For Chief Michael Ofomata and his wife, Lolo Mercy, love struck through friendship between their mothers. Before they could come together in marriage, some 39 years ago, their mothers had already come together in friendship. With that, they made quite a pair. They moved and did things together. In short, people saw and knew them as best of friends. So, when time came for Sir Michael to marry and he was wondering which lady to ask her hand in marriage, his mother pointed his attention to her best friend’s family who happened to come from the same village, in fact, their family house is about five or six houses away, from the woman’s. Sir Michael’s mother obviously wanted her friendship with the woman solidified by having one of her children marry her daughter. But Sir Michael wasn’t too sure how that plan would work out. All the same, he decided to give it a try. The rest, as they say, is now history. In this interview with LAWRENCE ENYOGHASU and EJERE UCHE SAMUEL, the couple goes down memory lane on the sweet and sour experiences of their 39-year-old marriage.
How did you meet?
Husband: I am from Ubenanka in Anambra State. My wife and I are from the same village; her house is near my father’s house in the village, five or six houses after my house. I thought my family would not be able to marry a woman from their family. It was when I was ready for marriage that I knew that she was not related to me. Her mother and my mother are friends; both of them do things together. When I told my parents that I wanted to get married, they asked me why not Mercy. I asked my father if I could marry her. He said yes. Then I started praying because I told my people in two weeks time I would come and tell them my decision. After the two weeks had elapsed, this was in 1978, I reached home and I slept off. I was dreaming when God showed me my wife. I saw Mercy. My children and I where on the dining table, about six of them, and she was serving us food. As she was serving the food, I was very happy. When I woke up, I saw that it was a dream and I knew that God has given me a message
How then did you reach her?
Husband: Then she was living in Kano with her uncle. My mother gave me a letter she wrote to her. So with the address, I wrote a letter to her. After few days, I got a reply from her. The reply was in capital letters: “Yes, I will marry you if it is God’s will.” I told my parents about it. We followed the way my town usually perform the marriage rites. I did those things and I got married to her.
Wife: I was in the village before my uncle took me to Kano. I was working and also going for evening studies. Just as he told you earlier, his mother and my mother were best friends. But I didn’t know much about him. When I saw the letter, I was not scared because I knew him as a son to my mother’s friend. I never knew his character because both of us were never friends right from the onset. I just knew his family.
How did you then tell your parents?
Wife: His mother told my mother before I came back, leaving a message that she wanted me to see him, and that was how it all started. It was as if two persons in one family were getting married to each other.
Was there no other option then?
Wife: Many people (men) asked me to marry them, but most of them were foreigners, I decided I was not going to get married to anyone outside my community. As he approached me and told me his mind, I quickly accepted. I never had a double mind. I agreed immediately because I like him.
Why did you think you were ready to marry?
Husband: I married at the age of 26 years. I started to hustle at the age of 24. Immediately, my business started growing, I got married. I had so many women that were running after me by then, but I had a policy. I knew from a very young age that marriage is not what you rush into, and I never wanted to have sex before marriage. So I exercised self-control. I told God since I controlled myself, that He should give me a good wife.
From what you said he became your choice because he is from your community and what was in your mind on your wedding day?
Wife: I was 22 years old. I saw him and liked him. So nothing made me have a double mind. Although I was shy by nature, I knew that the way that other people used to do their own wedding is the same way I would do mine. We did the traditional wedding and, after that, the white wedding. Although I was feeling shy, I had to force myself to do what I was asked to do.
Was there a pre-marital advice from your parent?
Husband: Those days there was a drink called Campari. My father gave me a cup of Campari to drink, a day to my traditional wedding. I took a sip. He asked me if I discovered anything in the drink. I told him I do drink but he said this one is different and I asked if I found anything different. I told him yes. He asked what it was that I found out. I told him the first time I put it in my mouth it was bitter but after some seconds it became sweet. He told me that that is how marriage is like. He said that the marriage I was about to go into would be sweet and bitter. He said that if I believe it is going to be sweet, so shall it be for me, and also if it’s bitter and I believe it is bitter, that is the way it would be. He said that in marriage, the person I was about to marry was not my sister but another person, and that all that is important is love. He said that the way I loved the Campari drink when it’s sweet to me, is the way I would also love my wife. He said that hardship is the bitter part, and the sweet part is when things are good. He said that if there is any problem in marriage it is going to taste like that Campari drink: that after the bitterness, sweetness would come. That was the advice he gave me.
What was the first five years like?
Wife: In the first five years of our marriage, we had three children. When things became bad I believed it was the way God wanted it to be. I would not question God. I also got this idea that very soon things would become bad therefore I should not be worried because later things would become better. I gave birth to my first child when I was in Onitsha. When the time came to be delivered of him, my husband’s father took ill and later died. By then I was almost due for delivery. But he had to travel home to see his father before he passed on. Later, he came to take me to the village. So I gave birth to my first child, a boy, in the village. I was overjoyed.
Husband: I would say that I am very lucky in marriage. If you marry a bad woman, you would hate to get married, but if you marry the right person, you would enjoy it. There could be hardship and issues just like the Campari drink, it was bitter but later it became sweet. My marriage is that of Campari, it would be bitter but after it would be sweet, so I won’t say it was bad or bitter. In 1985, I had a setback in my business. I changed to another line of business and experienced some setbacks. It was a bad decision. Even the car I was driving, I could not maintain it and she was pregnant. That child she gave birth to is in Australia now. It was her provision store that was in front of my house that we were eating from for a year. Every night she would be consoling and encouraging me. Then in 1986, I went back to my former business and then joy came back.
What made you to stand by him in those trying times?
Wife: I supported and gave him advice because he was my husband. He does not deliberately offend me, and I too, I do not deliberately offend him. So I won’t say it’s because of the children, but because he is my husband and I love him.
As your husband, there are traditional things he is expected to do, but does he go the extra length of attending to the needs of the children?
Wife: When it comes to that, I as the woman have a job in the family. He goes to work in order to provide for the family. I won’t expect him to come back and wash the children’s clothes; the woman should know that it is her job. Even if he wants to do that, I will not allow him. What I do then is to wake as early as 4am at times to prepare the children for school and also prepare food for the family. I don’t even allow him to wash his own clothes. So I made sure my kids were neat. I don’t allow him to cook and prepare food for the family
Have you ever offended her either in words or by action?
Husband: You know I am human; the only person that does not offend someone is God. I know I have offended her before and she too she had offended me. But like she said, it is not deliberate. It is like maybe we agreed that we would go somewhere at a particular time. If she was not ready early enough, I would leave her and go. I tried to do that once but my conscience did not allow me. So I had to go back and bring her along because I knew that it was because she was busy taking care of the children that she did not get prepared on time. But I have not offended her badly the way that would make her begin to shout for an outsider to hear.
What about you?
Wife: Maybe when he comes home he would be unhappy. But if I had offended him I would beg him. I would say “Nnaa, please forgive me”. We would settle it in the bedroom; no other person would hear it.
On his own side, how does he apologise as to make you happy?
Wife: When he is coming back from work, he would buy things and I would happily receive them. Sometimes, he would buy clothes. There was a time he bought me three different clothes at a time. I was overjoyed but I told him that I would just collect two, that he should drop one because three clothes at a time was just too much. We needed to take care of the children’s upkeep and school fees.
What is your advice for youths intending to go into marriage?
Husband: If any youth wants to get married, he must first of all pray to God to give him the right person. He should not go about looking for who is tall, fair or beautiful.