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Japa and Nigerian Marriages: The Degeneration of Spousal Relationships in the Diaspora

 Nigerian Marriages confront a lot of challenges when couples leave the country in search of greener pastures. As more Nigerians move to the United Kingdom, Canada and other places, more marriages are facing economic pressures and culture shock. The reversal of power dynamics (obtainable in most Nigerian marriages) is a big factor in the degeneration of Nigerian marriages- couples often have equal earning power while domestic roles come under the pressure of multi-hour “shift jobs”.

 

Japa, a word that has not just taken its place in our local lexicon but has arguably become firmly ensconced as one of the most used slang in our daily interaction.

The term finds its roots in the Yoruba language and loosely translates to “escape,” “flee,” or “run and never look back”.

The popularity of the four-letter word can be traced to the growing trend of young, professional men and women leaving their home countries in search of greener pastures in the West.

In Nigeria specifically, the exodus of young people between 18 and 45 years old to Europe and the Americas has witnessed a geometric progression over the last couple of years.

 

But Tunji Ojo who was recently separated from his wife shares a different sentiment. The Uber driver narrated how his wife suddenly changed once they moved abroad. Explaining that she would lock him out and even call the cops on him on several occasions for the flimsiest of reasons, the bespectacled 36-year-old believes the average Nigerian woman leverages the Western system which is skewed in her favour to settle real or perceived scores with her husband”.

Recent stats shared by the UK government revealed that 486,869 visas were granted to Nigerians as of June 2022, representing a 71% increase in what obtained in 2019.

Similarly, according to data from the Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), in Q1 2023, 5,755 Permanent Residents (PR) from Nigeria were recorded, representing a 32.5 percent increase from 4,345 in the same period of 2022.

Also Read: Working Lives: The Affidavit Agent Who Forges Marriage Certificates

Canada, currently the most popular destination of Nigerians aspiring to travel alongside the United Kingdom and the United States of America continues to witness the influx of people from the most populous black nation on earth for various reasons, chief of which is the quest for better economic leverage.

For the unmarried, the Japa process is more straightforward. Not being legally bound gives them the leeway to emigrate on their terms. And so, they leave without recourse to anyone save their parents.

For the married, however, it’s a lot more convoluted. The Japa-seeking partner must do the work of convincing their significant other that a journey of mostly no return into the unknown will birth more rewards than whatever it is home soil has to offer. If and when they succeed on this mission of bringing their spouse on board, the couple must source the funds required to settle into their new base.

It’s a lot of strategising and planning and counting the cost, so much so that it can take its toll on even the most hitherto harmonious partners.

Nevertheless, many married folks successfully navigate these preliminary stages of the exodus process.

Until they arrive at their destination.

The West is a Woman

Perhaps the vagaries and vicissitudes of a different clime have a role to play in the increasing reported cases of married couples from Nigeria falling apart soon after they move across the border.

Taiwo and David Abodunde, both indigenes of Ekiti in SouthWest Nigeria who moved to the United Kingdom before Taiwo’s demise on account of domestic violence represent one of the tragic outcomes.

The viral story of Hassan Adeyemo whose 18-year-old marriage to his wife, Sarah was blissful until he moved to the United States of America to join his family is even more disheartening. A heartwarming love story turned sour when Sarah allegedly became the breadwinner of the family in the diaspora. Sarah’s alleged mistreatment and disrespect of her spouse triggered his dark side and the result was a homicide.

The aforementioned cases are only two of the repertoire of examples of love turned sour in a new land that has been a source of concern to observers and given many reasons to reconsider the idea of relocating with a spouse.

But why does it happen? Why do one or both of the partners change when they leave the shores of Nigeria?

Controlling behaviour, domestic violence, and infidelity appear to be one or more of the causal factors that snowball into a disaster when couples relocate.

Chibuzor Eke, a 48-year-old Nigerian immigrant who has lived in the UK for six years holds the opinion that couples must reorient themselves when they decide to move to a country where the culture is markedly different. According to him, “In Nigeria, a deeply patriarchal society, a man’s word is law in his home; a clear departure from what obtains in more inclusive Western societies where women not only have a voice but are, in many people’s opinion, favoured by the system as the more vulnerable party in a spousal relationship.”

34-year-old data analyst, Precious Adewunmi, (not real name), a Nigerian immigrant to Toronto, Canada is unequivocal in her notion that Nigerian men are often responsible for the breakdown of diasporan marital relationships. “The average Nigerian man believes he is an alpha male who should be worshipped and served simply because he possesses a phallus and has taken a wife. Of course, you’re going to run into problems when you carry that kind of mentality over here. Everyone pulls their weight here, nobody is going to cook your meals three times a day or do your laundry over here on account of marriage,” she said.

But Tunji Ojo who was recently separated from his wife shares a different sentiment. The Uber driver narrated how his wife suddenly changed once they moved abroad. Explaining that she would lock him out and even call the cops on him on several occasions for the flimsiest of reasons, the bespectacled 36-year-old believes the average Nigerian woman leverages the Western system which is skewed in her favour to settle real or perceived scores with her husband.

Married? Here’s what to do before you Japa

One thing is certain in all of this: we cannot play the Ostrich by pretending that more and more Nigerian-contracted marriages are not running into trouble in the West, and the debate will rage on about what party is mostly to blame for this.

However, it also points to the reality that intending Japa couples need to examine their current relationship and determine how a change in environment may impact their marriage. Needless to say, they must have a critical conversation that involves a solid plan on how to navigate the peculiarities of their clime vis-à-vis their shared values with a view to sustaining what they have built and nurtured back home in the new clime.

Differences must be sorted and old wounds allowed to heal before taking the step that will make or mar them forever.

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