By Williams Ehhizuwa Orukpe & Bridget oghale Omoruyi

Department of History and International Studies, University of Benin 


This paper examines the social impact of Christianity and Western culture on the traditional Esan conception and practice of marriage and family life. In pre-colonial Esan, marriage was held as sacred and the foundation of the society. Hence, marriage, though polygamous was regulated; and the family remained close-knit. 

Infidelity, adultery, and divorce were critically frowned at under Esan native law and custom. Thus, this study interrogates the dynamism and attitudinal response of Nigerian peoples to Christian perception and Western perspective of marriage and family life, since their contact with the West. Its finding is that since the arrival of Christian missionaries and the spread of Western civilization to Nigeria, marriage and family life have never been the same. “What was” is no longer obtainable, since the emergence of Christianity; and “what is” is now becoming obsolete due to the influence of Western civilization. Therefore, adopting the comparative research methodology, the study seeks to historicize the changes, continuity, and adaptation to marriage and family life in Esanland within the context of their twenty-first-century challenges. It concludes that Western liberalism has not only eclipsed both Esan native law and Christianity in Nigeria, but it has produced social contradictions evident in the high-level insubordination of wives, domestic violence, marital infidelity, separation and divorce. It is against this backdrop that this study maintains that the adoption of Bible principles as the authoritative framework guiding marriage and family life can help stem the destructive impact of Westernization in Esanland and elsewhere.  


· Esanland, 
· Marriage, 
· Family Life, 
· Christianity, 
· Western Civilization. 

The historicity of marriage and family as the oldest human institutions, and bedrock of society is without a doubt. They constitute the basic unit of human existence. From earliest times, it is the voluntary union of a man and woman to become husband and wife that produced the basic societal grouping of people related by marriage, blood, and even adoption. Thus, began the history of family life. Accordingly, children, at reaching maturity had overtime instinctively and naturally left their parents to build their own families, the practice which had promoted the entrenchment and consolidation of marriage and family as critical institutions of society and pertinent instruments of nation-building. Hence, the emergence of family life arguably laid the foundation for the emergence of nations, kingdoms, and states in any form in human history.   

To this end, it is safe to contend that the political organization of human society and its stability from the earliest times was to a large extent, dependent on the stability of marriage and family life. It logically follows, therefore that the historical origin of states is traceable to man’s need for a complement and helper. This need, according to Christian thought, resulted in the first recorded marriage in human history in the Garden of Eden. From this early beginning, marriage and family have overtime evolved gradually and piecemeal to their current pivotal position in national life everywhere. Because it is the growth, expansion, and spread of families that accounted for the emergence of communities, nations, and states over time and space, the continued existence of any civilization is thus dependent on whether the family life is strong or weak.

However, today, marriage and family, the foundations of society and platforms for providing informal education and nation-building in postcolonial Nigeria and elsewhere, are under attack. According to a family historian, Stephanie Coontz, marriage and family have been displaced from their pivotal position in personal and social life. This development is due to the dynamic nature of culture. Therefore, in Esanland and elsewhere, the traditional conception and practice of marriage and family life have drastically changed since the introduction of Christianity and Western civilization (norms, values, and ideologies) currently spreading like wild fire. These have overshadowed pre-colonial Esan cultural values, and Western culture has exposed marriage and family life in Esan to new threats.   

Consequently, since the twentieth century, the new threats to the institution of marriage in Esan are arguably materialism, radical feminism, Western liberalism, and social deviance. These vices are evident in the preponderance of trafficking in the girl child and married women for sex trade abroad in the region. These contradictions in Esan have contributed significantly to the insubordination of wives and a drastic shift in the balance of power in the family as more women are now emerging as the breadwinners of their families. The attendant effects of this development are domestic violence (from the man, who tries to reject playing second fiddle by forcefully enforcing his headship; and from the woman, who flaunts her economic power to the relegation of her husband), marital infidelity, juvenile delinquency, and divorce. 

More so, the adoption and general acceptance of secular thoughts such as “Do what you want to, and let others look out for themselves”; “Let Children choose their own course”; “Make no judgments of what is Right or Wrong; and wrongly understood and applied Western concepts such as gender equality and women empowerment among rural women in Esan are currently steering marriage and family life towards the brinks of collapse in Esanland. Therefore, it is against this backdrop that this paper attempts a comparative historiographical survey of “what was,” “what is,” and “what is not” in the aspect of marriage and family life in Esan, Edo State, Nigeria. 

The paper contends that, in the light of the avalanche of contemporary problems facing marriage and family life, the complete entrenchment of Christian perspectives on marriage and family life as contained in the Holy Bible the authoritative framework guiding these vital social institutions, is imperative and pertinent for circumventing the complete breakdown of Nigerian society, and for curbing the deadly menace of Western liberalism in the country. 

