Chief and Olori N. A. Jaguar Afolabi are exceptional couples who have been married for about 58 years. But despite life’s challenges, they are still together. They sleep on the same bed, eat from the same plate, bath together and are always seen together. In this interview, the Muslim couple from Lagos State, went down memory lane as they shared their love story with VERA WISDOM-BASSEY.
Could you describe your marital life with your wife?
Husband: Beautiful life. You know, when a boy and a girl meet on the first day, it is a day they cannot forget. It is a beautiful day. How happy you would be and you can keep on that happiness throughout your marriage. If you can do that, be sure your marriage will last long.
How long have you been married?
Husband: We have been on since 1960. We’ve been together since independence. If you know how old Nigeria is, that is the history of our marriage.
How did you meet him and what was the attraction?
Wife: He was in the Nigerian Red Cross Society while I was in the Girls Guide and they organised a programme for First Ladies, at that time, for that training. When he saw me at Red Cross training, he invited me to come over and be their leader so that I could get involved in humanitarian work. The training was for a week, so from there I had to come to their office at Makoko in Ebute Meta, Lagos. He was the Training Officer by then. That was how everything started.
How did you feel when he asked for your hand in marriage?
Wife: By the time I was looking at him, I knew he was a complete gentleman. He does not tell lies. No need of telling lies or perambulating anywhere; he tells you his mind. He would tell you what he can do or what he cannot do. He is a responsible man. When he tells you he is coming, he will be there, unless there is another thing that came up. And by the time he was running the training, he always took me along up to Warri and other parts of the country.
What have been the challenges because you look so young?
Husband: There are challenges because this world is full of problems. The facts remain that what problem that rear its ugly heads, we learn to look for a solution. When once it is solved, please forget it. If a man and his wife fought 10 years ago and today they are still referring to that fight, it shouldn’t be, it is too bad. When once it is settled, forget it, because you cannot afford going against yourself sometimes.
When you told your parents about him, what was their reaction?
Wife: Yes, I had other suitors, but my father loved him so much because before the months would run out, he would buy different drugs and bring to my father. It was even my father that pushed him into politics. They love each other, and that one attracted him, because he took him as a son.
Did your parents accept your getting marriage to her when you informed them?
Husband: Yes, both parents accepted. We are here and there, and if anything happens they are there to intervene. If the man and the woman understand themselves you rarely go back to the parents, so the best thing is for you to submit between yourself. Third party coming into your marriage is not the best. We have never gone back to my parents since then.
Where did you woo her?
Husband: I used to be a member of the Nigerian Red Cross Society from school, and she used to be a member of Nigerian Girls Guide from school. And when we met, I felt that this would be good girl. She was a great leader and I too used to be a great leader, so, I encouraged her to leave Girls Guild and come to Red Cross, so that we would be seeing each other every day and every time we went for meeting. With that, she would be close to me. As soon as I succeeded in doing that, I knew the way was open.
What was your position on those men who were coming to seek for your hand in marriage?
Wife: We didn’t have much time to be going out. My father would take us to school and he would also come to us from school. You can only go to a birthday party; that was what my father allowed. What my father used to do then is that if you were not home before 7pm, your mother would be in trouble. So, normally if you wanted to go out from our house you must leave after 4pm prayer and you must come back by 7pm. We don’t have time to be perambulating about, but when my current husband approached me for marriage, the story changed.
Who apologises first when there are issues between you?
Wife: It’s the woman that apologises first. When there are issues, we talk it over and as a woman I have to let it go and make sure it ends immediately without allowing it to see the next day. So also in every home it should be the responsibility of the woman to let issues die naturally. If we don’t want to tell ourselves lies, it is the woman that should let things die. When he is talking, after I might have explained myself, what I do is that I keep quite. Even though I come home late and he is not happy about it, after we finish eating our dinner and after we might have had our prayers, I would still explain why I came home late, and there and then we settle it. While in court, I served at Gbojiga Ibeju-Lekki Magistrate court for ten years, and so with these experiences I was able to live with my own husband.
At the time you served at magistrate court, how many marriages were you able to put together?
Wife: If we had problems like in ten marriages, I was able to settle six of them, but for those who were bent on leaving the man, we don’t have a choice but to let them go. Even when we use Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), it means come out of the court and go to the chambers, talk to them to see if we can still appeal to them to stay together, some would still be bent on leaving the marriage.
What advice do you have for couples then on how to keep their homes?
Wife: First, they should be patient with each other. Second, you don’t talk too much and don’t answer when he is talking until when he is in calm mood. Better still, it could be after you might have had your night meal that you can settle the matter. Or, at midnight you could wake him up from sleep and talk it over with him. Just use your head to touch him, by this you wake him up and apologies for that and then you start your explanation, and then everything ends there. Couples should remember how they started their marriage before going to seek their parents’ advice. This will help them to keep their homes.
Your religion, Islam, preaches that one man can marry up to four wives, if he can maintain them. Why did you settle for one?
Husband: God enjoins a man to have up to four wives. He said get two if you have the power to take care of their feeding, clothing and everything, but if you don’t have that ability for more, stay with one. If you have the ability to keep two and you have the means of keeping them and attending to them equally, then go ahead and keep. So, it is not mandatory that a Muslim man must have four or two. Have it if you have the ability to take care of them. Of course, I have learnt to stay with one, which is the best thing. Although you are not sharing your love, there is no way a man with more than one wife will have happiness because the moment you are with the other person, this one is into something, and she is not happy with it. So, I think it is better to stay with one.
What is your advice to those whose marriages are on the brink of collapse?
Wife: I know they are not patient; they don’t listen to each other and that is why we have high rate of breakages in marriage. Let each expose their minds to each other as couples, and talk to each other, heart to heart.
What’s your own advice to couples?
Husband: The world is changing rapidly. When we started, it was the man that was at work, taking care of the home. But life is becoming tougher. What the man brings home is not enough to maintain the home. So, the woman too finds something doing. She has no choice than to leave the home and leave the children in the hands of the house-help and what-have-you. Truth is, there is no amount of care they give that can equal what the mother can give to her children. She is there for the children. That is the position it should be any day, any time. The woman must go out but must come back early enough for the children, that is, where the couples are working. But it is wrong for a man to beat his wife. Even God forbids it. God said the hand that beats the woman will never prosper. If you know you want to prosper, why do you go against it? Beating is not the answer. Talk to yourselves. Dialogue and find solution to whatever problem it is, instead of descending to beating.
How can families raise their children?
Wife: The parents should get familiar with their children, and come down to their level. If not, the children would be giving them problems. Allow your children to become your friends. Let them come near you and then you talk to them so that they can relay to you what they have in mind. This should be done especially by the mother. If you don’t carry them along, they would hide so many things from you and engage in other things that are not right.