Sir Lawrence Abioye Egunjobi and his wife, Lady Victoria Idowu Egunjobi, both schoolteachers retired as school principal and headmistress respectively. Both from Ilawe-Ekiti in Ekiti South West Local Government Area, they have been married for 57 years. In this interview with PRISCILLA EDIARE, in Ado-Ekiti, they reminisced on their marriage and love life. Excerpts:
While we thank God for the miraculous things he has done for you and your wife, can you tell us how you met your wife?
Husband: Our first meeting was in primary school as classmates. In those days, we used to sit on dual desk – a desk for two pupils. We were sitting together on the same desk and we continued like that until we passed out and parted ways. I went to Men’s Teachers’ College and she went to Women’s Teachers’ College. But after graduation in 1957, we met again at St Gregory’s Modern School in Ilawe-Ekiti as young teachers. But when were in primary school as classmates and desk-mate, we were never friendly at all. We were very hostile to each other. It was our teacher, late Chief Francis Falade Fayemi, the father of the current governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, that brought the two of us together to sit on the same desk. Why he did that, we did not know, though we were his favourites then. At that time, we didn’t know that we were already into a kind of unconscious marriage. After our teachers’ education, we were posted to the same school to teach and we started our love affair and the conscious marriage came up in 1963.
Wife: We met in primary school. We started sitting together on the same bench when we were in Standard Six. During that time, our teacher and headmaster of the school, Late Chief Francis Falade Fayemi, put us together on the same bench for reasons best known to him but unknown to us. But throughout the period we sat together on the same bench, we never saw eye-to-eye; we were very hostile to each other to the extent that we used a ruler to mark out the bench, such that he mustn’t go beyond the line, likewise me.
What would you say brought about the hostility?
Wife: I didn’t want to come near any man then until I was ripe for marriage. After our primary school education, I was so small in stature that I was unable to reach out and write something on the blackboard. Because of this, I and others with the same stature were asked to go to vocational school at Ado-Ekiti, while those that were taller in height were given teaching jobs in Ilawe-Ekiti. We were separated for four years as he went for his Grade 2 course in Akure, while I went for mine in Ado-Ekiti. But after the course, we were brought together again in the same school to teach. At the modern school, subjects were rotated. He used to come to my class to teach and I used to go to his to teach too. By so doing, a little bit of love started to grow between us and we started to visit each other at home.
Was there opposition from any member of your family? If yes, how did you overcome?
Husband: Her father didn’t want any man around her. Suitors that came were driven away by him as he would have one complaint or the other about them. I also faced the same challenge. He said he didn’t welcome me. When he was asked why, he said: one, where I lived was too far from his house; he wanted her to marry where he could be seeing her through the window every day. Two: he said that it was likely I wasn’t going to take good care of her because we were more or less of the same age. Three, that he heard I was a Grade 3 Teacher and not Grade 2, so, where was I going to get the money to take care of her? When I heard all these, I went to my mother and told her I had seen a girl I wanted to marry, but her father was reluctant: what do we do about it? My mother went to a woman who was very familiar with the old man, told her the whole story and the woman said she would take it up. And, truly she took it up in a very peculiar way: by kneeling and rolling on the ground and shouting his praises until he agreed to listen to her request. “It is about your daughter,” the woman said. “I have a son who is interested in marrying her. I am aware that you have always driven away suitors.” After much plea, he agreed and said she should introduce the boy (that’s me). She then told him my name, the name of my parents, the quarters I come from in Ilawe-Ekiti, my educational background and every other information about me. He asked her to come back in three days time for his answer. The issue about my wife then was that she would never give her consent to any man without the approval of her father. He was the deciding factor. On the third day, she went back to him. He told her he had investigated the boy, his parents and his background and he said he was okay.
How did you accept his proposal?
Wife: Initially, I was interested in him but my father disagreed. So, I promised that any man my father disapproved of, I wasn’t going to marry him. In his own case, when my father said no, I withdrew. But his mother was anxious to see me marry her son. So she sent people to beg my father to accept her son and when my father eventually agreed, I was happy and I accepted him.
What was the attraction for both of you with all the spinsters and bachelors available for a pick within that period?
Husband: Of all the girls then, I preferred her. She was the most beautiful and elegant among them. She was simple and easy-going. She has a very good background. The parents were Christians and we shared the same Catholic faith.
Wife: I had decided to marry somebody who was not much older than me and I found that in him. The gap between us is about three years and that is enough for me. I couldn’t marry someone I would be calling Baba. Also, he was not that ugly (she laughs). I mean, he was and still very handsome. He is a kind person and moderate in character. He was not used to running after girls, and he is still not a womaniser. He is so brilliant and caring, even till now.
