The story of Kenneth and Stella Okoturo is a classic of example love transcending borders and primordial sentiments. Kenneth, a native of Madangho town in Ugborodo, Warri, present day Delta State, met his heartthrob, Stella, a native of Udi, Enugu State, in Marina area of Lagos in 1986/87 in unusual circumstances. The couple, who tied the knot in 1995, shares their matrimonial experiences with PAUL OSUYI and offer valuable advice for younger couples.
You are from Warri and she is from Enugu. How did your paths cross?
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Kenneth: We met in Lagos, in the Ikoyi area. I was staying with my aunty then and she was also living with her eldest brother. We became friends after our meeting in Ikoyi. We met in 1986 or 87 and we got married in 1995. I actually met her through a friend.
The friend you met through, was he your friend or her friend?
Stella: It was his own friend, and that his friend was my friend too. So he used to come to our house and he really wanted us to be friends. I wanted us to be ‘just friends’ but he wanted more than that. So he wanted Kenneth, my husband now, to help him if there was a way he could talk to me so that we could be more than friends. When it did not work out, my husband was telling him that this thing you are doing, I don’t think it will work, that the lady is not interested. From there that friend withdrew, and later, I started going out with my husband.
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You met in 1986 and got married in 1995. Why did it take so long?
Kenneth: The first time we met was around that 1986 but we became friends around 1988/89. Within that period, I worked briefly in Lagos for two to three years before I went back to school at the University of Benin for my first degree. And we were very young then.
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Stella: We still wanted to go further in school. We were friends but we were not planning marriage; at least one has to be stable before getting married. He got admission to UNIBEN and I too got admission. It was after school that we started thinking of marriage.
Any opposition to your marriage?
Kenneth: Yes. My mother, then based in the US – she is late now – and the elder sister I was living with in Lagos were not favourably disposed to me marrying an Igbo lady. Even her mother too was against it because at that time, she was not favourably disposed to her daughter marrying a Benin man. But when they later realised that we were serious, I was able to press my mother that she now saw that the elder sister supported me and she talked to my mother who then agreed. And she talked to others, and then we went to Enugu State for the traditional ceremony.
How did you overcome the opposition from your side?
Stella: Well, this went on for about five years because we were trying to get the support of both families. We took all that time to work on our families. My mum and my elder brother kept saying they didn’t want me to marry someone from Bendel. So I told them to calm down and look at the person coming, you don’t judge someone because of his state of origin. After talking to my mum and my elder brother, they reasoned with me and they said okay since it is what you want, we will support you.
What were the qualities you saw in him that made you insist on marrying him?
Stella: I saw him as a young man that has prospects, and he was focused. And I have always asked God that any man I want to marry must be very caring, and is very caring.
How did you propose to her?
Kenneth: I gave her a ring. I think it was around Marina in Lagos, one Anglican Church in Marina. I used the ring to propose to her.
Stella: Normally, we used to do casual walks. It was on one of such occasions when we were strolling that he came out and proposed.
How did you respond?
Stella: I said yes because I had already known that he is the person I wanted to settle down with. When we met before he got admission into UNIBEN, he was like telling me that he wanted to marry me. So we knew what we wanted from the onset, and we were working towards it. When he proposed, it was not a new thing or as if it was a surprise. So I accepted and we went out.
What do you remember most during the marriage ceremonies?
Kenneth: It happened that that very day of the traditional marriage, we were coming from Warri, and it was an environmental sanitation Saturday. So between Warri and the Bridge head, we experienced a lot of stoppage by police who were asking where we were going to. I was so agitated. By the time we got to Udi, it was about 4pm; they were already waiting. We got to that place, the roads were bad, we walked and I was hearing music. So immediately we got there, the occasion started. And later it rained, we danced inside the rain. That is why most of our marriage pictures and the video were bad.
Were you not scared of the alleged usually heavy marriage list from the South-East?
Kenneth: No, I was not scared. I had some friends from Enugu State who told me that the marriage list from the state was not that high. They also told me that the long list of marriage items was family dependent, and that a family that is not greedy would not give such list. I was not given much list. Then one of her uncles, Emeka, who was Special Adviser to Abdusalam, liked us so much and he prevailed on the family not to make unnecessary demands.
Stella: What I remember most was the preparation because it was like my husband was not around then, so I had to do the preparation myself before he came to join me. And the rain that fell that day, it was serious. Although they asked us to bring money, that they wanted to hold the rain, I said no. When the rain started, I said it was showers of blessings. Each time I remember it, I have that joy. We were dancing under the rain and people were around us. We thanked God everything went well.
What is your spouse’s favourite food?
Stella: For him, any brand of rice but preferably white rice
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Kenneth: For her, it’s oha soup
Can you remember any major misunderstanding since you got married?
