The Changing Face Of Marriages In Onitsha, Igboland’s Commercial City


The Oasis Reporters

May 20, 2018

Images of Onitsha city.
“If you want to marry
Come to Onitsha
Onitsha men dey trip oo
Oo la oo la laa”.
Composed by Greg Abolo

Onitsha is the commercial capital of Eastern Nigeria. It is a vibrant city that never really sleeps and in it’s bowels, holds an amazing vault of Nigerian cash. No bank is worth it’s name if it didn’t have a branch in Onitsha, for that city easily services the cash needs of banks not only in the south east, but the south south and the middle belt states as well while it’s markets receives traders from all over east, west and central Africa. Whatever product manufactured anywhere in the world, would be found on sale in Onitsha markets.

And to think that the city was fiercely contested for barely fifty years ago in a bitter civil war that pitched the Nigerian Federal Armed Forces against the breakaway rebel Biafran army.
Federal Forces reduced it to the ground and burned it. From 1967 to 1970, the glory of Onitsha vanished in it’s rubble and it’s ashes.

The victorious Federal army threw the mockery of twenty pounds compensation to each easterner who could prove with verifiable bank documents that they were account holders before the civil war and irrespective of whatever amount anyone had, the only compensation was a flat £20 in General Yakubu Gowon’s “No Victor, no Vanquished” reconciliation policy. Yet Igbo enterprise that lost all, rebuilt the city of Onitsha with £20, uncommon resilience and an overdose of love.


Ifeyinwa Onyeabo, a lawyer with an LL. M is native to the south east, the region of enterprising Nigerian traders grew up partly in Onitsha, Enugu and also in Lagos (South west)

She says of Onitsha, “men provide everything for their wives without complaints.
Women do not harbour the fear of having to earn their own money. Men provide everything from cream, to bra, lipstick, hair extensions, etc. It’d be like a competition. Onitsha women do not work and none of them has the time to read any writings about women working and earning money. They will not understand it. Such a writer should save it for him or herself.

Whenever I read people telling women to work for one reason or the other, I remember residents of Onitsha and their wives and I get amused at the preacher. Your preaching does not apply there.

These men living in Onitsha are largely uneducated. Though most of them get enrolled in Distance learning or engage in Saturday learning programmes. Onitsha men would walk on foot but buy Sienna Cars for their wives. They ride motorcycles to their shops that they usually own because of the congestion in market areas. It used to be like a competition to know who treats a woman better.
Truth is I did not hear stories of wife battery in Onitsha as much as I hear of it in Lagos.

Enugu the old capital city of eastern Nigeria does not bear the same characteristics with Onitsha because the men in Enugu are not as financially endowed as Onitsha men.

Then come to Lagos and see men insist on sharing bills with women and even starving their wives and children. They preach submission like no man’s business but want equality in settling bills.
They are the ones who batter women and keep late nights. Husbands resident in Onitsha get home by 6:30pm but may hang around the shop on the street for “njakiri” (chit chat) and a few drinks with friends.
Lagos men come home by 12:30am and claim traffic whereas they were in clubs.

The funny thing is that most of these Lagos men are educated.

Is education now a curse?

Please take note that Igbo men in Lagos who are educated do the same thing, and therefore this description has nothing to do with tribe. How come educated men are this way?

Jude Chileke who lived in Onitsha for 7 years and still has most of his extended family members resident in Onitsha had this to contribute :

“We learnt Western culture through education. We learnt their culture and their academics and this crux and mixup is the major crucible lacuna in our own type of marriage.

Marriage is more or less cultural and the European culture infuriated ours.
Across states, the perception of education differ and that is why the post by Barrister Onyeabo is mostly true. In Igboland especially in Onitsha which is the hub of business, education never largely affected it’s way of life. They learnt how to read and write and how to use Oyibo ( western) technology, that’s all and never behaved like “Oyibo”. But in Lagos, both education and culture were learned and incorporated in the lives of lagosians. One feels inferior if one does not behave like Oyibo (western or European).
I was laughed at because I spoke English differently in a gathering in church when I came to Lagos newly.
Do you know what?
My Igbo brothers laughed at me the most, yet I gave the best of ideas then.

Ifeyinwa Onyeabo really tried in capturing the Onitsha narrative. But the story has changed now. Many graduates are in the Main market and other markets in Onitsha today.
But most traders I know have O’level certificates while some others never went beyond primary school. There are also very few illiterates, still they can put down some figures, do bank transactions and so on.

On the average many Onitsha women today are graduates who do not work, but are traders either in the Main market, Ose, Ochanja, Relief market or street corner shops, while the rest are full time housewives.

Nevertheless, some of the women in Onitsha now go to Dubai, Hong Kong, Vietnam and China to import goods. I know some of them in USE line Main market where they sell Baby wears.

It is the culture there, QED. You put this on the thighs of Onitsha business men or so it seems. I come from a largely educated family, the ladies in my family are mostly in the education sector as teachers or school administrators. They are married to doctors, lawyers, engineers (and of course traders/importers). These ladies are high up in their careers and I can swear they do not spend their own money running the family. Their husbands buy them cars, clothes, etc.

It is just the culture there and I think it is called “This is my wife” … The man will wear shorts 7 days a week while sending lace and fabric vendors “jee na yard ka madam pickieee nke ochoo” ( go to my residence and ask my wife to pick whichever fabrics she wants. I’ll pay you.) ,added Chinedu Nwabundu Ezigbo

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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