Biblical Origin of Marriage and Family Life  

The biblical origin of humanity is closely tied with the origination of marriage and family life. In that, Christian historiography asserts that the creation of the first man was in time followed with the need for a woman companion, and subsequently family life emerged. Hence, according to Christianity, the evolution of marriage and family life can be traced to the Almighty God, Jehovah: The Creator of man. The Apostle Paul, attesting to this fact, observed: “For this reason, I bend my knees to the Father, to whom every family in heaven and on earth owes its name.” Jehovah is the Originator of marriage and family life, when in a bid to satisfy the need of the first man (Adam) for a helper and complement, He created the first woman (Eve) using the rib bone of the man. The New Word Translation of the Holy Scriptures captures this development thus: 

“Then Jehovah God said: it is not good for the man to continue alone. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him. Now Jehovah God had been forming from the ground every wild animal of the field and every flying creature of the heavens, and he began bringing them to the man to see what he would call each one; and whatever the man would call each living creatures that became its name. So, the man named all the domestic animals and the flying creatures of the heavens and every wild animal of the field, but for man, there was no helper as a complement of him. So, Jehovah God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took one of his ribs and then closed up the flesh over its place. And Jehovah, God built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman, and he brought her to the man.”

Therefore, the first marriage was contracted by God Himself between man and woman; and not between man and man (Adam and Steve) nor woman and woman (Ada and Eve), with the rib of Adam serving as the bride price that was paid to seal the union. It is from this first family that other families emerged in the course of time in accordance with their divine mandate to reproduce and populate the earth.  

Hence, from its very beginning, the family was positioned to be the basic unit and cornerstone of societies across the globe. In Hebrew, the term for family is “Mish-pa-chah.” It refers to a household, a tribe, people, or nation. While the Greek word for family “Pa-tria” is also broad in its scope. These views support the contention that it was the growth, expansion, and spread of families that gave rise to communities, nations and states.

However, since the institutionalization of marriage and families in human society, they have experienced several changes in form, structure, and challenges as well. In ancient Hebrew society, the family was not only the basic unit, it was also a small government headed by the father, who was responsible to God, and the mother was a subordinate manager over the children in the household. Further depicting the nature of the family in ancient Jewish society, Insight on the Scriptures observes that:

The family in patriarchal times may be compared in some respects to the modern corporation. There were some things owned by family members as personal. But, for the most part, the property was held in common, with the father managing its disposal. A wrong committed by a member of the family was considered as a wrong against the family itself, especially its head. It brought reproach on him, and he was responsible, as the judge of the household to take the necessary action on the matter.

Thus, it can be safely contended based on the foregoing that the family unit had not always been in crisis. Its time past, it was a safe haven for children, and wives recognized their place in the family arrangement. 

Obviously therefore, the stability and growth in the family arrangement during this period were as a result of the Divine Laws God gave to the Hebrews to regulate their everyday affairs, including marriage and family life. Under the Law Covenant, extra martial affairs and rebellion were sufficiently checked, and outlawed. A child’s rebellion against his parents was as one rebelling against the governmental arrangement established by God as well as against God Himself.

However, although monogamy was the original standard of marriage, God instituted for the family, mankind soon deviated and started practicing polygamy against the original principle and precedent laid down by God in Eden. But this was tolerated by God in the meantime until the due time to restore his original standard for marriage: that is, when the Christian congregation would be formed. But in the interim, through the Law Covenant, God regulated polygamy in order to keep the family unit intact and operative. 

Today, in these critical times hard to deal with, marriage and family are under increased attack. The family structure is plagued with many challenges problems and has collapsed in many situations. Families in Esan, Edo State, Nigeria are not immune to these challenges, and therefore need to be equipped with the right information to enable them to comprehend, tackle and overcome the modern challenges of marriage and family life. 

Marriage and Family Life in Esanland in Historical Perspective 

From earliest times, marriage and family life in Esanland were central to the evolution and survival of Esan, and other Nigerian societies; hence, several laws were put in place to regulate them. Although with slight variation in terms of traditional requirements for marriage and procedure, marriage and family life were essentially the same across pre-colonial Nigerian societies in terms of nature and practice. In fact, they were the vital institutions that aided state building in the country during the period. But according to M.A Makinde, while it is hard to know adequately how marriages in pre-colonial Nigeria were conducted before the coming of Islam and Christianity, marriage was however the outcome of love, common aptitude and association. Consequently, marriages in pre-colonial Nigeria were basically conducted according to inherent local customs and traditions across Nigerian societies. 

Hence, Makinde observed that: Three influences come to play in the traditional marriage. The first is the influence of the parent, the second is the direct arrangement between a man and a woman, and the third is the recommendation of friends and relatives. Before this modern time, parents arranged marriages for their children. This was very common among women.

After the successful tying of the nuptial knot and parental blessings obtained in accord with local customs and traditions, family life begins in pre-colonial Nigeria. However, before anything like engagement can begin in the first place, the grandparents of the intending couple carried out an investigation. They tried to find out more about the parents of the man and woman, respectively. They strived to find out if either family had a track record of any chronic disease (such as insanity), or the reputation and character of either family and their members respectively. More so, there were customary visits to native doctors (seers) to ascertain or obtain a divine forecast of the compatibility, success, productivity or otherwise of the intended marriage.  

