Why our marriage has lasted 44 years and counting –
Elder Michael Ajayi Oke, a native of Ilupeju-Ekiti in Oye Local Government Area of Ekiti State, is a land surveyor and businessman. A former staff of the Federal Survey Department before crossing over to Ondo State Housing Corporation and later went into private practice, he has been married to Mrs Comfort Bolatito Ajayi, a retired secondary schoolteacher, from Iroko-Ekiti in Ijero Local Government Area of the state, for 44 years. Though the marriage might have been made in heaven, it was consummated on earth.
The Ajayis are blessed with male and female children, two of whom are university professors, and they are doing very well in different fields of human endeavour in Nigeria and abroad, including an adopted son who is currently an editor of one of Nigeria's major newspapers.
On August 4, 2023, Elder and Madam Ajayi celebrated their 70th birthday as well as their 44th wedding anniversary in Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital. In an interview with Saturday Sun, the couple shares the story of how they met and married and what has kept their marriage going for this long with PRISCILLA EDIARE.
How did you both meet?
Elder Michael: I met her when we were in secondary school between 1971 and 1972. But we didn't have anything together until after we left secondary school. I got to know her through her close friend. Secondly, both of us were members of Scripture Union. She attended Methodist Girls High School, Ifaki-Ekiti, while I attended Ifaki Grammar School. Her school was girls only, while mine was boys only. I made a marriage proposal to her after I prayed through in 1977.
Madam Comfort: The lady in question was a friend and we are still friends till today. She is from Ilupeju-Ekiti. His school and our school were in the same town in Ifaki and we (students) from the two schools attended the same church on Sundays. That was how I came to know him as a brother. But in 1977, he wrote a letter asking that he had prayed through and that God had laid it in his mind to the end that I would be his helper. Before then I also had been praying and God had spoken to me about him, so there wasn't any much problem in saying yes.
How did God speak to you?
Madam Comfort: When I first met him in a fellowship programme, he was to teach us a chorus. Different schools, including my school came to his school and the hall was full. Immediately he started teaching the new song, it was like they were making jest of him because he couldn't speak up. The students were grumbling. I wanted to make jest of him too. But the Spirit of God rebuked me and said what if he eventually turned out to be my would-be husband? I heard the voice in my ears and immediately became sober. I felt I was already having a sort of lust within me. Before I left the programme, I started praying for forgiveness. As a Class 3 secondary school student, I felt it was too early for me to be thinking about marriage. I was in the lower class in the secondary school and he was almost rounding off in the school. I thought somebody who was getting ready to move out of school and myself who was just in between, why should the thought of marriage come to my mind? I thought it was a sin.
Madam Comfort: Because my yearning then was to go to the university. If I now bring in the issue of marriage, so I thought, wouldn't it be like bringing an obstacle before me? And I knew the type of parents that I had. But before his letter of proposal came, I had already finished my secondary school education and started teaching. So, immediately I received it, I hid it under my register. He had sent it through the post office. I was in the classroom when the postmaster brought it. When I finished teaching, I opened the letter and read through and kept it in my bag. I wasn't much bothered. This is because I had made a promise to God that whoever wrote any letter at that time, I wasn't going to shun him and it happened to be him.
You just said you were not going to shun whoever wrote you any letter at that time. Did you have so many suitors then?
Madam Comfort: Men had been coming and I would tell them I was sorry, that they should give me time to pray. I would be on that prayer for long. For him, whenever he asked ‘what about what I told you?', because we usually met at the fellowship, I would tell him I was still praying about it. And, I prayed for almost two years, if not more, before I could say yes.
For that number of years, was there any time you thought she might eventually let you down?
Elder Michael: No, because I trusted God and the Bible says when you pray, believe God has done what you have asked him. I had the full assurance that she would be my wife.
Aside the God factor, what attracted you to each other?
Elder Michael: Her beauty
Madam Comfort: He was very quiet and principled. You won't find him in a place where he would be causing trouble. He doesn't talk much and those who don't talk much, those who are reserved, I fear them. Because my father happened to be in that group. I know these are people who mean business with God to some extent. He wouldn't talk but he knew what he wanted until he achieved it. If not, I don't think he would have waited for me for about five years. I left secondary school in 1974. And, he left before me. I thought he ought to have forgotten about me completely. At first, we were exchanging letters as a Christian brother and a Christian sister. But immediately it came to my mind that this letter I was exchanging with this man could lead to another thing that I might not like, I stopped writing him. But he still wrote but I wouldn't reply him.
Was there any opposition from anywhere concerning your marriage?
Elder Michael: There was no opposition because my parents were Christians. Even my siblings were very worried that I didn't have any girlfriend. I didn't mingle with people. I didn't play with any girl. So when I told them I had prayed through and God had chosen my future partner for me, they were very happy to receive her.
Madam Comfort: No opposition. My parents were Christians. It was even very difficult for my parents to believe that a man had come my way. My father said he would not believe me until he saw the man. This was because throughout my secondary schools days he didn't see any man with me. So coming to tell him that I wanted to marry was something difficult for him to believe. I asked him if I could tell my fiancé to come and see him and he said yes. But I couldn't meet him until I wrote a letter and that took about a week or two. I gave him some two, three dates and asked him to pick one. I told my parents he would come on that date and he did.
