A good number of those I have spoken with since the news of her tragic death broke on Friday night, said Nigerian gospel artiste, Osinachi Nwachukwu, 42, should not have died. She was such a tremendous gift to millions of people and inspired even millions more through her songs, yet she had not even reached the peak of her potential.
During the COVID-19 lockdown when many struggled with anxiety, boredom and depression, a famous song in which she featured prominently, “Nara Ekele”, was repurposed by Tim Godfrey and Travis Greene and rendered in over 10 local and international languages, from English to Spanish and Mandarin, lifting millions from the edge.
That was not her only major effort; she also produced the hit solo, “Ekwueme”. In a world so used to greed, graft and getting, a song like “Nara Ekele” that celebrates gratitude, resonates in a special way.
“What a waste”, many have said. “How could such an extraordinary talent die in a needless, tragic way?”
That reaction to her death was after it emerged that Osinachi may not have died from throat cancer as was previously thought. She may have died, it is alleged, from circumstances linked to domestic violence. That information, still under investigation, but strongly suggested by friends and close members of her family, sparked outrage and raised the question: why?
Lawyer Deborah Enenche, a member of her church, Dunamis International Gospel Centre, and daughter of the pastor, said on her Facebook page: “The deceased was very isolated from her loved ones. Much of what happened could have been avoided if she hadn’t been marooned from the ones who cared for her most. I believe she not only passed due to the compendium of physical hurt and pain, she died of a broken heart.”
Did Deborah seriously think Osinachi enjoyed being marooned, dying alone day-by-day under the terror of a broken marriage? Or that Stockholm syndrome improved her creativity? That post obviously did not comment on suggestions that, at some point in Osinachi’s troubled marriage, she had confided to her pastor, Deborah’s father, that she had had enough, but was advised to endure.
The pastor has denied saying he only intervened to secure medical help when Osinachi complained of chest and respiratory problems, but her mother insists that unnamed pastors advised her daughter to return and rock her miserable marriage.
In hindsight, it’s easy to say Osinachi should have left. It is easy to blame her for indulging an abusive relationship and slam her for allegedly letting her husband run her life – and her career – as if she lived for him.
Why didn’t she see the writing on the wall much earlier? Why didn’t she speak up or ask for help? What good can come out of a relationship with a controlling spouse, more selfish than a raven, who is not only interested in hijacking your earnings, but also in telling you just how much of it you can spend and on what?
Surely, troubled marriages leave enough telltale signs, enough straw to clutch at just before things fall apart. Why didn’t Osinachi see the signs, seize the straw and escape? That appears to be what most people are now saying: she should have known better than to endure an abusive relationship to the point that it may have potentially led to her death. It was her fault.
The blame is coming thick and fast as truckloads of garbage pile up at the doorstep of the dead mother of four children. But there’s really no need to think long and hard, or to play the Ostrich while the truth stares us in the face. How we treat single women, especially those forced to leave troubled marriages, is the reason many spouses, women in particular, will stay in troubled marriages until it kills them.
Single women generally, but particularly those who are divorced or separated, are often treated as plagues. They are ostracised and made the butt of vicious jokes. Sometimes, the attacks are subtle, such as when mothers point at divorcées in the neighbourhood as possibly the worst examples their female children could emulate. At other times, it is scathing and public, such as when the former First Lady of Anambra State, Ebele Obiano, called widow, Bianca Ojukwu, “a bitch”, and “Asewo!” (prostitute), an occupation which often requires talent and experience to spot.
Single women are stereotyped as loose, sex-hungry animals roaming the neighbourhood for men (read other people’s husbands) to devour and other people’s happy marriages to wreck. They are to be tolerated and humoured but essentially avoided at all costs. To put it straight, it’s not a secret that eternal shame is the price a woman must pay for leaving her marriage.
When quarrelling couples are told by parents who have had many years of successful marriage that it is the duty of husband and wife to make the marriage work, the wife is later summoned separately. She is then told, in no uncertain terms, by the same people who had just finished advising the couple, that it is in fact, the woman’s job to make the marriage work!
“What will people say?”, is the world’s largest prison of the unhappily married; the reason the parties won’t walk away even when they know it’s all well and truly over.
Osinachi, obviously a woman from that generation, tried to make her marriage work, and may have died trying. We kill single women with our mouths and then turn around to ask millions like Osinachi, traumatised in troubled marriages, why they didn’t jump off quick enough.
Osinachi patiently built her career and was happy to let her husband be her manager, her director, her accountant and her banker, just so people won’t talk. All she ever wanted, it seemed, was to have an inspiring career and a happy home. And she seems to have given everything to make it work; because as they say around here, if the marriage works, it is the woman that works it.
Men like to think that they’re victims as well, and maybe they are to a far lesser degree. But until parents begin to raise their boy children differently and faith groups and cultural icons also make it clear that women don’t have to die to save a failing marriage, nothing is going to change.
The Global Gender Gap report 2020 said that 31 percent of women had suffered from intimate partner physical and/or sexual assault; with Middle East/North Africa, South Asia, North America, and sub-Saharan Africa topping the abuse league in that order. In the US, a woman is being battered every nine seconds.
According to a UN report published last year, exposure to violence spiked significantly during the pandemic with countries like Kenya reporting up to 80 percent, Jordan 49 percent, and Nigeria 48 percent.
In case this sounds like mere statistics, what it means in Nigeria, for example, is that 48 million people, or a country with the population of Uganda, are in danger of physical violence and Osinachi was potentially the latest victim. A report by THISDAY newspapers in 2011, said out of 50 per cent of women being battered by their husbands, the majority were educated women. There could be more unreported cases.
I’m, of course, not suggesting that couples should break up at the least provocation or that troubled marriages are not worth saving. Among other things, financial pressures, poor modelling and poor impulse control, are probably some of the biggest challenges for many of today’s marriages.
These challenges require understanding and patience that have become scarce commodities in the modern world of instant gratification.
True, these problems, especially the financial one, are often easier to manage when the burden is shared. But it is not in every situation that two is better than one. Sometimes, it is better for one to walk alone to save two or more from greater misery. The dead or severely emotionally damaged are not only useless to the children (often cited as the reason to endure at all costs), they are also useless to themselves.
Gender-based groups have done considerable work in highlighting the dangers of domestic violence, creating support groups and encouraging victims to speak up. What Osinachi’s death reminds us of, however, is that we still have a very long way to go before we stop killing women in troubled marriages by insisting that it is better to die married than to live single.
•Ishiekwene is the Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP