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Modern Day Forced Marriages

“Arrangee Marriage” the practice of arranged marriages is a serious problem in our society today. The tradition of forced marriages is widespread in Nigeria, usually parents selling their children into wedlock.

Children especially girls are forced into these marriages. If the girl is against the union, she could be kidnapped while out running errands, usually with her parents consent. Once the man (usually older) forcibly rapes the girl, she is left with few choices but to accept her fate and remain with him.

The new face of forced arranged marriages is the new wave of churches popping up in Nigeria today including the Christian Pentecostal Church. They marry based on the arrangement set for them by their religious leaders. The church tests for virginity, pregnancy, sickle cell traits and AIDS/HIV. The virginity and pregnancy tests are conducted on the bride for reasons best known to the church, a double standard and abuse of the women.

There is nothing wrong in principle with testing for sickle cell and AIDS/HIV as a way of promoting family health, but virginity and pregnancy tests in the church? These brides are brainwashed by a bunch of self-righteous so-called “men of god” who abuse them in the name of Christianity. And then you have the grooms who are delusional about their faith.

There was a case at a Redeemed Church (RCCG) in Lagos a few months back where a thirty year old woman was tested, not only was she not a virgin she was also pregnant. Her fiancé worked at the church and knew the church is strongly against premarital sex. Unfortunately the congregations follow the ideals of these lustful men in search of salvation from God.

There was this couple (Janet & Yinka) in their early twenties who were members of my old church. They had known each other since their teens everyone in the church knew them as a couple. One day my adopted brother told me what he was working on, a scheme to convince Janet that Yinka is not the best person to marry because marrying in ones age group especially for women is not in their best interest.

Cooking For Wedding Party
Cooking For Wedding Party

I knew Pastor Ade’s area of expertise was in match making but that was a step too far. I don’t know how he did it but he succeeded in convincing Janet that college was a waste of time and that marrying a man that was 40 years older was the best option for her life.

The groom is a twice-married widower senior pastor who lost both wives to illnesses. He has four grown children, one of them older than Janet

How is Janet doing after over a decade of “Arrangee Marriage”, now in her mid thirties with five children, and a husband who is older than her father? She did not come home for several years after the marriage to avoid awkward conversations.

We have moved on as a country from many traditional practices that we see as imposing or outdated for modern times however, many of the practices in the Pentecostal churches today is far worse than what we moved away from.

Folakemi Odoaje for #JujuFilms 

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Yoruba and Egungun Festival

Eggon Masquerade (Ibreeggon) comes out only for funeral ceremonies. This funeral ceremony was for the Legend Atumbi, held on Friday January 13, 2017 in Asungu Village, Nasarawa State, Nigeria. #JujuFilms

One of the festivals that unite Yoruba people from different communities is the Egungun festival. Most people regardless of religious affiliations participate in the festival for the exciting atmosphere and the songs, dancing and the colorful costumes of the “ara orun” (ancestors).

Egungun is believed to be the spirit of our ancestors coming to shower the world with blessings. Egunguns speak in strange voices, people especially children believe Egungun comes from “orun” purposely for the festival.

Oloolu is a popular and well-respected Egungun in Ibadan, Oyo State. His followers are male, during the Oloolu festival a public service announcement is made on radio and television of his scheduled route (which is always in Old Ibadan neighborhoods like Yemetu, Oluyoro, Itu Taba, and Oja Oba) as it is an “ewo” (forbidden) for women to see him. This is a tradition Ibadan residents are well aware of and follow.


Oloolu does not wear a mask so his followers know his identity. Oral history passed down from generations says Oloolu used to wear a mask and that this mask possess mystical powers that helps Oloolu detect the presence of women nearby and will warn accordingly. It was said that his mask was sold long ago to European explorers and was never replaced.

My memories of Egungun is quite different from that of Oloolu of Ibadan and of course I would perhaps not have anything to say given women are not allowed in the festival. My fondest memories of the 1980s, is the Egungun Festival in my town. The seven day Egungun festival in my town is the only festival I know that unites my town’s people.

My family lived in the heart of the town, our house is by a 3 way crossroad or “orita meta”. Orita meta is of special significance to the Olorishas, orita meta is where an “ebo” (food for the gods) is placed. Because of this Egunguns in my town would always pass by my house so my siblings and I do not have to make any trip to get a glimpse of their colorful and elaborate costumes.

There are a number Egunguns in Modakeke, I cherish my memories of Lémojágbà from Isale Agbara. He is the youngest and the most energetic of the Egunguns. He runs about a lot chasing the excited children and adults alike, not too surprising that he always had the largest crowd dancing and singing after him.
As part of his way of getting the town excited Lémojágbà was also known for breaking clay pots (Ìkòkò) so on the day of his outings everyone will make efforts to tidy up and get their clay pots out of view.


Lémojágbà is considered to be a senior Egungun so as tradition he and other senior Egunguns will come out to mark the first day of the festival. It usually starts with prayers and sacrifices to the gods at Igbo Igbale, asking the gods for peaceful festival.

My parents have always been Christians, my mother very much so however, she understood the satisfaction that everyone derives from the excitement leading up to Egungun festival, because of this my siblings and I are super obedient around the festival time so were many children in my neighborhood.

After the usual rituals at Igbale, the Egungun will parade key areas in town. They will eventually make their way down Alapata Street, and in front of my house where the Egungun performs to the cheering crowd. The “Gangan” (Talking drums) is used to communicate messages.

My mother’s rule allowed my two older siblings and I to follow our favorite Egungun down the road up to Mama Alakara (just before Ile Danru), the distance of about 300 meters away from my house.

Needless to say most people who speak negatively about Egungun today have never witnessed the festival or those who did perhaps don’t see the beauty in our culture and traditions. Folakemi Odoaje for #JujuFilms


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Nigerian Goats


Mama (Tugbo – short for “tara to gbo”)and baby goat belong to writer Folakemi Odoaje’s mother in Osun State Nigeria. | #JujuFilms #FolakemiOdoaje #Goats #Nigeria

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Kano and The Paradox of High Divorce Rate

In December 2013 Kano State governor, Mr. Rabiu Kwankwaso announced the state had spent ₦250k per couple on mass marriages for 1,111 divorced women. This is an attempt by the state government to intervene in the ever-increasing population of divorced women in the state. The matchmaking process included screening for HIV/AIDS and interviewing potentials suitors for individuals.

Just over a week ago, the new Emir of Kano Mallam Muhammad Sanusi II stated at a meeting that he would like to see divorce rates in Kano brought under control. His proposal was to have stiffer penalties for men that will prohibit them from seeking divorce based on minor excuses and complaints that could have been easily sorted among couples.

In his interview with BBC editor Mansur Liman, the Emir highlights child bride issue, lack of education for girls, lack of respect for women’s consent in their choice of whom to marry and the choice of culture over individual happiness as the key areas he sees to be contributing factors to the high rate of divorce in Kano.

Mallam Sanusi also made points regarding education and child brides, which is very common amongst Muslims especially in Northern Nigeria. He noted that child marriage is more of a
Cultural practice than Islamic, that Islam preaches education for all and Western education as a key to liberate minds of his people.

Mallam Sansui’s strong stance on finding lasting solutions to curb high divorce rates in Kano is long awaited news to forward thinking Nigerians. It was met with resistance by a handful of critics however, those that see change as an attack on their culture and religion

There is an organization set up for divorce women to voice their concerns and plight. Under the current system men are allowed to marry up to four wives. They are also allowed to send any of their wives packing for something as trivial as ‘She didn’t let me sleep with her two days in a row.’ or ‘She cooked the kind of fish I didn’t like for super.’ Seriously, I read a case just a little while ago about the fish example and their customary court granted divorce based on just that.

If education is to do any good to the present situation, I believe everyone needs to be carried along. Parents and children need re orientation about what is good for them versus holding on to harmful traditions.

As it stands today, parents believe their daughters must be married off when she reaches puberty, which means 13years old for many girls or a little earlier for some. In this case, whether or not the little girl understands or wants it, she will be married off.

Wasilu Umar’s story earlier this year is an example of this. Wasilu a 14year old girl was forced to marry a 35year old man. She was not attracted to the Mr. Umar and did not want to marry him. The only way she believed she could get out of the unwanted and loveless union was to do something drastic.