In pre-colonial Nigeria, traditional marriage was a community affair. This was because people usually resided and grew up in the community where they were born, where almost everybody knew everybody in the communal estate. Makinde puts it this way, Marriages before today were neighbourhood affairs. People stayed in their locality much more than they do today. As a result, marriages were contracted among the local people. Today, matters have changed a great deal due to travel and education.

However, in pre-colonial Esanland, marriage was basically contracted through betrothal (Ebee), the dowry system, and by inheritance. But C.G. Okojie in his work, Esan Native Laws and Customs, notes that marriage through the payment of bride price was very rare in Esan during the period. In that, it was only wealthy families that could wait for their daughters to grow to maturity before marrying them out. Thus, for fathers, who could exercise the patience needed, this system of marriage was very lucrative; but costly to suitors as families usually demanded more bride price for a full-grown woman.

Although also practised in Esanland, marriage by inheritance was also not too popular, because the inheritance of a woman after the death of her husband was usually determined by her beauty and age.

The son or brothers of the deceased man usually preferred to inherit the young and beautiful women left behind; and then customarily asked the uncooperating woman to return the bride price paid on her and leave for her parent’s house.

Consequently, marriage by betrothal becomes the most predominant form of marriage in Esanland. Hence, according to Esan native law and custom, Okojie observes that: A man could beg for the hand of a girl from conception to the age of five. Seeing a pregnant woman, the man would send her a log of firewood (for night heating, since the mud houses with thatched roofs were very cold) and say may the departed spirit deliver you safely. But if the child should be a girl, I beg for her hand in marriage. Should the pregnant woman have a baby girl, the man renews his request with more presents like logs of wood, yams, etc…

Thus, in Esan communities like Ebelle, Okojie observes that parental consent to this request is customarily given when the baby is three to four months old, on the day of the hair-washing ceremony (Ihoetoa). On this day, the mother’s hair is ceremonially washed with Ekasa, yellow native soap; and the child allowed to put on her first adornment. He maintains that: “The man invited to help pound the foufou (native food) for the ceremony is the one accepted to marry the girl; and could afterward come and ask for the girl’s hand in marriage formally.”

Once the marriage has been contracted, under Esan native law and custom during the period, there is no legal basis for annulment; and the woman is expected to live in her husband’s house until her death. More so, to demonstrate the sacredness of marriage in Esan, it was considered adulterous to touch the cloth of a married woman.

In fact, it was even considered a declaration of war against a man’s family and his entire community for anyone to marry a woman, who runs away from her husband’s house to her parents.

It is noteworthy that, during this period, the polygamous marriage was to a large extent, the generally accepted standard of marriage; and family life, the extended family. Polygamy was in pre-colonial Nigeria dominant and popular because the society laid excessive emphasis on children, most especially on the number of male children a family had.

This is usually the basis upon which a family is accorded dignity, respect, and recognition. Put differently, having a large family during the period enhanced a man’s social status. Therefore, demonstrating the centrality of polygamy in pre-colonial Esan, Okojie reveals that Every Esan wife knows she is one of a series, and therefore had to make her position secure by doing all that would give her full claim as the first wife. She who plants the Ihianloto, Ukhinmin Tree (Neubodia Leavis) in the space between her house (at the back) and the husband’s, in front, owns the compound and is the First wife.

Accordingly, Makinde that: “In Yoruba land, the family comprises a father, mother(s), sons and daughters of the marriage or marriages…and there are step-father and step-mother. Mother(s) were or are called by the names of their children”.

Resultantly, in pre-colonial Nigeria, families were usually large and very expensive to maintain. This generally informed the decision of parents first of all to investigate the suitor’s means of livelihood and capacity to take care of marriage responsibilities before contracting the traditional marriage.

Hassan Adeeb and Bonnetta Adeeb further buttress the point: Only responsible Nigerian men can have more than one wife. They must be able to support their wives and children; they must ask for the permission of their first wife to marry again. If a man does not properly care for his wife, her relatives will take her back, causing him great embarrassment.

However, in the Niger Delta communities, Janet Oromafuru Eruvbetere maintained that: “Urhobo traditional marriage is unique… is perceived as an enduring sacred institution. It looms large enough to tie two independent families together forever. When blessed with offspring, especially male children, the nuptial knot is wedded with a cord that neither death nor divorce is able to unlock or separate.”

Eruvbetere further disclosed that Urhobo traditional marriage is a polygamous institution, which allows the husband to marry as many wives as he can afford.

