Ekpe Essien Ita, an engineer is a retired civil servant, an administrator, an academic and a former lawmaker in the Cross River State House of Assembly. Ita who hails from Creek Town in Odukpani Local Government Area of Cross River state and who has been married to Mrs. Victoria Ita for over 40 years, recently celebrated his 70th birthday in Calabar, Cross River State. In this interview with JUDEX OKORO, the couple talks about their marital experiences and, what has kept them going, all these years. Excerpts:
Tell us how you met
Husband: I met my wife as a young man meets a young woman, and the beauty of it is that she is open-hearted, no restrictions. I came from a background where people did not say, “don’t marry from that family”, and then you stick to it. We don’t have restrictions and you are yourself. So at the time I went to Warri, Delta State, as a young engineer, the first company I worked with, we had a project at Warri and there I met my wife. The project then was Warri- Port Development Study. My wife happened to be a young worker at the NPA there and you can see the proximity. I met her and we developed friendship, so that led to the marriage. She is from Delta State.
Wife: It’s been 41 years since we have been together. We courted for three years before we got married in 1978 in Warri and it takes the grace of God. We just met as he said and we fell for each other.
What was the attraction despite many other singles who were available then?
Husband: There is something called chemistry, whether it’s a psychic thing or not, I don’t know. That’s why I personally wonder. Generally speaking, how come there are a thousand women but a man will just choose one woman and then, that’s it? It may be elegance or whatever; it may just be that you people have a meeting of minds, something about it which has come to be defined as chemistry. So it’s difficult for me to say this is it otherwise I may be conjuring something to answer your question. But she fitted into my mindset as a woman I could marry. I was not under duress, compulsion, not under anything apart from the fact that I loved her, wanted to marry her and she accepted to marry me.
Wife: I met a young man, lanky, quiet not the loud type and straightforward. He just told me straight the situation and let me know what to expect when I come in. That was it. He did not try to colour anything and was just straight to the point. We courted for three years and he went for an international assignment. It was not the days of GSM so we wrote letters and after the three years, we got married.
How did you propose to her?
Husband: I cannot tell you that honestly. I don’t remember how I did it but she may remember since she was the recipient. I would not even remember whether I needed to say anything to convince her. The interesting thing about our relationship is that I met her in 1975 and we did not get married until 1978. It took us three years in courtship not because we did not know whether we loved one another or that we were having problems which made us try to renege; we did not rush into marriage. We were in a good relationship which culminated into marriage. I went to Warri in 1974, left in 1975 for one year study. From there I was posted to Enugu while she was still in Warri. From Enugu, I was posted to Lagos and she was still there because my family house and other family members were living in Lagos so that was home to me then. She was visiting when I was in Lagos and we took a decision.
What was your reaction when he proposed to you?
Wife: He just told me I want to marry you. I did not reply immediately because I was a bit taken aback, but I knew that we were friends. It is something that you just don’t jump into; You have to go back and do some thinking- whether you are prepared for what you are going in for. I have always had that mindset. I’m not an impulsive person right from youth. I sat and thought about certain things and I said yes and took a dive in.
What do you remember most about your wedding?
Husband: Not much I remember. I only know that we came down from Lagos because my family was living in Lagos. My dad had died when I was still in secondary school, so my mom was the breadwinner with my immediate elder brother until I graduated and joined him to take care of the younger ones. In fact, I drove the car which took us to Warri and I can still remember that we stopped over at one Efik man’s residence, who was a family member, and later we slept in a hotel then went for the wedding. I think everything went smoothly and at the end of the day we slept another night and departed the following day. Having courted somebody for three years, I started becoming friendly with most of her cousins, brothers, sisters so nobody could come to put spanner in the works or do something funny somewhere. Everybody was happy, what was happening was a very joyous day.
Wife: It went very smoothly. People came from Calabar, Cross Rivers State, and Lagos to Delta State and everything went seamlessly, there were no hiccups.
Could you remember your first misunderstanding in marriage and how did you handle it?
