The meeting point for Onowu John Abuah Nkemchor, a retired Chief Superintendent of Police, and his wife, Caroline, over 40 years ago, was both unique and dramatic. It was love at first sight for the man who was an Inspector at the time when Caroline and her friend ran into a corner of their police station and met him enjoying a meal of rice. It turned out that she and her friend were trying to hide from some local bullies. One thing led to another and John and Caroline became married despite oppositions from both families. In this interview with PAUL OSUYI, in Asaba, the couple shared their interesting love story and how they overcame the storm. Excerpts:
Could you tell us when, where and how you met each other?
Husband: It is a very long story but whatever will be must surely be. I used to be a police officer. I retired some ten years ago as a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP). I was at my station as a bachelor, probably in my early twenties. I was eating from the pot. You know rice. I was scrapping it from the bottom of the pot. I was enjoying my meal when she ran into the compound where I was staying. I think she was being chased by a masquerade or something like that. It was in Agenebode, Edo State, in 1977 or thereabout.
Wife: I was with one of my friends, Maria, who asked me to accompany her on a visit to her grandmother who was living very close to the police station. On our way, we saw some guys following us. I told the girl that we should look for somewhere to hide until they passed. So we went inside one corridor at the police station and I saw somebody scrapping rice or something like that from the pot. I just greeted the person. When we peeped and saw that the boys had passed, we now came out, and went to see the girl’s grandmother. A few weeks later, he traced me and asked people where I was staying because I was a student at St. Peter’s. He came to see me, and started toasting…
Husband (cuts in)… Are you a toasted bread or toasted meat…(Laughter).
How did you trace her? Through police intelligence?
Husband: You don’t need to be a police officer in order to trace somebody you like. So it was not through police intelligence that I traced her. The town is not a very big one.
The first time that you saw her run in to take refuge, what struck you about her?
Husband: Everything about her appealed to me.
When you decided to propose, was there any opposition maybe from parents, relatives or friends?
Husband: There were oppositions from my parents who did not want me to marry a non-native; they would prefer I married from Ibusa or Asaba because I am from this area particularly from Ibusa. The same thing goes for her parents. They said because her mother is not a native of her town, as a first daughter that she cannot leave their shore to another town, for marriage.
How did you overcome the challenge?
Husband: Because we were in love, we ignored them. And her father was a police officer too, so we knew the position of the law. We had to wed in the court first before any other thing. Later, my father changed his mind and welcomed her. And because of my father’s encouragement, I was not perturbed at all. We became very close friends, and we are more than friends, she is equally my sister, everything. Even though we had earlier wedded in court, we still tried to bring our parents to our side. But in her case, her parents refused vehemently. We had to push them to agree that we have become husband and wife. This was about 1977; her father was serving here in Asaba. My father and other relations, including the late Col. (Joe) Achuzia followed me to her parents to ask why they refused to accept me, a young handsome man. I was an Inspector then. The mother refused vehemently. That was why we got married in court without their consent. But somewhere along the line, her father accepted us and we went and did the traditional marriage.
During this hitch period, what was your feeling like when your parents objected to your relationship?
Wife: Although they objected to our relationship, we got married, and were enjoying our marriage. We were being blessed with children, and God was on our side because he was getting his promotion, while I became a school teacher. We were not having any problem to say that because our parents did not bless this marriage, there is no child or there is no money to run the home. We were hoping that one day when they see that we are successful they would know that it is God’s will for us to be together. And that is how it happened. After giving birth to four boys, my father called and said he cannot ask me to leave those children and come back home. He said I should tell my husband to come and do the needful.
As a young handsome police officer then, what made you to go for her in the midst of several other eligible ladies?
Husband: You see, there are so many women out there, so also there are many men but not all of them are marriageable. If you see your wife, you would know that this is your wife. When I met her, I knew that she was my wife. We are so much in love that nothing separates us. It does not mean that it has been rosy. As a young man trying to get his house in order and there were obstacles from such relations, you are not a happy. At times, you would say: why are these people dragging me down, what do they really want? You understand? Because of the love we have for each other, nothing could tear us apart. Even if there were other forces, whether spiritual fighting against us, by God’s grace we were able to surmount them.
How did you propose to her?
Husband: The time I proposed to her was around 1978, and she agreed, she welcomed it happily.
