Perceptions of Marriage in NigeriaAug 09, 2021 04:00PM ● By Belinda Nzeribe. Additional reports by Nana Ama Addo. Data Analyses and Charts by Linda Uju Nwagu and Alissa Yamazaki. Survey partners include Taiwo Adeyemi Peter, Nkechi Cheery Bianze, and Alexandra Agabata.
In most parts of Africa, matrimony is a sacred, social custom, and is a mark of maturity, and duty. A man is a ‘Man’ if he can run a home, take care of his nuclear family, and meet commitments to extended family. A woman who is a Mrs. is bestowed automatic respect and status that is not afforded singles.
Today's traditions have been either broken entirely or made to adapt to modernity. Like everything else in life, marriage norms have been impacted by new thinking and new practice. One may decide to never marry, cohabit with a partner (forever), marry the same gender, or marry a different gender, or just go it alone without familial involvement. Decisions surrounding the wedding itself, such as whether to have a ceremony, the style of ceremony, dowry payment, and other traditional marriage customs also may be changing in Nigeria. FunTimes Magazine decided to find out by surveying 1722 individuals across Nigeria on their thoughts about marriage. This is what we found.
Interviewee States of Origin
The responses for this survey came from 32 Nigerian states. The highest number of responses came from Ogun (173), Anambra (154), Imo (142), and Lagos (117).
How relevant is matchmaking in contemporary marriage?
The statistics mentioned above, which reflect Nigerian participants’ view of matchmaking, indicate a somewhat mixed viewpoint. Choosing a spouse based on recommendation is common. Courting and long-term relationships may also end based on a partner receiving bad reviews from friends and family. When a man is ready to wed, he may rely on his people to help him make the best choice. Because there are varying percentages in terms of belief, these statistics indicate a good percentage of Nigerians interviewed prefer or place value on choosing their own marriage partner.
One respondent pointed out the difficulty of finding a partner by themselves, and stated: “Matchmaking is necessary, especially in these times where it is difficult to get genuine and deserving men.” Another respondent observed both the pros and cons of matchmaking and said: “[It] can be a good way to start something beautiful between two people. How it goes is not certain... But what is? Even meeting people on your own isn't. Right?” Another interviewee reported that: “One problem with matchmaking is how some people go into it rushing to marriage, without even really knowing themselves.“
How Much Do Nigerians Value Parental Consent in Marriage?
When marriage involves family or is seen as a form of duty or responsibility, in cultures like the Yoruba tribe, parental consent plays a heavy role. An accepted background or financial/compatibility status might be some of the dependent factors. One participant said, “I would not marry a man when his family does not consent to our union.” One even stressed that “Parental consent is key, even if there is no ceremony”.
Another individual remarked: “Parental consent in marriage is paramount because of unforeseen circumstances especially in this part of the world. With the support of the parents, one can paddle the boat when the waves are much.”
In some instances, however, marriage may not involve family, and could simply be a choice between the couple alone. One respondent noted, “In my opinion, parents' opinion on who to marry should matter, but it shouldn’t supersede that of the children.” Another respondent placed full importance on the couple themselves, and stated, “I feel marriage just needs to be consensual between both parties involved..it’s not necessary that the parents consent to it. Especially in this 21st century”.
Regional Differences for Parental Consent in Marriages
In the South-South region, consisting of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Rivers, Delta, and Edo, respondents were equally split on the issue. One respondent from Akwa Ibom stressed the importance of parental consent, and said“[the parents] won't necessarily choose a wife for you, but they just need that courtesy.”
In the South-West region consisting of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Kwara, and Oyo, results were different. 57.1% responded that parental consent had absolute importance, 39.1% responded that it was important but they can go on without it, and 3.8% said it was a non-issue. A native of Lagos commented: “Parental consent goes a long way in marriage”.
The South-East region, consisting of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo, also showed more agreement for parental consent. A respondent from Imo mentioned: “I would love my parents to bless my marriage because parental blessings have their own way of giving satisfaction and joy”. Another stated that: “Parental guidance and consent is important but it shouldn't be made the center stage”.
In the North, which consisted of all other states, including Benue, Kogi, Adamawa, and Kaduna, results were similar as the South-West and South-East. A respondent stated: “I respect my tradition and the tradition of my wife's people. Parental consent is absolutely necessary for a marriage to be contracted there - and if I have to marry, I have to do it the proper way.” Another remarked that “Parental consent can in some cases be overlooked if the reason for their refusal is not tangible.”