Husband: We certainly have misunderstanding; there is no couple who can say that they don’t have any misunderstanding. Misunderstandings are as a result of differences of opinion. In a situation like that, if there is no compromise, there can be a standoff. I cannot really point a finger at any particular one; the important thing is that they were resolved without needing to take it to a third party. There may be the frowning of face for a while, because of that ego of ‘why has he or she not seen it my way?’, but before you know what is happening, the spirit of God takes over and we forget about it and move on. You must forget these things so that you will not be bound to “Mr. devil” who will undermine your relationship.
Wife: Very many. We don’t go to bed with any misunderstanding and that is the beautiful part of our marriage. Even the children have learnt to keep off and sometimes when we are arguing they say, “Don’t go near those people”. We can argue in the night, like I just argued with him in the room but it ends there. We can argue very seriously in the night but in the morning we greet and just flow.
What do you like most about your spouse?
Husband: She is a devoted wife and mother. She has no attitude which does not consider the reality of the situation. She is not one who will see that resources are in short supply but wants certain things. She is not demanding from the selfish point of view. When she demands, generally, it is in the interest of the family. She is not the ostentatious type. She is a very simple woman, honest and straightforward; she is energetic. I wouldn’t say these are the qualities which endeared her to me. Like I say many times, these things are steps of faith.
Wife: He is a very sincere person but when he is naughty he can tell lies oooh!
What areas would you like to see her improve?
Husband: I think I am satisfied. I cannot readily point out or put a finger on any area which I think she should improve on. Maybe I would like her to have a bit more of tolerance and patience with me and things as she sees them generally. Sometimes she makes up her mind and does not want to look at the other side. So I think she can do with a bit more tolerance, patience and compromise, not compromise in the wrong sense of the word.
Wife: For instance, when you people came now, I told him there is no need for that because I am a very private person. I don’t like to be projected in the public and he is somehow the opposite. So I wish he could just mellow. He has reached 70 years and this is the time to take a break.
What advice do you have for bachelors who intend to marry?
Husband: It is clear that without sincerity of purpose and love, you cannot make it. Take the man for instance; if you go in with the mind that I am the head of the house, therefore my word will have to be law, you have missed it because that position has to be exercised with responsibility. What do I mean? You cannot lord over your wife but make her a partner with you. There must be a give-and-take, mutual respect rather than drumming it down over her throat. For the woman, the Bible says it that you must submit to your husband which is very important. Submit to your husband. Let him lead but that does not stop you from doing your contributions in any circumstance, but it is not when he is trying to take you to the river to go and drown. I think that is not healthy. She wants to make a responsible input for the marriage to last.
Talk to spinsters who intend to marry?
Wife: Marriage is honourable, that’s what the Bible tells me, and they should come in and be prepared to work it out. It’s a union of two strange people from different backgrounds. So don’t expect it to be a bed of roses, even roses have thorns. If you are not careful, they show up and prick you. Commitment and dependence on God are very crucial. It is this aspect of ‘my husband has done this’ and then you go and tell others. From there all negative counsels will come in and if you don’t handle it well, you would leave the house. Don’t compare compounds and feel that the grass there is greener than yours because when you get there you would realize that it is not as green as yours. So commitment and dedication is key. Keep your loyalty to the union. Just leave any other thing you were doing before, come in and face the task and you will get there.
From your own personal experiences, what advice would you want to give to newly married couples on how to have a long-lasting marriage?
Husband: Certainly it boils down to what I have said, when you have a preconceived idea about marriage and you are not tolerant, loving, caring, and it’s just you and me, or it’s just about the self, you would find that it is a big blunder and the marriage cannot stand because nobody is giving in. You have to give and take. So there has to be tolerance and true consideration of one another. And leave the rest to God so that there would be peace and the marriage would be sustained.
Wife: These days marriages don’t last maybe due to immaturity, not having the commitment to what you are getting into. For us, fortunately, both of us come from backgrounds where our parents lived together or maybe till they died. I still have a father and they set that example. Not that it was too rosy and easy but we were committed and love brought us together. It was not an arranged marriage. They should love each other with all their faults and decide to work on the marriage, and try very hard to see how to achieve that harmony that brought two of them together and hang on together.