The Audacity of Being a Nigerian Daughter

Lagos is my home. I was born in Northern Nigeria, but my family moved to Lagos when I was four years old. I love Nigeria. I love Nigeria despite her growing flaws: congested roads, unending traffic, corrupt politicians, unhelpful civil servants, power cuts and a shrinking job market. I love Nigeria enough to come back and participate in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).

The stress that comes with moving back home, and accepting that the average Nigerian is on a mission to work your last nerve, can be managed. I can handle the heat, the traffic and the road safety officers, who are constantly expropriating money from innocuous drivers everyday. I, however, cannot handle living with my parents. I have come to find out that after three years of being away from Nigeria, completing my Master’s degree, I am built to live on my own. In the short three months I have been in Lagos, my freedom is restricted and my privacy is no longer respected. I find myself reminiscing about the late dinners and happy hours I enjoyed in New York. In Lagos, I must be home by 10 pm or deal with the wrath of my father.

In these three months,  I have also discovered that my father has a mild case of what I like to call “the Chauvinist disease”. I have never been ignorant to the fact that my father is a traditional, African man who expects to be waited on hand and foot; who expects his meals to be prepared ahead of his return from work; who expects his daughters to be domesticated. Like most traditional Nigerian men, my father relegated the task of raising three daughters to my mother and focused his fatherly duties on my brother, his oldest son. He expected my mother to train us to be decent, God-fearing and hard-working women, and also prepare us to be the perfect wives and homemakers for our families in the future.

Maybe I always knew my father was a storybook Nigerian man and I chose to ignore it – or worse still – I chose to believe he could change.

The change never did happen.

At 55, my father is still an angry, hot-tempered disciplinarian who can still make us, his children, cower in fear when he raises his voice. At 55, my father sees women as homemakers, child bearers and wives. He does not see me as a future CEO of a multi-million Naira company, a published writer with a Pulitzer, or a renowned professor. He sees me as his first daughter; the woman of the house; the maid; the cleaner; the one who must never rebel; the trophy daughter; the one who must make the family proud.

When male guests arrive with their loud laughs and conversations about the banking world, I am summoned downstairs, regardless of what I may be doing, to serve refreshments. I am given a list of food and drink items to assemble before grinning men who will later murmur about how much of a good wife I’ll be when I am married. I am warned, very sternly, not to forget to add a teaspoon or a bowl of sugar on the serving tray. I am forced to take on the twisted, subservient role of an African woman for a brief 5 minutes. I am forced to back into the gender roles I discarded after my first year in College.

In my current state of financial dependency, I cannot complain or talk back; my father relishes the fact that he now has me in his house, under his control. I cannot be vocal, for fear of being slapped, about my support for feminism, or about educated women being more than their reproductive organs. I cannot chastise my father for playing into inequitable gender roles; he is the patriarch, the breadwinner, the head of the home, and absurdly, the puppet master. His control and bank account has offered him the right to make statements that would make even the most novice of feminists balk.

There was the time in our London flat, during one of the hotter days, my youngest sister and I had just returned from the market, lugging plastic bags filled with salads, croissants and juice cartons. We found my father in the kitchen busying himself with a pot of oatmeal and boiled eggs. We assumed he had his meal preparation under control and went ahead to offload our bags and restock the pantry. Our assumption earned us some pretty epic upbraiding. My father brandished his bowl of oatmeal in our faces, and said, with as much disgust and disappointment as he could muster, “why should I have to make my own breakfast when I have two women in the house?! No man in the world makes his own food when a woman is available to him.” We stood in shocked silence, listened to his lengthy speech about the roles of young women in a home, and offered our apologies when he was finally finished.

There was also the time he challenged my elaborate plans of having a career before starting a family.
“There are many women who balance work and family. Why can’t you do the same? You are a woman. You are supposed to want children.” He asked, staring a hole into my face.

I know women who have successfully balanced having four kids and running a business. I admire house wives, stay at home moms and working mothers. But I do not want to choose between work and family; I want to start with the former and let the latter happen when I am good and ready. I explained my thoughts to my father and he looked at me like I had an island growing out of my head. I was silenced once again.

It is most hard to believe that my father, a man who had beaten all the odds as a child, could still be so myopic and set in his ways. My father grew up in a small village in Bayelsa, but he fought his way out of the deep South-South and moved to Lagos to become a success story. He was well read, well-traveled and extremely brilliant at his job – but his views on the role of women in society are laughable.

As a woman, I am expected to be maternal and nurturing. As a Nigerian daughter, I am expected to be maternal, nurturing, docile, domestic, quiet, shy, reserved and domesticated. I am allowed to have dreams and aspirations, but I must be willing to limit myself when a man demands my time and attention. I am expected to have children – not for my own personal pleasure and wants – but to please my parents and my in-laws.

