Macauley and Ima Etuk have been married for 48 years. In this interview with JULIANA TAIWOOBALONYE in Abuja, the nurse/public health practitioner and journalist, share how they weathered the storms together in their marital journey including being mocked and despised for having just girls before the eventual arrival of their boys.
Can we know a bit about your backgrounds?
Husband: I was born in Etinan Town, Etinan LGA, Akwa Ibom state, Nigeria. I am a nurse and public health practitioner by profession. I trained in Public Health Work in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, a graduate of Royal College of Nursing in Edinburgh, Scotland. I returned to the country and took up employment at the Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Health until retirement. I led a team of international healthcare Christian workers based in Nigeria to a conference in Holland. I hold a Bachelor’s in Theology from North West University, South Africa. I am now retired and a church officer. I love traveling.
Wife: I was born the ninth and last child and raised under a single mother in Ikot Akpabio, Etinan LGA, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. I am a journalist by profession. I rose to the peak of my career as a veteran journalist, becoming a Chief Information Officer at Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Information. I worked as a Principal Protocol Officer at Akwa Ibom State government house for eight years, serving under both military and civilian governors. I’m a member Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR). I am a NAWOJian (member of Nigerian Association of Women Journalists). I am also a member Akwa Ibom State Retired Media Women. I am an author of gospel books, a chorister and music composer. I am an avid reader and wide traveler.
While we thank God for keeping you together as husband and wife all these years, could you tell us how you met before two of you got married?
Husband: One day I went to visit an aunt of mine at the primary school where she worked. There, I saw a dark, charming, smart young girl. We got to chat and she was so bold and open and jovial. I admired her and with time I discussed it with her and that’s how we took off.
Was it the same thing with you, or are there details you would like to add, at least on your own part?
Wife: The first day I met my husband was at his aunt’s workplace, a primary school. It happened that I knew her (his aunt), and that day I went to visit her. He also came to visit her that same day coincidentally. So she introduced us, saying to me, ‘Ima, meet Macauley’ and I turned to him and said ‘Nice to see you, Macauley’. He seemed quite surprised at my boldness because then, young girls were by custom expected to refer to older men as ‘Sir’ or some other title of respect. That I was bold enough to call him by his first name just like his European friends and colleagues surprised him a great deal. So, he began to admire me and that’s how it started.
Was there any opposition from anywhere, relatives, friends, concerning your marriage?
Husband: Personally, I experienced no open opposition at the beginning. Not until later on after we got married when people began to say why didn’t you marry someone from your profession (I worked in the medical profession). It was expected that as a medical practitioner, I would marry someone who is a nurse or who also works in my field. That was all the opposition that I faced but it was basically just the contrary expectations of people over my choice of a life partner at that time.
Wife: From the moment I introduced my husband to my mother and extended family, they opposed our marriage seriously because of age. Both our ages, that is. I had just turned twenty and he was in his late twenties, and so my family complained that I was too young to get married yet (especially as I was the last child of my parents). But I insisted on getting married primarily because of my mother. She raised us singl handedly after my father passed on and I couldn’t bear to see her suffer on her own any longer. I knew that if I got married sooner, I, together with my husband, would be able to support my mother and take care of her for all the years she took care of all nine of us on her own. I wanted to do that for her and even though she herself protested, I insisted that I would get married and that was just what I did.
What made you decide to go for your wife out of the many ladies available for a pick within that period?
Husband: I chose her particularly because of the character traits that I noticed and admired in her. She was kind, homely, smart, ever smiling, a good conversation holder. Also, the godliness and warmth of her mother, who she is a spitting image of, attracted me to the family and strengthened my decision to marry her.
What qualities made you choose him above other eligible bachelors or suitors within that period?
Wife: Right from the first day I saw him, I admired how neat he was. I loved his dress sense. He was so neat and well-dressed and that was really attractive. Also you could never be bored with him. There was no dull moment in conversation with him and we were always chatting and laughing. He is naturally a very jovial person. The way he was so courteous and kind and, as I noticed later on, the way he was nice and friendly to children, picking them up and throwing them up and down and making them laugh, it convinced me that he would be a good father to our children. Because of all these, my heart was set on marrying him from the very beginning.
Could you remember your first misunderstanding in marriage and how did you handle it?
