By Samiat Salami
A saga. A crisis. A marital calamity. Many have referred to the sensational and public clash in April between popular Nigerian singer Tiwa Savage and her estranged husband/ex-manager, Tunde Balogun (a.k.a TeeBillz) in dramatic and colourful terms. But it was the tear-jerking tell-all-interview Tiwa gave to a Nigerian TV station, about the state of her celebrity marriage (behind their closed doors) that raised questions on what some African women still see as their role in a marriage – servile. This article is not about Tiwa Savage as an individual, but what as African/Black women and men learnt from the much-publicised marriage breakdown.
Social media across Africa and its diaspora went agog when Tunde Balogun made some very public allegations about his celebrity wife, popstar Tiwa Savage, on his Instagram page, claiming she had been unfaithful to him with some high-profile Nigerian celebrity names, that she cared more about her career than their marriage, and that she didn’t “cook for him”.
A day later, in an emotional interview with Pulse TV, Savage let forth, dissecting every minute detail of her three-year marriage to her manager – with revelations straight out of a Nollywood movie. The nail-biting accusations against her husband included: how he had numerous affairs, including one with someone called “Edible Catering”; how while she was in Jamaica earlier this year filming a music video, she had a sudden miscarriage which her husband cared little about and played away back home in Nigeria while she was recovering from losing their (second) child in a Jamaican hospital; how she discovered that Balogun had another child, conceived during their relationship; how she was the main breadwinner but as her manager, Balogun fraudulently and frequently stole from her because he “lived above his means”.
At one point a tearful Savage revealed how her husband was such a careless spender that he had even borrowed 45 million Naira (US$225,000) without telling her how he spent it; and why she fired him as her manager in order to save her marriage. She said Balogun was emotionally abusive to her, uttering put-downs such as “I made you”. The list of accusations and revelations went on and on, and to crown it all, Savage, choking on tears, revealed how she had once caught her husband snorting cocaine in their kitchen.
As both sides of the story unravelled, Nigerians and other Africans from all corners of the internet weighed in, making it the most controversial and popularised celebrity news to hit Nigeria since the dawn of social media. More than 1.6 million viewers have watched the interview on YouTube, with opinions sharply divided. The saga has even created popular quarrelling hashtags between the two camps, for example, #teamtiwa, #teamteebillz, and #ediblecatering.
Balogun claimed that his Instagram account had been hacked and all his posts on the saga deleted, but his wife’s interview put paid to his efforts at damage limitation – and she categorically stated that their relationship was over.
Savage’s tell-all interview will be remembered for a long time in Nigerian celebrity culture – by both supporters and detractors. But what it poignantly echoed is a much larger, social and societal problem between men and women in Nigeria, if not Africa at large. To understand the weight of their passionate responses, it is worth examining the current socio-economic climate between the sexes.
According to a study titled Impact of Economic Depression on the Education of Male/Female Undergraduates in Nigeria, by Aina Sola, a sociology lecturer at Lagos State University, the number of Nigerian women enrolled in university has dramatically increased over the past 50 years. The study begins with the 1960s, which shows female enrollment in Nigerian universities at a mere 7.7%, with only 196 women among the country’s 2,545 university students. In 1990, it had risen to 27%, by 2001 it stood at 41.73% and by 2005 it was 43.09%.
Continuing the trend, for the 2008-9 academic year, the National Universities Commission, which oversees enrollment at all Nigerian universities, had the highest number of female entrants on record, with women accounting for 45% of students admitted. Though there hasn’t been a headcount in the past six years comparing the proportions of men and women in Nigerian universities, it is fair to conclude that based on the previous trend, there are now an equal amount of men and women in Nigerian universities. It is also credible that female university students might outnumber their male counterparts, and here lies a cultural dilemma.
With increased educational opportunities, Nigerian women are contributing financially to the household more than ever. Also promoting this trend is the country’s fragile infrastructure, economic turmoil and the constantly faltering rate of unemployment.
The Role of men vs successful women
The traditional role of men as the financial head of the household is changing, yet gender roles and expectations within the culture seem to be staying the same, and if the thousands of social media comments about the Tiwa/Tunde affair is any indicator, women are frustrated. One commenter writes: “This is what a lot of Nigerian women go through everyday. They pay for everything in the house while the men spend their money on their mistresses, neglecting their children and wife. Yet they come back and expect to see food on the table.”
