By Toyin Falola
It was a little wandering at Offa on December 8, 2023, while exchanging good banters that an old acquaintance of mine told me of his multiple troubles, so many that I said you could not be at Offa and not suffer, if only for its poetic rhyme. “Your case,” I said, “is what we call woro-si-woro. When you wake up each morning thinking about where to get the money to buy food and petrol, your son says the N1,000 loaf of bread is not enough to fill his stomach. Woro si woro! At work, your wife called you to say the landlord asked you to vacate your apartment as you owe four months of unpaid rent. Woro si woro. As if you are the only one in the world that has problems, your son was sent away from school as you cannot pay the fees. Woro si woro.
Thinking I would be of some assistance with a cash gift, I told him a real story, what we call the “original” woro si woro, a mountain of troubles. After reading this, share your woro si woro with me, and we can judge who is carrying the heavier burden. Over 130 million Nigerians now tell daily stories of woro si woro. Don’t cry with the real story that I want to share with you.
When trouble comes, it sends no signal. Woro si woro. This was the case of OJ, a thirty-four-year-old man who returned to his motherland after hustling overseas. His arrival at the airport brought nostalgic feelings, as he had left the country about five years ago, having expended his entire savings as a community clerk in the local council to seek a better life.
His journey back home was for three reasons. One was to attend the ceremony of the chieftaincy title bestowed upon his paternal uncle, who had been the principal in his hometown for three decades. Second, he had plans to get the paperwork for the house he was building, sending money home from time to time. Third, and his main project, he was home to complete the marriage rites to his betrothed, whom he had dutifully catered to during his absence. He smiled as he recalled the news some weeks after his departure. He received a call that Kike, his girlfriend of two years, was pregnant, and he had no reason to doubt the news, as he remembered vividly the escapades they indulged in before his departure. As he descended the staircases leading to the exterior parts of the airport, he heaved a sigh of relief. It felt good to be home. He will see Kike, his wife-to-be, and his child, see the status of his first house, and attend a great party to honour his uncle.
OJ probably forgot that Nigeria is a land of surprises, and one must have an inbuilt “shock absorber” to cushion the effect of deadly shocks and surprises. The first surprise came when he could not find a house on the land that his property was supposed to be built on. He was welcomed by overgrown bushes, aspiring to become a forest, while his blood brother quavered, unable to explain how the white mansion he was assisting him to build disappeared overnight. Woro si Woro Number 1.
He had not recovered from that when he decided to pay Miss Kike a surprise visit. He had not told her he was coming, but he needed to see her and his daughter, especially to let off some steam and help him think. After futile efforts by his cousin to dissuade him from going, the second surprise that culminated into a shock came when he found out that the child was not his, and Kike was secretly cohabiting and perceived to be engaged to her boyfriend. The man in question was his best friend. He realised he was the “sidekick” fronting the bills of his fraudulent girlfriend and her true partner, his best friend. He had sent thousands of naira as upkeep without fail; the pregnancy for which he dutifully catered was not his in the first place. He realised he had been duped twice. From frying pan to fire. O di woro si woro. Can anything worse happen to a man than this?
Just like OJ and many before and after him, the issues of paternity fraud have dealt men severe blows that may take years to heal, while some may never recover from it. Woro si woro! The sorrow that succeeds the realization of this heart-wrenching fraud is so dire that the victims often lose faith in mutual attachments to the opposite gender. The labour of many years just went down the drain. Just like that! Issues of infidelity in recent times are on the rise, and both genders are guilty of it. They have become integral parts of the community amebo in social gatherings. The walls of the internet have long overruled the hushed tones that discuss these matters with no remorse. It will not be surprising to find it happen to your next-door neighbour, someone from your religious circle or a boss at work. It is a menace that the majority is not safe from now. Just this week, there was a post online jokingly warning men to stay away from the women in a particular state in Southwest Nigeria. The post further continued that “one who wishes for a partner from that part should first listen to a popular radio program in that state.” In as much as it is wrong to subscribe to that line of thought, dragging the credibility of the good women of that state through mud, one can infer from the post that the subject matter is truly a social problem.
Infidelity and paternity fraud are universal social problems in today’s world. Although there are variations in the intricacies surrounding this matter and how they are viewed, African societies are no exception, though the emphasis on family integrity is more in these regions than in other parts of the world. In Africa, family names and genealogy are held in high esteem, with the common tradition of eulogising individuals from the present moment till it connects with their ancestral heritage. Thus, the practice of infidelity and paternity fraud are viewed as deliberate attacks on the fabrics of family, social order and harmony. It is viewed as a communal betrayal, as the society embraces communal existence deeply rooted in loyalty and fidelity. In a traditional African family setting, spousal infidelity and paternity fraud, where the father of a child is misrepresented, poses a threat to the continuity of the family’s lineage and the community. It could lead to aggravated disputes over family land rights, chieftaincy titles, heirlooms and inheritance, causing extended conflicts in the community at large. Ironically, in Africa, Jamaica has the highest rate of paternity fraud cases, followed by Nigeria. Naija no dey carry last, especially in wrong things!
