Chief Abu King Shuluwa, Tor Sankera I and first class traditional ruler in charge of Sankera area, Benue State, and his wife, Chief Mrs. Elizabeth Shuluwa, have been married for about 40 years and blessed with children and grandchildren. In this interview with our correspondent, ROSE EJEMBI, the royal couple tell the story of how they were able to manage their temperaments which has enable them to last this long in marriage. Excerpts:
Before we start, tell us about yourself
Wife: The first of 10 children, I was born in Jos, Plateau State to a policeman father who was always on the move as a result of constant postings. I schooled among others at Queen of the Rosary Secondary School, Gboko. We were the first set of students to do four-and-a-half years of secondary school (1970-74) because of the change in school calendar year that time. At the completion of my secondary school education, I got into School of Basic Studies, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). But along the way, I switched to the College of Agriculture, ABU, because being from Gboko by birth, the government considered those of us from Gboko, Otukpo and I think, Katsina-Ala, as educationally advanced enough not to merit scholarship. When that happened, in order not to overburden my parents, I decided to switch to agriculture in order to profit from scholarship being offered as incentive to students reading the course. I changed from School of Basic Studies to College of Agriculture.
But in 1976, I transferred my education to Clerk College, Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, because then it was diploma course I was studying in ABU. I bagged BSc in Food Science and Nutrition and Home Economics Education as a minor. I came back to Nigeria in 1980 to do my one-year National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) in the Ministry of Rural Development and Cooperative. I went back to Ohio University, USA in September 1982 for a dual masters degree in Food Science and Nutrition and another in Higher Educational Administration, graduating in November 1985. I came back to Nigeria and worked in Ministry of Agriculture (1985–1990), as Director of Women in Agriculture under BARNADA, World Bank-created project (1990-99), Commissioner for Agriculture, the first in Nigeria (1999-2006), Commissioner for Women Affairs and Youth Development (2006-2007), Permanent Secretary (2007-2010). I retired on March 2, 2010 to go into partisan politics. So you can say I am a housewife, a mother, an agricultural professional and a politician. Above all, I am married to His Royal Highness, Chief Abu King Shuluwa. I am blessed with five children, the first four children biologically and the fifth one is my niece that I adopted at age three. We also have three grandchildren.
How did you meet her?
Husband: We were working in the same Ministry of Agriculture but in different departments. I was Head of Social Welfare and she was in Home Economics department. One day, I was sitting in my office and I saw her pass. She was tall and slim. I asked who she was and someone told me she was in Home Economics department. I asked them to call her for me and when I engaged her in discussion she told me she was in Gboko. I offered to take her back to her station and she agreed. That was how we started.
Was that how it happened?
Wife: (smiling). Like he said, the ministry had different departments. I was to be paid a stipend as a student, so I came to process the money. He saw me first time and tried to hit on me but it wasn’t successful. The other time that I came again to follow up on my money, he went to the woman who was my head of department and who knew my parents very well to enquire about me. She was quite an older woman. He found out who I was and tried to be close. They introduced him as the head of his department and that I was a student in Zaria and I had come for some money issues. That was it. The next time that I came I was at the accounts section and he came and offered to take me to Gboko. I refused, of course, because I was 18 at that time and being the first of 10 children and a female and the fact that my parents were kind enough to allow us the girl children to go to school, there was no joking with the privilege that I had. I actually wasn’t used to older guys at that time. So, when he offered to take me home, I refused because I didn’t know him and I didn’t know why he would take me to Gboko. The cat-and-mouse game continued for some time and on one occasion, when I came home, the woman (my HOD) said: ‘What’s your problem? Is he going to kill you? He just wanted to be friends with you.’ So, I think along the way, one of those days that I came to the ministry, he offered to take me home again and I said no problem but I was on my guard. He gave me a ride to my parents’ house in Gboko and that was it. When I finished that diploma programme in College of Agric, Samaru, Zaria, I was sent to Gboko to do industrial attachment training and by March of 1977, he had proposed marriage to me, which I accepted. The traditional one was done in July of 1978 and by December 23, 1978, we wedded in church.
So, what will you say was the attraction then?