Another says: “At least 70% of Nigerian women now carry the financial burden of the home and yet [we] endure abuse (physical, verbal, emotional) from our men. To top it all, they sleep with anything in a skirt and cry wolf when the woman dares to defend herself. Yet it’s all Tiwa’s fault?”
In Nigeria, as in most patriarchal cultures, women tend to look after the household and the children. The man is expected to provide financial stability for the family. But now, with more Nigerian women in boardrooms, markets, small businesses, hospitals, government offices and, in Savage’s case, the lucrative entertainment industry, the situation is on the move.
Man and his food
One of the most discussed issues in Balogun’s Instagram statement was that Savage did not ask him if “he had eaten” during their marriage. He also mentions how other celebrity wives, such as singer Owawunmi and Annie Idibia, had on occasions provided him with a home-cooked meal when he visited their homes, something his own wife did not do because she was too busy minding her career.
This statement seems to have struck a cord with #teamteebillz. On the popular blog, verastic.com, when a female commenter laments the exhaustion of having to be a full-time employee, cook and mother, a male commenter responded: “You did not even consider the allegation that she has not cooked for her husband in the past 3 years. You simply concluded that she is busy and puts food on their table. There are millions of women globally who are more busy than Tiwa, yet try to make time to cook for their hubby.”
He further cautions women “on the consequences of infidelity [when they don’t] live up to their roles as wives”. Another male commenter writes that she “treated him as a houseboy simply because she is the breadwinner”.
At least 70% of Nigerian women now carry the financial burden of the home and yet [we] endure abuse (physical, verbal, emotional) from our men. To top it all, they sleep with anything in a skirt and cry wolf when the woman dares to defend herself
The issue of who brings the bread into the family has also dominated many conversations. In an April 2015 Leadership Nigeria article, Osun State House of Assembly commission director, Veronica Afuye, comments that, “Many women earn higher salaries compared to their husbands, and are in most cases are more committed to the welfare of the immediate family compared to men who are looked up to for assistance from the extended family.”
However Afuye adds, “that even when the woman by virtue of her financial status becomes the breadwinner, she should not allow [it] to her head, but rather submit to the authority of her husband who is incapacitated because of his lack of employment. Despite the financial status of the woman as breadwinner, she should submit to the authority of the house – the man who is the head of the home.”
In her interview, Savage observed that she followed this cultural prescription of “ a good wife” in her marriage. “He doesn’t want people to know that I am the breadwinner. As a woman I don’t want people to look down on my man. I want to pretend that he is the one paying. I want to pretend that I am the little queen and my husband is taking care of me,” Tiwa bemoaned.
The problem with this brand of the family model is that it is bound to create a lot of tension and repressed angst between both parties, as Savage herself discovered over the course of her three-year marriage.
It is fair to conclude that most people would rather be in charge of how their hard-earned money is spent, and women are no exception. The cracks in the Savage/Balogun marriage started to show when Tunde began to acquire material things that Tiwa deemed above their means. “He likes to keep up with the Joneses,” said Savage. When he purchased an expensive Mercedes on loan and was unable to pay, Savage says that she put the money into his account, so it didn’t look like the money came from his wife, but he turned around to her to say “I took away his manhood”.
Who is an ideal breadwinner?
This belief that a man is or should be the core breadwinner leaves most men with acute insecurity, leaving them feeling inadequate. In a project that follows cases in the U.S. and Canada in which women are the breadwinners, Carleton University professor Andrea Doucet found that men struggled with the cultural presumptions that husbands should always be the breadwinner. In Breadwinner Wives and the Men they Marry, Randi Minetor, an advertising executive, concludes that “many unemployed or under-earning men feel wounded by what they see as their diminished status. Their self-esteem can suffer.”
Savage also quotes her mother, who told her: “Tiwa you are the wife. Be patient. You just have to stomach a lot of things.” What being “the wife” means in this scenario is submitting herself to the patriarchal hierarchy, even when her opinions differ. With the enormous amount of pressure on men to provide, along with women earning more and the current global economic climate, it is easier to conclude that an equal, egalitarian approach to the family unit might be the way forward.
“Everyone says you can’t walk out of the marriage, says Savage during the final minutes of her 45-minute TV interview. “Our culture frowns on it. You have to stay in it, you have to make it work.”
But it is left to a social media commenter, Nike Osinibi, to add the other perspective: “There are times you need to walk away…This is the time.”
Even when the woman by virtue of her financial status becomes the breadwinner, she should not allow [it] to her head, but rather submit to the authority of her husband who is incapacitated because of his lack of employment.