By Bunmi Sofola
Most African men have smudged the line between polygamy and bigamy. Polygamy is legal if all wives acquired by a man are through the native law and customs system. You don’t marry a wife through the courts of law then marry subsequent ones through the native law.
Such a union automatically become bigamous. But telling the average Nigerian man that and he thumbs his nose at you as over the years they’d gotten away with bigamy and now they’ve redefined polygamy as the only way of ensuring all women are legally married! Humph!
That as it may be, could a woman get away with such an outrage? Quite a few of some women get away with bigamy from time to time but the frequency is very insignificant.
Except she takes her greed to countries that are very strict on those who flaunt their matrimonial laws.
Some decades ago, Betty, a good friend got married to Sanni, an accountant earning modest wages and they were fairly happy until Betty’s business took off at an alarming rate she had to travel frequently to replenish her stock.
She became well-off enough to employ some domestic staff and revamp her husband’s wardrobe.
Sanni was the least pleased to now find his financial muscles, no matter how puny, to be eroded by his wife’s wealth. He complained bitterly whenever he had a chance to and I promised to call my friend to order.
I did my best to talk some sense into Betty as soon as I had the opportunity, but she’d already been bitten by the money bug.
At a friend’s child-naming ceremony short after, we all got on to the dance floor, clutching the few notes we intended to ‘spray’ the celebrant with. Betty quickly passed on some money to Sanni which he simply put in his pocket. “You are supposed to go on the dance floor to ‘spray’, she hissed. He ignored her. ‘You see what I mean?” Sanni complained when I returned to our table, leaving Betty still displaying her new-found wealth.
“We left the house together. What stopped her giving me the money at home instead of making me look like a fool in front of her friends?”
In the end, Sanni sought refuge in an evangelical church. “I’ve been told I have to build my spiritual strength”, he told me. “That my wife is using up my `luck aura’ to get some of her wealth?”
I couldn’t make much of that and was getting quite fed up with all their silly bickering. Before I left, Sanni confided in me that he’s been told in his church that his wife was possessed by the devil.
“Whenever I had my vigil and left candles to burn out, she puts on the electric fan to put them out”, he whined. Betty had had enough by now. “I’ve told him he could have his special prayers in the spare bedroom. How could I sleep in the room with the electric fans off?’
That was the state their marriage was in when I left the country for a while. Now Betty was in London, about to get married. “What happen to Sanni and the children?” I wanted to know.
“Sanni has found himself another woman and has moved into his uncompleted building in that slum of an area. They have a bastard son – a son he had all the time he was complaining about me.
The children are here with me, Ayo is taking care of all of them”. Ayo is the new man on the scene. When I eventually got to London, I found out what was going on.
Betty was already living with Ayo and her children looked a bit subdued when I visited. Ayo let me into the bedroom where my friend was sprawled on the bed like a queen. ‘Darling’, she cooed to her new hubby, after she’d made the necessary introductions, “could you bring some tea for my friend and any breakfast you could rustle up?” “Yes, darling”, he quipped and throttled off to the kitchen.
“This is the life”, Betty sighed. “You see, Ayo is the gentleman Sanni never was. He was married to a white woman but the marriage failed and they’re now divorced.
“As soon as we’re married here, he’ll adopt my three children and they will automatically be made British citizens”. Did she get a quick divorce at home, I wanted to know? It would be quite interesting to find how she persuaded Sanni to give her one. “Who’s saYing anything about a divorce”, she told me.
“Ayo said all I had to do was get married as a single girl”. I told her such marriage would be a bigamous one – a fraud, but she didn’t care – who would find out? So the wedding took place with Betty paying for almost everything.
That her children would be British citizens must have been more than enough compensation as the last child was handicapped. “Just look at Ayo”, she gushed, “he’s handsome. I want to have lovely children for a change – my kids for Sanni aren’t exactly raving beauties, are they?” Ayo was handsome all right but looked a bit shifty to me – not the gullible man Betty took him to be.
So whilst Ayo went to his paltry nine-to-five job, Betty resumed her business trips. She was the proud mother of a son when I left Kent, and apart from a few phone calls now and then, I lost contact with her, until a few years ago when she showed up at my place.
After the usual squeals and hugs, she told me she would have tracked me down earlier if she knew I still lived in the same place. “So how is Ayo and how many kids have you got for him?” “Don’t even mention that creep’s name”, she said, eyes blazing.
You know he nearly got me jailed and my kids deported? We have three boys between us, but by the time I had the last one, it was obvious that he was another leech, wanting to spend all my money. When we first got married, we had a joint bank account because our lawyer said it could speed up my citizenship. I later discovered he was always withdrawing money for one project or the other. In the end, I paid as little as I could into the account and took the rest of my money back to Nigeria.
