Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine's Day Boycott - An Ode to The Local Romance of the Nigerian Man

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By Baba Willy

In as much as sending out Christmas cards does not make one a Christian but only proves an ability to purchase and address card containing envelopes, I put it to you that purchasing a Valentine card with an accompanying present does not make one a romantic. What is romance after all? I am sure you will find the answer to that question is subject to personal interpretation. For some, receiving a gift of yards of lace material fits the bill. For others, a pat on the back followed by a kind word is enough. I have an issue with this Valentine’s Day thing. Let us go to the very beginning.

The history of the Valentine day is an odd one. During the Roman Empire, the young men of Rome stripped naked and whipped ladies on the bum bum with koboko on the 14th of February and this was meant to increase fertility and perhaps stimulate ovulation. (shebi they should have just left the Valentine day Ikebe-centric  instead of converting it to the flowers, chocolates and jewellery bonanza it is today). They called this gynaecological madness Lupercalia. Fast forward to AD 289 and we find St Valentine of Rome arrested for marrying couples in defiance of Emperor Clauduis who had banned marriage as he needed focused men for the army, being conversant of the fact that marriage reduced abdominal tone and overall physicality in men. He was martyred on the 14th of February and rumour and myth has it that his last written note was signed Your Valentine.

Finally we see Pope Gelasius declare the 14th of February to be St Valentine’s Day, making it a Christian feast day in AD 496. I am not Roman or catholic so I do not feel any strong desires to celebrate anything on the 14th of February, hot on the heels of my merry Christmas expenses.

For me, romance is the absence of trouble. No fight, no quarrel no heat and no unrealistic demands being placed upon me to look like Denzel Washington at a dinner party. (Perhaps if I was paid to act, like he is paid, I might make some effort). And that brings me to Hollywood. Many have developed their fantasies of what constitutes romance from movie screen plays. Side stepping the obvious and credible role models under their very noses; parents, they take mental flights of fancy that lead them to the unattainable love icons of Beverly Hills. Immaculately dressed leading men and leading ladies all in love, full of passion and world shattering burning desires. And here in lies the conflict. Childhood realities of Shagamu or Suru-Lere love contest with cinema screen models and you end up with a split romantic personal interpretation. A desire to eat the fruits from both worlds.

As Africans, we have no business with Western ideas of romance unless we are willing to adopt a 100% Western life style. I am yet to see a western romantic comedy where the lady asks for money for aso ebi or the third burial for her grand- father. All they seem to want (on screen at least) are romantic gestures of chocolate and flowers. That will not work in Nigeria where ‘our in-law’ is meant to contribute ‘something’ to any activity going on in the spouses’ family. Aso ebi is just the basic requirement.

I read on social media all the time about how unromantic Nigerian men are and I think that the problem might just be the way we define romance. From where do we get this romance consciousness from? Since the crave for romance seems to come from ladies and not from the men (one more thing to pay for) perhaps looking at the ladies might throw light on the origins of romance awareness.

In Lagos, it is definitely not from observing parents. If that were the case, asking your spouse to scratch your back would have been deemed romantic as would telling them to stand still while you moved closer and closer like a lion on the prowl before striking like lightening to kill the mosquito perched on their neck with a thunderous slap. Doing things for one another, practical things, is romance to our parents. No so for the younger breed, the 70s and 80s girls (for that is what I know).

They learnt their trade from books; the Mills and Boons series. Novels that never seem to bear black people on the cover. Rich young men with athletic physiques sweeping girls off their feet.  Real! Perhaps these stories are a welcomed distraction from the harsh economic realities, electricity power cuts, ‘dry parents’ and drier male friends. Reading these books seemed to create a need for fantasy. A desire for the spectacular. The only problem is that these books are from a different culture and age.

That feeling of excitement and mystery that is generated in the hearts of female readers as they dream about a love so remote from their daily experiences will never be realised in the real world. It is a love totally foreign to the Nigerian culture. A bit similar to the obsession some people in Africa have with foreign football leagues while at the same time totally ignoring the domestic leagues. Everything foreign is superior after all, isn’t it? In shops, don’t the ‘imported’ goods cost more?

The problem with having a head full of romantic expectations is that it breeds dissatisfaction. Practical men are deemed unromantic and accused of being unable to stir the heart to a state of fluttering. The predators on the other hand tell the romance addicts what they want to hear; composed lyrics and prose, get what they want and leave breeding more dissatisfaction. So the lady with her head, heart and feet in the clouds will always want more. Ironically, the romance addicts never entertain the thought that they could actually make some effort to send out some romance.  No. For the addict‘s main mission is to tickle that spot, to scratch that itch and to get that fix.

As so the shops, restaurants and event planners spot the opportunity for business and imposed their valentine day merchandising upon us. Is Romance a commercial venture?  Is love a business? Is it a good for sale or a service for which an invoice can be rendered? If it is an item for sale, who sets the hourly rate? Do service providers factor in the costs of production in setting their fees? What is the cost of beauty, a good breath and good up bringing? And then there is the small problem of virtuous ladies who think their prices are worth more than rubies. How do you pay for their love? With tears, sweat or blood? Perhaps the answer is simple. Perhaps you pay for love with love from your own heart thereby cutting out the numerous middle men.