Married women had few rights and were generally regarded as the property of their husbands in precolonial Southern Nigeria; but since the late twentieth century, major social changes in Western countries have significantly impacted on this development. At this juncture, it should be emphasized that in pre-colonial Esan, and elsewhere in Nigeria, people were not totally given a free rein in the area of marriage and family life. So, marriage and family life were strictly regulated by extant customary laws across Nigerian communities, which continue to evolve to meet the changing need of marriage and family life. Consequently, these institutions were not anarchic and inimical to societal growth and development in the pre-colonial period. This is the demonstrable reality in precolonial Uromi land, where according to A.P. Ojiefoh,

Although their customary laws are not written down in books, the rules, traditions and customs were known to everybody in the remotest hamlet of the Chiefdom. It would be wrong, therefore to say that customary law is very flexible. It is only flexible because society changes every day. Ethnic laws or customary laws seem to bend to meet the demand. In fact, this social response of customary law to the society is what makes customary law flexible.

Further, he observed that critical aspects of the Uromi customary law on which marriage and family life in Uromi land were based and structured emanated from the decree made by the Oba of Benin or the Onojie (regional head of Uromi). Thus, they are mostly Benin laws and customs, which Oba Ewuare ordered all the Onojies who attended the conference of 1457 to uphold in their domain through the swearing of an oath, the Royal Ekete “The Benin Throne.”

They include:  
1. Do not marry your daughter or your step-daughter. 
2. Do not marry your sisters or your brother’s wife. 
3. Do not sleep with your mother or father’s wife.

In the event of anyone contravening these laws, if confession does not take place, the accused would die, unless the gods are appeased. In Yoruba land, there was the “Magun” inflicted on a woman by her husband to control marital infidelity; and “Aleku” in Tiv land for the same purpose. Thus, it was the case that customary laws and traditions gave stability to marriage and family life across Nigerian societies before the arrival of Christianity, and colonial rule. Evidently therefore, in the history of Nigeria’s socio-cultural development over the years, what was, that is the nature and practice of marriage and family life in pre-colonial Nigeria is no longer the same. Thus, the introduction of Christianity into Nigeria has sufficiently eclipsed and curbed the preponderance of polygamy in Esanland and beyond in Nigeria. This has also occasioned the emergence of Christian principles as the authoritative framework guiding the conduct of marriage and family life over local customs and traditions in Esan, and elsewhere in Nigeria’, where the religion holds sway.   

The colonization and consequent spread of Western values, ideologies and civilization in Nigeria like mushroom in the wild, since 1960, has entrenched new perspectives as the apparent authoritative framework guiding marriage and family life, especially in Esanland. They have overshadowed, eclipsed and supplanted, as it were, Christian thoughts as the grand norm in the region, and, without doubt, responsible for the crises rocking marriage and family life in Nigeria and elsewhere. For example, in Oriental societies, Western-style individualism is directly responsible for the weakening of the hitherto strong traditional extended family-ties. Thus, many now view caring for their aged family members as a burden rather than as a duty or privilege. In Spain, within twenty-five (25) years, divorce rate rose from 1 out of 100 marriages, to 1 out of 8 marriages by the beginning of the final decade of the 20th century.32 More so, by the 1990s, 35% of all household in Germany were made up of a single person; and 31% made up of just two individuals.33 Therefore, emphasizing the need for marriage and family life to be salvaged with immediate alacrity, Theodore Effiong argues: 

The deterioration of the 21st century socially, morally, culturally, spiritually, and economically is the result of the deterioration of the family. What was declared shocking in the 20th century is now acceptable and norm in this century. If dignity is to be restored to this generation, then it must begin in the institution of marriage.

While Chinyere Madueke puts it this way, Africans from the pre-colonial era have their peculiar culture, which is evidenced in their ways of life. Their value systems as elements of their culture are depicted in marriage relationships, communal living, religious practices, and legal system and so on. However, the eventual contact with the Western culture through colonialism, and with the subsequent upsurge of globalization, these values are not only being challenged but also eroded.

Emergence of Christianity and Western Civilization in Nigeria 

Across societies and cultures from pre-literate times to our day, man in his search for purpose and fulfilment in life developed a yearning to search for, his Creator and worship Him. Hence, Stephen Jay Gould, Paul MacGarr, and Steven Peter Russell, in their study, Challenges to Neo-Darwinism and their Meaning for a Revised view of Human Consciousness, argue that, religion developed out of evolutionary changes, which favoured larger brains as a means of cementing coherence among savannah hunters, and enhancing reflection on the inevitability of personal mortality.

Further, Robin Dunbar, in his work The Social Brain: Mind, Language, and Society in Evolutionary Perspective, comments that the critical change in the neo-cortex of the human brain that took place about 500,000 years ago is what is responsible for complex social phenomena such as language and religion.

Some other scholars have developed the God gene hypothesis to explain the origin of religion; they contend that religion is genetically hardwired into human consciousness through the VMAT2 gene, which is predisposed to spirituality. Therefore, it is safe to argue that it is the spiritual consciousness of man that fostered the emergence of a diversity of organized religions globally.   