The audacity of being a Nigerian daughter is knowing what is expected of me but still daring to be different; still daring to teeter on the edge without fear of repercussions. The audacity of being a Nigerian daughter is waking up every morning ready to fight a battle of sexes with every man I encounter. The audacity of being a Nigerian daughter is choosing to be single despite facing countless pressures to go out and find a husband. The audacity of being a Nigerian daughter is believing that my dreams are bigger than the limitations that society has placed upon me from a very young age.

The audacity of being a Nigerian daughter is simply being audacious, bold, free-spirited, wise, intelligent, feminine, womanly, and most of all, being me.

Yobaere.

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About Yobaere: Sometimes I make things up and write about them. Sometimes I take other people’s’ stories and make them my own. But I have come to find out that my best pieces are always about what I know and what I have experienced.

highlandblue

I love to learn. I love to teach. For me the two are the same.

30 Comments

  • Ayee says:

    This is very nice Yobaere

  • Edgothboy says:

    Brava! Youre a shining light for speaking up and speaking out!

  • Tobore says:

    I totally understand this and can relate to this. The only difference is I have maybe being able to let my family understand my feminist stance on issues and they sometimes respect that but for the most bit just believe it’s because I’m still young, I’m 21 by the way. I am also the first daughter, there was a time I jokingly mentioned I didn’t want to get married and I got saddled with a long talk by my brother, imagine I’d told my parents, lol! Anyways, very good piece, I myself write best based on experiences and things I’ve come across. I look forward to a Nigeria where this silly expectancies of females is stopped and their true worth can be shown.

  • JDRambler says:

    The one about he (or she) who pays the piper dictating the tune comes to mind here… I’ll however temper that by adding that whilst with a parent one might have to deal with such sentiments (seeing there really isn’t a choice), one reserves the right to choose friends and future family who align with whatever one’s strongly held views are…

    Good to see you’re resolute to do you regardless.. Thumps up!

  • Babestell says:

    Get a job and leave the house. That’s all.

    What are your short term plans, what are your mod term plans how are you actualising them. If you really and truly want to be independent there are plenty hostels where you can stay while you job hunt. But if you want the luxury of staying with your parents then pls be ready for whatever perceived insults you may get. And this is the same I would tell any lady complaining about parents giving her grief while under their roof

    • highlandblue says:

      We will tackle this flying the nest topic as one of our themes on Stories very soon. Almost all the editors have strong views on how to handle situations like this. Would be interesting to see. Thanks

  • Joy E says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this. Very well written, Yobaere. You shouldn’t miss the next edition of #TheConversation please. Other women need to draw strength from you, and even for the one who is strong, there is a comfort that comes from knowing, “I am not alone.”

  • Amaka says:

    I can totally relate to some of the things you wrote. It’s really annoying when your parents expect you to wait on them hand and foot. I’m starting to wean them off of that slowly. And that restriction and freedom, uggghhh. But then I understand where they come wrt that. The US is relatively safer than Nigeria. I remember days when I go to cinemark to see an 11pm movie, I dare not try it here. But on the other hand, my parents are my brands number 1 fan. They support me through and through. And rooting for us to be employers of labor and a global brand. I Love Them So Much For That. The Support is amazing.

  • Irene says:

    Totally relatable. Love this piece

  • Ari says:

    This is my life. My dad went a bit further,he had me betrothed. It’s conditional ,if I’m not married at a certain age the arranged marriage will hold with or without my consent. I love him still ?, cause I’ve come to understand that he is set in his ways and may never budge and it’s not his fault. I Will still be “rebellious”.?

  • Rose says:

    My mum told me to be very far from her when I mentioned a possibility of not wanting to get married…lol

    • highlandblue says:

      LOL shock and horror

    • Adewale says:

      I can totally relate with your story, however, I can’t say I understand cos am not female. You have given us a one sided opinion of your father. If I can draw a conclusion from your description of your terrible misogynist father and your claim of financial dependency, then I must say the man is really a terrible person.
      How dare him use his money to send to a university when him exercising authority over you is against your feminist ideology.
      How dare him send you to New York for masters when all he sees you as is a domesticated being.
      How dare him advise you to combine family and career when you obviously believe only one is achievable and have decided against family in favor of your career.
      How dare him.

      I know many fathers who have the horrible opinion of a female child similar to the one you painted your father as but I must say you father is not one of them. To think you described a man who allowed you to live in another city half way across the world on your own as protective, controlling and angered individual is really something that shows that he has failed as a father by neglecting his role as a father in guiding your thought in the right direction when your ventured overseas for your masters. If you truly believe his idea of being protective of a female child is archaic, then you should have ended all financial support coming from him at the end of your first year in New York when you decided that his is a barbaric way of life. If hes not financing you then he can’t control you. Move out of the house as suggested by someone and live in one of the mentioned hostels so you can see how life is for females who are really facing the problem you highlighted cos you are not one of them.

  • Edwina says:

    This article gives me so much life and hope for future generations for future women.

