OK, let me start by confessing that this title is slightly misleading: the vast majority Nigerian men in America don’t murder their wives. But there certainly has been a troubling uptick in the number of Nigerian men in America who “settle” disputes with their spouses through insensate murders.
The latest incident involved one Dubem Okafor, a well-regarded 64-year-old poet and nephew of Christopher Okigbo, the famous poet who died fighting for Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War. On August 15, Okafor, who was also an associate professor of English at Kurtz University in Pennsylvania, murdered his 37-year-old Jamaican-American wife and then committed suicide shortly afterwards.
Dr. Dubem Okafor
This, tragically, is yet another addition to a list that is frighteningly lengthening every year. Since 2006 when people started to take notice, there have been at least seven cases of Nigerian men who have brutally bumped off their wives.
This is a sad, hot topic in the Nigerian immigrant community in America. Why did these Nigerian men suddenly become murderous thugs? Is this the consequence of alienation in an alien nation?
Well, let us first look at the complexion of these murders. As Chief Chika Onyeani, publisher of the New York-based African Sun Times, notes, “[w]ith the exception of Nigerian-born pharmacist, Olufemi Ademoye, who bludgeoned his wife to death with a baseball bat in June, 2010, all the killings have been by Igbo, and their victims have been registered nurses.”
Similarly, all the victims (except Okafor’s wife, Cheryl, who came here from Jamaica at the age of 9) came to America by way of marriage to U.S.-based Nigerian men.
Dubem Okafor and Cheryl
It is difficult to say with certainty what really drove these Nigerian men to murder their wives, but it’s easy to see that it’s an extreme manifestation of a clash of cultural values. America has become one huge demasculinizing matriarchy. And Nigeria is, of course, a massively patriarchal, almost male-chauvinist society. A poorly managed commixture of these deeply contrasting values can be culturally— and literally—combustible. And here is why.
Women here enjoy privileges and protections under the law that men from our kind of patriarchal cultural setting find unnervingly emasculating and humiliating. For instance, if a woman accuses you of rape or of domestic violence—whether or not this is true—you’re dead meat. In America, when it’s a woman’s words against a man’s, the man’s are lies. That’s why a man accused of rape—or of domestic violence— is often considered guilty until proven innocent.
Marriage laws are also heavily weighted in favor of women, that is, by the standards of our patriarchal African cultures. For instance, in the event of a divorce, the woman is almost always awarded custody of the children. And the man is often compelled by law to pay the woman “child support”—which usually adds up to a fortune— until the children are 18. If the divorce is initiated by the man, he will also pay spousal support. That is why divorce pauperizes men here.
This “women-friendly” legal regime has also conduced to the flowering of a phenomenon called paternity fraud. Paternity fraud occurs when a woman falsely claims that a man she’s had sex with is the biological father of her child with the sole purpose of collecting child support from the man. DNA testing has reduced this significantly.
To be fair, the pro-women flavor of the laws here was intended to redress and compensate for the historical injustices that women have suffered—and continue to suffer, although to a lesser degree now in the West— in the hands of men. But some people think the anti-male bias of the laws here is getting truly out of hand. It has denaturalized male-female relationship, is destroying the institution of marriage, and may even threaten reproductive futurism.
This is particularly so for people from patriarchal societies who find themselves in the West. Some of our women come here and find that they have all these lavish freedoms that they thought existed only in the realm of fantasy. For instance, they are for all practical purposes the heads of families. They, not their husbands, choose the names of children. They have sex with their husbands only at their pleasure; otherwise, the husband will be guilty of “spousal rape.” And they can send their husbands to prison with a mere call to the police. For women coming from cultures where the moral excellence of women is defined by how much they “submit” to their husbands, these liberties can be staggeringly inebriating in their generosity.
I’ve heard of Nigerian women who physically assault their husbands at home and then proceed to call 911 (the emergency telephone number in America) when their husbands attempt to retaliate. My friend’s wife recently shared with us the story of her friend, a petite 5-foot-tall woman, who slaps her 6-foot plus husband each time they quarrel and then threatens to call 911 each time the man charges at her in rage. And she boasts about her “exploits” when she chit-chats with her friends! That’s a keg waiting to explode right there.
Some Nigerian women go out of their way to force their husbands to divorce them (e.g. through in-your-face marital infidelity) because they know the courts will hand them over more than half of their husband’s property and give them custody of their children. One Nigerian man murdered his ex-wife when he discovered that she was building a mansion in Port Harcourt with the child and spousal support he was paying her.
But this is cowardly and utterly condemnable. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can justify the murder of any person who didn’t kill anybody. A smart, self-assured man would leave America and relocate to Nigeria if a woman is exploiting him. Many Nigerian men have actually done that.
Well, mine is admittedly a male perspective on a really sad and disturbing phenomenon. But it’s noteworthy that the same Igbo men who are most susceptible to murder their wives in America have the most stable marriages back in Nigeria. The stereotype of the Igbo man is that he advertises his prosperity from the glow and comfort evident in his wife and children. In return for this, the wife submits to him.
America ruptures this patriarchal matrimonial arithmetic. Here, nurses (who are disproportionately the victims of these murders) make a lot of money. In most cases, they make as much money as—and sometimes more money than—the husbands who brought them from their Nigerian villages and trained them through American nursing schools. This destroys the basis of the matrimonial submission their husbands expect from them. When you add this to the unimaginable liberties women enjoy here, the tensile stress can be immense.
But I think it’s also time that Nigerian men in America to learn to live with the new culture in their places of self-exile—or leave this place. They date American women but go back home to “import” women from their villages when it comes time to get married. Unfortunately, the women come here and become worse than the American women the men avoided marrying out of fear of cultural incompatibility.