By Olubunmi Ajai Layode
YOU, yes YOU can effect change in the society. YOU, can break the shackles that holds women down.
Ms Ada Ukeje made it possible for Igbo women to inherit from their deceased father’s estate when she challenged the patriarchal Igbo culture that forbids daughters from inheriting from their late father’s estate.
Mrs Olubunmi Ajai Layode made it possible for women in the Methodist Church of Nigeria to accompany their daughers down the aisle and give their daughters away in marriage.
A few months to my sister’s wedding, in our group Whatsapp chat of the remaining 5 daughters of D.I and J.P Ajai, my youngest sister, Dupeola asked me to give her away. Initially, I objected. I told her that I could not do it and that I would have to ask any uncle to do it. The other sisters said they had discussed it and decided that no one deserves that honour more than me. Since JOPA died, no one has looked out for us. We have been all we have had for each other.
I told them I would have to check the Bible and get back to them. This was the old Bunmi, the one who accepted the shackles of society on her, talking. She had not spoken in a while but the magnitude of what I was being asked to do made her make a rare appearance.
Then, the two Bunmis had a conversation in my head. No, I am not schizophrenic. And no, I am not disrespecting people who have schizophrenia, just clearing the air on the voices.
Old Bunmi : I can’t do it!
New Bunmi : because…?
O.B : … what if it breaks Biblical principles?
N.B : it does not. Church weddings are not a Biblical practice.
O.B : Apostle Paul would not like this.
N.B : Jesus would not stop you.
O.B : I don’t know that I can do this.
N.B : yes you can. And if you don’t do it just because you think a man MUST do it when it does not break any Biblical principles or the constitution of the Methodist church, then you, Olubunmi Ajai are not a daughter of JOPA. Remember how he, on his deathbed told you that you and your sisters are ‘omo Akin’ – children of valour and that you all are to fear no one but God after he, your father dies. Furthermore, if you don’t do this just because you think a man must do it, that makes you a fake Feminist/Humanist. Practice what you preach Bunmi.
So, I told my sisters that I accepted the honour. My sister told the Revd of our family church at Obun Eko that her sister would walk and give her away when he asked her on one of the pre-wedding counselling sessions.He opposed it vehemently, saying it had to be a man, any man… it could even be our 20 year old step brother… anyman… but not a woman.
So, a 20 year old step brother could give a woman away but not her 48 year old full sister? I don’t think so!
On the wedding day, one of the Bishops of the Methodist Church of Nigeria officiated. While we waited for the bride who was running late to arrive, the reverend of our family church approached me to ask me who was giving the bride away. I told him I was. He insisted that I could not. It was turning ugly. So, he said he would tell the Bishop. I said let’s go there. So, I asked my Uncle and Aunts to come with me.
We approached the Bishop and the reverend jumped in while my aunt – a deaconess, was introducing me to the Bishop. The revd jumped in and told the Bishop I insisted on walking my sister and giving her away even though he had told me I could not. The bishop said he was right. I could not do it.
I started crying. Not because I was weak, but because I was livid at the injustice. My sister and I were neither breaking any Biblical rules nor any Methodist constitution but because I have a vagina and not a penis, I was not allowed to honour my sister.
I asked the Bishop why I could not do it. He told me it was not our culture. I told him that a few centuries ago, multiple births were a taboo in some areas, now, even in those areas, people pay good money to have multiple births. My Uncle told the Bishop that culture evolves. The Bishop inisted that I could not do it. It is simply against our culture in the Methodist Church. My aunty told him that our parent church, the Methodist Church of England now has female reverends where they did not have before. Why can’t we evolve? The Bishop said it was not our culture. I insisted that as Christians, our focus should be on Christ. And Christ did not say that a woman cannot give another woman away in marriage. We went back and forth and after a while, he agreed. I could walk my sister down the aisle and give her away in marriage.
And that is how the daughters of JOPA set a preceedent in the Methodist Church of Nigeria. Because of us, because we refused to be bound by cultures and traditions that shackle us just because we don’t have a penis, future brides in the Methodist Church can say that they want their mothers or sisters to give them away in Marriage. They can quote the daughters of D.I and J.P Ajai as reference.
I had a meeting with the Bishop a few days ago and he admitted that the society is patriarchal and that the Methodist Church of Nigeria would now look at changing this culture of not allowing women to give another woman away in marriage.
YOU, yes, YOU, can make a change in society.
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