There are many things that make the area thick. Tucked in the mountainous region of Benue where nature unleashes some of its harshest venom, moving in and out of the community can indeed be a tiring venture. With a topography as rugged as the word sounds, Otukpa is in a class of its own. Situated 180km from the capital, Makurdi, and bounded to the West and North by Enugu and Kogi states respectively, the town is the largest of the three districts making up Ogbadibo Local Government Area.
An agrarian community with most of its dwellers into farming, palm wine tapping and hunting, the people, according to findings, they are very industrious in nature and love to accommodate visitors as well.
But beyond their environment and hardworking spirit, it is the inability of many of her young men and women to marry at ease that has shot Otukpa to national prominence. Confronted by huge financial demands from family members of potential brides, many men of marriageable ages have been forced to abandon their relationships with such ladies, remaining as bachelors or going elsewhere to get a wife. For the women, who appear the biggest victims of this practice, they either find husbands elsewhere or simply console themselves by bearing children out of wedlock. Cases as this abound everywhere you turn to across the area.
“At the time I was to get married in 2014, the items listed and the amount demanded by my parents totalled N435, 000,” a hair stylist, Joy Ameh, narrated. “This was apart from the huge amount that we were to spend for the church wedding proper. At the end of the day, the man backed out and the marriage never took place.
“I am 32 years now and getting older, how long will I wait to find a husband to marry me? It is as a result of this that I decided to at least have a child. Even though it is outside marriage, I am not ashamed of my action,” she added.
Indeed fulfilling the demands of brides’ families in the process of picking a wife in this Benue community has always been a tall order for many suitors over the years. For example, apart from the bride price determined by the woman’s family or clan, the cost of traditional marriage, which hovers between N150, 000 and N600, 000 in the least cases, is also determined by them. In the event that the groom is from another community or the bride is a university graduate, the amount charged would be far higher. Basically, before marriage finally takes place, a potential groom must fulfil requirements in three stages – the introduction, date taking and the traditional marriage proper.
Under the first stage where the man is expected to formally signify his intention of marrying a lady, he may spend between N6, 000 and N30, 000 depending on the family he is dealing with. This is aside from cola nuts and palm wine he must present alongside that amount.
For many of the natives here, the second stage – date fixing, which is very critical, is usually the most dreaded. It is the phase an intending groom meets with the parents of the woman whose hands he seeks in marriage to discuss the sum total of what he is expected to spend. It is also the stage at which a date for the traditional marriage is fixed and specific amount demanded from the man. He could be required to pay at least N700, 000 or more, depending on the value they place on their daughter.
“It is this stage of date fixing and all the troubles related with it that has attracted the attention of our traditional rulers in Otukpa, particularly, the Ochi Otukpa,” a local, Anthony, explained. “It is the stage that scares away prospective husbands. Many suitors, after the introduction, have had to abandon our women and go to neighbouring communities to marry. It has proved a big problem over here,” he revealed.
Aside the amount given under this stage, which is meant for the entertainment of guests during the traditional marriage, a prospective husband is also expected to provide more money for logistics.
Interestingly, a breakdown of some of the fees demanded from potential suitors in this community, moves from ridiculous to outright hilarious. For instance, a man seeking to marry a wife from Otukpa must ‘open’ her father’s mouth with N500 while he must also drop another N500 for the grandfather’s cola.
Others whom he must pay similar amounts of money to represent cola include the grandmother, senior son, chiefs and vigilantes.
To go to the room of the bride’s mother where negotiation of the dowry would take place, a potential groom must pay N200, present three cartons of assorted beer and 20 litres of palm wine before permission is granted.
Once inside the room, he still has to pay another N3, 000 to get the consent of the woman’s mother. The bride’s maternal grandfather and grandmother are to be paid N300 and N200 including being presented with a carton of beer whether alive or not as part of the marriage demands.
“You must settle all these people whether they are there physically or dead before you can be given a wife in the community,” Benjamin Epee, a commercial motorcyclist, pointed. “This has given us a lot of problem in this town until recently when the traditional leaders came up with new ideas. I just hope that things will improve for the better,” he said.
