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The Changing Landscape of Marriages in Northern Nigeria

Why did marriages in northern Nigeria tend to last longer in the decades leading up to the 21st century? When discussing marriages of the 20th century, especially from the perspective of men who long for the dedication of wives as seen in the past, it may seem like an ideal period in the history of matrimony. However, even the marriages we often use as a benchmark for resilience have their limitations. Divorce, which is now a common outcome in our generation, was present in the 1900s, though less frequent.

As students of history and social sciences, we might wonder about the differences between these two eras. The primary factors contributing to this shift are often attributed to modernity and the influence of capitalism infiltrating the institution of marriage. Education has empowered women and opened doors to personal freedom and self-realization. The power dynamics, historically held by men, have gradually shifted. With this newfound freedom and self-actualization, decades of male dominance and subjugation are being challenged through the assertion of personal and human rights.

This essay aims to assess how the combination of shifts in cultural norms and the rise of modernity have shaped the current landscape of marriage in northern Nigeria and how we can adapt to these changes without losing track of our history.

Free Mixing of Sexes and Pre-Marital Traumas

In mainstream discussions, common factors may not be the main contributors to the rising divorce rates in our generation as much as the increased interaction between the sexes could be a more significant factor.

Our ancestors had regimented, gender-segregated lives, while today, our society blurs gender lines. Marriages in the past often involved strangers, and love was either an unexpected bonus or an illusion created by authority figures.

Today, marriages involve couples with complex love histories, carrying the baggage of past relationships. This creates ongoing confusion among couples.

Some can overcome past pain, but not everyone can. This situation when not properly handled can lead to baggage for newly married couples who may still be stuck on their ex-lovers. 

This is why early marriage was once favored, as teenage hearts are more adaptable. However, early marriage is now rare, and seen as a barrier to women’s education. Although there’s no clear proof of this exclusivity.

Marriages in Northern Nigeria

Decline in Parental Control in Northern Nigeria

The authority and control parents once had over their children have diminished due to increased child independence and lenient parenting. In the past, parents could arrange marriages because they held complete authority, and their children were compliant.

Today, the concept of arranged marriages is met with resistance from both potential brides and grooms. Singles prefer to have the freedom to explore potential partners and expect their choices to be accepted with minimal interference from their parents.

As a result, the traditional vetting of potential grooms, a crucial responsibility of parents, has become a mockery. Shortcomings in potential partners are sometimes ignored to ease the marriage process, leading to public scandals.

Furthermore, the current generation places an excessive focus on extravagant wedding ceremonies, often neglecting the essential preparation for married life. The glamor of a wedding day cannot replace the necessary mental and spiritual readiness for a lifelong commitment.

This emphasis on lavish weddings is another sign of declining parental authority. Parents succumb to the pressure of their children or spouses to organize elaborate ceremonies, which promote the mingling of the sexes and vanity.

In the past, newlyweds often lived with the groom’s family, receiving guidance on marital life before establishing their independent homes. However, this practice is now disliked, leading to less supervision and guidance from parents. Urbanization has made living with extended family impractical, allowing young couples to embrace independence and freedom.

The consequence of this surge in youthful independence is reflected in the quality and longevity of marriages.

The North in Times of Modernity 

It’s clear that what we often consider the ‘golden age’ of successful marriages in northern Nigeria is in the past. Our society is evolving, challenging our understanding of social norms.

The men and women of our generation are different from our ancestors, and our realities are unique. Gender roles, particularly in the context of marriages, are changing due to financial pressures. Couples are finding ways to navigate limited resources and increased responsibilities. Women have to work more to alleviate poverty, even though this is sometimes met with opposition. Men may become more involved in child-rearing to support women’s physical health in a fast-paced urban environment.

Advancements in healthcare and reproductive options provide couples with more choices in how they start and manage their families. The notion of children being the ‘glue’ holding unhappy marriages together is fading. Couples now have the freedom to decide when and how to have children, allowing them to address personal limitations without complicating the situation with the presence of children, which often hinders the process of separation.

Redefining Gender Roles in 21st-Century Northern Nigeria

Starting and building families is a shared responsibility between both partners. Single-parent families have evident deficiencies. Blending parental guidance when raising children is crucial, despite technological options. Outsourcing parenting to daycare should be avoided.

Technology enables remote work, reducing time away from children. Prioritizing home life and child-rearing strengthens marital foundations.

Fathers play a substantial role beyond finances, nurturing the family emotionally and spiritually. Avoiding work-related excuses is vital.

Fatherhood requires presence, not remote parenting, demanding dedication and recognition of its expansive and valuable nature.

The absence of both parents in a family leads to issues affecting children and the foundation of marriages. Uphold culturally aligned practices and discard those conflicting with religion.

Closing Remarks

The past was simpler than the present, and its wisdom can guide us today. We should preserve what’s timeless from our past, adapting to the complexities of our time while respecting our religious and cultural values.

We urgently need genuine custodianship to guide our generation. Pursuing happiness shouldn’t come at the cost of changing our social fabric.

Divorce isn’t inherently bad; it can resolve marital issues. However, we shouldn’t view divorce as the sole solution to every problem.

The blurred lines between genders, influenced by social media and the internet, can be redefined. The true veil lies in guarding our hearts against the distractions of our time. Through this, our modern marriages can thrive amidst the challenges of modernization.

Abdulrahman Baba-Ahmed

bdulrahman Baba-Ahmed writes from Kaduna on a variety of social and political happenings in Nigeria.