Hence, since the fall of man and the subsequent disconnection of direct relations between man and God in Eden, mankind has ever since sought different paths to reconnect with his Maker and find fulfilment. This has given rise to a multiplicity of religions ranging from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, and African traditional religion, among others in the course of time. It is against this backdrop that this paper would now examine the rise and spread of Christianity as an organized religion, with emphasis on its historical origin in Nigeria.  

Organized Christianity, the predominant religion of the world, is the pillar of most democratic and federal societies across the globe, and a critical factor that has shaped world history and civilization, since the medieval era did not emerge overnight. While historical development of Christianity is traceable to Jesus Christ, it should be noted that during his life and times on earth, he did not directly set out to establish a new religion. To this end, regarding his role on earth, the Holy Scriptures observed that: 

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin promised in marriage to a man named Joseph of the House of David, and the name of the virgin was Mary… The angel said to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God…, you will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus…, and he will rule as King over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end to his Kingdom.

However, from the foregoing, it could be safely argued that the preponderance of different religions and the attendant dichotomy, confusion and distortions they have created globally have further distanced mankind from their Creator instead of bridging the gap created in Eden. Consequently, in a bid to redeem humanity from the deadly impact of the Adamic sin and bridge the gap between heaven and earth, God sent Jesus to the earth. Over time, what is therefore beyond contention is the fact that, when on earth, Jesus Christ had twelve disciples, who by divine providence in Antioch were called Christians, and were charged by their leader to propagate the gospel as missionaries. It is against this backdrop that Christianity got to Europe through the apostle Paul; and subsequently, its foundation was successfully laid in Nigeria through European colonialism. 

According to Alan Ryder, Vasco da Gama, on reaching Calicut declared that he had come in search of Christians and spices. A claim which is baseless in that before the arrival of the Portuguese to West Africa, none of the societies had had any direct contact with a Christian state. Although the Muslim traders and travellers who predated their arrival might have transmitted some knowledge of Christianity to the peoples of Northern Nigeria, none of them professed the religion. The arrival of the Portuguese opened the way for Christian missionary activities and Christianity in Nigeria. According to T.G.O. Gbadamosi and J.F. Ade Ajayi, after some abortive attempts, following the introduction of Christianity in Benin Kingdom by the Portuguese, the first batch of Christian missionaries landed at Badagry, on their way to Abeokuta… Missionaries came to Badagry in the wake of the liberated slaves returning home to Nigeria.

Although the first missionaries tried to make Badagry their base, they soon found it unsatisfactory because the loss of the region’s former bustling slave trade had left the town impoverished. Thus, the people were in no mood to receive Christianity, and they offered the missionaries little cooperation. Hence, the missionaries looked further afield and entered into negotiations with the authorities at Abeokuta. The missionaries were admitted in 1846, and they in time began to conceive Abeokuta as their main gateway into Yoruba land and regions beyond the veritable “Sunrise within the Tropics.” It is from this early beginning that Christianity snowballed into becoming the dominant religion of Esanland, and Nigeria generally. The new Christian teachings of the Missionaries led to a socio-cultural and attitudinal revolution in Nigeria, evident in the abandonment of hitherto dominant cultural and traditional beliefs and practices for the Christian way and Western civilization.  

Thus, according to Kevin Shillington’s “History of Africa,” Christian missionaries served as agents of imperialism. Shillington observed that mission stations were largely hitherto confined to coastal regions because of the inadequacy of Christian missionaries to convert the local tropical Africans. Hence, European missionaries, because of their lack of success, turned to European government for assistance. They appealed for European government intervention to help them change African society and make it more amenable to missionary enterprise. This request eventually paved the way for the official colonization of Nigeria, entrenchment and consolidation of Western culture in Esan, and integration of Nigeria into the global village as a sovereign state in 1960. 

The incorporation of Nigeria into the global system opened the way for massive penetration of Western ideologies, values and ways of life into the country: and these negate true Christianity and African traditions. These newly entrenched foreign values are today shaking Nigeria to her very foundation: marriage and family life. Therefore, there must be a prompt historical engagement of the problem to enable the Nigerian state navigates her way out of the marriage and family crises currently plaguing the nation. To this end, the paper will now interrogate the challenges and threats to marriage and family life in Nigeria today, and point the way out of the conundrum. 

Challenges/Impacts of Westernization on Marriage and Family Life 

Since the incorporation of Nigeria into the global village in 1960 as a sovereign state, marriage and family life in the country as elsewhere are now facing many challenges, which had gotten to a crisis point. This development is due to the unbridled influx of Western philosophies, values and ways of life into the nation. It is in this circumstance that the new threats pillaging the basic unit and foundation of Nigerian society would be interrogated here, in the interest of society. This is because a nation that ignores any threat to its family unit does so at the risk of its own peril. Therefore, a pivotal lesson from world history is that the continued existence of a civilization is tied to the stability of the family unit. According to Will Durant, in his work The Story of Civilization part II, the essential cause of the Roman conquest of Greece was the disintegration of Greek civilization from within. Further, he maintained that the strength of ancient Rome was the family, but when the family unit broke down because of sexual immorality, the Roman Empire went into decline.

