adopted the European custom of monogamy. Muslim leaders have said the religion prescribed a maximum of four wives.
My late boss, Chief Moshood Abiola, use to say he had four principal wives. Everyone knew Abiola had about 30 wives. Many African found the prescription of four wives for Muslims attractive. They would rather follow the examples of the Saudis and the Yemenis Muslims instead of the mostly monogamous Egyptians, Libyans and Turks. It would not be surprising that some Christians may be envious of this dimension to Islam. Indeed, many new African Christian sects, which the late Professor Bolaji Idowu classified as African religions, also believe in polygamy. Many of their founders and General Overseers are reputed to be husband of many wives. The late Pastor Bilewu Oshoffa of the Celestial Church of Christ was reputed to have almost 10 wives.
The Revered Josiah Ransome-Kuti, (Fela and Professor Wole Soyinka’s grandfather) was a missionary of the Church Missionary Society, CMS, sent to Ijebuland after the Yoruba Civil Wars of the 19th Century. He succeeded in persuading the Awujale to join the Anglican Church. However, there was a catch. Kabiyesi had to pick only one of his queens and divorce the rest. The church would not tolerate polygamists. Kabiyesi said that was not possible. Ransome-Kuti agreed with him but promised to get permission on this dire matter of doctrine from his bishop in Lagos. The Lagos big man would not agree and Kabiyesi ended up becoming a Muslim which accommodated him and his many wives. The impact of that move is still felt in Ijebu-Ode till today.
Sociologists need to tell us which is more stable between polygamy and monogamy. However, there is no doubt that women would prefer monogamy. It provides a more manageable domestic environment. Most religious leaders, especially in the Southern Nigeria, prefer to encourage monogamy. This is also emphasized at church counselling sessions and wedding receptions. However, most couples don’t pay much attention at wedding receptions oratory because their minds would be occupied with other matters of extremely private nature.
Unfortunately most religious bodies encourage young couples to stay away from their parents and guidance at the early part of their marriages when they need guidance, not interference, most. It is normal for young people to be temperamental, possessive and territorial. They think they are right all the time. And sometimes they can be fatally wrong. A little blow of anger can lead to a lifetime of damage. The transition period from spinsterhood or bachelorhood to the estate of marriage is a delicate time that must be manage with the help of those who have embarked on the journey before.
It was an attempt to provide such a guidance that led to a calamitous consequence in Nepal. King Birendra had implored his son, the Crown Prince Dipendra that he cannot marry the girl he had brought to the palace. The king and Queen Aishwarya strongly objected to the prince choice of bride, saying that the royal diviners were predicting that she would bring nothing but ruins to the royal household. The prince would not accept such dictation. He was determined to have his way despite the objections of his parents. Besides, he had no believe in divination.
On the night of June 1, 2001, during a royal dinner for all members of the family, Prince Dipendra again raised the issue of the girl close to his heart. He wanted to make her queen when in future he ascends the throne. His father, the king, would not hear of it and forbade him to raise the topic. In anger, the prince walked out of the king and went into another room in the large palace ground. He soon returned, armed with a machine gun. He shot dead his parents, his brothers and sisters and then made an attempt to kill himself. He died a few days later in the hospital. The shock was too much for the country to bear for King Birendra was a popular monarch. The country is now a republic.
In the past parents take the marriage of their children very seriously. They make enquiries about families and lineages and consult oracles and make discrete findings. Now it is the young fellows that burst into daddy’s room to announce; “Daddy I am getting married!”
It is such precipitate action that is leading to the crisis for the Nigerian family. There is a need to remember that marriage is an old institution and for it to endure, some old values and old ways of doing things have to be part of it. Using a broken bottle may not be a fitting way to end a marriage. You can walk out. You can ask for a divorce. You can talk over it or ask your parents, guardian or priests to intervene. You can endure the hassle and fall in love again with your husband or your wife. You have to understand that the game call life is not necessarily a fair game.
So Maryam ended her marriage with a broken bottle and now she is on the death-row. She is facing the bitter angst of the day after. She is now a widow and her children are fatherless. No war has a happy ending. Marriage is not war. If it looks like it, shape up or ship out.