Posted by Justus Ekeigwe | 17 February 2014 | 5,317 times
I read with interest the article in Nigeria’s leading online newspaper, News Express, titled “Why Nigerian spouses in America are killing themselves and why homicide shouldn’t be an option” published on January 5, 2014. In the article, the writer, Mr. Emeka Ugwuonye, Esq., writing on the basis of first-hand experience and real life stories, noted that extreme domestic violence is becoming a “big problem among the Nigerian communities in America”, some of them resulting in homicides. He identified and explained five factors he believed are responsible for the problem, which are:
1. That “Nigerian women in Nigeria do not enjoy the type of rights women enjoy in America”, in the sense that “the concept of rights in Nigeria for women is radically different than the concept of rights for women in America”;
2. How Nigerian women perceive and use the education and exposure they receive in America, particularly when such education and exposures result in them earning higher wages than their husbands;
3. The education or a lack thereof of the Nigerian man which inhibits his ability to figure out other ways to “maintain equality of dignity and balancing out her [his wife’s] income superiority”;
4. Culture, in the sense that “Nigerian people are culturally disposed to exuberance, egotism and aggression”, which overrides the common sense and reasoning ability needed to deal with issues such as managing family finances; and
5. Still on culture, the writer noted that Nigerian families [in America] are not familiar with the culture from where “American laws and institutions evolved”; and are lacking in understanding of how these laws apply and the implications of their actions.
The fourth and fifth factors regarding culture, I believe, are at the root cause of the problem discussed in the OP-ED. Many Nigerians in America shun and utterly disregard the culture of their host communities. Rather than mainstream, many instead live on the fringes and periphery of society. For a people known to be migratory, such shunning and disregard begs the question. There are only very few Nigerians who have never left their village, town, city or state. A vast majority have, even if it’s moving from Osogbo to Ibadan, Abeokuta to Lagos, Damaturu to Dutse, Owerri to Enugu, Warri to Benin or Ikot Ekpene to Ikot Abasi, and everything in between. Whenever and wherever you move, there are always new cultures and new ways of doing things to learn, lest you commit an act abominable or unlawful in the community for example, entering an enchanted bush, coming out on the night of the Masquerade, cutting prohibited plants or trees, killing forbidden animals, etc. In Nigeria, the expression that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” is all too familiar. So, it is unclear what difference it makes when Nigerians move beyond the shores of the country.
Whatever the reason, though, a lack of understanding of the culture of their host communities, according to the writer, is resulting in ignorance of the law with gory consequences. In a country that prides itself as “a nation of laws”, whose freedoms and fundamental rights are carefully etched in written law and fully enforceable, it is preposterous that anyone would embrace such ignorance. So, if the men who have lived in America for many years refused to embrace its culture, is it any wonder that their Nigerian wives, themselves not understanding the culture, misconceive and misinterpret equal marital protection laws of the American justice system? Is it no wonder that the men themselves don’t even know their rights and protections afforded them under law?
It is sad to note that it is not only in ignorance of the law that shunning American culture is hurting Nigerians. It also hurts them in their pursuit of progressive career opportunities. Many are unable to continue with the careers they had back in Nigeria, forcing them to make changes that are sometimes life altering; while some have seen stunted growth in their career progression. It is interesting to see that for many their language expression and communication abilities have either remained the same or not changed much despite several years of living in the country. Many have little or no historical knowledge of either the communities they live in or their environs. They choose to remain perpetual strangers to their new homeland and take pride in the fact of their segregation.
The writer also noted that the Nigerian man is “more likely to assert himself [over his wife] because his mind continues to go back to Nigeria where he would have had much more power over her”. That is because they live in America in the flesh but their minds are not. There’s a certain audacity, a sense that as Nigerians, they have no place in the American society despite it being their new homeland. They choose to embrace the stereotype that “oyinbo” culture in its entirety is repulsive.
It is impossible that any immigrant, including a Nigerian immigrant, could wholly morph into an American culturally however long they live in America. In most instances, home is where the heart is. That said, doesn’t it make sense to learn and understand aspects of American culture that are indispensable for a successful life in America? If you move to the United States, you will be better off if you trained your mindset to acknowledge that some of the entrenched cultures and value systems you were raised with would not work there; and that embracing some of the cultures in your new community helps you strike the balance needed for a happy life in America.
•Justus Ekeigwe, whose photo appears alongside this piece, writes from Houston, Texas, USA.
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