Sir Mike Osunde, veteran journalist and one-time ace crime reporter of court cases dealing with sex, rape and divorce matters, with Daily Times and, its sister newspaper, Lagos Weekend, and his wife, Lady Esther Osunde, got married during his active journalism years in less-than-ideal circumstances. Despite challenges posed by the way they met and married, they have been able to hold their union together as to continue to live together as husband and wife till this day. In this interview with TONY OSAUZO and IGHOMUAYE LUCKY, they not only reveal the secret of their long-lasting marriage, but also counsel intending and young couples on how to make their own marriage last as long as theirs. Excerpts:
Sir, how old are you in marriage?
Husband: About 42 years now. We got married on September 6, 1977, during FESTAC 77.
How exactly did you meet your wife?
Husband: The truth is that we would never have met, given the circumstances. She was in Kano. I was in Lagos. She came visiting her uncle in Lagos and my friend’s girlfriend brought her to the house where I stayed. That was how we met. As at that time, I was in a relationship that had gone bad and I was very angry with anything called woman. So, initially, I did not even look her way. It was my bosom friend’s girlfriend that introduced her to me. That is how we started. Then, she was a student and I had just left the Morning Post to come to Lagos.
Could you confirm what your husband just said?
Wife: That was exactly how we met. That girl (my girlfriend) used to live with her mother in Kano. We used to call her Aunty Tina. When she left for Lagos, I came to know where she was staying. She would always say: ‘Come and see me at so, so address,’ not knowing that it was her boyfriend’s house. My husband and others were all living together. They were bachelors.
Before two of you eventually got married, what exactly did you tell her? How did you propose?
Husband: (laughs) Was there any proposal? The truth is that I did not imagine that there was going to be marriage. We were very good friends and that was good enough for me because as at that time, I was planning to travel abroad. But one thing led to the other and she got pregnant with our first son. I had hoped that she would have that child and later we will regularize it. And as a Catholic I did not want any abortion. Nobody was prepared to help me. My father said: ‘Look, it is your responsibility. I can’t carry it.’ And taking care of the child when he was born, was a problem because we were both inexperienced. We would bathe the child in the morning. I did not have a house; we were still staying in that house where we met each other. I would be taking care of him. She would go to work. When she closed, she would come home to take over.
What he said, is it true?
Wife: That was what happened. I would stay at home because he would go to work to cover stories in customary court. Then I was working with the Ministry of External Affairs in Lagos. So whenever I closed, I would go home, and would take over the care of the child but before I leaving home, both of us would bathe the child. It was tough, very, very tough.
Husband: But at a point when her mother in Kano said that was not the best way to do it, I took them to Kano. They stayed there for one full year and that was how she lost the job. She has never worked since then.
Was there any opposition to your getting married to your wife?
Husband: I am from a broken home. So, from my father, I didn’t have any opposition. But from her side, they didn’t want her to marry any Bini man. She is from Kwale. That was the problem we had. Again, because I was not prepared to do the needful at that time, they also felt that I was not serious. Her mother was our saving grace. She supported us through thick and thin.
Was your family opposed to your marriage?
Wife: Yes. They would say, what do you have to do with a Bini? You did not even find a Yoruba; you did not see any other tribe? I said no. At a time I was trying to find out why they were opposed to my getting married to a Bini. They said if you see what the Binis did to our women during the Nigerian Civil War––they just felt that it was going to be the same thing but my mother saw him and said this is not the kind of person that is capable of hurting somebody. My mother just fell in love with him. So, when my uncles and every other person were opposed to it, my grandmother and my mother supported me. I said it is my choice because everybody has a different destiny; today, whenever they see him, they are always singing his praises. He was in Kwale a few days ago and he wore Benin attire. You should have been there to see how they were eulogizing him on the microphone saying “our in-law is here.”
There were many girls then, what attracted her to you?
Husband: I have always been a one-woman man. I have never ever been a flirt or double-dated. I can count the women in my life on my fingertips. Like I told you, before I met her, I have had a very sour relationship. I had this girl who I was dating right from secondary school, pretty woman, but the way she treated me one day, I felt like dying and that was the situation I was in when I met her, I did not want to do relationship but here we are today. Yes, my wife was pretty––and still is. She was not like any other girl in the sense that there was no sophistry in her. She was just herself, no makeup. In short, before you could even see her body it was difficult because she grew up in the North, she dressed like them; she was always covered from head to toe.
Was it same for you? How did you overlooked other young boys for your husband?
Wife: Well, I saw him as a fine young man and I have always dreamt of marrying a writer or a lawyer. That was what actually attracted my mother. She asked: is this the man I read in Lagos Weekend? In short, my mother hardly miss Lagos Weekend. She would ask her vendor, where is Lagos Weekend? Where is this Mr. “Rape?”––and when she met him, she asked: ‘I hope you would not rape my daughter?’ So I had always liked writers although I did not know that some of them were called journalists. But I always liked writers, people that write and then lawyers. I admired them as a young girl and maybe that was what caught my attention.
