By CECILIA OGEZI
Co-habitation is a common practice in some cities across Nigeria but Abuja, the nation’s capital city, has taken it to another level. CECILIA OGEZI writes
Cohabiting or unmarried adult male and female living together is now a tradition in Abuja and it is gradually becoming acceptable these days. As the numbers of new comers into the city, mostly females (age 20-30) continue to increase every year, so is the practice gaining ground.
The new comers to the city who had come with the hope and excitement of changing their fortunes, soon find that the grass is not greener in the other compound. Here, they have neither home nor job and nowhere to go. They are trapped.
This is so because they have been seduced with attractive tales about life in the city by friends or relatives residing in the city. Now they are in the city, the story is different, it is not the bed of roses they were earlier made to believe. Worse still, they cannot afford to go back home where there is even no hope at all for them.
Although there have not been an official data from any statistics body, findings have shown that, cases of unmarried couples living together in the FCT is on rapid rise, and about 80 per cent of this figures can be found in satellite towns and slums in the nation’s capital and the figure is expected to continue to rise in the years to come.
Investigations discovered that there have been incidences of some of these greener pastures seekers ending up having their hopes shattered. In some cases the helpless ladies are thrown out by the same people who initially lured them into the city, leaving them vulnerable to the exploits of men who take advantage of their circumstances. These men take them in under ‘arrangement’ and turn them their sex mates.
It is common in Abuja today to find spinsters and bachelors living together as husbands and wives, and having children therefrom without official customary or religious solemnisation of the marriage. In most cases, it is even without the knowledge or approval of parents of the couples. This practice has generated the catchy phrase, ‘’Abuja Marriage’’. Some have described it as a way of life and a survival strategy in a city where accommodation is not within the reach of the poor.
There are multiple reasons that have contributed to this type of marriage. First is the issue of accommodation. Most girls and boys come into the city in the name of hustling without knowing anybody who can accommodate them and so they are forced to hook up. Like other normal couples, this particular couple live a typical life. They do what normal married couples do and share ordinary moments with each other. They watch movies together, go to parks, play together and travel together to attend village festivals, but their story did not end on a good note. EshiofureYakubu left her home town in Edo State when a family friend who visited the village during one of the Christmas holidays some years back gave her a phone number and promised to give her a job. The man in question, a business man whom she later realised had eyes on her but could not make his way into her, had to deploy another strategy by inviting her to Abuja with the promise of a good job. Sadly, this was not the case; she came to Abuja only to discover that her would-be connection had faked his intention and had left her to her fate after one week of her stay in Abuja.
At this time, going back to the village was no longer an option for Eshiofure who had dreamt of returning to the village after some time polished like other city dwellers. What will she tell her friends? At this point, it is no retreat, no surrender. Three months later, with the help of an old friend who took her in, she was able to secure a job in one of the fast food joints in the FCT. Sadly, three years later, she was thrown out of her friend’s house. She was left again with no choice but to call one of her regular costumers she had become fond of and was offered a temporary space till she could rent an apartment of her own but this was the beginning of another chapter of her life.
‘’I have hardly spent two months in his house, when he started asking me out. We started dating but few months later,
I discovered that he had a child with another lady,” Eshiofure lamented. “We spent quality times together for three years and I was committed to the relationship but at a point he no longer treats me with respect. ‘’It was like I was under some spell but I was not. It was the accommodation.
I lost my job and I have no other place to go. I could have gone into prostitution but I thought it wise to stay with one man who gave shelter but I regret the decision. “I was already pregnant for my boyfriend before I got to know through one of his friends, that I called to complain about the way he was maltreating me that the lady who has a child for him had stayed with him and was sent out the moment she took in. I didn’t know he impregnated her in his house and sent her out and he did the same thing to me.”
Eshiofure who disclosed that she is ashamed to go back to the village with her condition since she left her boyfriend who no longer cares for her. ‘’I am working in a bar now and my baby stays with a family friend who offered to help, so I can raise some money for our up keep,” Eshiofure said with a tone of regret.
Although a few among them have been fortunate to end up with the right person with such relationship leading to marriage, the case of Eshiofure is only one of thousands of sad stories from unmarried couples staying under the same roof. Their stories may differ, but surely, the bottom line is that, most often than not these relationships does not end well.
MrsKomolafe lives with her supposed husband in Lokogoma area of Abuja. Her story is a tragic one. The woman who at first looked happily married, only voiced out on the arrangement when she had a problem with her supposed husband. When all attempts for the said husband to formalize their marriage failed after having had a boy with another on the way, she could no longer hold her anger and in the process revealed to all those who cared to listen that he only went to her people to introduce himself and has not paid a dime for her dowry.
The case of Jennifer (30) is a different ball game. She had lived with her boyfriend in Abuja for over a year with no cause to worry as she was confident that it was a relationship that will march her to the altar. But her story changed when her boyfriend travelled home for Christmas and did not come back to Abuja, leaving her stranded and frustrated. “I have been calling him he picked for a while and stopped picking after some time. We did not have any problem before he travelled for Christmas” she said.
She lamented that she had recently started working in a bakery but fears that she might not be able to continue to live in the house as what she earns cannot pay the rent just as she revealed that the landlord has been in the house severally to demand for his rent.
Rebecca Etang (25) who left her state, Cross River, to Abuja in 2015 was gang-raped by a young man from the same state. Rebecca said she was living with her cousin before he was transferred from Abuja to Enugu just few months after she came to Abuja. ‘’He took me to one of his friends, although I don’t know the arrangement he made with him,” she said. “I help them in running house chores. We started sleeping together few months later and I fell in love with him when he promised to marry me. When my brother got the news and called me, I told him it was okay, after all I am an adult.”
Rebecca who confessed that she never knew she fell in love with a monster. ‘’Our relationship got sour when I noticed Jacob was a drug addict. He beats me as a 10 year old child and sometimes forces me to sleep with him. One night, he came back home drunk with his friend, this time I was already suspecting that he wanted me out, but I was thinking I could control it because he was not like that before. Before I knew what was happening, he gang raped me with his friends.”
Asked what happened after, she said that her brother took the case up and they were all invited to the village where family members descended on her boyfriend. She said she could not go to the police because of stigmatisation.
‘’It worked out well for me, though I never in my imagination believe that we were going to get married,” said Chinelo who appeared to be among the lucky few. ‘’I met him in the beer parlour I used to work, then I was sleeping in one of the rooms with some of my colleagues at the bar. When he said I should come and stay with him then, I only saw it as an opportunity of have some privacy because we were about five sleeping in one room. ‘’In less than two years, we got engaged and married.
That is my story.” ZephinayaBala, another Abuja resident, said ladies go into such relationships just to be accommodated and the man shouldering her responsibilities as a lover. But the truth is that most often, things don’t happen as expected leading to serious problems and sometimes death of either of the couple
A respondent, IfeomaAgwu, who runs a beauty salon, revealed that most of the time young ladies who engage in such arrangement do so in the attempt to secure good jobs to better their lives, and rather than going into prostitution, they live with these men till when they find their feet.
DrOgiOsadalo, a marriage counsellor, described the practice as unethical for any responsible adult. ‘’There is nothing wrong with two grown-ups courting, which is understandable, but for a young girl to park into a man’s house when they are yet to marry, is not only morally wrong but also dangerous,” he said.
‘’I have heard ugly stories like young girls being raped, some go missing, either used for ritual purposes or they end up with unwanted pregnancy. ‘’It is not only on one side, the men too are sometimes victims because they don’t know so much about these strange girls they take in. Bad things are happening but people don’t know of this. A young man in this town was duped by a strange lover he haboured for almost a year.
‘’These are the kind of dangers associated with this kind of relationship. No woman should feel trapped in the city when she has a home to go back to and men should stop exploiting innocent girls in the name of accommodating them. Yes they may both consent but it is morally wrong.’’