Woro si woro! High paternity dispute is more prevalent in Africa, as the society emphasizes childbirth in marriages. A marriage without offspring is deemed unsuccessful. Apart from this, the issue of paternity fraud and infidelity can cause serious harm to the victim when it is discovered. In most cases, fatherhood is judged through marriage to the woman who becomes pregnant, as it is assumed that the man is the sole sexual partner. Other means are through acknowledgement, where the man affirms that he is responsible for the pregnancy. A man is naturally responsible for his family, so the weight of this deceit is felt more by him. During an interview with Premium Times, Mr. Abiodun Salami, a senior geneticist with DNA Centre for Paternity, Lagos, confirmed that the supposed men did not father six out of ten children brought for the test. He also stated that couples come for paternity tests nowadays at an alarming rate, compared to before, as about 400 paternity tests are being done in the centre monthly. As with health cases in Nigeria, this may pass as minimal statistics, as most cases are usually unreported to avoid stigma.
The reasons for these are not far-fetched. In most cases, it is precipitated by economic dependence on one’s partner and African relationships are masked with the man providing for the needs of his partner and, by extension, her immediate family. As such, issues of survival come into play as the lady who already has numerous partners may be at a loss deciding on who to go for. Usually, such a person would later settle for the one with the highest economic benefits and may have to push another’s pregnancy on him. Apart from this, another “motivation” that is closely related to the above is social status. People venture into different matters due to the benefits it accrues to them. Here, social status is the main motivator. The affiliation to a family of high standing may depose one to commit the fraud. The Nigerian movie industry is filled with stories of this nature where women commit paternity fraud just to be in relations with the elites in the society. While these movies may not be taken as evidence, the lines of thought they portray show similar happenings in our society.
Also, the social expectations for family structure and gender roles have played major roles in these acts. A marriage is expected to be fruitful by the number of children therein. In order to meet up with these norms, many women have been forced to seek extra hands outside marriage to get pregnant. This occurs in cases where she suspects the husband of infertility but is unable to communicate with him due to cultural stigma that finds these matters offensive for discussion. As it is in many African societies, every sign of infertility is usually stamped upon the woman. As a result, she is forced to get another means to an end to keep her space. There are also cases where a man is gay but marries a woman to keep up his appearance. Body no be firewood, she most definitely would find a man who would cater to her needs and give her the children she wants. Here, the woman becomes a victim of circumstance. Another reason is the cultural backlash on abortion. Our society frowns at these acts and considers those who engage in it irresponsibly. As such, many young women who engage in premarital sexual acts have been forced to move into marriage to avoid stigmatization. In view of this, it is either she ends up with the birth father, or she moves in with another unsuspecting suitor who has been on her matter for a long time to save face. This is usually possible, as most relationships are watered by the sexual acts involved.
It would be unfair to slam women as the blameworthy ones here, although they are to be held responsible, as the case may be. Men also have a role to play in these matters. Men also cheat. The internet is flooded with tales of married men sliding mischievously into the DMs of women seeking sexual gratifications. As nature has it, these men can go for long without getting caught, as they do not get pregnant or bear children that would make people suspect them of extramarital affairs. The onus falls more on women who naturally are bound to be pregnant from sexual acts. A mischievous, sexually energized man who always finds his way is only destroying the home of another. Many men have children, even a second family that their “main family” know nothing about, but all hell is let loose when a woman gives Taye’s child to Tamedo. Also, the patriarchal African-dominated society deems it taboo to discuss men falling short of being able to procreate despite the advancement in medical sciences. This often makes women go outside their marriages to get pregnant to keep and maintain their husband’s pride and social status. It would be unthinkable to hear that a man shoots blanks. Most times, this extra effort is done outside the personal interests of the man. In rare cases, human errors during childbirth may be responsible for wrongful claims of fraud. Babies may be wrongfully identified with tags at birth. In such cases, no test can ascertain fatherhood.
The trouble lies in the imminent discovery. What happens when the ugly truth comes out? The implications of paternity fraud are multifaceted, and it affects every party involved. Marital sanctity is a major backbone of our societies; it should be revered and held in very high esteem, and the thriving issues of sexualities that lure people to sexual acts should be shunned. Contemporary African societies should seek an equilibrium between the values we hold in esteem and modern trends to avoid mistakes.
Lastly, legal reforms should be made to address issues of paternity fraud. Rather than committing violent crimes or suicide out of rage, it is advisable to seek redress in court while shielding and supporting children involved in such cases, as they are not to be blamed for what transpired. In all, use twenty out of twenty-four hours to fear women. Fear men, too. In fact, fear every human being but fear who does not fear both men and women and those in between.
OJ could not attend the chieftaincy title. He decided to return to Ame. On reaching the airport, he could not find his passport and his wallet. On a Thursday, I saw a man in rags in front of me. He looked at me and shouted my name TF. “I don’t know you,” He said. “You know me, the junior brother of your friend, Buoda Bayo, aburo Mama Yemi.” He is right. The story took him too long to tell. Woro si woro are stories of shame, humiliation and stress that lead a decent adult to beg for food. I took him to my house, not knowing that he would transfer his woro si woro to me. I am yet to recover.
Today, many Nigerians have too many stories of Woro si woro! What woro si woro is yours?