Opinions on Marriage Ceremonies as a Necessity
Marriage is arguably the biggest celebration or event in the country. Wedding ceremonies are not pocket-friendly, and the seeming competition for the best ceremony often triggers excessive spending. Because of this, at many Nigerian weddings, money is sprayed, and elegant wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, groomsmen suits, elaborate halls, exquisite banquets, and more set the stage for hundreds of thousands of Naira in expenses. One respondent wondered: “Why do people choose to have elaborate wedding ceremonies when they can't even afford it?” Similarly, another respondent stated: “Intending couples should not break the bank just to have a loud wedding. Do what your pocket can carry”
Remarkably, the survey found that having a ceremony to celebrate the nuptials is no longer a standard for most couples. They are adapting to economic realities and opting for cheaper rituals or none at all. One respondent noted: “I think the marriage ceremony is a waste of time and resources. Most times, the ceremony is for the parents and family, not for the children. After a court wedding, which is the most legal, just go to church for the pastor's and church’s blessing. In fact, your parent's blessing, which comes during traditional marriage, is ok too.”
A female respondent believed that “Traditional marriage ceremony for me must not be filled with lots of canopies and chairs. A few friends with family in our sitting room are absolutely fine by me. I hope my would-be husband will agree. The rites can be done, with lovely photos for memories.” Another respondent talked about the symbolic importance of the marriage ceremony, and stated: "Marriage ceremonies, in my own opinion, might be necessary just to prove a man's love for a lady.”
The Importance of Marriage Ceremonies for Nigerians
Three systems of matrimony are practiced by the people: traditional, religious, and statutory/civil. It is common for couples to undertake at least any two, even though each system is duly recognized by the laws of the land. It is always a challenge deciding on the type of marriage ceremony to hold. The majority of responders placed high importance on civil or court weddings. Couples may have various reasons to choose only a civil ceremony, which may include consent issues with family. They can simply take their vows at the registry and be legally married without anyone’s permission. Another reason may be a limited budget.
Contrarily, a couple may risk incurring the displeasure of family if they decide on a simple customary or civil affair, especially when the family wants the whole gamut of an ostentatious traditional ceremony, a loud white wedding plus a stylish civil event. This can strain the pockets of the couple, and create resentment from the beginning of the nuptials.
A few respondents voiced their opinion on the challenges in the marital systems in Nigeria. One mentioned that: “Marriage is an institution in which we have different types... I absolutely believe traditional marriage is the most important in this climate.” Another added: “Traditional marriage is very important in our culture, but we fail to realize that today in our community. All we want is the best white wedding ever by trying to be like White people, while we neglect our very own traditional marriage, which in my world is our own white wedding.”
Regional Differences for Preferred Forms of Weddings
In the South-East region, there is a mixed view on the importance of marriage ceremonies, with no overwhelming majority belief.
In the South-South, one respondent from the area stated: “Where I come from, Akwa Ibom State, traditional marriage is important. In fact, that's where the whole process begins. After traditional marriage, you can go ahead to register the marriage at the court registry. Religious marriage, also known as a church wedding, is not that important, as you can invite your Pastor to the traditional marriage to pray and bless it.”
In contrast, in the South-West region, a higher percentage of people preferred civil or court weddings, with 50% preferring this style. 27.5% preferred a traditional ceremony, and 22.5% preferred a religious ceremony.
In the North, 50% preferred a traditional wedding ceremony, 34.0% preferred a civil or court ceremony, and 16.0% preferred a religious ceremony.
The Importance of Having Traditional Ceremonies
In discussing the importance of traditional weddings, one respondent in the northern region of Nigeria said: “Africans should celebrate marriage ceremonies culturally. The white wedding is for the White people. It does not suit Africa culturally. That's why we are having more young divorcees in the present.” Another respondent suggested allowing flexibility in traditional styles for specific cases, and said: “Why don’t African parents allow women to give in their daughter’s hand in marriage? Must there be a father figure, especially if the biological father is a deadbeat?”
The Value of Dowries
Traditional unions are widely popular all over the continent and require that certain nuptial rites be done, such as the payment of a bride price. In the above survey answers, a majority of the interviewees noted dowry payments as absolutely important.
The value of the dowry varies depending on customs or family. In some cases, an insignificant sum is demanded, although the groom may incur other expenses. In other cases, the bride price is hefty, commensurate with the supposed ‘value’ of the bride. The performance of marital rites as required by custom may also be a source of pride for women. Depending on the community, a woman can be ridiculed by her kin for living with a man who has not ‘paid anything on her head’ (bride price). Those who follow customs in which the bride price is substantial may often delay marital plans to save up for the marriage. Alternatively, couples may choose to forego the payments and go on to cohabit and raise children.