What made you decide to go for her out of the many ladies available for a pick within that period?
Elder Michael: Like I said, I prayed and God led me to her. I didn't have any girlfriend at all. She was the only one.
Madam Comfort: I didn't have any boyfriend too.
What was the first challenge you had in your marriage?
Elder Michael: Our first challenge was when we lost our first baby. We lost him at birth and that really affected me.
Madam Comfort: Same thing
How were you able to handle your first quarrel?
Elder Michael: I can't remember because it is over 40 years.
Madam Comfort: The first misunderstanding we had was immediately after our wedding. I wasn't communicating. We were living together but if I wanted to ask him for anything, I would take my biro, take a sheet of paper and write whatever thing I needed and put it under his pillow and leave. Within two minutes, he would come inside, lift up the pillow, read and would give me what I needed. This lasted for months. It wasn't because I was shy. People saw me as being hot-tempered and I didn't want him to see me as being hot-tempered. I didn't want him to see me as taking advantage of him because people felt we might not be able to live together because he was calm and quiet. But since I had prayed and God had given me the go-ahead, I didn't want him to regret marrying me because we are of the same age. But the last time I did it, he saw the letter but deliberately left it there and came out. I went to him, and I asked: ‘Haven't you been to the room, sir?' He answered that he had been to the room. I asked again: ‘did you not lift the pillow?' He asked me that for how long was I going to be writing like this? Was he too demanding on me? Had he been speaking roughly to me? I said no. He said we should start talking to each other. He added that if I was not tired of writing, he was tired of reading. I told him, but you have read the one I just wrote. He said no. Give me a reply. He said no, that I should say it with my mouth. He said that he wanted to see that his wife was talking to him. After much hedging, I spoke out and that was how we started communicating. Meanwhile, all the months the writing lasted, I was the only one doing the writing. But whenever he wanted the husband-and-wife thing, he would make the move. I wasn't used to such but I felt if I should say no, it would not have any meaning to him. So compulsorily I would yield. Still, I wasn't talking. Both of us were complete novices and did it based on trial-and-error. Before marriage, I was made to buy some books to read. But I would skip pages wherever I met the word “sex.” I felt that the pages were meant to be read after wedding. The reason I took to writing down my feelings was because I didn't want him to see me as being talkative. He knew I could talk. But I was just watching him. But thank God he shunned my attitude and I stopped writing.
Who says sorry first?
Elder Michael: Initially, it was very difficult for me to say sorry but she would want me to say sorry by all means. And, after sometime, I got used to it that anytime I offended her she would tell me I had crossed my boundary and I would tell her sorry.
Madam Comfort: Before the wedding, people thought I might not be a very good wife because I was hot-tempered. I didn't like cheating. This made my children to give me the name “Thatcher.” But I didn't mind. I thought, if indeed I had that then I should work on it. For the first six months of our marriage, I don't think we offended each other. Whenever I noticed that his countenance was rough, I would start by saying sorry: ‘Have I offended you? Is it because of this or that you have been so quiet?' For me, I don't usually like people being too quiet. But for him, he can do without talking for five hours. He would just be doing his work. How can the two of us be in the house and not talk to each other? So, immediately I realised I was the cause of the annoyance I would start to say sorry. Even when he offends me now and I don't think he knows, I would tell him he offended me at this or that time. And, sometimes he would say no and I would remind him when he did it. He would tell me he didn't know it was an offence and I would ask him to say sorry and he would. Meanwhile, during the period I was writing things and dropping under his pillow, we made sure we didn't offend each other. We did things separately to avoid any offence. Because it is a Christian home, we decided that we would always settle everything before going to bed
What were the major roles each of you played in raising your children?
Elder Michael: We share a common purse. I don't mean a joint account. She knows everything I have. Initially, when she received her salary she would give me. Anything I do, both of us did it and vice versa. We don't create gaps. Whenever the children wanted to ask for something they would call on her and she would predict what I would say when they come to me. They would say we know it is what we heard from mummy that we would hear from you, even up till now.
Madam Comfort: He has been playing his role as a man and I made the children to know it is their father who was providing for the home. Even when the children were growing up, especially the older ones, whenever they needed money up to N5, 000, they wouldn't ask me. If their father was not around, they would say: ‘let's wait for Daddy.' They believed it was their father who provided for everything until when they were much older they realised that it wasn't their father alone that was doing everything, that it has been a joint effort.
What are the secrets of your successful marriage?
Elder Michael: The secret is simple. Jesus is the secret. When you commit everything to his hands from the beginning, abide by his rules, he will continue to help you all the way.
Madam Comfort: The secret is Jesus, like Daddy said. Plus there is total understanding of one another. If one is angry, the other would remain quiet, and will be praying in his or her heart. After things might have calmed down, he or she can approach the other and the offending party would say, ‘I'm very sorry for what happened.'
What advice would give intending couples?
Elder Michael: First, they should pray and know what God wants for them. They should let God direct them. There are many young people living false lifestyles and having fake attitudes that might not be revealed until after their wedding. But they should watch and pray for God's direction.
Madam Comfort: Even after their wedding, they must understand each other, listen to each other. What your spouse doesn't want, do not do it. Intending wives should be submissive and know how to make good food for their husbands, because men love good cooking.