Wi­d­ow­hood and Kano’s mass wed­dings

Weekly Trust - - Opinion -

Her re­quest was an un­usual one. What made it even more un­usual was the brazen way she said it. Look­ing straight at me: ‘Doc­tor, I want some­thing to sup­press my sex­ual urges’.

I stud­ied her folder and ob­served that she was a 38-year-old widow with six chil­dren. Her hus­band had died five years ago from a car ac­ci­dent and since then she had sup­ported her fam­ily by sewing women’s cloth­ing. Her par­ents had passed away. She ap­peared well dressed and could be de­scribed as at­trac­tive. I won­dered briefly what the prob­lem could be. ‘Why don’t you get mar­ried then?’ I must have sounded com­pletely naïve, fool­ish even, as she threw me a con­de­scend­ing look and hissed. ‘Doc­tor, please just give me what I asked for’. Re­al­iz­ing I had of­fended her, I quickly changed tac­tics and laid out my charm. I needed to es­tab­lish that what she had was hy­per­sex­u­al­ity and not merely nor­mal urges in the ab­sence of a hus­band. Grad­u­ally she yielded and nar­rated her plight. The peo­ple of North western Nige­ria pos­sess many virtues I must say, but shy­ness, I have ob­served, es­pe­cially when it comes to is­sues of sex­u­al­ity, is not one of them. For us in the med­i­cal field, this is ad­van­ta­geous as it saves us the trou­ble of mak­ing a wrong di­ag­no­sis thereby leav­ing the pa­tient dis­sat­is­fied.

Jum­mai*, I gath­ered had nor­mal cycli­cal sex­ual urges which could not be met. She had been celi­bate since her hus­band died and her pa­tience was be­gin­ning to wear thin. Many men, she ad­mit­ted had courted her, but sev­enty per cent of them wanted to meet her in a ho­tel room. Her strict re­li­gious up­bring­ing, which had pre­vi­ously been her shield was grad­u­ally crack­ing.

Was it such a bad thing? She asked me. In­ter­course out­side mar­riage? I did not know how to an­swer her. What about the other thirty per cent I asked? She replied that they were free­loaders. Men whose first ques­tion when they met her would be: ‘Do you own this house or are you a ten­ant?’, ‘How many chil­dren do you have?’, ‘What is your in­come like?’. This sort of men wanted a woman who had a house to her­self and could take care of her­self fi­nan­cially. In clear terms- they wanted her, with­out the fi­nan­cial bur­den.

Now it was my turn to ask: Would that be such a bad thing? Af­ter all, a man could take care of her urges and that would solve her prob­lem. She shook her head, im­ply­ing the neg­a­tive. A man like that would just be an ex­tra mouth to feed and she was not ready for that. She was al­ready strug­gling to feed and ed­u­cate her chil­dren. Be­sides, she rea­soned, once he had sat­is­fied his urges, this type of men usu­ally left. Leav­ing her as one of the sta­tis­tics. A di­vorcee in a land of many, many di­vorcees.

She nar­rated to me the story of how, in des­per­a­tion, she had nearly been traf­ficked to Saudi Ara­bia for pros­ti­tu­tion. A young man claim­ing to love her had promised to marry her and look af­ter her chil­dren while he ar­ranged for her travel to Saudi to ‘work’. Later, she con­fessed, even af­ter learn­ing of his du­bi­ous intent, she still wanted to travel if only to sat­isfy her­self. So great was her sex­ual frus­tra­tion. Her plans were thwarted when her brother got wind of why she was trav­el­ling and cau­tioned her.

Our dis­cus­sion took a funny turn when she told me of her at­tempt to join the mass wed­dings or­gan­ised by the Kano State Gov­ern­ment. She had gone as far as fill­ing a form in the His­bah of­fice but was never se­lected. The wed­dings were car­ried out in batches of 100s and had started with Gov­er­nor Kwankwaso. Ap­par­ently, one needed to have a ‘con­nec­tion’ to qual­ify for the mass wed­dings due to the N15,000 grant be­ing given to the brides to kick­start their en­tre­pre­neur­ial ideas.

The so­lu­tion to Jum­mai’s* prob­lem was sim­ply a good man. A man, brave enough to marry her and re­lieve her, if only partly, of her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. But where are the good men? And why should they marry her, you may ask? Task­ing a man to take up the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of a woman and chil­dren that are not his, is Her­culean in this econ­omy. A woman with six chil­dren and a pitiable in­come for that mat­ter. I wanted to weep.

It would have been easy to dis­miss her case by pre­scrib­ing an­tide­pres­sant that sup­press li­bido as a side ef­fect, if not for the un­just­ness of it all. This is just one story. What about the thou­sands of wid­ows and di­vorcees out there? What did they feel? What were their sto­ries? Many had been pushed into pros­ti­tu­tion be­cause of their vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. I re­mem­ber laugh­ing out loud when I first heard of the mass wed­dings in Kano. I know bet­ter now. What can we as a so­ci­ety do? Names and sit­u­a­tions changed to pro­tect the iden­tity of the pa­tient.

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