It is against this background that this paper will now examine modern threats and their impacts on marriage and family life in this twenty-first century Nigeria. However, it must be noted that, while some of these problems are not entirely Western, as in some cases, they are as old as marriage and family life themselves. It is nonetheless true that Nigeria’s contact with the West had fuelled their preponderance, complexities, and devastating effects in Esanland. On the other hand, others are entirely Western, and new phenomena in Nigeria: such as radical feminism. These threats generally include: selfish attitude, spirit of independence and competition, marital infidelity, indiscipline, domestic violence, materialism, separation and divorce intrinsic in Western culture. 

Radical Feminism  

The history of humanity from earliest times is coloured with blood. The history of human and state relations since the start of human existence and organized societies across the globe is the history of warfare, fierce class struggle for physical and ideological dominance, and egalitarianism. Hence, overtime in the historical development of human societies, human relations and international relations, contestations among people and states had assumed different forms and terrifying dimensions. Consequently, there had been a gradual but progressive shift in the nature of warfare in time and space: with marriage and family life, as the basic unit of society, suffering the heaviest casualty in terms of loss of live, family breakdown and dislocation. According to James Lee Ray, 

During the First World War alone, France lost 10 percent of its active male population… France mobilized 8,410,000 men to fight the Germans; of that number 1,355,800 were killed, 4,260,000 were wounded, and 536,000 were taken prisoners.

Human struggle and warfare had gravitated from the traditional and crude use of Cavalry men to the modern use of Naval power, Aerial power, Nuclear power, and Ideology (propaganda), as was the case during and after the First and Second World Wars. However, in the twentieth century, there is the rise of the radical dimension of feminism, which seeks a radical reordering of society to eliminate male supremacy in all social and economic contexts. This radical feminism, which seeks to abolish patriarchy in order to liberate women from an unjust society by challenging existing social norms and institutions,48 has produced a silent war, which could be termed as Gender Warfare. This, as J.C. Johari puts it, “Seeks to correct (challenge) the male dominance of our knowledge and affairs of the world.”

Gender Warfare in this context refers to the increased antagonism between the masculine and feminine sexes. It is also captured in the emergent movement for the emancipation of the Feminist gender from the perceived male domination and oppression (Radical Feminism) which has created a serious ideological and psychological tension between the masculine and feminine gender. Resultantly, there is observably an alarming and disturbing polarization of families in Esan; and wanton undermining of the constituted authority of the head of the family in the region and elsewhere in Nigeria. Although radical feminism is Western in origin, today, its wind is sweeping through all corners of the world like a cancerous virus without a cure and creating problems for marriage and family life in societies where it has gained ground.  

Thus, it has promoted increased women insubordination to their husbands in Esan, and even the complete usurpation of headship in some families in Nigeria. The most vulnerable families are the ones severely hit by poverty and economic misfortune, where as a result of the poor economic and financial status of the husbands, the wives have become the bread winner of the family. More so, outside the family, it is the spirit behind the increased agitation of women for gender equality and access to male dominated positions and professions in Nigeria which can appropriately be described as a Gender Renaissance or Gender Coup. This development is a direct rebellion against the divine directive for the man to dominate the woman. The apostle Paul writes: “But I want you to know that the head of every Man is the Christ; in turn, the head of a Woman is the Man; in turn, the head of Christ is God.” Therefore, he urged: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the congregation…”

However, contrary to divine directives, radical feminists are quick to rebuff male dominance and management of the home and society’s affairs. They arguably contend that: “Whatever a Man can do, a Woman can do better.” Thus, begins their struggle for emancipation, gender parity, and the empowerment of women: a gender never in chain nor deprived, but sufficiently empowered by God with the capability to influence their husbands and contribute to nation and state building efforts as helper and complement of the man. Hence, according to Segun Oladipupo. 

Many Lagos women, especially those of the working class have chosen career over marriage; while many have regarded themselves as equals to their husbands. There can never be two captains on a ship. The moment a woman fails to know her limitation in the home, the ship is bound to fail, and this is one of the major factors responsible for increase divorce rate in Lagos.

However, it is an incontrovertible fact of history that from early times, women have played active and significant roles in the political, economic, and socio-cultural development of diverse societies, which feminist historians are quick to point out. In Nigerian history, these women include: Queen Amina of Zaria, Queen Idia of Benin and the brave women of Aba, who defied the colonial machinery of state and protested against the draconian tax colonial economic policy of Britain in 1929, and suffered the consequences. However, in post-colonial Nigeria, the progressive abandonment of the traditional roles of women in the society as home and peace makers, trainers of children and nation and state builders by ensuring the stability and unity in marriage and family life puts society at risk of collapse.  

More so, their refusal to be the helpers, but rivals of their husbands deny society the fundamental relevance of women to its stability, growth and development. In that, women, through their wilful obedience, submission and the comfort they provide their husbands, thrive in politics, business, and statecraft. It also denies society the pivotal place of women in the preservation and transmission of societal norms and values through oral traditions (folktales and songs), which they teach their children at home. Hence, women are the vital neck without which the head cannot function. 