“When my first two children were old enough, I encouraged them to apply for a flat. The last child lived in a home that cared for handicapped children. So it was just the two of us after that and since he claimed he was domesticated, I left him to his own devise. He started complaining of being short-changed.
That I married him to get a foot into the British door. He whined I should give him more money in spite of the fact that I took care of all my six children. I bought him a used car when he threatened to report our bigamous marriage. I’d foolishly brought some old photographs with me, including the ones from my first marriage and he wanted to blackmail me with that.
A friend then advised me to seek legal services. That cost me an arm and a leg, but in the end, my three children could live in Britain in their own right as they’d been resident for over ten years. I told Ayo nothing about this. His two children from his previous marriage didn’t have that much contact with him and whenever they showed up, he always wanted to give them money he didn’t have.
When his blackmail got to unbearable proportions, I went to live with my children. That got him mad. He threatened and yelled for me to come back, but I stood my ground. I was down here in Nigeria when my friend called that the police were looking for me, because I had a bigamous marriage which was a crime in Britain.
I quickly got in touch with the lawyer when the children said they were being questioned too. In the meantime, my lawyer advised I should stay put in Nigeria if I didn’t want to be arrested.
“As luck would have it, I still had some of the letters he wrote to me urging me to forget a divorce and get married to him as no one needed to know I was still married. I sent copies of these to my lawyer and he passed them on to Ayo, accusing him he was a party to the crime. He quickly withdrew the case but the law insisted on my having proof of my divorce. So, I got one here, thanks to a few friends and a lot of cash, and sent it down. That was how I got off the hook I had to cool my heels here for a while before I started travelling again”.
And the children? “My children from Sanni might be plain, but what they lacked in beauty, they made up for in brains. My first is an accountant and his sister is a medical doctor. Even my medically challenged child has been given his own one-bed flat and he’s quite independent.
It’s the children I had for Ayo that are the snooty ones. They’d been to Nigeria a couple of times and they are not keen on going back. Very selfish and self-centred, they seldom give more than cards on birthdays and Christmas, yet they wear designer clothes and shoes.
They’re handsome all right but don’t give a hoot about family. They have little contact with their dad after our separation and whenever I show up in Britain, they always have a long list of things they want to buy. Their half-sibling is quite indifferent to them after realising they were always being touched for money. So, does she regret her bigamous marriage and relocating to a foreign country?
“Never”, she said, “my two firsts are now married and I have two lovely grandchildren. They come home once in a while but don’t see themselves settling permanently.
But they both chipped in when I was given the franchise for a petrol station which I have just finished constructing. I need to have something permanent to make me settle here – the cold weather is not agreeable to me as it once was”.
After she left, I waited a couple of days to call her number. Falteringly, I asked if she’d heard anything from Sanni, her first husband. “You know he was the love of my life and I still have feelings for him!” she said. She could have fooled me – she was certainly full of surprise! She continued: “His children send him shoes and clothes from time to time and he’s been to visit them twice now on their tickets. Actually, we’d both been toying with the idea of getting back together!” “You’re kidding, right?” I asked. “Hold on a second, she said, then yelling over the phone. “Sanni, over here, someone wants to have a word …” I was gob smacked. I listened as this ex-, who’d been abandoned by his wife who now had three kids for another man, berate some male opportunists who thought they could snatch other men’s wives! He was back in control, he bragged, his wife was back to stay!
When I eventually saw Betty, she was very upbeat about this next step she was rushing head-long into. “I want to claim back what is rightly my children’s”, she explained. “That plot of land he built on was bought by both of us and the little deeds said just that. It would be over my dead body that that opportunist Sanni now calls a wife, would sit on it”.
What property was she going on about? All the poor man could afford to build on was an unimpressive bungalow whilst my friend has a few houses in choice areas. I opened my mouth to protest her decision and quickly checked myself. She was out for revenge – Sanni’s new `wife’ had her first child whilst he was still married to her and she meant to teach her a lesson. Who could ever understand the working of a woman’s mind …?
How dumb can you get? (Humour)
An exhausted looking stunner drags herself into the doctor’s surgery. “Doctor, there are dogs all over my neighbourhood”, she says. “They keep me awake all night with their barking. “The doctor rummage through a drawer full of sample medications then says: “Here are some new sleeping pills that work with a dream. A few of these and your troubles will be over.”
A few weeks later, the lady returns looking worse than ever, “It’s no good, Doc, she says. I’m even more tired than I was before!” “That may be true,” replies the lady wearily, but I’m still up all night chasing those dogs – and when I finally catch one, it’s hard getting him to swallow the pill!”