Valentine’s Day serves a purpose after all. The bewildered guys pretend to be a Hollywood leading man for the day and the ladies get their fix (to keep them going between the wedding anniversary and birthday).
Nothing dramatizes this romance culture clash more than the quarrel I heard about in London between two married lawyers on Valentine day. The guy was freaking out because he was sick and tired of being compared to their neighbour Jack. Jack was Caucasian and always got his lady flowers and opened doors for her. On this particular Valentine day the lawyers had a noisy row and things got out of hand. Soon a committee of friends gathered to mediate.

‘Is he cheating’ they asked the good lady of the house after the usual preliminaries.
‘No’ she answered.
‘Does he beat you?’
‘Does he pull his weight financially?’
It went silent as the committee tried to think up more offences that the oga at the top might have committed. None came to mind.
‘Ah, what is the matter?’
‘He is not romantic’ she said.
After the laughter had died down (and the lady lawyer joined in too), they asked what she meant.
‘Today is Valentine’s day. I have received nothing. Go and see what Jack did’ she said pointing next door.
On hearing the name Jack, the man of the house lost his temper and stormed out ignoring the calls for him to ‘sit down now’ and to ‘cool down now’.
He soon returned with Jack to their great surprise. Like a legal trapeze artiste the began to interrogate Jack.
‘Me and my friends were just talking about love and the expression of affection and thought to get a different perspective’ he said. Jack was up for it as he had been drinking his favourite wine.
‘Would you go to a party with crisps notes and stamp it on Mary’s sweaty forehead as she dances?’ asked the lawyer. ‘Mary is his wife’ he added for the benefit of the committee.
‘Partner’ Jack corrected.
‘Ah, so you haven’t had an expensive wedding or an even more expensive traditional wedding’ asked the lawyer
‘Why should I? To answer your questions, I see no reason to pay my partner for dancing at a party. As for weddings, why have two weddings when you can have none?’ Jack said.
‘You have made your point. Now changing the topic slightly, if your in-law’s roof caved in would you pay for it?’
‘No. They should have insurance’ replied Jack
‘How much have you spent on flowers this year?’
‘£80’ said Jack and beginning to look bored
‘Finally, what did you say when you saw us wearing similar outfits last week as we went for a wedding?’
‘I told you that you must be mad. £300 for Ash Ebi. I told you that you must really love the missus’ he said.
‘That’s all for now. You have been a perfect…I meant neighbour’.
When the lawyer was back from seeing Jack off, he made his summation.
‘I too want to be romantic like Jack. Flowers and chocolates are much cheaper. But don’t expect me to do Naija romance in addition’.
The committee turned to the lady of the house and asked with their eyes, ‘Naija or British romance?’
She smiled and replied with her eyes, ‘the two nau. Bifor nko?’

Finally, love languages. Gary Chapman tells us we all speak a love language. There are 5 in all. (He omitted No 6 which is Ukodo for Urhobo guys, but how was he to know?).
Here is his list of five, to which I have added tunes by P Square to aid remembering.

 1. Words of affirmation – No one like you.

2. Quality time – Forever.

3. Receiving gifts- Chop my money.

4. Acts of service- Do mi and

5. Physical Touch – Buzy Body

In my experience (limited) Nigerian ladies display effortless multilingualism and a bit of sign language thrown in. If the guys are giving it, they will be taking it. Nigerian men however are limited and speak only two love languages.

1. Light and

2. Money.

Since the ladies don’t give either and the government can be disappointing to say they least, they distract themselves with football.

In summary, I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day but would reluctantly be joining in this year only because I believe that tactical hypocrisy is expedient.

Appendix. (Unsung) Romantic actions of Nigerian men

Going out by 2am to switch on the generator
Eating soups with too much pepper and saying the food is lovely
‘Helping’ you buy recharge card on the way back from all trips.
Paying your nephew’s school fees
Making contribution  towards funeral costs in your family (Culture ko, culture ni)
Lying that your weave and wig looks good. (They don’t, at least not always).
Paying for your weave
Having bad nights because the dead woman whose hair you wear comes into the bed at night.
Accepting you and loving you despite the fact that you think holding shirts is part of conflict resolution in the home (in soccer you could get sent off for that)
 Forgiving you for not looking like Beyoncé (your eating pounded yam don dey too much sef)
Killing snake in your kitchen.
Agreeing to be the pest control officer, agbero , IT officer, bulb changer and general handy man with no days off.

Dr Wilson Orhiunu


  1. I can't stop laughing, this guy is so funny. Seriously, this throws a lot of light on Nigerian romance. I pledge to love DH more and consider him henceforth as the most romantic man on least the Nigerian way!!!! Myne, thanks for this val medicine ooooo

  2. oh boy! This one long no be small o, Myne. Happy Val

  3. I read it all and laughed silly. Too funny. Happy Val in advance...

  4. I love my Nigerian romance pass flowers and chocolate, lol...

  5. haaaaaaaa....real facts. Got me laughing out load!

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