Sir Dr. Patrick Omeje is a man with a larger-than-life image. The former chairman of old Anambra State Electoral Commission (ANSIEC), from Owere Nsukka, could be described as the father of politics in Nsukka Local Government Area. His son, Patrick Omeje Jnr, is the current chairman of the local government council. In this interview with FELIX IKEM, in Nsukka, he and his wife, Lady Cecilia Omeje, who have been married for 52 years, shared the secret of their successful marriage. Excerpts:
Tell us how this journey started before two of you got married?
Husband: I was teaching in Achi, Orji-River LGA, in the late 60s. Then, there was this good friend, Rev. Fr. Innocent Egbuje who was in Okija, Anambra State. One day, I paid him a visit and he was telling me that he had seen a girl that he would like me to marry. According to him, he went to Umunna-Alor, to preach on a retreat, for them. He knew there was a lady I wanted to marry but the relationship has collapsed. After the retreat, three young girls came to greet him because they heard that he was from Enugu diocese. He asked her whether she knew me but she said no. That was how we started. Then I went to Otukpo in Benue State where I passed a night with my friend, Mr. Ben Okwor, from Ogbodu-Aba community in Udenu LGA, Enugu State whose parents used to live there. The following morning, Ben’s brother took me to her parents’ house where we met her with her elder sisters. When I saw her, I went straight to her and removed her head-tie and asked her if she knew me. But she said no. From there, we started interacting.
Was it the same thing with you or are there details you would like to add, at least on your own side?
Wife: Well, I was in school then. It was in the 60s. It was in 1966 in Otukpo, Benue State. I was in my final year at Queen of the Holy Rosary, Umunna-Alor. There was a retreat in our school. After the retreat, I , Veronica Eze and Monica Ayogu went to greet the visiting priest, Rev. Fr. Innocent Egbuje, of blessed memory, who came to preach to us, at the retreat. The priest now told me that the father of Patrick Omeje bought him (Patrick), a car after his graduation. I was not interested in such story because I didn’t even know who he was talking about. But I didn’t know he had an aim for telling me that. Already, I had a suitor who was living in England.
Was there any opposition to your marriage?
Husband: On my own side, there was no opposition to my marriage. After all, it was my priest friend who saw her and recommended her to me. So, my father came to like her and there was no opposition whatsoever.
Wife: Well, just like I told you, before he came, I already had suitors. And my mind was as at then more with the England man. Opposition came from my people who said that I must not marry him. But within a short while, we resolved all the issues.
What made you decide to go for your wife instead of any of other ladies in town then?
Husband: First of all, her honesty and beauty made me decide to marry her. Though she gave me tough time before she agreed to my proposal, I discovered that she is a bundle of honesty and simplicity, coupled with her beauty. Again, for the fact that she was recommended by Rev. Fr. Innocent, a close friend of my family got me interested in her. So, she is honest, hardworking, very intelligent and simple. These are the qualities that got me attracted to her.
Wife: His resilience and determination gave me the courage to go to him. After telling him that I was engaged with somebody in England, he continued coming after me. Again, the way he humbled himself each time he came to my father’s house made me to accept his proposal. Again, he is very intelligent and hardworking. These qualities made me to go for him instead of other suitors that I had then.
How did you propose to her? What exactly did you say to her as to make her accept to marry you?
Husband: Like I told you, I didn’t use my mouth to tell her I want to marry her. That was not the fashion then. But having heard about me, when I got to her, I removed her head-tie in the midst of her elder sisters and that gave her the impression that I want to marry her. It was not like these days when you go to a lady and tell her straight to her face that you to marry her.
What did you say when he proposed? What exactly did he say and what was your reply?
Wife: I didn’t agree with his proposal. This is because I had someone in England. However, he didn’t come to me face-to-face and say: ‘I want to marry you.’ It was through body language. He used his action by removing my head-tie to show me that he was interested in me.
What did you remember most about your wedding?
Husband: It was in 1968 when we got married and wedded at Ufuma in Anambra State. I remember that it was during the Nigerian/Biafra war and everywhere was shaking in terms of the fact that there was war in the land. We were to wed at Achi but Achi fell to Nigerian army so we had to run to Ufuma. Despite the fact that it was during the war, it was a successful wedding. I remember vividly that we were wedded by Rev. Fr. Innocent Egbuje and Monsignor Michael Eneja (late Bishop Michael Eneja of Enugu diocese). Again, I remember, the wedding was attended by some ministers from Lagos. It was so successful that you wouldn’t even know that it was during a civil war.
Wife: Well, it was a successful one and it was during the war. That was no shelling of mortars or bomb. We wedded at Ufuma.
Could you remember your first misunderstanding and how did you resolve it?
Husband: I can’t remember our first misunderstanding but whatever misunderstanding we had, we resolved it very quickly and amicably too.
Wife: Our first misunderstanding had to do with his youthful exuberance but we quickly resolved it.
What is your wife’s favourite?
Husband: She likes our native food like corn food, okpa and other native foods.
Wife: My husband likes tea. He drinks tea every day. Again, he likes ‘swallow.’
What do you like most about him?
Wife: He is an honest man who wouldn’t like to get anybody hurt. He is also very prayerful. He is a very hardworking man.
Husband: She is a very intelligent and honest woman.
What area would you like to see him improve?
Wife: He sleeps a lot. But that’s not too bad considering his age.
Husband: No area at all. We understood each other very well, for over 40 years now and I’ve never had a fight or quarrel with her and such will not happen for the rest of our life. She is so perfect.
How many children were you blessed with?
Husband: Seven children including the current Executive Chairman of Nsukka Local Government Area, Hon. Patrick Omeje (Jnr). My last child or rather the one that was supposed to be the last child is in heaven now.
You have been together for over half a century. What is the secret of your successful marriage?
Husband: Every single marriage has its own challenges. However, the secret of my successful marriage is the ability to resolve our issues immediately. Whatever misunderstanding we have, we don’t allow the daybreak to meet it. In other words, we resolve it immediately. Again, we don’t bear grudges against each other. Even as old as I am now, I call her “mummy” and she calls me “daddy”. Even when my mother was alive, she called my wife “mummy” .That is to tell you how we respect each other.
Wife: My husband has never beaten me despite the fact that we have stayed together for more than fifty years. The secret of our successful marriage stems from the fact that we have regard for each other. I don’t discuss any negative thing about him with a third party.
Looking at the success of your marriage, what advice do you have for intending couple?
Husband: Intending couple should be sincere to each other and eschew deceit.
Wife: My advice is that they should always be honest and sincere to each other. I know it is not easy for ladies of nowadays unlike during our own time but they should be careful the way they fall to men these days.
Given the high rate of divorce in the world today, what advice would you like to give to couples that are experiencing difficulties in their marriage?
Husband: I would advise them to look inward within themselves and know their problem. Again, they should learn how to tolerate each other. Tolerance and understanding are key to a successful marriage.
Wife: Hardship, infidelity and insincerity are major reasons for marriage breakdown. Husband should not cheat his wife and vice versa. My advice to those already experiencing problems is to wear the garb of tolerance, patience and prayers. These are the keys to successful marriage.