By Sam Akpe
It is twenty and five years today. My memory is still fresh with the build-up to April 11, 1998, when we declared to each other, in the presence of many witnesses: I DO.
The weight, the complexity and the impact of those two words can still be felt, even now. We are glad we said them. It was an agreement, a promise, a commitment, and a covenant.
One elderly divorcee told me: I give you only six months, and this will be over. I replied her: if you live long enough, you will attend our 60th anniversary.
Let’s speedily glance back at how it started—a quick walk through the memory street.
We had agreed to visit a mutual friend, Engineer Asukwo Uwah, who was in charge of the Federal Government-owned fishing terminal at Ebughu, in Oron, Akwa Ibom State.
The visit was actually overdue. We had postponed it several times. But, that was because, unknown to her, I had other plans that required a supernatural confirmation.
On this day, we finally took off, quite early in the day. We were at the massive fishing settlement before breakfast. I had a bottle of wine for our host.
After a protein-rich breakfast comprising tasty seafood, we were led in a guided walk round the industrial structure.
About two hours later, we returned to the engineer’s residence. Lunch was special—as though they were expecting a Saudi Prince with a large entourage.
We ate slowly, and had a short rest. Then it was time for the execution of a personal plan.
She had no idea what I was up to. I told the engineer that we wanted to take a walk to savour the naturalness of the environment. He agreed, and settled down to work.
We walked towards the shore, talking like kids as the wind from the sea bathed us in refreshing caresses. Then I spotted something—a tiny old boat, abandoned some safe distance from the water. It was turned upside down.
I guided her towards it. As if divinely prompted, she sat on it. I stood facing her. I was supposed to also sit. However, what happened next couldn’t be done seated.
I tried to relax. But my heart was beating a bit faster, and even louder than normal. Thank God for the gusty wind from the Atlantic Ocean.
Mr. and Mrs. Akpe at their wedding
I knew this was the moment—the real reason behind my visit to the fishing terminal. She was completely ignorant of my plans.
I looked at her straight in the face, as her eyes swept around the environment. Everything worked as planned—by me.
Then I said those few words. I made my utterance loud enough to be heard: solemn, but sufficiently firm to convey my feelings.
Even after moments of rehearsal before the mirror, I’m not sure my delivery was perfect. But the message sank in, as noticed in her reaction. One sentence. Few words. Great impact.
There was nothing symbolic, except those few words straight from my heart. I had no ring. I couldn’t afford one. The words worked.
Startled, she looked at me straight in the face. Our eyes locked. I smiled. I just did it. Gbam! It was June 1995. I proposed.
As the words dropped on her like tons of bricks, her face changed. There was this look of: what did you just say? Or something like: did I hear you well? Yes, she heard me well.
Stunned, she smiled. And then laughed. It was a long laughter—not in scorn. There was something exciting about her voice—beyond ordinary interpretation.
Then she looked away, still laughing. I smiled in delight, almost satisfied, as I responded, “And Sarah laughed.” I was remembering Genesis 18:12 and 21:6.
She laughed the more. I kept talking. I explained why I said those words. Then she listened in silence. I guess I saw tears being unsuccessfully forced back, as the sun glittered on a teardrop.
After what looked like a good back-up delivery from me, I stretched my hands and pulled her from the boat. We hugged hurriedly, as though doing the forbidden.
Our walk back to the house was in slow steps with our hands locked together. Something unusual had just happened. Within a few minutes, we were on our way back to the city.
On September 12, a day to my birthday, before she left for a course at the FRCN Training School in Lagos, she knelt facing me, and gave me a yes-answer.
Fast-forward. After my national service in 1996, the wedding was postponed twice to accommodate that of her senior sister. We didn’t care.
Then on April 11, 1998, we said those words, individually. That ‘I do’ is still in its infancy, 25 years later. We have crossed rivers and experienced seasons. But our focus has been on God all the way.
On that day, our Pastor, Dr. Sylvanus Ukafia, reminded us that we were the same height. I said in my heart that I was still growing.
Today, God has had mercy on me. I’m taller than her. What God cannot do does not exist.
The children took time in coming. But that did not change anything. It strengthened our bond the more. Eventually, they arrived. Today, we have a joy-filled home. Praise the Lord.
Marriage is exciting, especially when you are married to your friend, and stay as friends. Marriage is rewarding when you practically have God at the centre of it.
It’s been 25 years today. The journey seems to have just started. You will hear more of the stories as we proceed. For now, join us to say: Praise the Lord.