Selfish Attitudes  

The prevalence of the “Me-first” attitude in our day is another potent challenge to marriage and family life. But this attack on marriage and family life is not new; it dates back to the beginning of human history, when the first human family crashed by giving in to their selfish cravings, and thus “sin entered into the world”.54 Overtime, selfishness has emerged as a corrosive element weakening the foundation of marriage and family. Therefore, it is the case that impatient individuals, who seek quick results and instant gratification, give little or no thought to the consequences of divorce. Lured by seductive promises of freedom and independence, they selfishly believe that divorce will lead to happiness.55 

Spirit of Independence and Competition  

Today, wives and women are in direct competition with their husbands and men generally by striving to be independent of men and achieve gender parity. They vigorously strive to prove that they are not inferior to the men, and have ventured into all fields of human endeavours, even ones unsuitable for women as mothers like time-consuming and exhausting jobs. Therefore, Cynthia Lee-McGill notes that there is a rise in women education, employment and income level in sub-Saharan Africa, which has prompted speculations that divorce rate would go up, as it has in much of the developed world. Hence, Juliana Francis observes: “In Nigeria today, an alarming number of women are steadily becoming the breadwinners in their family. When a woman pays most of the bill, she begins to wonder: what is she doing in such a relationship with a man…” The resultant disconnects this has produced in the family partly explains why husbands have gone the extra-mile to exercise their authority and dominance over their wives through the occasional use of force at home to assert their headship. Hence, since both genders are now locked in this bitter competition over place and relevance in society, it could be rightly argued that it has now progressively escalated into an all-out gender warfare (both psychological and physical: domestic violence), with marriage and family life bearing the brunt. 

Marital Infidelity  

The high level of moral decadence in Esan, and elsewhere in Nigeria today is evident in the “sex oriented” life style of many. Sex is no longer restricted to the confines of marriage, giving rise to increased cases of cheating and marital infidelity. According to C. Jorgen, out of the approximately 800 Nigerian women returned home from Italy from 1999-2001, 86 percent of them are from Edo state. Thus, Onimhawo and Ehiemua decried that,

As bad as the involvement of young girls, unmarried women, and divorcees in prostitution abroad is, the indulgence of married women in sex trafficking, which is thought of as unthinkable or not achievable is worst. Married women participation in sex trade abroad implies a collapse in morality and breakdown of the religious system of the people.

Therefore, the marriage bed that is supposed to be without defilement has been over defiled. Extra-marital affairs are all too common today, as evident in the preponderance of “Sugar Daddies” and “Sugar Mummies” in our society. The marriage vow is being treated with levity, and the sanctity of marriage and family violated all in the name of catching fun; or as it is commonly said: “It is your life, so live it the way you want. And this is the most dangerous threat to marriage and the primary cause of family breakdown globally. 


The scripture urges: “Train a boy in the way he should go; even when he grows old, he will not depart from it.” But the responsibility of training and disciplining children is one area of family life where parents have failed woefully. Parents hardly spend time with their children at home; they are for most part of the day away in the office or attending to their business. In Nigeria, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, people in full-time employment are expected to spend at least 40 hours at work each week 61 and this does not include working on Saturdays, Sundays, extra-time, and public holidays; of which working on these extra days has fast become a habit among Nigerian workers in order to make more money.  

Consequently, Nigerian parents leave the training and disciplining of their children to their mostly underage and incompetent housemaids. In cases where they are around, rather than discipline their children when they do wrong, parents rationalize and justify the wrong of their children. They usually say: “leave him alone, he is just a boy who does not know what he is doing.” The over-pampering of children and failure of parents to discipline their children like Eli of old is what has given rise to teenage rebellion at home, juvenile delinquency, drug trafficking and abuse among teenagers, cultism and gangsterism in our society today. 

Domestic Violence   

Domestic violence is another major problem affecting the basic unit of society. Contemporary civilization faces the threats of collapse because in some families, instead of being the loving husband, the man has become a beast. He turns his wife into his punching bag at the slightest provocation. Aside from physical violence, this also includes the crime of rape. Hence, it is the case that most families today are not safe havens to raise children and for nation building to begin, but a gladiatorial theatre of conflict of some sort. This development has torn many families apart and is discouraging some unmarried persons from getting married and raising a family. 


Materialism can simply be described as the love of wealth and riches, and an unalloyed devotion to them. In Western world, materialism is a way of life in which material things such as trendy clothes, mobile phones, computers, cars and other electronic gadgets, and money are prioritized more than anything else, even marriage and family life. In our day, with the incorporation of Nigeria into the global village and the attendant spread of Western civilization, values and attitudes into the country, materialism has consequently made in-roads into Nigeria and has ever since become a snare for married people and resultantly a major bane of marriage and family life in the nation. The illusion of satisfaction, happiness and security material possessions bring is glamourized, glorified, and exaggerated by the advertising media.   

