With Dr. Andrew Akanigha, a retired Permanent Secretary in the Delta State Civil Service, and Mrs. Philomena Akanigha, a retired school Principal, there is simply no dull moment when it comes to the issue of marital reminiscences. When you interview them, be ready to laugh and laugh until you are tired of laughing. Even after being in a marital union for 50 years, they are never tried of poking fun at each other. In this interview with PAUL OSUYI in Asaba, they shared, amid bouts of laughter, their experiences and wonderful moments of togetherness in the past five decades. They also have some pieces of advice for intending couples and newly married ones.
While we thank God for keeping you together for over 50 years, could you tell us how you met your wife?
Sir Andrew: When I graduated from the University of Lagos (UNILAG), in June 1970, that evening when I finished my last paper, I got into my room and met a telegram asking me to come to Sapele for an appointment. It was there that I got a job and went to visit my relations. Behold, they all lived together in the same compound. That was how we met for the first time. I exclaimed that she is beautiful. I asked if she was married and she said no. Then I said ok, your husband has come. That was how we started. We courted for just six months and got married on February 13, 1971.
Is it the same story with you or do you have details you want to add?
Lady Philomena: I don’t know about the ‘your-husband-has-come-today’ aspect. I know that, on seeing him, I don’t know what actually transpired but something just clicked anyway. And after that day, he kept on coming to visit, not just because of his cousin that brought him there the first time (laughs). He kept on coming and stayed for long hours. And, at the end of the day, I would see him off. Sometimes, he would stay till 11pm before he would ride his bicycle home. He had a bicycle that time. I can’t even remember if there was a formal proposal.\
That is exactly where I was going to. Sir, how did you propose to her?
Sir Andrew (laughs): I have told you that when I saw her…
Lady Philomena (cuts in): No, it was not that day
Sir Andrew: Yes, I was transferred to Sabongida Ora to go and teach. I said no, that would spoil my case. I better come back to Sapele where I had seen a damsel, a beautiful girl. If you see her that time, she was very beautiful. And if she sang for you, you would be carried away. All the Latin hymns in the Catholic Church, she sang all even more than the Rev. Father. That was why when Fr. Uwaifo was ordained, they took her to Benin to go and sing. So coming to that area of proposal, I told Iheajirika, who was the Chief Inspector of Education (CIE) at the time, together with Mariere, I was honest, I opened up to them that I would like to go back to Sapele because of her. They laughed. Iheajirika was the principal of the secondary school at Sabongida Ora. So they granted my request, saying that I was honest. I should go back to Sapele. When I got back to Sapele, I told her I have come o, I will marry you. She may not remember now. That evening she escorted me, we stood there and got talking, music was booming. It was then I kissed her for the first time. That is how we started.
Can you recall how you responded to his proposal?
Lady Philomena: That very day, I don’t know what happened when he sat down there, I can still picture where he sat in his cousin’s house. I just got attracted. I could have told him to leave me alone and go away but I didn’t do that. I can say it was his eyes that I looked into that very day and that got me attracted. Of course, by the time he proposed, I said yes. I agreed.
During your six-month courtship, was there any opposition to your proposed union?
Sir Andrew: Are you not an African man? There is nowhere people will not oppose. Let me just tell you. Look at this photo of my brothers (he shows you a photo). This man here opposed it. He said no, that it was too early for me to get married after just graduating from the university. He was the opposition leader but the others supported me.
How did you convince him to accept the relationship?
Sir Andrew: He pretended that it was okay. You can see that everybody was there at the marriage but deep within me, I knew he was not happy. Not only that, our seniors at home said she is an Itsekiri woman because she is related to one Chief Mabiaku, the now late Iyasere of Warri Kingdom. They said Urhobo and Itsekiri can’t get married but I did not listen to that story because of the way we were brought up. When you see any man tying wrapper whether Urhobo, Itsekiri, Kwale, my father regarded them as one. That was how we were brought up. And the man, Mabiaku, helped me. He sponsored the marriage, and they are still helping her. That was why when we celebrated the 50th anniversary the other day, I said it was in honour of late Chief Gabriel Mabiaku and his children. They supported us massively.
Lady Philomena: From my side, there was no opposition. I just finished from Teachers Training College, Ubiaja. I graduated as a Grade II Teacher. I started teaching. So, the next thing was marriage. Though there were other suitors who came before him, none of them was able to pass the test. When he came, he kept coming every day. I can’t remember a day that he didn’t come…
Sir Andrew (cuts in): And I was taking my lunch and dinner there…
Lady Philomena: And when my parents saw him, the way he was behaving, he was humble, jovial, cheerful, that kind of thing, they liked him. In his manner of carrying people along, my parents fell in love with him, and even my siblings.
You said his eyes attracted you. Apart from that, what other qualities made you accept him ahead of other suitors?
Lady Philomena: Like I told you, he was jovial and he also encouraged me to enrol for GCE that very year. I wanted to proceed to the university but there were some papers I didn’t have. So he encouraged me to take GCE. He was coaching me in economics, and from that coaching, you know…
Sir Andrew (cuts in) I was coaching other things (laughter).
