‘Marry someone you can manage your life with, keep your union away from outsiders’
Mrs. Victoria Akpata (nee Ogbewey) is a retired Professor of Microbiology from the University of Lagos. She has been married to Professor Sam Akpata for the past 50 years. Having worked within and outside the country, even as her husband worked in Saudi Arabia as a professor in dentistry, their marriage has grown stronger in leaps and bounds and they were both committed to the union. In this interview with The Guardian at their Lekki home, Prof. (Mrs.) Akpata shares the values of a long-lasting union, managing her home with a supportive spouse and rising through the ranks in her career as well as how the Valentine season can be made most memorable. Excerpts.
How did your husband approach you?
My husband is a very patient person and the two families knew each other very well. He used to come to our house where we lived at the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR). Having big sisters and brothers, when a man came to the house, I wasn’t thinking he would be chasing me. We would only have discussions, I had no erotic thoughts at all and then he went abroad to study dentistry on scholarship and so we became pen pals. People used to have pen pals, we wrote to each other and his words didn’t scare me, this continued for over five years. And so, one day I asked the question, how do you prevent tooth decay having been taught hygiene in school, and so he said I should avoid kissing- that was the first time he said something close to not usual. In fact, he used to write me through my dad’s mailing address and he would read my letters, too.
What endeared you to him?
In those days you had a number of men wanting to marry you; for him, he is a very gentle person, his first love is the piano. He is a level-headed person and comes from a good home; I was friendly with his sister and I like brilliant people. His character is exceptional, too, he is a likeable person.
How were you able to manage with the home as both of you are academics?
My husband always supported my career and studies. I had married him before I had my first and second degrees and Ph.D. Also, in our days, having domestic helps were much saner and more humane, you don’t hear of someone stealing your child; the nanny would make mistakes having been groomed from a different background, but then, they were given to you in trust that you will train them. I sent my nanny to school and taught her a few things that she is using in her home today; she started fast food business before it came into Nigeria. So, when I finished from the University of Lagos, I was invited to lecture because I was the best in the faculty- I won the dean’s prize. My children were still very young but then we pulled through, my husband was very supportive and wanted the best for me.
Fifty years and counting, what lessons has marriage taught you?
The first is patience and then kindness. If you truly love someone, you will be patient and kind to the person. In my marriage it has been reciprocal. Our family is based on love and respect; we are not exactly from the same home and so if you respect someone, you will be kind enough to consider that person’s point of view and see it as objectively as possible. In our family, we discuss matters even with the children and my husband believes that everybody has a point. What has also helped is that we always eat together at least two meals a day, this will enable you observe your children and talk about school and work.
How did you manage your husband being away for 23 years while working in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate? Did this ever affect your union?
No, it didn’t. In marriage, when the two people think and communicate properly, distance is never a problem, when he was away, I used to visit him, as a top-level officer, if they offered him tickets three-four times a year to visit us, he will pay for more to ensure we see more often in the year. So, we didn’t stay away from each other for more than three months, so he was always in contact with home.
Marriages are no longer secure nowadays, what is responsible?
Values! Our value system is changing, we are more exposed to external forces, many Nigerians prefer to be un-Nigerian in the way we behave and if we use our local traditional values, we won’t be where we are today. We have also become much more materialistic so if people get married based on what they will gain, then one will get disappointed when such desire is not forthcoming. A woman has a huge role to play in making a marriage work, but in our culture, the woman is subordinate so you should just accept that because you can’t have two captains in a boat. The woman should express her views and leave the man to make his final decision.
And if you both truly discuss genuinely, 95 per cent of the time, the woman will be right, this is evident in my own home.
For the benefit of the younger generation, what is the most important thing for a wife to know?
The important thing is to understand that marriage is a team thing. You are not related, you are coming from different homes, if there are ways you did things in your own home when you get to the man’s house, you must recognise that he is the head of the family. Like I said earlier, I am a team player, you don’t just do everything for yourself in a team, you must consider the entire team. Otherwise, your team won’t win. In marriage, you must realise that you are not alone, so everything can’t be according to your own wish.
If you are sensible, you will know that your husband and the people around him are important. You don’t just say, he is my husband, so father, mother, brothers, sisters, friends, go to blazes. No, it doesn’t work that way. If you want to be happy, you must look at the environment holistically and behave properly. If you are new in a place, you study the new environment and try and fit in. In our culture and most cultures in the world, it is the responsibility of the wife to make her husband and people around him like her. You must put yourself in a position to be liked. You try and study the man; you research him. There is no equality in this business; the family must be based on love and respect.
What is your take on the role of social media in marriages today?
It is a big disadvantage to the stability of marriages; it is an external force. People don’t mind their business and depend on what is going on around and so I tell women, if you are stable and confident, don’t follow what others are doing, do what makes you confident and comfortable and you will be happy in life. There are also cases where a woman may be earning more than the man, humility is key in this case, things may change in the future; don’t go discussing your family with outsiders.
What do you see as a major difference in the way marriages were consummated during your time and now?
The families have greater roles to play when it’s time for marriage. These days, a girl meets a guy and both of them decide to marry and telling their parents is just like giving them information. In our days, the boys talk to the girls, but then when it comes to marriages, the parents are fully involved, you don’t just follow a man like that. Young people need to know that if you don’t have our family behind you especially as a woman, you have flawed yourself; how do you gain respect. Respect is not your designer shoes and bags, but the way you comport yourself, treat your family, the way you show respect and most importantly we must keep our mouths shut. We never had a problem where it was resolved by a third party; you marry someone who you think you can manage your life with.
What is your take about submissiveness in marriage?
It boils down to your level of self-confidence. How do you marry a man that you know will bring you down? Please, let us note this, you don’t have to be married to be a human being, be yourself. You must learn how to live with your neighbour and be a good team player. Being submissive doesn’t mean you should be put down in marriage. Also, learn to eulogise your husband, he will love you to death and stand by you at all times; he can only trust you when you don’t complain about him to everyone. If you want your way every time, then you cannot make it in marriage. Also, it is the responsibility of the man to protect you from in-laws and you won’t get that if you are not kind to him. You are the stranger coming into a family and you expect everybody to clap for you, then you haven’t gotten it right. When you come into a strange place, it is your responsibility to make people like you.
What advise do you have for young people, especially as we’re entering the Valentine season?
Valentine is an opportunity to express likeness to one another and I don’t think it should only be from a boy to girl perspective. If a girl likes a boy, she should subtly let him know and don’t cheapen yourself. Be nice to everyone; don’t think that wearing a designer’s shoe or bag will mean that men should crawl on the floor; some men are shy to approach a lady but then you should distinguish yourself. Don’t expect too much from a man, don’t be demanding, but be understanding.
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