It used to be that once the “ember” months rolled in, wedding cards would be flying all over the place. Families, whose children were planning to wed, would go into a frenzy buying items needed for the upcoming nuptials. These days it is no more so. Times have changed. Many point to the worsening economic situation as the main reason many men are postponing marriage.

The result is that a growing population of ladies, who would have loved to settle down now carry the unflattering epithet SSS (single and still searching). In this interview, Prof Sophie Oluwole, a professor of philosophy who was at various times the Head of Department of Philosophy and former Dean of Student Affairs, University of Lagos, Akoka, proffers shares her views and recalls what it used to be like in the past. Excerpts…

People are marrying quietly
Traditionally speaking, marriages are celebrated more between September and January – those are the months of marriages. There are so many reasons for that. One is that in those months you don’t expect rainfall, so that you can enjoy yourselves. Of course you won’t be happy if rain disturbs your marriage. I think one of the things you have to realize is this international economic slump, especially when you consider that marriages in Nigeria are damn too expensive.

Then again, it is not that people are not marrying; maybe they are not celebrating as it used to be done 20 years ago. These days, you find that a couple could just go to the marriage registry and just invite a few people. The ceremony of killing a cow and buying aso-ebi is only done if you really have the money. What I’m saying is that the general economic crunch has affected everybody. This means that people are no longer having the kind of elaborate wedding celebrations we used to know in our time. Only the rich are able have such weddings. In essence, many people are marrying “quietly” and “privately” and this is what gives the impression that weddings have reduced in number.

Why do people marry late these days?
In this part of the world, especially among the Yoruba and the Igbo, we marry too late. Tour girls don’t marry early because they feel they must get the basic education and this is very funny to me. The White people who claim to be superior to us, you will see a girl in postgraduate school in America, 90 per cent of the time she is looking for boyfriend. Immediately she finds a husband she drops out of school.

But in this country, we believe we must get a Masters degree first; your parents will say you have no work and you want to marry. In this part of the world you are married and you are working. Go to Britain, most women who are married don’t work. You want to marry, you want to work, you want to get university qualification – all these pursuits naturally delay marriage. I think that is a scientific sin against Africans because scientifically we know the best time for a girl to marry is between 19 and 25 that is when having children is easy.

Don’t delay marriage unless you cannot find a husband. If you want your daughter to get to the university and get a first degree how old will she be before she marries? I think it’s a matter of culture, anyway. Because in the Western world, you could either marry and decide that for the next three years you will not have a child. The two of you will be working full time and be saving all your money to buy the things that you will need – buy a house, etc. Some say that immediately they start having children, they will stop working so that they can give full attention to the children.

Nowadays, you don’t do that, you are pregnant, you are carrying a baby at your back and you are working. I think Africans have to sit down and examine themselves. You see an average Igbo woman; she is 35 and not married. In her own case, the dowry is expensive, the man may not be able to pull it off and unless he has the money they will not allow her marry. There are too many confusions of traditional culture. We have thrown away the valuable part of our culture. In the Western world, nobody can say that he wants the daughter to marry at 30.

The other day, I was talking with my daughter who is 25 years, and I asked her, when are you getting out this house? She retorted: mummy, are you driving me out? And I said, Yes, I am driving you. Because our sentiments of letting a girl mature and get work and so on is not a solution to poverty. We can fight poverty in different ways. If you know any popular Oyinbo family, have you seen one where the first son is 7 and the other one is one year old? They will have all their children within three years, one after the other and then they stop. It’s not how long you have a child that will determine how many you will have. I can have 3 children in five years that is better for me and better for my body. Now, they said child spacing, and those of us who have children, the longer you stay before you have the next child the more difficult it is for you to give birth to that baby.

Men are scared of getting married
Look around this environment, 90 percent of the men around here are not married. What are they waiting for? They don’t have money. Who told you you are going to have money in the next five years? The case of men is even worse. I say my son, you will marry, he will reply: “What do I have? I have no flat, no car, fridge, colour television.” I don’t know, it will take eternity to have that.

How many people in Europe will marry and have all those things when they get married? No, I think we are chasing money and we are neglecting our own values and we are not thinking of even the psychological state of the child. We don’t say you must have money before you marry and neither am I saying you must marry in poverty. But there is a level of money you cannot have. I have a nephew and we were begging him to marry. He said he was not ready, saying that when he had money, he was enjoying himself.

He waited until he was about 38 years. Immediately he got married the money stopped, so what will he do? I think we need to do seminars and start talking to people about late marriages. I don’t know what we are imitating. I think we are lost; we are taking decisions without thinking. General economic crunch, our social attitude to education, you think you can have everything from the scratch. If you want to be rich before you can have a child you may regret eventually. I’m not prescribing poverty; there is a minimum level through which you can bring up your child and the standard that newspapers are carrying is not applicable anywhere.

In Nigeria, you say you want to have three square meals a day. I have been in Germany, Britain and America, I don’t know any family that even know the meaning of three square meals, which means in the morning you’ll have bread and egg; in the afternoon you’ll have lunch; how many workers in Europe have lunch? When I was in Germany I was working at 5 am, which breakfast will I ever have? what I used to do was to put butter on my bread and go to work, and when I come home I have a good meal.

Where is the time, for three square meals? Nigerians will say three square meals, you have akara and pap, moin moin and pap is that not square meal? The kind of thing they are putting before us is not realistic, we should not be hungry, we should take good food, our children should be well brought up; we need not to be expensively rich before we bring up children. It’s not children who go to the most expensive schools who succeed, it’s part of the upbringing.

Advise to children
There are lots of things we mothers are supposed to be doing that we are not doing. You carry your child to school at six in the morning, then at 2 pm you carry him to lesson, then at six you bring him back. What are you doing for your child? You don’t know what he is learning at school, you don’t discuss with him, because you are busy looking for money. Media houses should organize seminars on this issue of chasing money and not doing the right thing. Unfortunately, when I was in the university, there were very few disciplines in the university where these things were taught.

Neither geography, nor history or philosophy will teach you the realities of human existence. Even in sociology, they are pushing theories that are not relevant to our existence. Where in the university are you taught about marriage? Those things are not taught. In political science they talk about Karl Marx and Plato. The university itself should teach us how to live a meaningful life and living a meaningful life does not mean the ability to quote Jesus Christ, Socrates, Plato or Karl Marx. Education is not just reading, writing and memorizing books, it is a question of having knowledge, which you can use to organise yourself so that you can live a meaningful life and it should be part of every discipline in the university.

Recently I watched a movie called ‘Hippies’ and they were doing everything: you can have sex anywhere, you can sleep on the road and open your private part. They now say it is over, a professor says no, an average American now is hippy, a man can marry a man, a woman can marry a woman, Africa has started it, South Africa has already legalized it. And it’s coming to Nigeria. When you talk about gay marriage the whole world will say you are primitive.

What is the meaning of primitivity, I don’t care what America does, they cannot continue to tell us what we should do here; now we are lost, our values have gone. If you throw away all values what does it mean? You don’t want to marry because you don’t have money, when you have a child you will say you must have a limousine to carry him to school. Life is not like that. If you want to know one of the happiest people in the world, go to the farm. It’s the husband and wife – they are sitting down and eating pounded yam; there is no meat, the day they see meat they will eat but their son will become president of this country.