As a result, there is a mad-rush for the acquisition of latest technological gadgets. To this end, parents, in an effort to provide the good life for their family, invest most of their time chasing money. Thus, in the ever-busy materialist world of today, couples hardly have the time to sit at home and communicate with one another. The drift this causes in time makes them perpetual strangers to one another and lead them to find comfort and sexual satisfaction outside the marriage bond. Parents also strive to replace lost time with their children with gifts of all sorts, and extravagant shopping spree. The joy this brings is ephemeral. Therefore, materialism has only helped to weaken the foundation of marriage and family life in Nigeria and elsewhere. 

Separation and Divorce          

The challenges of marriage and family life examined in this paper, when they are not properly handled, usually result in separation and divorce. Separation is a situation where the couple decides to live apart for a while because of their intractable differences, while divorce is the official and legal termination of the marriage contract. These two challenges of marriage and family life have reached an alarming proportion today. In the USA, 

Almost 50 percent of all marriages will end in divorce or separation. 41 percent of all first marriages end in divorce; while 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce. 73 percent of all third marriages end in divorce.

While according to Shola Adekola et al, 

Badagry… is a classic example of the epidemic ravaging marriages. Between January and September 2016, it recorded 30,000 broken and failed marriages officially known… Even though statistics about this unwholesome development is hard to come by, indications suggest that more people may have sought dissolution of their union in 2016 than they did in 2010.

Hence, today, the sacredness once attached to the institution of marriage is gradually fading away; and the relaxing of laws that regulate divorce by the government in Europe and America has removed the stigma once attached to it. More so, some modern marriage experts have proved more adept at promoting divorce than at defending marriage. It has been observed that psychologists, psychiatrists and even clergy men give advice on marriage and family which, instead of helping to solidify these institutions, tends to destroy them. Many of such advisers condone or even recommend sexual immorality as a means to relieve frustration. It is against this backdrop that there is a surge in divorce rate globally. Thus, it had been noted that, 

In the United States… the number of divorced couples quadrupled between 1970 and 1996… The total number of divorces in England and Wales reached 153, 490 in 2004. Australians can expect about 40 percent of their marriage to end in divorce. The Republic of Korea saw an increase of 21, 800 divorces in just one year-from 2002 to 2003- a total of 167,100 couples divorced. And in Japan, 1 in every 4 marriages ends in divorce …

The global increase in divorce rate is fast turning it into a normal way of life. It has even been described as the “Retired Husband Syndrome” (RHS). However, in Esanland, there is a new twist to this development. According to C. Idahosa, 
Married women, who intend to participate in the sex trade abroad, collaborate with their husband, and both reach an understanding that, the wife will travel abroad to engage in prostitution to help raise money for the family. Then a temporary arrangement for divorce is made; and the woman returns the bride price paid on her head to her husband’s family, in order for her husband and children to be free from the negative repercussion of her adultery.

It is against this backdrop that this paper contends that there is now pertinent need for practical measures, and reliable religious framework to be adopted to guide, and help address the problems of marriage and family life in Esanland and elsewhere, in order to salvage the foundations of society from total collapse. 


In this twenty-first century, marriage and family life in Esanland and elsewhere in Nigeria are under attack. And this has put Nigerian societies and Nigeria as a whole at risk of impending collapse. Since 1900, the rise and spread of cankerous Western perspectives and culture like cancer has eclipsed the traditional Nigerian conception and practice of marriage and family life. While Christianity revamped “what was i.e. the traditional pre-colonial conception and practice of marriage and family life, Western civilization on the other hand has, since the colonial era, overshadowed what is i.e. the Christian conception and practice of marriage and family life in Esan, and elsewhere in Nigeria. 

Consequently, Christian principles are largely no longer the authoritative framework and bedrock of marriage and family life in Esanland. This has thrown the institutions of marriage and family into crisis, slowed down nation building, and pushed Nigeria’s sovereignty and civilization to the brink. Therefore, the paper argued that the full recourse to Christian perspectives on marriage and family life as the authoritative framework guiding the conduct of the two institutions in Esan and elsewhere would help reposition marriages and strengthen families. Thus, it is the panacea and needed brick that will salvage the foundation of Nigeria from total damnation.   

In the final analysis therefore, while African societies cannot completely divorce themselves from Western influence, they should however thread the streets of the global village cautiously. While they should freely give to their Western neighbours in the spirit of international brotherhood and cooperation, they however need to be constantly wary of the “Trojan horse they receive from their neighbours in terms of ideology, cultural values and civilization. Also, these are inherently laden with socio-cultural landmines capable of destabilizing African societies and endangering their local customs and traditions as is currently the case in Esanland. 

The author of this article are lecturers at Department of History and International Studies, University of Benin, Edo State Nigeria. If you wish to contact them, please do so on the email below.

Williams Ehhizuwa Orukpe 

Bridget oghale Omoruyi

Editor -In-Chief

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