The Black Tax: Family Charges And Mandatory Payment
By Toyin Falola
You cannot be one rich man among your poor siblings and relations and not become poor. After all, you stole the destiny of six others to add to yours. Having made them poor, you must cater for them. Ogunde, my friend, built a house for his father and mum. You did well. On the day of house-warming Mama Ogunde called my friend to her room for a private discussion, advising him to buy a plot of land for his junior brother. The first tax has been paid, then the imposition of the second. Three months later, his sister called him to announce her wedding ceremony. Ogunde had to pay the third tax. Each time he calls me, Ogunde is lamenting the never-ending tax. Those payments, the mandated gift, and the exchanges are now what we call the “black tax”: it is the price you pay for knowing someone. Kinship was invented in an agricultural age for collective bonding and survival. Today, it is for purposes of tax collection with delivering public services. As you read this, you are either paying the tax or collecting it. Confess!
The African social system is unarguably built on the premises and strength of family and responsibilities. Society is built on collective responsibilities that spread even to every member of the society at large as a unit. This is why persons from the same village, like Umuahia, would always refer to their kinsmen as brothers or sisters merely because they have come from the same village or area. It is the sense of responsibility that bonds the African society that has been spelt out so eminently. But the question in this piece is not about the collective nature of the African communities but the responsibilities that follow from the family relationships, either for those within the same blood or the “village family.” The issue is of “black” tax; black here is not a racialized category.
Black tax is a phenomenon that has been brought to bear in the African society of today; the modern exposure has allowed questions raised on whether the cultures are of necessity or mere subjections that have resulted in the slow pace of individual developments or castigated some Africans’ invisible slavery. African men and women give, and they take care of theirs. But then there is just one successful person in an extended family: the act of giving moves from mere social responsibilities to social burdens.
Mikel Obi, a Nigerian footballer and a legend in the English Premier, recently lamented the plight of an average African. When you reach out to success and strive hard, you probably might face limited help from some of your family members. In fact, everyone is supposed to have his or her problems, and the contemporary conditions of African countries would actually justify their excuses. However, you could strive and become something without anything, but when that success comes, you have not achieved it for yourself or your immediate family; you have done so for almost everyone who carries the same last name as you, related by any measure of distance and acquaintances. The black tax must be paid.
The concept of the black tax probably originated from South Africa; it was seen as the returns black workers, in the past, sent to their families and relatives for upkeep. It should be understood that the apartheid South Africans were such that Africans and blacks were discriminated against and had only a few opportunities to contend with. Hence, the few of them who had the opportunity to work were seen, to some extent, to have been in such a position for their families that they could not have similar opportunities. I have been in the company of people from Lesotho in South Africa, returning home with the Black tax. Many people from Zimbabwe living in South Africa pay it. In my heavy luggage to Lagos, only the contents of the carry-on belong to me; the rest is black tax. I pay it routinely. Recipients even now include chefs, drivers, and Malam the Gateman.
Like the Brown Tax in the Latino communities, the Black Tax spread across Africa as a general description of family relations for every black. It is seen as an obligation, and the person who sends it must do something as a necessity. Those who are the beneficiaries sometimes develop a sense of belonging and claim over the income of the individual.
Let’s address the culture. African cultures are beautiful, and the idea of taking responsibility for one’s immediate family, at least, is born out of the many philosophies that formed the foundations of the African society, from Ubuntu to Omoluabi to the collectivism orientations that have cut across the African societies; one would understand why the contemporary society should not quickly run into the mistake of casting the habit as a forbidden practice.
We must understand that new cultures and the contemporarily subscribed behaviours born out of overbearing cultural diffusions gotten from excessive universalism have been gradually killing the bonds that the African societies have for each other. It has increased selfishness and made the act of philanthropism, which was initially a social necessity, become out of the ordinary.
At what point should one say that the black tax is bad, and to what extent would the African circumstances create the limit? Are African parents truly entitled to the success of their children? Often than not, an average African parent assigns a primary purpose of nurturing and sacrificing their lives for their children. It is an African thing for parents to forego what they need the most in order to allow their kids a needed opportunity or resources that would put them in the right positions. In the pre-European interference era in Africa, what was paramount was to ensure that a child had the right skill as well as the right behaviour, but the parents were always on the watch to ensure that akosejaye, the written destiny, of a child is fulfilled to the fullest and they were ready to make any type of sacrifices. This mentality was carried on when the new order of definition of what success meant arose across Africa. Education and other resources must be attained, and the mothers would not mind selling their biggest clothes or properties to ensure that these voids were filled. The culture prevailed over time and is still predominant in the African society of today. Children in every African household became an ambition and duty that nothing would negotiate the commitments to them. Many African parents have continued working in toxic environments; many have lost their health or become disabled from the wares they sell in traffic jams and the hustles and bustles of places like Oyingbo Market.
