Theirs is love redefined. Its love rejuvenated at the dusk of life. Everything about 80-year-old Pa Adetunji Boladale Akanni and his 78-year-old wife, Mojisola Bolatito, spells affection. Really, their 53-year-old union gives you the kick and you wonder what has kept them together for so long. Don’t be impatient, they bare everything in this interview
LH: When and where did you get married?
Mum: We got married on March 12, 1964 in London.
LH: Who saw who first?
Pa Akanni: We didn’t start in London. We met in Nigeria. It was at the Teachers College that our friendship started. The first time I saw her was in 1954. Then, she was head of a school owned by my employers. A teacher disobeyed her and I was delegated to inspect and give a report. Also I was to make recommendation. So, I went there, studied the situation and queried the teacher. I submitted the report to the school authorities and the teacher who was heady and disobedient was disciplined. But I didn’t know that I would meet her again at the Teachers College. Later, after some period of teaching, I changed to the civil service from where I travelled to the United Kingdom.
LH: But what really made you think she was your wife?
Pa Akanni: One day, at the Teachers Training College, there was scarcity of water in the city of Ibadan. Then, students were asked to go and fetch water and amazingly, she said I should not go and volunteered to go instead. She took my bucket and went with her colleagues. She didn’t let me go but brought water for me. That created a liking for her in me and something told me I should persist.
LH:What was the attraction that made you say yes?
Mama: It took a long time. We went to the Teachers Training College the same year. We were classmates and after fetching the water, he appreciated me. We were at the Divisional Teachers Training College Oke Are, Ibadan. That was in 1956 and he was made a Health Inspector for the college. He was always putting on white and was always very neat. The white clothes were always well-washed and ironed. I said to myself, ‘With this man that is always neat, there is a future for him.’ That attracted me. When we were leaving in 1957, he asked me, ‘Now that you are leaving the college, and if we are posted to different schools to teach, how would I know that you would still like to marry me.’ He asked to call my cousin, who was a friend of his, to be a witness and I should say before him that I would still marry him. I said, ‘I don’t need a witness, let God be the witness. Then, we were Muslims. We left school in 1957. I was teaching in Molete Ibadan and he was teaching somewhere else. Later on, I went for Grade 2. After 1957, I taught for another two years before I went to Teachers Training College, Ilesha(1960-61) He didn’t return for Grade 2 but sat for his GCE and was working in the ministry at the Inland Revenue. He travelled in June 1962 and when I left Grade 2 in 1960/61, I was teaching at the Islamic Secondary School, Agugu, Ibadan.
Was the relationship intact before you travelled to the United Kingdom?
Pa Akanni: No but on the eve of my travelling to the UK, I went to her and asked her some questions which she didn’t give me any positive reply. But I believe God has already ordained it and persisted. When I got to the UK, I kept writing her letters, only to discover she was coming to Britain in December of that same year. I think my persistence paid off.
LH: Did you go to meet him in England?
Mama:No, I went to England to study. It was on my brother’s sponsorship. I travelled to London on December 2, 1962 and expected to be met at the airport by my cousin, who he was also close to. It was Tunji (Pa Akanni) I met at the airport in England and not my cousin! I went to study Secretarial Studies and I also sat for my GCE in London. Tunji started coming to visit me after which I agreed to marry him. I informed my parents and they made inquiries, necessary introduction and we got married at the Central Mosque, London on March 12, 1964. We returned from England in 1969.
Pa Akanni: She mentioned a cousin who was close to both of us. I remember visiting this cousin about three days before her arrival to London. He was the one who told me she was coming. I told him I had written her letters and she didn’t reply me. He now asked if I would go and meet her at Heathrow Airport and I obliged. On the eve of her arrival, I went to join him and we traveled to Heathrow together. She came during winter and that year had the most severe winter in Britain. She was shocked to see me and we travelled to South of London where her cousin lived. From there, I started building a relationship and later we got married. We had two kids in London and had two in Nigeria.
LH: What do you think is missing in most marriages now?
Mama: First, the fear of God is absent. Many couples don’t commit their unions into God’s hands. Many marry for money and not love. The men too are not serious either. Marriage is forever and when two people are joined together, its forever. You forget everything pertaining to worldly affairs.
LH:How did you handle your in laws?
Mama Akanni: We both had our mothers but the most important thing is to commit everything into God’s hands and God would know how to control the minds of the parents of the couple. They can’t intrude. Moreover, when they see how you relate with each other in a godly way, they know your marriage is a no-go zone. Some parents like controlling their sons but if you see it from God’s point of view and you decide ignoring many things, you would be happy. If you know that the mother of your husband is your mother and treat her like your mother, there would not be trouble. Moreover, when a mother-in-law sees a daughter-in-law as her daughter, peace would reign. Unfortunately, most girls of nowadays don’t want a man who has a mother. Maybe they have forgotten that they would become parents and someone would want to marry their sons someday. Just take things lightly, pray and be of good attitude to your in-laws and you will enjoy your marriage. Learn to tolerate them or else they make life unbearable for you.