Some Nigerians may consider the dowry system obsolete. One respondent stated: “the custom of paying bride price should be abolished, as it reinforces the treatment of women as less than equal partners in a marriage”.
Does Observing Traditional Marriage Customs Increase The Chances of a Lasting Union?
Tradition assumes that fulfilling all the rites, and gaining the support of both families guarantees a successful union. After paying the bride price, and observing other marital conventions, and blending their families, couples are often disillusioned when this fails to maintain their marriage.
People tend to have more realistic expectations now. A large number of responders (84%) in the survey do not believe a dowry increases the chance of lasting nuptials. Divorces are no longer a rarity here, there are growing numbers of broken unions, whether contracted traditionally or otherwise. One respondent voiced that “Dowry doesn't guarantee long-lasting marriage, love, understanding, and respect”. Another stated: “The whole ceremony doesn't determine the longevity of the marriage. It depends on both parties and how they allow God to rule their marriage.”
Nigerian Opinions on Same-Sex Marriage
Nigeria has a law called the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA), which prohibits marriage between persons of the same sex. Marriage between same-sex couples results in the punishment of a 14-year jail term. In our survey, we observed that 55.2% of the respondents expressed opposition to same-sex marriage, 40.3% responded with ‘whatever floats your boat’, and 4.6% supported legalization. This is quite an eye-opener because in the past the union of two people of the same sex has met negative reception, but in recent years quite a number of people have become more tolerant and less adverse.
The current figures show progressive attitudes when compared to the survey carried out by NOIPolls in 2017 to ascertain people’s attitudes toward the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. NOIPolls recorded that 90% of adult Nigerians were in support of the SSMPA. We also noticed that lesser respondents agreed with same-sex marriage as opposed to 7% shown in NOIPolls’ research.
Some of the reasons for opposition may be religious. One respondent stated: “God clearly created Eve for Adam not Eve for Ever nor Adam for Adam.” Another voiced that they: “won't judge people in a same-sex marriage, but would pray against it for any of [their] own.
One respondent in support of same-sex marriage stated: “Same-sex marriage restriction negates the principle of freedom as promoted by democracy.” Another responded, “Gay marriage isn’t a sign of times. There have always been gay people have always been. It is just time for people to see it in the right light.” Another respondent called for progress and said: “If same-sex marriage is still not a thing in Nigeria, then It obviously reviews how enslaved we are, in our own country. I am straight, but I do have many friends that feel or want to be with the same sex but are very much afraid to say it because of the society we live in. I think if they are not raping the same sex, and both genders agree to be together then it should not be a problem for society. How can you beat up two people having sex because they are of the same sex, film them without their consent and force them to talk?! It’s time we change, it’s time we allow everyone to be themselves, not what we want them to be.”
With transgender celebrities like Bobrisky gaining popularity, and globalization, it is unclear when or how perceptions may continue to evolve, but, as same-sex relations are punishable by law, like the above interviewee mentioned, LGBTQ+ communities may continue to hide their sexual orientations for safety.
Regional Differences for Perception Toward Same-Sex Marriage
In the South-East, a little over half strongly opposed same-sex marriage.
In the South-South, about half (51.3%) forbade same-sex marriage.
In the North, 51.1% disagreed with same-sex marriage while 46.6% claimed indifference to it. It also had the least amount of people (2.3%) that supported the legalization of same-sex marriage, compared to other regions.
Unlike the other regions, the South-West had the highest number of people (60.1%) who were against same-sex marriage. About one-third of them (34.6%%) were neutral toward same-sex marriage while 5.2% encouraged the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Core Values of Marriage
There is much more to a marriage than just a ceremony. There are no right and wrong answers, and the choices made are different for every individual. People should be allowed to make decisions according to their preferences irrespective of the norms created by society. Here are some respondent insights on what a marriage should be:
“I believe marriage is a legal union of two people who have found love and peace with each other. Societal norms can be bent to suit the intended couple’s narrative because no two marriages are exactly the same.”
“Marriage is to be enjoyed but not endured. It is not a do-or-die affair. It is also a grace for one to be married and remain married.”
“Marriage is a union between two people with one mind, one vision, and one goal...For a marriage to work, it is both of their duties to work together...It is very important that in every marriage both parents should give their support to whomever we choose.”
“I think marriage is about companionship and love. So, it should be between two people who find these qualities in themselves, be it male to male or female to female. What matters is that they are two consenting adults and have the freedom to choose who to spend their lives with.”