Can you remember your first misunderstanding in marriage and how were you able to handle it?
Husband: Whenever she did something I didn’t like, I would complain and if she was able to adjust, I would be happy. But if she found it difficulty adjusting, I would tolerate her. One weakness she has is her inability to keep up with outing time. For me, I don’t believe in African time. She wastes time making up and my complaints have not yielded much results as she keeps saying she cannot adjust. So I have always tolerated and encouraged her to always start early, but she has adjusted in that line but not always. Whenever she did well, I praised her and when she did otherwise, I let go. Beyond that, it is all about tolerance.
Wife: Whenever he talked or complained, I would not answer him or I would go out and spend like three to four hours and come back. By that time he would have been calmed. Whenever we were free, we would ask each other if this or that should happen, what would you do? We would express our dos and don’ts.
Who says sorry first?
Husband: Either of us but it also depends. If there is a misunderstanding and I think deeply that there was an area I didn’t do well or offended her, I would say sorry.
Wife: Either of us. I tell him sorry whenever I offended him.
Sir, do you say sorry to her in a blunt manner or through gifts or how?
Husband: I don’t bribe her with anything. I just call her inside the room far into the night when everywhere is quiet and tell her the thing we were discussing the other time. I would say that I discovered that in this particular area I didn’t do well. I have offended you, please, don’t be annoyed.
What sustained your marriage all these years?
Husband: It has been the grace of God without which nothing works. Prayers and supplication! Rare tolerance! Forgiving and forgetting! Couples will always quarrel, but forgiving from time to time matters. Don’t keep malice and ensure there is effective communication all the time. Tell him or her the state of your mind. These are some of the ingredients that have been sustaining our marriage and we have been able to do it for 57 years. I think we have been role models in the religious or secular world. We do things in common. Another thing is: ensure you love your children. I have always told couples if you don’t love your children, your wife will not love you and I have always noticed that the more I love the children and do my best for them, the more she is happy and loves me. Be passionate about your children irrespective of their age.
Wife: We understand each other so well that we know what either of us can do. We can predict each other’s movement. I know where he is at anytime and he knows where I am too even when we are not in the same town. When he goes out of town I know when he would return once there is no fault with his car. We do things in common, took care of the children together right from birth till when they became grownups.
Do you have pet names?
Husband: No pet name. We used to call each other by name before we had our first child and later changed when we had our first child. We then started using the child’s name to call each other.
What are your spouse’s likes and dislikes?
Husband: She likes absolute faithfulness and truthfulness. She likes being loved. She hates lies. She dislikes being scolded, even when she makes a mistake. She doesn’t believe in diplomacy; it is either yes or no, good or bad. She wants the way she thinks of things to be the correct way. She hates you manifesting anger towards her as it destabilises her at any point in time but if you put it gently, she would understand.
Wife: He likes truthfulness. He likes his instructions being taken. He dislikes hanky-panky, unruly behaviour. It is difficult to make him love you again after you have done what he doesn’t like.
What areas would you like your spouse to improve upon?
Husband: Just one area, not two and that is punctuality whenever we want to go out.
Wife: He works too much. I want him to reduce his attitude to work because of his age.
What makes you proud of your spouse?
Husband: She is the most faithful woman. She is very understanding, caring and kind. She is extremely generous. She loves me and loves the children to a fault. She is a darling to members of my family. They all have high regard for her; she helps them. In fact, she is a mother-general to my family and hers too. She is a wonderful woman when it comes to what you will eat; she won’t suffer you with food. For 57 years, I have never had any cause in my life to complain about food and it is always well-prepared. During her younger days, the friends of her children would deliberately want to come around with their friends to have a taste of her food. And, it almost caused a quarrel between the children and their spouses when the sons would say ‘I want to go and eat my mother’s soup.’
Wife: It is especially when he carries me about in the car. In 1976, here in Ilawe- Ekiti, I became the President of the Christian mothers. Anytime we had meetings, no matter the distance, whether within or outside Ekiti, he would carry me there, even till now. Likewise whenever I want to go to the market or anywhere, even if he is sleeping and I wake him up, he would follow me. During our schooldays, he would take me to school in the morning and come back in the afternoon to take me home until we got our second car and I started driving myself. But since my retirement, I gave the key to him so that he would be carrying me about because he brought me from my father’s house. So, understanding is one of the key ingredients in marriage.