LH: Was there opposition from her family?
Pa Akanni: No. My brother-in-law (now late) was like a father to me. He was my mentor and before I left Nigeria and I visited her in their house, he was very understanding. He was very friendly too and I respected him. He took me as his brother and encouraged me.
LH: How old were you when you got married?
Pa Akanni: I was about 27 years.
LH:Was that not too young for a man to marry?
I don’t think so because my mates got married at 25. After studies and you have a job, nothing stops you from getting married. What is affecting lots of marriages now is interferences in the couples affairs. If you have the grace of God on you and you are mature, you allow your parents understand that this is your home and you have your lives to live.
LH: I think finance is also one of the challenges of any marriage. How did you handle yours?
Pa Akanni: Nobody is perfect. Money is very essential in marriage but it didn’t control us. When we got married, there were sacrifices that we had to make. When she finished her studies at the college, I was working and we later resolved that I should concentrate on my studies and she would continue working. When I completed my studies, I started work again. Till date, we have a common purse. Though we still have separate accounts, there was a common purse.
LH: One of the problems of marriage is communication. How did you as a couple carve out time for yourselves?
Pa Akanni: We communicated well and we had time for each other as a young couple. Even now that we are grandparents, we are always together and our communication very effective.
LH: How did you convert to Christianity?
When we returned to Nigeria, we were practising Muslims. She was the first person to become a Christian. Initially, we were practising Muslims but God’s intervention and grace made us become Christians. Our young ones were in Government College and went to the University and whenever they came home on holidays we saw that they prayed in tongues. It was amazing and we watched them. Later, she (my wife) joined Rhema Chapel when it was newly established in Ibadan. Later I joined too
LH: Do you have pet names for each other?
Pa Akanni: No, she calls me Tunji, I call her Bola.
LH: Who is the most romantic of the two of you?
Mama: He is romantic and also helps me with house chores. When we were abroad, he helped with the laundry, the kids and helped with the shopping. In Nigeria, maybe due to our culture, the kitchen is for the woman and looks strange for a married man to be working there. He still helps me and I cannot recollect the last time we had a domestic help. All my children especially the boys are good cooks.
Pa Akanni: We have always been fond of each other.
LH: What has kept you together for 53 years? Don’t you quarrel?
Mama: We do have misunderstanding but we always resolve it quickly. A marriage is about tolerance. Differences would arise but understanding your strengths and weaknesses would make you win.
Pa Akanni: There should be understanding, accommodation and respect for each other. You know what your partner likes and what she doesn’t like. You need to tolerate each other.
Mama: Don’t let the in-laws interfere in your affairs. Don’t report yourselves to your parents.
LH: Was there a time you lived apart?
Yes, there was a time we were not living together. Then, we returned from London, the job he got was in Ibadan. Later on, he was employed in another company and transferred to Kano. I was working at the University of Ibadan in 1972. Then, we were contemplating that I would resign and go to meet him in the north, but he was given another transfer to Lagos. We had to stay put in Ibadan. When he came from the north to Lagos, I had to resign from University of Ibadan and joined him in Lagos. When we were in Lagos, he was transferred to Ibadan! I was able to take care of three children in Lagos. That went on for a long time. We were still in Ibadan when he was transferred to Lagos. It became rigorous but we were able to cope.
LH: How did you cope with challenges as a couple?
Mama: I always tell couples to know each other, study your characters and attitude during the period of courtship and work on all these. There is the need for patience too because you cannot both react to things negatively. There is also the need to be prayerful.
LH: How did you handle temptation from other women?
Pa Akanni: Yes, but one must be able to allow self control. You also want to respect your wife.
LH: How old are you?
Pa Akanni: I was 80 in September 2017
Mama: I was 78 in January 2017
LH: Did it occur to you that any woman could snatch your husband when he was not with you during his transfer?
Mama: I was never troubled with the thoughts of any woman snatching my husband. I’d rather pray to God to keep him. I have my kids to attend to and not thinking of such.
LH: What are the secrets of your graceful ageing?
Pa Akanni: Nothing but God’s grace. She makes my food. I take tea in the morning with two cubes of sugar, biscuits. I think it has to do with spending time with God’s word, prayer and rest. Also, learn to love. Spend your time in communion with God, get spiritual materials (Bible, spiritual books). Be careful of friends who could also be instrumental to your marriage falling apart.
LH: What other things do you still do?
Pa Akanni: I still drive. I take fruits— watermelon, apples, oranges. I take water in the morning and I still read without glasses.
Mama: I take lot of tea, I also go for exercises to make me healthy. I have a bicycle in the house. I can walk and run. I still drive our car within Ibadan and I go shopping.
Photos: Olere Photography