“I believe it's all about choice. You value parental consent or you don't, you support same-sex marriage and want to practice it or not, there should be no laws hindering your preference so long as no one is harmed by the choices you make.”
Other Questions and Factors to Discuss
Age of Marriage
Nigeria has some of the highest numbers of child brides on the continent. More than a third of girls end up in child marriages, and 23 million girls and women married before the age of 18. A respondent vocalized that there is a need for the government to control underage marriage in the northern part of the country. Currently, Nigeria’s legal age of marriage is 18, however, there is a loophole that allows child marriage, as the constitution states that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.”
Societal Pressures to Marry
Some have brought up the opinion that the societal pressure to marry is unnecessary. One respondent said: “Marriage is overrated. It is not an achievement. It is another stage of life. It's so disheartening when lovers take each other for granted. Society should stop the pressure and let people get creative instead of the archaic norm.”
This also begs the question of “Is marriage really necessary?” A respondent in the same school of thought asked “Is marriage compulsory? Why is African society so serious about people getting married?“ Another person said that: “Many people, especially women, may actually not get married if there's no societal pressure.” “The African society should unlearn this age-long dogma that once you get to a certain age, you must marry. Not everyone is destined to marry. Some enjoy their own company, and forcing them into unions they were never prepared for or want is pushing them to misery and isolation. Let's do better. “
Polygamous unions are not recognized under civil law in Nigeria. However, polygamous marriages are considered equivalent to monogamous marriages in one-third of the Nigerian states under Sharia Law. Whether for religious or personal reasons, polygamy is one topic in Nigerian marriages that could be addressed.
A few respondents pointed out the lack of mention of interethnic and inter-tribal marriages. “The importance of inter-ethnic marriage over intra-ethnic? should have been considered too”, stated one respondent. Another asked: “Is it a crime to marry from a different tribe?” Although not rampant, marriage between individuals of two cultures or tribes is a future topic of discussion, as are international or interracial marriages.
Some marriages may be a continuation of or may result in domestic abuse. In such cases, people have to make the choice between divorcing or tolerating unhappy circumstances only for the sake of staying together. Respondents have brought up the topic, and it is an important topic to discuss when considering marriage. Interviewees said
“Marriage is meant to last forever, but when it breaks down, do not fail to explore every other option especially when your life is in danger. Divorce is legal. Save yourself. “
“Relationships have changed in this contemporary time due to the fact that a large percentage of women now have the courage and voice to say no to abusive relationships, and most guys on the other hand, no longer let their parents have total control of who they should marry. They only listen to their parents when they have a genuine reason to.”
Although the legal divorce rate recorded by statistics is extremely low, in 2018, separation rates in Nigeria increased by 14%. This may be due to the social stigmatization of proper divorce, the difficulty to fulfill the requirements to obtain a legal divorce or marriages that are not legally recognized. Nevertheless, no matter the reasons, the possibilities of divorce and how they may affect both parties are also important when discussing marriage. Respondents said:
“Marriage is a beautiful institution that should be respected by both parties. Divorce is a no-no, but in a case of irreconcilable differences, separation can be an alternative. “
“Couples divorce a lot lately. It will be better if there is a legal backup in sharing of properties.”
“Marriage perceptions have changed with time. Marriage is now a convenience, not a lifetime institution. That is why there is a high rate of divorce.”
Responses May Vary Based on Gender and Age
Other factors to look into would be the gender makeup of the respondents, as men and women may respond differently for what values they place on the type of marriage ceremony.
Another factor we have not yet discussed is the age of survey respondents. It is possible to consider that the older generation may have more conservative views and younger generations may have less conservative views, but it is uncertain.
Nana Ama Addo is a writer, multimedia strategist, film director and storytelling artist. She graduated with a BA in Africana Studies from the College of Wooster, and has studied at the University of Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Nana Ama tells stories of entrepreneurship and Ghana repatriation at her brand, Asiedua’s Imprint ( www.asieduasimprint.blog ).
Alissa Yamazaki is a web developer who helped launch FunTimes Magazine from print to online publication. Having a background in Medicine (University of Debrecen in Hungary) and Human Biology (BA, Brown University), she is thrilled to contribute her skills in research and analytical writing to bring you this article.
Nkechi Bianze is a copywriter, brand PR, strategist and social crusader. You can connect with her via her personal Facebook page.
Alexandra Agabata is a Dance Artiste, Actor, Stage Manager, Drummer, Performer, Wonder Woman, Happy Child, and a Sweet Human.