Chief Simeon Basil Ekete and Martina Ugwunweze got married on February 25, 1967 at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Aba, Abia State. The couple who are celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the marriage today at Umuakashi, Nsukka, Enugu State said they have so many reasons to thank God for their lives and their marital union.
Chief Simeon, 77, is a retired Civil Servant who started as a Labourer in the Board of Internal Revenue of the old Anambra State and rose through the ranks till his retirement as the Chief Executive at the Enugu State Gaming Commission in 1995. He has been involved in a couple of private engagements from January 1996 till 2016 when he decided to voluntarily go home and enjoy all his years of toil.
The wife is an educationist who trained as a teacher and a home maker.
In this interview with ALOYSIUS ATTAH, the couple shared their marital journey and lessons even as they thank God for hitting the golden age in marriage with good health and rancor-free marriage blessed with seven wonderful children doing well in their chosen fields of endeavours.
How did you meet your wife?
Husband: I met my wife at Eha Amufu, Enugu State. I used to visit her parents at home because her mother hailed from my area in Nsukka. We were calling ourselves brother and sister. My wife was so small then that when I visit their house, I dress her up and even comb her hair when she was going to school.
God did a wonderful work in our marriage. This is because you know that the trend now is before you marry, you go in and do the genotype test and others but in our own case, we did not do any test. That was not in vogue then and you know many people married same AS genotype and begot sicklers which was attributed to marine spirits when their children begin to have crisis and die.
At a time, it was one woman from Aku in Igbo-Etiti then that one day asked me, why don’t I get married. But I told her that I won’t marry then because I had an only brother whom I planned to train in school with my my meagre earnings then. I told her that I don’t want my brother to suffer the same fate with me because I couldn’t go to the university immediately before I started working but she still encouraged me to get married. That was when the issue of choice started. I suggested one of her sisters then but she told me that her mother wouldn’t want her to marry from Aku in faraway Nsukka. She was the one who suggested Martina as my wife. I was confused at first on why it should be Martina considering how close I was with the family just like a son. That same woman was the one who went and told Martina’s mum first and immediately Martina’s father also heard it, they agreed.
Soon after, the man who later became my inlaw was transferred to Nsukka and they settled here. My in-law went immediately to my father at Nsukka and requested for a land for planting and some economic trees too. My father gave him one but he requested for more. On argument, my father declined giving more thinking that he wanted to intimidate him (my father) with his position as a Colonial Policeman. When he came again for further request, he told my father that he was actually requesting for more portion because he consider himself as part of my family though my father won’t understand.
When I came back, my father asked me what was the meaning of this statement from Sgt Ugwuonyishi but I just shrugged it off. On persistence, I told him that there was a proposal for me to marry Martina her daughter but I told them I was not ready. He was mad at me for not telling him but do you know that immediately I went back to my base at Eha-Amufu, my father just went to see the family on my behalf and presented kolanuts to them that I’m going to marry their daughter.
Have you discussed with Martina that time about marriage?
Husband: For where? We have not agreed on anything then but immediately I told her that I will marry her, she was utterly surprised because she thought I was her blood relation. How can she marry her brother? She wondered.
Everything started in earnest from then, we did the introduction, she visited us and we presented various gift items to her as custom demands and she accepted. Unfortunately, in 1965, I was posted to Owerri, Ngor Okpala, I got the information that the same father inlaw is dead. This was a man who loved me so much and even gave back to me the money I paid as bride price so that I can use it to train my brother. That same brother of mine whom I also trained and made sure that he became somebody in life rose to the position of NUJ Chairman in Anambra State, Chairman of Nsukka LGA during CC Onoh’s tenure as governor but later had an accident at Edeoballa Nsukka and died on November 18, 2001.
How did the journey start?
Wife: I was living with my parents and my father was a court messenger, known as the Colonial Police then. My husband then was a boy who always visited our home and always chatting with my parents. He was a family friend. My father was from Okpuje community while my mother was from Nru, Nsukka while my husband is from Umukashi, Nsukka. In my childhood innocence, I thought that my husband was a blood relation to my mother. Outsiders also thought in the same direction to the extent that some people will make passes at me and tell him that they would like to marry me (her) sister. He will just tell them, don’t worry, she is still a small girl, when she grow up, they can come.
How did he propose?
Wife: In that period of letter writing, prospective suitors will write me indicating interest that they would like to marry me and I would innocently take the letter to him telling him that it is only whom he chooses for me that I will marry. You can then imagine the shock I felt when I heard from him that he will marry me. I did not know that he had discussed with my parents until when my father was transferred to Nsukka. It was when it became inevitable that we were leaving for Nsukka that he invited me one evening and told me that I should wait for him when I get to Nsukka. In shock, I ran back to the house crying. I felt cold shivers running down my spines because I thought he was my brother. I later asked my parents and they explained to me that we are not really blood brothers but it is just natural that when you see somebody from your area in another community of residence, you will regard the person as your brother and that was why we were relating well at Eha Amufu. But do you know that after that proposal, everything changed. It was like my eyes were opened. I couldn’t feel free with him anymore unlike how it used to be. From that time, the affection turned automatically. When he visited our house,, I would go and hide. He even threw a party that time but I disappointed him by not showing up. I was just imagining how all his friends and colleagues that used to tell me that they want to marry me would feel when they realize that I’m now getting married to him.