She killed Umar with rat poison. Kano courts operate under Sharia law and Wasilu was sentenced to death. There was an outcry from Nigerians that Wasilu is a child, and she has the rights to be tried in a Juvenile court. There is a legitimate defense she acted in self-defense.

Mass weddings seems like a temporary solution with good intentions however, millions of naira wasted on these marriages could be better invested in community education where families can get the needed education to help them make informed decisions about how important it is that children and couples are not forced into unions.

The Emir’s stiffer penalties for men getting divorced on frivolous reasons will not offer the permanent solution he yawns for because people will always find their way around this law. As he rightly stated in the interview, education is the key.

According to UNICEF, 26 % of girls in Kano do not go beyond primary school and more than 50% gets married off by 15. Maybe keeping the girls in school is the priority for now as they are less likely to be married off when in school.

Kano is one of the poorest states in Nigeria therefore many parents marry off their little girls in hopes of better living. Here I believe the state could have spent the ₦278million it spent on quick fix marriages on job creation, education and family planning. | Folakemi Odoaje for #JujuFilms

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The Village Leper

Mama Jide was a leper. She was not always like that. By the time I was old enough to notice she was different, her ten fingers and toes were all gone and moving about was labored. Mama Jide attended church regularly. Her toes left dark moist stains on the concrete where she sat, because of this she sat on the same spot everytime and if she didn’t come to church, her space was always left vacant. I have never seen her anywhere in the village not even during any of the festivals. Her outing was usually from home to church, a distance of about 200meters.

By the time I was a teenager, Mama Jide could no longer join in church services, she was just too weak. She was lucky I am told, she should have been living at Egan (isolated area, two miles away from regular human contact). Mama Jide was blessed, my uncle had a big house in the village so she lived in the house with her family. She had two daughters and one son. Her son was the eldest so she invested in his education.

Jide later went to a theology school and became a pastor in our small town. His first job was at a big headquarter church where hundreds of people listen to him preaching all about Jesus and love to all mankind. I once attended his weeklong revival in the mid 1980’s. He was very charismatic, full of infectious energies, and everyone loved him.

Jide was embarrassed of his homebound mother and blamed his failed marriage on his her. Reportedly Jide’s wife could no longer bear the thought of her mother in-law being in that state so she left Jide. Jide in turn, though separated from his wife decided that his mother was the “devil” in his life so he wanted nothing to do with her anymore.

Mama Jide died in the mid 90’s after years of not stepping out of the house, thank goodness they had a big backyard for her to stretch her legs and also the girls stood by her through her illness.
Jide was located but refused to attend the funeral on the basis no one else in the villages around us had leprosy so his mother must be a bad person and being a leper was her punishment for her witchcraft and some bible quotations too daft to repeat.

In the 1920s, Christian missionaries founded leper colonies around Nigeria. The colonies where a safe haven for lepers, by the 1950’s Nigeria was said to be ahead of eradicating leprosy in the country with fewer cases reported. However by 2006 Nigeria recorded 1000 new cases of infections per year.
Leprosy is now abolished in the country, the government plans to continue treating new and existing cases as outpatients. There are government subsidized leper colonies across the country.

Iberekodo Leper Colony
Iberekodo Leper Colony

It seems to me that what we need as a nation is a drive to educate citizens on the disease to encourage better family support. Jide is a senior pastor at a big Pentecostal church in Ibadan, preaches to hundreds of people weekly. I believe Jide acted based on misinformation about the cause of his mother’s leprosy. Folakemi Odoaje for #JujuFilms

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Nigeria & The Misconceptions of Boarding Schools’ Responsibility

British colonialists introduced western style education and boarding schools to Nigeria same as Christianity. During the early period of colonialism there were only a handful of schools in the country, many students had to travel far from home to attend the best schools. Indigenes living in close proximity to these schools but could not afford to attend were subsidized.

Privileged Nigerians who themselves had previously studied in England and could afford the tuition and boarding sent their children overseas for school. In the last two decades the number of private boarding schools in the country has increased considerably, partly due to a failed public school system and an emerging middle class.

Two decades ago there where no boarding schools in my community but today we have two within two miles of my childhood home and the situation is the same for many towns and cities across the country.