Basically, to an African parent, a child is an investment and future insurance for old age and moments where one’s effort would not be enough to feed or meet necessary needs. The African family institutions are different from many other parts of the world. One would then ask whether the “wokeness” conceptions would justify taking such future expectations wrong. For anyone a parent has sacrificed for, there is a level of expectation from them, and I do not think contemporariness should be reason enough to remove that responsibility. This goes down to immediate family like siblings who have followed the rough paths with one.
My point is not that one must give without control or that every ‘ask’ should never be met with a ‘no’; otherwise, one would never move to the point of self-actualization. However, the first condition to be put to black tax is the measure of sacrifice the potential beneficiary had made. This separates responsibility from mere philanthropy. It is a measure to keep one’s circle small and reduce unnecessary ‘billings.’ Young Africans who are growing must understand that what comes first is themselves, the means to secure their future, and after all personal or immediate needs have been covered, those that we owe come in, but it should never be at the expense of one’s development. One must know that the greatest responsibility owed is that that guarantees growth.
The above is also not to say that we should kill the African culture of giving. There are many individuals to be lifted out of poverty. The continent today is positioning itself as a proper headquarters of poverty and as such, it cannot afford to stop all the help it could get. However, one must ensure that giving should be out of abundance. Abundance is indeed the remainder from excesses and should never affect fundamentals, secondary, and even tertiaries. It is an act out of comfort. So, the black tax may not be an unnecessary social responsibility, but instead, some level of necessity and discharge of appreciation to those who have made tangible sacrifices in our lives. Evaluate your black tax; instead of complaining to me as Ogunde does every other day, he should review the list and delete the names of several recipients. As I told him yesterday, why not use part of the tax to take me out?
Obama, Clooney, And Gates Should Include Witch Persecution InTheir Campaign
By Leo Igwe
The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) welcomes the collaboration between the foundations of Michelle Obama, Amal Clooney, and Melinda French Gates to end child marriage in Africa. These foundations have committed to ending this practice within a generation. This initiative, announced during their recent visit to Malawi and South Africa, demonstrates the urgency that such a harmful traditional and cultural practice demands. Child marriage is a sore on the conscience of humanity. It violates the health, rights, and well-being of women and girls. Culture, tradition, or religion should not be used to excuse or justify practices that undermine the humanity of women and girls. So it was a great relief to know that these influential women would be working together to combat this menace.
At the same time, AfAW wants to draw the attention of Obama, Clooney, and Gates to another practice that is undermining the rights of women in Africa: witch persecution. Witchcraft accusation is pervasive in Malawi and other parts of the region. Witchcraft accusation is a gendered phenomenon that predominantly targets women and girls. Those accused of witchcraft are tortured, banished, or murdered in cold blood. In Malawi and other parts of the region, accused women are raped, stoned to death, or lynched. Many accused women are banished and forced to live in make-shift shelters called witch camps in Ghana’s Northern region. In Malawi and the Central African Republic, the accused are imprisoned, or flee to live in prisons to avoid being killed. Rooted in traditional and cultural beliefs, witch hunting is another vicious phenomenon which they said would not be eradicated.
This misperception should be rejected and discarded. This mistaken assumption has prevented international organizations including the UN from treating the problem of witch persecution with the urgency that it deserves. This misrepresentation has made the world ignore and look away while women and sometimes girls are accused, abused, abandoned, or savagely killed in the name of witchcraft. As in the case of child marriage, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches believes that witch persecution can end within a generation. The problem can be solved or resolved in a matter of years. AfAW is working and campaigning to rally national and international political will against witch hunting. That was why the organization announced in 2020 a decade of activism against witch persecution in Africa.
AfAW urges Obama, Clooney, and Gates to join efforts in stopping witch persecution of women and girls. They should know that the girls they are trying to save from being married away as children could end up being stoned to death or buried alive for witchcraft. Obama, Clooney, and Gates should include witch-hunting in their campaign because the practice is rooted in gender injustice and misogyny. The foundations should know that women are likely to suffer child marriages when they are young and witch persecution when they are growing old. So they should not focus on one and ignore the other. To effectively protect and defend the rights of women and girls, they should tackle both child marriage and witch-hunting . The foundations should commit to ending practices that violate the rights of women, whether they are young or old, children or adults.
Dr Igwe directs the Advocacy for Alleged Witches, which campaigns to end witch persecution in Africa by 2030.