  • MireMalady says:

    I don’t normally comment. But this is too true and I can relate. I am am not the first daughter but I feel the pressure as well. I totally understand why my sister absolutely refuses to return to Nigeria now. I’m still trying navigate the rapids of my father’s mind. But what baffles me is when my mother begins to say such anti feminist things herself. It’s like, you should understand better than my father because you complain of the inequality barrier to us but turn around and support it with your husband. I don’t see why my brother can’t serve visitors. Or why I have to live under the same roof with my parents until I marry whilst my brother is a “Boy” so he needs a place of his own after he graduates.
    Or why my brother is just being a boy if he has sex but I am selling myself if I do.
    I don’t like the term” rebelling” but if that is the only way I can forge my path then….. So be it.
    Great write up Yobaere

  • lolajo says:

    It gives me joy to read articles such as yours.

    once the job comes, you can move out and make your rules.

    i feel blessed to have more supportive parents but they are still traditional and think mmarriage is the reason i was created.

    Please i would love to be involved in whatever programs your website organises .

  • hoyeh says:

    Biutiful write up…..I can totally relate wit ds.I am 25 nd d only girl, nd I experience ds wit ma mum. She wants me 2b married b4 any after B.sc program. Having my own apartment is totally not an issue up4 discussion..

  • Lele says:

    I can very much relate to your story. I know a man who, after his two oldest daughters finished University and started working, basically asked them to pay him back for putting them through school. It was so bad that one of the daughters got N300,000 bonus salary and he ordered her to give him the money saying ‘what has she given him back since she finished University’, he almost beat her up because she said she wouldn’t give it to him. She eventually gave him though. He then called their bosses to know exactly how much they receive as salary. He refused to send any of them for masters and one of them had to work for two years to be able to pay for her masters. They are currently planning on moving out. He had warned them to better go and bring husbands. Knowing him he probably has them betrothed.

    • Annie says:

      “…know a man who, after his two oldest daughters finished University and started working, basically asked them to pay him back for putting them through school. It was so bad that one of the daughters got N300,000 bonus salary and he ordered her to give him the money saying ‘what has she given him back since she finished University’, ”

      My dad has made similar comments. And more than once too, so I know he ain’t joking…

    • Annie says:

      Also this – “…He refused to send any of them for masters and one of them had to work for two years to be able to pay for her masters. ”

      He’s not paying for my masters but takes every opportunity he can to take digs (and sometimes abuse me) for how long it’s taking me to actually do a masters.
      Imagine…

  • Sharon says:

    Fam. I feel you. My dad spouts all these stuff about women making their own way, but at the end, he’s still the same as most Nigerian men.

    At least there’s a silver lining: we know he kind of men we will NOT marry and the kind of men we will NOT raise our sons to be.

    I’m never going back to preparing meals at 2 am because my dad doesn’t eat frozen/warmed food and is a night owl. Never. And no man will ever attempt to raise his hand to strike me over every real or imagined slight.

    I’m prepared to wait as long as it takes.

  • Annie says:

    Change ‘first daughter’ to ‘second daughter’, dad being 55 to 67 and the fact that though he was born in a little Akwa Ibom village, he actually grew up somewhere in the north, schooled in quite prestigious schools (for his time) and has lived in the US, UK and Saudi Arabia AND this is my story to a T. The tribalistic misogynistic chauvinism shocks me daily. Growing up he used to call me ‘rebel leader’, quite affectionately too. Perhaps he thought I’d change at some point. That didn’t happen and it never will.

  • Anchor Keidi says:

    Wow! @ the post and the comments. My late dad, a Muslim Yoruba man wasn’t into all that crap o! He preferred us girls to the boys and wanted me to pursue my career.

    I am simply amazed by these chauvinist talks.

  • Lavender winnifred says:

    The audacity of a Nigerian daughter is to choose to be self made and refuse to be limited by any man because it is supposed that the women’s education end in the kitchen

  • Oreoxskittles says:

    I’m 16 years old , I have always had these views but never really labelled them until I watched a ted x video we should all be feminsts administered by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Growing up as a yoruba child in Abuja having learned parents a father as a lawyer and a teacher as a mum. You’d think that it would be a different story. I grew up always being told ” a girl should be seen not heard”…and I would think to myself then why did I have a mouth, it would hurt to see my fellow girls accept these things and even seen it normal sometimes I would try to convince myself that they were but I couldn’t. Why couldnt I go out and hang out with my friends while my brother just a year older could?…I didn’t ask for nuch because I understood the fears of my mother from 2 to 6….but my brother being a boy could stay out as long as 9 even 10…would not even ask permission sometimes…and that developed something in me “tom-boyism” to want to be a boy then I’d some nights wake up and ask God why was I a girl beg him to take my breast and give me a flat chest and exchange my vagina for a penis….but my prayers have still not been answered…But at least I now know I am not mad habouring thoughts considered abnormal….maybe just maybe I might not be mad but just honest…I feel motivated by this….I feel like I should say something and I will.

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