From what you said now, there was no room for long courtship in the marriage.
Husband: No, not all. She was a virgin in the primary school. If not for the procreation aspect of it, we only related as real brother and sister. Our relationship has been very cordial and even till now after spending 50 years together, we have never had any situation that warranted an outsider coming to settle issues for us. That was also the bond we used to bring up our children, 7 in all, 5 boys and 2 girls.
So after marriage, she went back to school?
Husband: Yes, after marriage, she went to a Domestic centre in Aba, Abia State. When the civil war broke out, we ran back home.In 1974 after three children, I sent her to St Cyprian Teacher’s Training College, Nsukka. Around 1980-83, she joined me at Enugu and picked up a teaching appointment. She later went back to Eha-Amufu College of Education for her NCE. Initially, she said she wanted to be a business woman because of poor salary of teachers but I said no, let her be a housewife first and look after the children, later she would work.
I was always on the move then as a Tax man and I wouldn’t want to let all of us abandon the children. It was a difficult decision then for her but today we all are reaping from it because all the children grew up to be successful and none of them also had any health challenge all through the growing years.
I believe that anybody who has absolute confidence in God will always triumph. Some will be in church and still go to native doctors to prepare charms for one reason or another.
How does he treat you?
Husband: The big brother role he played before our marriage continued when we wedded. When we lived in Aba during my childbearing years, my husband was my mother too. He will boil water for me, cook, pound, bathe me and do every other thing that I won’t even feel that my mother has not arrived for the Omugwo.
Living together all these years, what are the things you like about her?
Husband: Her greatest virtue is that she has an accommodating spirit. At a point when I was being pressed by extended family and relatives problems, she will always tell me – “Simeon, don’t abandon these children who have lost their father”. I lost many of my brothers to the cold hand of death. One left two children, another left 10 children and another 3. Many of them were dependent when their fathers died but my wife and I worked very hard to train them. In 1979, I got admission to go to the university alongside the first son of my brother but my wife told me to drop so that we can train ours and my brother’s children too. There are very few women that possess such spirit of allowing her husband to spend for the children of another man. I have produced about 7 graduates who are not my biological children and I know not every woman as a wife can allow such to happen.
What are the things you like about him too?
Wife: He loves me as he also loves all my family members. The kind of love he showers on any member of my family melts my heart.
How will you describe the journey so far?
Wife: Husband and wife relationship is like palm wine. Sometimes it can be sweet or sour but it has been so far so good. Sometimes he offends me and we can have issues too but it has not degenerated or dragged unnecessarily. So far, so good.
Is there anything you would like to change about his character?
Wife: I don’t think it’s possible to change that. He doesn’t forget certain things easily. He is a critic to the core and I think it is his nature
Tell me about the children having been lucky to have seven of them and never lost any?
Wife: The first child, Prisca Uzoamaka is now married. She studied Political Science and now works with Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She is in the Peace and Conflict Resolution section representing the South East. The 2nd, Chidubem, a lawyer is based in Abuja. The 3rd person, Bonaventure read Accountancy. He is incharge of Nike Lake Hotel, Enugu now. The 4th is Nkeiru is married and lives with her husband in Lagos. She read Mass Communication. The 5th Nnamdi, read Accountancy now works in the Bank. The 6th is Chijioke read Urban and Regional Planning based at Abuja. The 7th is Nonso who read Public Administration at University of Nigeria Nsukka. He is into politics. All my children are married now.
What were the challenges you had in the marriage?
Husband: It is not peculiar to us. It was simply financial challenges of taking care of the marriage responsibilities. But I still maintain that God has been so faithful to us because we never had any serious challenge. We started having children from 1967 and stopped in 1984.
Wife: He was doing his best because I wasn’t working. He stopped me from working in those childbearing years. He said he is ready to suffer alone while I stay at home and take care of the children. I was not happy with his decision then and it was painful but we thank God we are overcomers today.
In the course of your career, you’ve lived in so many places, have you lived together all through or at a stage stayed separately?
Husband: There were times we stayed separately, I’ve worked in Umuolokpa in Uzo Uwani LGA,Enugu State, Owerri and Ngor Okpala, Imo State, Enugu and Aba . There was a time she lived with my boss not forgetting the time she was in school too.
After 50 years of marriage, what can you say are the ingredients for a successful marriage?
Husband: It is also peculiar to individuals and couples. But for our own, I can say learning to overlook over certain things and don’t try to assert your rights so much at all times. This is a recipe for peace.
Wife: Understanding. We understand ourselves and when couples have that understanding, it helps a lot. Endurance is also important not forgetting having faith in each other. I’m a Mother of Faith and the same faith has seen me through many issues of life. When you have faith, you believe that God will see you through in all circumstances.
If you are to choose again, will you still choose your husband as your own?
Wife: Of course yes. I will do that again and again.
What is the secret of your good health and younger look compared to your age?
Husband: It is God and being cautious of what you take inside. I don’t indulge in alchohol and I go for natural things instead of processed.
Advice to couples
Wife: Those in marriage should know that marriage is not a bed of roses. They should learn each other and understand each other too. They should not take everything too serious or overstretch issues. They should also avoid temptation and resist temptations too. They should also not listen to all advice but rather choose the one that will be of benefit to them and throw some other devilish suggestions. Let them have hope in expecting those good things they have seen in each other.