Powering Prosperity: Unlocking Nigeria’s Potential Through U.S. Partnership
By David Greene
Nigeria is on track to be the world’s fourth-most populous country by 2050. It already has the largest economy in Africa and, with 60 percent of its population under the age of 25, it stands on the threshold of a demographic dividend that can dramatically transform its economy for the better. Nigeria’s strategic partnerships are essential in harnessing this potential, and the United States is playing a leading role. As we near the six-month mark of President Tinubu’s administration, our relationship has emerged as a key for success. One year ago, at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC, President Biden renewed our commitment to deepening engagement across the continent. Here is how we are doing that in Nigeria – working in areas that matter most to everyday citizens, such as growing the economy, strengthening democracy, improving health outcomes, ensuring security, and addressing the climate crisis.
Nigeria’s economic potential is vast, and with the right macroeconomic framework, a sound fiscal strategy, and a strong commitment to rooting out corruption, it can become a preferred destination for foreign direct investment. American investors and companies are eager to engage with Nigeria, and the United States government is doing its utmost to build our bilateral trade and investment ties.
Consider these examples: We have joined forces to accelerate Nigeria’s digital transformation, with investments from U.S. tech giants such as Microsoft, Cisco, Meta, Google, and Starlink. This partnership has built a platform to train unemployed and underemployed women and youth. Moreover, it has been a catalyst for quality investment, accounting for more than a quarter of all venture capital flowing into Africa.
Collaborative efforts in agriculture further underscore our commitment. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently dedicated $22 million to strengthen Nigeria’s cocoa value chain, supporting more than 60,000 cocoa farmers, processors, marketers, and other agribusiness service providers in what is Nigeria’s #2 foreign exchange-earning export. From tech to agriculture, these steps go beyond statistics. They translate into tangible outcomes: good jobs, seed money for new ventures, and higher-value agricultural exports.
The United States is also a steadfast partner in strengthening Nigeria’s health sector. With World AIDS Day – December 1 – approaching, it is worth recalling that over the past two decades, PEPFAR, the leading U.S. initiative to address HIV/AIDS, has invested nearly $8 billion in Nigeria, providing more than 1.6 million individuals with life-saving HIV treatment. In response to COVID-19, the United States donated more than 44 million vaccine doses, helping the Nigerian government approach its target vaccination rate of 70 percent of the eligible population. Partnerships like the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, with an annual budget of more than $71 million, have reduced child death rates and strengthened health systems.
Those investments are just part of our overall development assistance to Nigeria. In fiscal year 2022 alone, the U.S. government allocated over $1.2 billion dollars in such support. These funds provide humanitarian assistance, and improve health, economic development, education, social services, democracy, human rights and governance, and peace and security.
In the latter two areas – democracy and security – we aim to support an inclusive future where Nigerian citizens’ votes count and translate into responsive governance, and where they can live in peace. We are a steadfast partner in seeking to strengthen election processes that will enhance accountability to meet citizens’ expectations, and pursuing innovative projects to help communities resolve differences without violence. Through cooperation with and training of Nigeria’s military and police, we are building more capable forces. Collaborating with civil society, law enforcement, and the judiciary, we are confronting the security challenges that stand in the way of economic growth while upholding a shared commitment to human rights. Initiatives include building Nigeria’s counter-terrorism capacity, bringing technology to courtrooms and case-management systems to help in the administration of justice and reduce pre-trial detention, and supporting efforts to enhance accountability and transparency in police forces.
Our partnership to address the climate crisis reflects our mutual recognition of this challenge, and our respect for Nigeria’s role as both an energy producer and a country profoundly impacted by the effects of climate change. In the leadup to COP28 – the 28th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change, which begins this week – the United States and Nigeria are aggressively seeking solutions. For example, U.S. support for Nigeria’s leadership as a Global Methane Pledge champion has led to action that is reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the benefit of all.
These programs and cooperative efforts advance a joint agenda that is built and driven by the highest levels of our leadership. President Biden met with President Tinubu in September, and numerous senior U.S. officials have come to Nigeria in recent months to confer on meeting Nigeria’s energy needs, driving U.S. trade and investment in Nigeria, and strengthening our law enforcement cooperation. These engagements strengthen our ties, address Nigeria’s pressing needs, and tackle shared challenges.
Ultimately, realizing Nigeria’s potential hinges upon enhancing its fiscal and economic health – and capitalizing on its strategic partnerships to build on that foundation. The opportunity has never been greater. Nigeria, with its youth, energy, and entrepreneurial spirit, is poised to seize this moment. We commend the government for its bold actions thus far to try to move the economy to a more solid footing. The United States is your partner in that effort – through investment, better security, a stronger workforce, and resilient institutions – that benefits all Nigerians and expands prosperity for both our peoples. Our journey ahead has its obstacles, of course. But together we will find a path toward a shared prosperity.
. Greene is Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. United States Embassy Abuja.
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