Wife: I found out that he was a very responsible young man. He was 32 when we wedded and I was 22. First, he was neat. Second, he was never broke. Third, he loves me plenty. Fourth, he loves music and I love music too. We all dance a lot. And of course, I found that he was exposed. In spite of the fact that there is this age gap between us, I could relate with him without feeling intimidated by the age difference. And he schooled abroad. He was quite exposed and that was right for me because even as a young person, I was exposed in my own way. Like I said I was born in Jos and we traveled around the country with my dad. I knew what I wanted. I read a lot and the secondary school that I went to, Queens Gboko, prepared us for a world outside of our environment. I knew what I wanted in life and I knew it when I saw it in somebody. At the point I met my husband, I had boyfriends my age bracket and being in ABU Zaria, that was not strange. So, I was a young girl in school that met a lot of people from different backgrounds. I had girlfriends who were from Lagos and different places. I had girlfriends from the Dantata family. So, I was quite exposed and I knew what I wanted.
What are the qualities that you see in your wife that made your marriage last this long?
Husband: She’s a very strong woman, a good mother and a great wife. She used to be very emotional but a very strong woman. She was the first of 10 children. She loves her children. I allowed her in all her educational pursuits. Our first child was born in America, the other two were born here in Nigeria. She initially went with our third child to study in America but had to come back for the other two. She came back in 1985 after three years. I visited them once while they were there.
What was the attraction?
Husband: Her height, gait and her beauty. She was tall, beautiful and smart. She was not and is still not a dull person. Growing up, I had taste for tall slim girls.
At what point did you decide to propose to her?
Husband: After our first meeting, I kept on seeing her and the relationship grew from there. You know when a girl says no, she means yes most times. The moment she gave me all her information, I knew she was also interested in me. So, I built on that over time. The first day I spoke to her about relationship, her response encouraged me to go further. Eventually, after some years, our relationship culminated into marriage.
May we know how he proposed to you and when he did, what was your initial reaction when he proposed?
Wife: Originally, when he proposed in 1977, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be married at that age. So, I told him to hold on. But he didn’t stop. He came to Mbatiev where I was working and he proposed again outside as we were leaning on his car in front of my apartment. So, he asked me again, he said “Lizzy, I’ve been talking you. I’m not a young person and I’ve been talking to you about this marriage thing and we’ve been seeing each other for over two years now. I still want to ask you, will you marry me? I said I also love you but I don’t want to be pressured into marriage. Then, on March 5, which was my birthday, he proposed again and I agreed. He decided to make the proposal public by organizing a birthday party for me. It was an all-night party.
How would you describe your wife?
Husband: She’s a strong woman. She’s prayerful, very caring and unapologetically supportive too.
How has it been coping with the challenges of marriage?
Husband: I wasn’t a Catholic but my mother-in-law insisted that we must marry in Catholic Church and since I loved her daughter, I had to agree to that terms. I was a Protestant but eventually, I became a Catholic.
So, after the wedding, what were the challenges you faced?
Wife: I was 22 and he was in the US. I had my first child in US and when we got back to Nigeria, life in Nigeria was different. There were challenges and as much as I told you that I was exposed, I was still naive as a woman because I held my guard as a tomboy so that nobody could mess me up. But I didn’t know how to be a lady that much because I always acted as a tomboy. So, I didn’t care. Because my husband is very outspoken, we normally had the young couple’s fight because if you tell me what I don’t like, I’d tell you exactly what I feel like and I’ll stand by it. And so, anytime he wanted to be man and the husband in the wrong way, I told him to go to hell. The challenge of not having my way all the times was big and thirdly, the challenge of your husband not being there all the times, I couldn’t accept that. Know that I’m coming from the US where he used to bath the baby and take the baby to the daycare. And when I’m at school and his classes are finished, he would come home and look after the baby, cook, eat, and maybe leave some for me. And then I come home to Nigeria here where he is doing nothing. He goes to work. I go to work and we both close at 4 pm and he expects food, and he is grumbling. That was difficult for me to handle. And this hanging out that guys do without their spouses here was a challenge for me. And so, as a young person you are beginning to suspect. I had suspicions of infidelity of a Nigerian housewife. Yes, as a young person, you are bound to suspect that your husband is cheating here and there especially when you are not carried along in some of these hanging outs. So, those were challenges. I had challenges of marrying a very outspoken person and myself being a very outspoken person too, so sometimes we disagreed and I insisted that my own opinion too should be heard. That was a challenge.
What is your own opinion about marriage?
Husband: Marriage is sweet and bitter. Patience and tolerance are the best recipes for any succesful marriage. Both of you are from different families and so it will be difficult to behave same way. That’s why you have to tolerate one another.
Wife: Marriage generally demands patience and tolerance because the man was raised by different parents. So is the girl. They both come from different backgrounds to become one. If you are not tolerant, you will not enjoy it. Marriage is both sweet and bitter and to enjoy it, you must be tolerant. There’s no marriage that does not have a measure of its own trouble but the ability to manage it with tolerance and patience is what sustains it.