What did you say when he proposed to you?
Wife: I think I was still in secondary school when he bought a ring, visited me and told me that he wanted to be engaged to me. He asked whether I would like to be his future wife. I accepted but I tried to know his family background because we are not from the same area. He took me to his parents. When I got to his place, I liked the people because I noticed that even though they were not wealthy, they were friendly, warm and very receptive. So I decided to accept fully to be his wife.
Could you remember your first misunderstanding in marriage and how you handled it?
Husband: I can’t remember because we used to have a lot of misunderstanding. After that, we settle immediately without involving a third party. It does not last, if you call it a misunderstanding, I looked at it as part of the game of love. We used to even fight physically but in less than 24 hours, we would settle because we are going to eat together. So you don’t call it misunderstanding because you don’t eat with your enemy.
Wife: Actually, I am the hot-tempered type but that was in those days, not now.
What qualities did you see that endeared him to you apart from his people being friendly and receptive?
Wife: When I visited him first, I noticed that he was very organized. When you come to his house, the environment was always neat and clean. And he is ambitious, he used to tell me that he is from a poor home but that he would like to fight poverty, that he would not like to remain where he found himself. When I knew him, you know some police officers don’t struggle for the future, they would just be thinking of how to take a bribe. But he was doing series of examinations. He was even planning to quit the force if he got a better job. He was always going for examinations, and I like people who are ambitious, not lazy people. He was not the lazy type. When we were in Owerri, he had a farm even as an inspector. He was thinking of how to have a better future.
What do you like most about her?
Husband: I like so many things about her. Number one is that she is very generous to people around us. If you are conversant with the scriptures, we later became the cornerstone, that is, we the stone that was originally rejected. The father was a polygamist. He did that because he was looking for male children but before he died, he called me ‘Chief’ because I was Chief Superintendent of Police. He told me that he regretted all he did in life. He said the worst of it was to marry many wives. He confessed to me that without my wife that he would have long died, that she is the only pillar of support in his family. We were very close; we discussed one-on-one with each other. He did not hide anything from me.
What advice do you have for young bachelors intending to go into marriage and new couples?
Husband: Love should be the first thing to attract both parties because without love there will be nothing. First of all, love your wife as part of you. Ordinarily, one plus one is two but Biblically, one plus one is one. If you know that if you hurt yourself you will not be happy, don’t hurt your wife. And if accidentally you hurt your wife, tender apology. Nobody is too big to tender apology even before a subordinate. Yes, the superior can offend a subordinate. When you know that you have done wrong, it does not make you a weakling to accept your wrong and ask for forgiveness. Marriage is not a bed of roses; there are always ups and downs either from your spouse or any of your children. Your wife is your helpmate and she has equal rights with you. And if you know your wife is the stubborn type, allow her to exercise her stubbornness. After some time she would realise where she has gone wrong but if you say no that you are the captain of the house, that this cannot happen, that is where the problem comes in. It might result in physical assault and you will not know who will get the bitter end of it. Men are not used to talking too much, it is even better to leave the arena when you are so tempted. You may want to leave the arena and she would tell you that you would not leave. That is their nature; you cannot avoid it.
What’s your advice for spinsters and newly married couples?
Wife: My advice to spinsters is that if you know you want to be a wife, you should make up your mind, train yourself to be a wife. If you know what a man needs, you cannot say you are married and you cannot take care of the home. Your house is always dirty; you don’t know how to take care of children. You don’t know how to cook. You don’t even know how to speak among people. My husband’s mother is very hot-tempered even though I am hot. Anytime I am with her if she sparks, I would be petting her. There is a name I used to call her to calm her down. Then she would call me, ‘my daughter’ but not when she sparks. If she sparks and I spark, we would start quarreling. As a future wife, you should know how to talk in public, know when to talk and know when to keep quiet. You should know how to take care of your children because they are your gain in marriage. I have five boys but you could never know even if you come to this house because I make sure I discipline them. My husband is a disciplinarian; the same thing with me. We did not stay together much because as a policeman he was always on transfer. But I made sure that I followed my husband’s policy because some women would speak ill of their husbands before their children. They would tell the children that their father does not want them to mingle with friends. It is not good. If you know what your husband hates, let the children know and guide them to avoid doing it.