What do you remember most about your marriage?
Husband: Was there any special thing to remember? You know, the regularisation of our marriage came almost after we have had all our children. So, there is nothing spectacular really. She struggled with me through thick and thin. We just lived our daily lives and tried to avoid all those who said it would not work but we wanted at least to prove them wrong. Now, here we are. We had our differences but we never asked the family to come and settle them between us. One way or the other, we resolved them. We quarreled but one way or the other, we resolved them. Maybe the only pain we had, was the death of our first son. He died on my birthday. And I remember it always. That is why I have not been celebrating my birthday until I was 70 years and the children were clever enough to shift the day of that date because they knew I would not have celebrated it. I poured out all my love on him. As a young man, everywhere I went, he was with me. In that my Volkswagen Beetle, he would stand behind me and I would be driving all around town; that is to tell you the love I had for him. So when he died, it was like removing what bound us together. And it took a long time for my wife to get out of it because at six years, my son was saying that he wanted to be a priest. So when he died, his mother was asking, out of broken heart, while they were burying him: ‘Is that where you are going to be a priest?’
How did you handle your first misunderstanding?
Husband: I would say that our first misunderstanding came from this pregnancy thing. At first, we wanted to abort, but she said no. After a while I said to myself, what is all this? To tell you how much the quarrel was, for seven months we did not see each other. It was in the seventh month that she came to say you know the baby is here and all that. So, between those first three and seven months, her uncles said she must not see me and she kept away. And her office was just behind my office, Daily Times, close to the Ministry of Defence. She stopped coming.
How did you resolve that first misunderstanding?
Wife: In short, God had a hand in it and my mother too was very supportive. My mother and my grandmother backed me and they took care of me. God used them. I knew that God has a hand in our relationship.
What do you like most in your husband?
Wife: He is very neat. From the time I knew him, he has always won white––pants, boxers and singlets, there would be no stain on them; and when I said I would not enter the kitchen, he would enter the kitchen and cook. He would even tell me that my food is in the oven. Out of shame, I would go inside and carry it. You can never bluff for him with cooking.
What do you like most in your wife?
Husband: One particular thing I like about her is, she is not like any other woman. She does not say this woman is doing this; that is what I would do. She has always been herself. And that is why she is not too costly to maintain. There are some women who would force their husbands by saying: ‘I saw my friends wearing this thing, you should go and buy it.’ No. So, long it is what I bought for her, she would wear. She has never given me an ultimatum to say if you do not buy this for me, life will end. No.
You have stayed this long in marriage. What is your advice for those intending to marry?
Husband: I teach in a marriage class in my parish and one thing I keep telling them is that marriage is a school or university from where you do not graduate. Truly, there is nothing I would tell a person who is going to marry that he should take. I can only tell you my experience and you can pick what you think is good for you. But if you are in a marriage, you must keep communication going. If you stop communicating with your spouse, the devil takes over. I cannot say I would try my wife the way I saw my father treating my mother. For every couple, there is always something unique. Some people found their wives on the streets; I have never chased a girl on the street. I should be able to know you down to your house. People pick spouses from the street to want to marry them. How am I supposed to advise such people? It will not work.
What is your advice for young spinsters based on your experience in marriage?
Wife: Like what my husband said, communication matters. Know what your husband likes and what he does not like. The man should do the same. Know how to cook and how to keep the home. I cannot advise any young woman to stay at home to take care of her children like I did in my own time because of the economic situation of the country. I left my beautiful job to take care of the home. I think no graduates of today will get the kind of job I had and abandon it for the sake of keeping the home but I sacrificed that. I used to tell my children sometime when they offend me, that “this was my job but I sacrificed that job to sit down at home to take care of you. I know your father was a civil servant but he couldn’t afford a maid to take care of you so I had to sacrifice my job to do so.” But overall, the best option is communication and if your husband understands you and you understand your husband, things will go on well.
From the experience you have had from this marriage, how will you advise young men who have just married to take care of their marriage?
Husband: Like she said, I was a civil servant but my first priority was my home. Yes, we should take good care of our parents but first priority is our home and family. Like the Bini man says, if your home is not good you can’t dance outside. So, my home is the first priority. There is no way somebody can mount pressure on me as to make me spend outside my home the money I would have used to settle some pressing problems within my home. It’s not just possible because my home remains my first priority.
What’s your advice for young couples?
Wife: Do not try to compare your husband with your friend’s husband. Do not compare your home with your friend’s home because all fingers are not equal. For peace to reign, do not compare your home with other people’s homes. One thing I do not know how to do is to apologize whenever I am wrong. My husband would always be the one who would come to me to apologize. I can keep malice but my husband would always be the one to apologize to me and up till now I am still begging God to give me the grace to be able to overcome it.