Husband: I hardly can remember the very first. But I can remember how she almost too frequently visited her mother after we were newly married and even though I wasn’t quite comfort- able with it, I understood that it was because of the deep love she had for her mother. On the whole, I got used to it and it never really became a big issue. Wife: There was a time early in our marriage when I visited my husband in his new office and when I got there I saw a young woman seated. My husband got up and hugged me and introduced me to her and said: ‘Meet Ima, my wife’. When I saw her, I assumed she was probably one of his patients coming in for consultation or something. But as soon as my husband introduced me to her, she just looked at me slowly from head to toe and said to my husband, ‘Your wife? No wonder!’ And then she got up and walked out. I was shocked by her rudeness. And when I asked him what it was about, he laughed it off. For days after that, I kept pester- ing him to tell me who she was and why she said ‘no wonder!’ to me. But after a while he frankly asked me to kill the issue and forget about it. I got to understand that the woman was chasing him but he wasn’t giving in to her. For him, it wasn’t some- thing I should be worried about because it would never even cross his mind to cheat on me.
What were the major roles each of you played in raising the children?
Husband: As the head of the family, I made sure that we set the children’s needs as top priority. My wife and I totally cooperated, economically and financially and even morally, in order to get the kids the best education from nursery school to university. Everything we did, in raising the children, we did together and with the knowledge of each other. So it was a situation where both of us had to join forces and rub minds to see that the family was adequately taken care of and the children’s needs were fully met. And, thankfully, God really gave us the wherewithal to comfortably raise them as best as we could and on a par with the best quality that money could pay for then.
Wife: My husband and I set our children’s education, especially that of the girls, as a major priority. We did not compromise on that. And so in every way we could we came together and joined our hands and heads to give them the best in terms of education, care, and the general family needs. For us it was really a combined effort to achieve that common goal of raising children as parents.
How did you successfully handle your finances as a family?
Husband: By God’s grace, my wife and I had an understanding of ourselves and of the basic things that involve managing a home, and one of such things is proper planning. That simple understanding of ourselves helped us to always plan together and to think with one mind. And then we had to do a lot of sacrificing and forgoing of personal pleasures so that we made sure to manage our finances and raise our family comfortably.
Wife: Like he said, proper planning and sacrifice were the key things that we did for our family. Taking things step by step, solving problems one at a time and making sure not to overload ourselves with unnecessary commitments that would lead to financial problems was another thing we did. We really denied ourselves certain pleasures in order to sacrifice for the children and we can honestly say that all of that has paid off today.
How were you able to cope with combining work/ business with raising a family?
Husband: That’s a very interesting question because it really is not easy to juggle two huge aspects of your life like that. However, because of that simple understanding of ourselves that I earlier mentioned, we were able to cope. Planning our time, planning our resources and always consulting with each other to compromise and make sure that neither of our work or family life suffers. So we were able to commit ourselves to our jobs, being our main sources of income, while not allowing any loopholes in the management of the family.
Wife: Personally, as a journalist, working with tight deadlines and even later working as a protocol officer in government, it wasn’t too easy for me. I was always on the road, always away from my home and the children. But neither my job nor the home front suffered because I had the advantage of a very supportive husband. He was quite useful to me. He did superbly in managing the domestic aspects of our home while I was away, and especially, in taking care of our young daughters when I had to leave too early. And you know, one thing we did was alternate our annual leave so that it didn’t clash and at least either one of us was at home at a particular period. Even my colleagues knew my husband for being so supportive to such a busy working class woman that I was at the time and I’m so proud of him and thankful to him for all the domestic, moral, spiritual support and we give God all the glory.
And, what do you like most about spouse?
Husband: What I like most about my wife is her politeness and her straightforwardness. She can’t withstand ‘corner-corner’. She must always make sure to set everything straight and right every single wrong in anything she does.
Wife: One reason why I will always love my husband is because of the way he loved and still loves our children. You see, in a typical African set- ting, having a lot of female children is akin to committing a serious, shameful crime, especially for the mother. And it is worse when you have them again and again, with no boys in-between. We had five girls at a stretch, and I must tell you, it wasn’t easy. Nobody saw the use of my girls. People looked down on me and referred to me with sympathy just because I had five girls and no son. Friends, family, even close relatives, in the church, in the workplace, everywhere, I was treated with unhidden contempt. Visitors would come around and, after saying hello to my children, they would turn to me and say: ‘Oh, Ima, what a pity!’ I always wondered what are people pitying me for? Is it because I have just girls? But all through these, Macauley still stayed with me. Yes, there was definitely pressure from his family to send me away and get someone who will give him a lineage, but he gave them deaf ears and literally spoiled our daughters! He took the best care of them, gave them the best education till university level. All five of them! Today, we have five daughters and three sons, but I’ll tell you that today, nobody takes care of us like our five daughters do, in all their respective capabilities. We are absolutely reaping the fruits of having those girls, and I’ll always be grateful to my husband for staying with me and seeing our lovely daughters as gifts and not as burdens. In another life, he’ll still be my husband and I’ll always love him.