Lady Philomena: As he was coaching, we were getting more attracted to each other. He was really interested in my going further in education.
You said she sings very well. What other qualities attracted you to her?
Sir Andrew: One, she is very intelligent till today. She has maintained a record which members of my family have not been able to break. I coached her for six months and she passed her papers. That was one of the things that my brother held against her, that she won’t be able to pass Grade II, not to talk of GCE. But to his surprise, she passed her Grade II in the whole of the then Midwest. She was one of the best. When I coached her, she passed, and she is beautiful. What else do I want? If she sings for you, you will go to heaven. You feel the presence of the heavenly host coming down. She is well-mannered, brought up in a Christian home. And she knows Urhobo language more than myself. I too, I swore that I would never marry anybody outside the Catholic Church.
What do you remember most about your day of wedding in 1971?
Sir Andrew: The one that fascinates me, you may see it as negative but it’s not. On the day of our wedding was when her father showed the stuff he was made of. He insisted that the marriage would not hold until her junior brother comes down from Warri. The officiating priest said no, the ceremony is 10am. But her father said until her brother comes, the marriage would not hold. So the priest gave out his car for somebody to go to Warri and bring that man. So the marriage was shifted from 10am to 11.30am.
Lady Philomena (cuts in). The truth is that I happened to be the first surviving child after many other children born before me. And because of that, my Daddy loved me so much. I am sure that it was that day that it clicked in his mind for the first time that he was going to lose me. That was why he now brought in the issue of my brother because he never mentioned before that day that he must be there. It was that his cousin he came visiting that now travelled to go and bring my brother.
Lady Philomena: But for me, the most fascinating aspect was when I saw my bridal train. I said, so I was getting married at last? I was happy that I was going to be the first to wed in my immediate family. I felt good. And preparation for the wedding took just two weeks and it was successful. Another thing was that even those we didn’t invite came; the church was filled up. Even during the reception, those who didn’t hear about it came. In those days, they would be singing along with you as they are escorting the couple to the reception. People who didn’t hear about it came to the reception (laughs). When I saw many people, I was really dazed. I was asking myself: so it is because of me that these people are here? But I was happy.
Can you remember your first misunderstanding in marriage and how you resolved it?
Sir Andrew: The first major misunderstanding came after we had stayed for three years without a child. I must bring this one out. I took her to a hotel where I confessed to her about something that I did wrong. I bought a chicken with which to beg her but after the confession, everything went sour.
Lady Philomena (cuts in): We already had a child by that time…
Sir Andrew: I put a girl in the family way but it was not deliberate. It was initially being rumoured. I now decided that before she heard about it from another source, let me confess. That was why I took her to a hotel in Benin then. But everything went sour. It was raining that very day. We went home. Thank God, her parents were very understanding. Her father and mother did not one day interfere but that incident could have led to a break-up. It was only God that handled the situation for us.
Lady Philomena: The other one has to do with relatives coming to stay with us. They put much pressure on the family. But in all, God gave us the wisdom to handle the issue; otherwise that alone too was capable of breaking up the home because they were many. He didn’t understand then that these people could stay on their own and you can still render assistance. He did not understand that they don’t need to be under the same roof with you…
Sir Andrew (cuts in): But now I understand but it took me time to understand.
From your own experience in marriage, what pieces of advice would you want to give to young couples on how to have a long-lasting love relationship?
Sir Andrew: Let me just say that, one, before you get married, take your case to God. Ask Him for a wife, a companion. In our case, it was God. Secondly, interference from any quarters should not be tolerated. Even though my parents-in-law are dead, I still love them because they were very nice. They prayed for us. When I deviated from the vow, they didn’t kill me. These days, if such happens, some would take side with the man, some would support the woman, and that brings a lot of damage to the home. Young couples should be prayerful all the time because the enemy is lurking around looking for an opportunity to come in and cause havoc.
Lady Philomena: Apart from the spiritual, intending couples should go deeper to find out where the proposed partner is from so that you can get more facts. When my daughter was to get married, for example, I had to leave here for Gboko in Benue State, unknown to the boy and his parents. So he was surprised when he saw me that Sunday morning in church. He was the one that preached. He was shocked. At the end, he took me to their compound. And, it was exactly the way he had described it. The mother travelled but she had to hurry back to meet with me. My mother also did similar thing in my case. There was a suitor who was coming. He lived in Benin. We did not know when my mother left the house one day and went to Benin. She went to the house using the man’s description and knocked on the door. A woman came out to answer. My mother now said she was looking for her husband. And, she replied that her husband went out. Here was a man who said he was not married but he had grown-up children. When my mother came back, she asked me to forget about the man. So both parties should take pains to investigate. This is because, many hire people to go and stand in as family members. It is only after the bride price had been paid that the woman may get to know the truth. After the marriage, patience is the key to sustenance. I always tell the girls to carry a big bag of patience into their homes because there are many things that would discourage you right from day one. Marriages have broken up because of toothpaste.