I did not attend a private or boarding school but always find it fascinating talking to people who did. The life long bond with friends, a variety of social activities and sports made it appealing.

In the past two decades boarding schools are been viewed differently, information about child abuse and inappropriate behavior involving young boarders has led to a significant decease in the number of boarders

In the UK, the term Boarding School Syndrome (BSS) is used to describe the negative emotional impacts that boarding schools have on some kids in later life, a trend that psychologists seem to find common among those who have been through the system.

In the UK for example a lot is being done to empower school children to report abusive behavior. This is not the same for Nigeria as most abuses such as physical, emotional and sexual abuse go unreported and even when they are duly reported the case will mostly be swept under the carpet.

A friend recently enrolled her 11year old son in a private boarding school in Ife, Osun State Nigeria on the assumption that the school will teach her boy “sense”, the family lived only about a mile away from the school. I was a bit anxious for the poor boy because I do not believe any school can be a substitute for parental guidance.

Talking with a few adults who have passed through boarding schools in Nigeria in research for this article I discovered that inappropriate sexual conduct is a well known problem and this include relationship with teachers both with the same and opposite sex. In most cases violators got away with a slap on the wrist at best.

The most revealing one I heard lately was from a friend who attended an all boys boarding school in the 1980s, he claimed that although his school was very religious but sexual intimacy was well known activity among older students (Seniors). Nigerians do not speak openly about issues like this so chances are that everyone just accepts their fate.

Parents make decisions they believe is in the best interest of their children, however I am concerned that Nigeria today overlooks so many undesirable events that go on in boarding schools and this in later years will have an impact on the larger society.

In January this year Nigerian lawmakers passed a law making homosexuality illegal, violators caught risked being sent to jail, faced a fine or both, yet there are no laws safeguarding young boarders from perpetrators especially now that we have learnt the scale of child abuse in boarding schools in the West, thanks to the western media exposing this so as to clean up their school system.

Given that quite a number of our leaders today are from privileged families and most likely have gone through different boarding schools and perhaps are aware of the prevailing sexual abuse problem in boarding schools across the country, still they refuse to address the underlining problems so something can be done to ensure the safety of young boarders from abusive teachers/seniors. Nigeria, it is time to notice the elephant in the room. | Folakemi Odoaje for #JujuFilms

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Yoruba Tribal Marks

As a child I was fascinated with tribal marks, something about it appealed to me, maybe both my parents having tribal marks was part of the fascination.

There are a couple of narratives around the origin of tribal marks in Yoruba land. One narrative is how Sango started the practice using marks to reward or discipline his slaves, eventually realizing how beautiful it was favored the practice. Tribal marks were also used for identifying origins of slaves during the slave trade, not unlike the branding of cattle.
When I was about 14 years old, I told my mother I wanted tribal marks, this thought was triggered due in part to the events in my community. I wanted something that could make me easily identifiable in case of pending ethnic crisis. My mother understood my thinking and her way of getting me informed was to have me witness an Akomola (informal surgeon) perform the procedure then decide if I was will to go through with it.

According to my mother tribal marks are an expression of beauty but at the same time she understands why the practice has been under threat for a long time. None of my siblings have tribal marks naturally we would have gone for the ones on my father’s cheeks given the Yoruba patriarchal tradition.

The sensitivity around the old age practice came about due to western influence at the time when local people were shown the dangers of the practice as well as drawing connections between mortality rates and tribal mark practices. The argument against tribal marks was mainly the unhygienic condition it is performed.

In Yoruba land children usually do not remember the horror behind the marks on their faces as it is commonly performed within three months of birth growing up either loving or loathing them.

My mother did not spare me the gory details involved, many children fell very ill due to infections. She talked about her younger siblings, she was old enough to remember when their tribal marks were done, as beautiful as she thinks they were, and a bit of pride if you belonged to a big or influential clan, she thinks the immediate aftermaths on a child is not great.

Memories of oozing wounds and irritable children are still fresh in her mind, she was happy my father was against the practice. I did not need any more persuasion after my mother’s tale of the children who did not make it. So the thought was discarded just as it came, I don’t believe my pain threshold was strong enough to go under the knife without anesthesia | Folakemi Odoaje for #JujuFilms

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Nigerian Women – Igbo Vs. Yoruba