For the 72-year-old Mr. Gabriel Olalekan Soetan and Abigail, his 69-year-old wife, their relationship began with mere acquaintanceship, and later friendship before it metamorphosed into marriage. Built on solid pillars of trust and understanding, the marriage has lasted more than 50 years. What is the secret? In this interview with SOLA OJO in Kaduna, the two indigenes of Abeokuta, capital of Ogun State, who lived partly in Abeokuta and Lagos before relocating to Kaduna as a couple, about 45 years ago, share their experiences as married couple in a way that provides the answer to the question.
Can you remember how it all started?
Wife: We attended the same primary school in Ifo, Ogun State in 1957, 1958 and 1959. I was in Primary 2 then. One year or so after, we relocated to Lagos and were there for years before we met again. In fact, that was about 18 years after school. Back then in the same primary school back home, we were children. So, there was nothing like any affection going on between us. But by the time we met again in Lagos we had grown mature. That reunion eventually led to marriage. Back in the school then, he was in the same class with my elder sister. In fact, they used to sit close to each other in class. After closing, I would go to her class to pick and take her schoolbag home and he would be calling me his wife. But I would reply with something like, “Who would marry you?” not knowing that man proposes but God has the final say. After his graduation from school then, he also relocated to Shomolu, Lagos, which is far from our house at Olateju, Mushin.
Husband: When I initially proposed to her, I was around 20 years but for two years she continued to rebuff me. Like she said, we were in the same school together with her elder sister, but at a point, they left Ogun State and we lost contact because there was nothing like telephone then. But as God would have it, at a point, we were both in Lagos but without the knowledge of each other. Then I was residing in Shomolu with my elder brother when we decided to change location and we moved to Mushin. It turned out that the very house we got was where she was living. We kept looking at each other for some time. You know, as a lady, she had grown big and was looking entirely different from the face I used to know.
Was there any opposition to your marriage?
Wife: Yes, there was a little opposition from my side but it did not last long. I am from a Muslim family. My parents were Muslims. But I for one was not really practising Islam then because of my background in Christianity, especially during my primary schooldays. There was no compulsion because my people believe that religion is an individual thing. But they warned us that if we were to go home, they would not allow us to get married. However, my paternal grandmother was fully in support of my relationship with my husband. That was how God helped us and we thank God for the journey so far. But before then like I said, Islam thing was not that much in my mind. I was already looking at the opportunity to follow Christ. So, when it was glaring that we were going to be together, I gave my life to Christ and He has not failed us.
Husband: There was no opposition from my own side. The only thing that happened when I went to her house in company of my friends was that her parents insisted on seeing my own parents because they were the ones they would hand over their daughter to and not me. So, that was how my father went to her parents and perfected all that led to our union. That was in 1968.
Since that 1968, that is 51 years ago, how has the journey been? Did you encounter early marriage challenges?
Wife: Ah, there were so many misunderstandings. We can only thank God for bringing us this far.
Husband: There was no serious challenge then when we newly got married because we are from the same place and we have the knowledge of our way of life. However, at a point, I wanted to marry more than one wife because I was deeply involved in social life then. But, I’m grateful that God helped me to overcome that temptation and I was able to jettison the idea.
What has helped you this far in marriage?
Wife: Marriage comes with both joy and challenges. But, with patience, prayer and determination to succeed, the joy that follows would help overcome the challenges whenever they play up. Whoever is patient in marriage will not only enjoy the marriage but will also make heaven. This is because, anyone who can manage his or her family well the way God wants it will also enjoy God. I have always put God first in all I do.
How have you been able to manage your home, business and religion without one to interfere with other?
Wife: I think it is the grace of God that has helped me. My husband makes life simple for me. In fact, a lot of news we hear from other families strengthen us. We use other people’s experiences to correct our own mistakes. There is no how misunderstanding will not come but with patience, it would come and go. Patience keeps me.
What other factors strengthened you then?
Wife: God showed me mercy on procreation. I did not experience delay in child-bearing. We have both male and female children in good number. We have nine children to the glory of God. It was because of them that I’m still here with my husband. So, as a businesswoman, I use whatever God blesses me with to support my husband. I don’t hide anything from him.
Has there been any sad or happy moment in the course of this journey?
Wife: I’m always happy with my husband. He never exposes me to any hardship. He is friendly with high sense of humour. He takes care of the children and everyone around us. He always grants me my heart’s desires.
Husband: Yes, there was a difficult time in my marriage. At a point, I took a decision to resign from paid employment to start my own business. It was a terrible year for me to cope with family expenses. But I thank my wife for her understanding. We managed whatever that was available to us then. We have to cope with the situation a lot. We have our children but to pay their school fees that year was not an easy task.
What do you like about your husband?
Wife: He always stocks the house with foodstuff. As old as I am, I don’t know how much they sell tubers of yam. I never bought yam for once. He buys whatever he sees that is good for the family.
What do you appreciate about your wife?
Husband: I like her courage and with-God-all-things-are-possible mentality. She was supportive and gave me the driving force that brought us to where we are today. All our daughters are married and we are now getting ready for our male children to start their own family.
What is that one thing you would have like to see changed about your spouse if you have the opportunity?
Wife: I can’t remember one. We have come this far by overcoming some challenges.
Can you remember anytime a third party intervened in your affair?
Husband: That is difficult to remember, if there is any. You know, we are here in Kaduna and our third party which is our extended family members are far from us except they visit. And I think our culture of endurance too has been helpful to us.
What are your words of advice for spinsters and bachelors and the newly married?
Husband: The key driving force in any relationship is trust. When there is mutual understating from all parties involved, and each party keeps and maintains his or her own part of that trust, they will be able to overcome other challenges that may come up later. Now to prospective husbands, you must make up your mind on who you want to spend the rest days of your life with. The world, or let me say the environment today is different from what it was when people like us got married. In those days, my wife dared not go back to her house if there was any quarrel between us. In fact, she would be sent back to me. But these days, even maternal parents are against their sons-in-laws. They may say he’s lazy, forgetting that God’s time for all of us differs. But if both of them can collectively pass through their difficult time, they would sing praises in joy later. Now there is no how a couple can live without a trying time. There is no one in marriage without experience – both bitter and sweet experiences. So as parents, we have to inculcate that fact into our children to know that Rome was not built in a day.
Wife: May God keep those already in marriage and guide those that are about to get married aright so their marriage would not be in vain. They should be contented with what their husbands can afford. They should not push their men to go and misbehave and make unhealthy fortunes that would backfire sooner or later. They should stand by their husbands. They should give them hope especially when they have pushy husband who is not lazy.