Chukwuma Anunobi, a native of Enugu, who is based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, said that apart from the high fee demanded by parents of a lady from Otukpa he was to marry four years ago, the idea of ‘settling’ her dead maternal grandparents with drinks and certain amount of money appeared a bit strange and discouraged him from proceeding with the union.
“The entire thing sounded strange to me and my kinsmen,” he said. “I have heard of many things from my friends who married from different parts of the country but paying certain amount and offering drinks to the bride’s maternal grandparents who were late at the time really scared me and my people. My father, who is a reverend, insisted that I backed off. That was how the whole thing ended,” he added.
Corroborating Anunobi’s claims, Jude Ochoma, a native of the town, disclosed that the practice has been an age long tradition, which many of them grew up to know but, which outsiders find very shocking. He said even though some families as a result of Christianity and education might decide to overlook that part of the marriage process, dozens others still insist prospective grooms make such ‘settlement’ even if such grandparents were late.
“It is not strange to us but outsiders sometimes find it shocking and thus become scared. They wonder why people who are late should also be included in the scheme of things as far as a marriage is concerned.
“But that is the tradition, it is part of what makes our culture different from others,” he said.
Disturbed by the situation, traditional ruler of Otukpa, Chief Sunday Ekele, on July 20, 2017 pegged the amount to be spent on traditional marriage ceremonies at N100, 000 maximum. According to him, the move became necessary following the growing rate of complaints among young men and women in the community over the outrageous demands by parents of would-be brides.
“Money should not prevent anyone from getting married in our community,” Ekele said. “From now onward, no one should spend more than N100, 000 before getting a wife in our community.
“If you move round our communities now, you will see a lot of youths who should be married by now but are not because of the economic situation in the country. We do not intend to compound their problem with the high cost of traditional marriage.
“The disturbing aspect is that these ladies remain in their parents’ houses, having babies outside wedlock and not knowing what the future holds for them. We need to encourage this set of people so they won’t be scared of going into marriage.
“Whatever step the couples now decide to take after that period, spending millions of naira on church wedding if it is within their powers, is not for us to worry. Ours is to ensure that traditional marriage is made affordable for intending couples,” he stated.
While corroborating the position of the community’s traditional ruler, a district head, Chief Raphael Agada, said that since the new directive was announced, more than four prospective couples have fixed dates for their traditional marriages.
“We decided to take this bold step because of the hardship in the country today which has prevented youths from getting married. Things are beginning to look up as more and more people are fixing dates for their traditional marriages now,” he said.
Expressing happiness at the news, an elderly man, Pa Ogebe Izaiah, said that the latest development will change the entire landscape of Otukpa for good.
“I am one of the happiest persons today because I have a daughter whose fiancée abandoned after he heard that we used to charge our in laws a lot of money for bride price even though it is not true.
“My daughter is based in Abuja, I have relayed the good news to her and I am looking forward to her bringing a good man home soon for marriage,” he said.
A middle-aged woman, Janet Ogebe, said that a lot of ladies in her town had missed the opportunity of getting married over the years as a result of this problem. Like Izaiah, she reckons that a new dawn had arrived for Otukpa and its unmarried young people.
“In my own community of Ole Aiodo, many of our single ladies have cried to us that the high bride price has reduced their chances of getting married.
“When the news of the N100, 000 fees was relayed to us by our community leader, we were very happy as women because we know it would change a lot across this entire region,” she said.
A native of Oginago, an adjoining town, lso Anthony, told our correspondent that under a few days of the announcement, three persons had fixed their traditional marriage dates.
“The first one is holding on September 2 this year while the other two had been fixed for December 22 and 23 respectively. I know that before the end of this month, many people will come up to fix dates for their own marriages,” he said.
An artisan, Gabriel Sunday, told our correspondent that news of the slashing of the cost of traditional marriage was the best he had heard in a long time. Excitement almost drenched him.
“At 33, I ought to have married four years ago but the parent of the lady I wanted to marry at the time charged me N350, 000 during the date fixing apart from other expenses.
“As an artisan in this rural community, where do I get such amount of money from? The lady is happily married with two kids today. But with all the contributions that I am making, I hope to raise enough money to get my own wife before the end of this year,” Sunday said.