Kenneth: I can’t remember, but for every good relationship, there are usually misunderstandings. I can’t recall anyone. No particular one is special because I also discover over time that it is he/she that you love that you will have misunderstanding with. So there is no particular one. We started our family together; no interference from outsiders. Like I told you, my mother was in the US, she even died there in 2019. So there is no pressure from anywhere. We learn from our mistakes. There is no misunderstanding that I can say is special or memorable.
Stella: Not really but there must be misunderstandings. The important thing is how it is settled, and when it is settled there is no need of writing it down or attempting to remember it. We definitely have misunderstandings but we usually settle them.
How do you settle issues?
Stella: When we have misunderstanding, we will sit down to discuss it. And from the discussion whoever that is wrong will just apologise. That is how we resolve our issues. The most important thing is, there must be discussion. When we talk, we know who is wrong.
Which area in his life do you want him to work on?
Stella: That’s on the issue of anger. He gets angry easily. Things irritate him, but thank God he has improved.
Kenneth: The only area I want improvement on, which she is working on, is keeping to time. I am very conscious of time, I don’t joke with time
Do you also take into consideration that as a woman, there would be that delay?
Kenneth: I take it into consideration and she must also factor that into her time. We don’t just impose time, we agree on it. Having agreed on the time for an engagement, she must make sure she consciously works to meet up with the agreed time. That is the area I want her to work on.
Short or long courtship before marriage, which is your preference?
Kenneth: The duration of courtship does not determine the success of a marriage. I will not subscribe to a very long courtship so that within that period there will not be issues. I advocate short period of courtship but most times what results in long courtship are issues outside the control of the parties involved. All things being equal, it is advisable to have a courtship that is relatively shorter to avoid unresolved issues.
Stella: It is the shorter one because before you get into any relationship you must know what you want. And if you know what you want, you don’t have to wait for a very long time because you know what you are working towards. So, a year, highest two years of courtship is okay.
Your advice for a spinster trying to settle down?
Stella: Well, these days, girls do not look out for what they are supposed to look out for. They are now money conscious. They should at least check his attitude, his background. Most of them don’t want to start with a man. They want an already made man but you hardly see already men. By the time they are waiting for an already made man, they must have used their supposed husband as boyfriend. At the time they are now desperately looking for husbands, maybe they would fall into wrong hands. If you are a spinster and you are looking for a husband, you as an individual, you know what you want in a man. And you meet someone and you see all those qualities – whether he is wealthy or not so far the person is focused, you should plan with him. You can work it out and they say two is better than one. I remember when I met my husband, he was still in school. It was not as if he was rich but we knew what we wanted. And we would have gotten married earlier if not for the issue of the place of origin. That was what prolonged it. Any spinster should avoid looking for money, cars, houses or what the man has acquired. All those things will diminish. And when it goes, you will be feeling like, why am I here? That is why we are having these divorces here and there because we discover that they are not actually getting married to the man but they are getting married to what he has, and by the time those things are not there, nothing is working again.
Kenneth: Any bachelor that wants to get married like she just said should first of all know what they are looking for in a woman. They should emphasise on those qualities rather than looking at the wrong quality, maybe beauty, parental background. Once you look for the right quality – character, it is also important that you must be sure that she is thinking along the same line with you. You want to settle down, she also wants to settle down with you. Once you get that right, if two hearts come together to pursue the same thing, they will make it.
You have three children, two females and a male. How did you arrive at the sexes?
Kenneth: We were not concerned about the sexes. Initially when we got married, we decided to determine the family size and agreed on two children. And that explains the reason why we had the first girl and then the boy. When we relocated back to Asaba, my pastor then told us that if he is our pastor no family should two children, it should be at least three. My second child then was already ten years old, that was when we decided to add one. And that also explains the reason the second child is older than the last born with about eleven years.
Stella: Yes, that was what we discussed, we had already agreed to have two children. Even before we got married, we had discussed it. I was okay with it
From your personal experience, how would you advise young couples that are building a home?
Stella: Most times, what leads to divorce is one, lack of respect and misunderstanding. I will advise them that when you are married you have to respect each other. Then you quit looking at the negative side of your partner, we all have our negative parts but you try to bring out the positive aspects of your partner. Why God brought the two persons together is because you will be able to tolerate the other person’s excesses no matter the fault, you have to correct wherever he or she is derailing. You have to complement each other. By the time you complement each other, there will be no problem. Be open to each other. And by the time you are open to each other, I don’t think there would be problem. At times, lack of communication ruin marriage. When you don’t talk, the husband is somewhere, the wife is somewhere, you are just assuming. Before you know, problems come in. One may take the issue to an outsider not knowing that that same person you are complaining to may be going through something worse than your own. You have to talk to each other rather than taking it outside, you will get the right answer. It is not everybody that likes the union of two persons, they might pretend that they love.
You talked about respect for one another, does it also include respecting each other’s privacy? Like handling of your partner’s phone?
Stella: No, it is an individual thing. I believe that if you don’t have a need to go through your partner’s phone, why carrying it? But that does not mean that if the phone rings and he/she is not there, you cannot answer the caller. You can pick the phone. But the idea of just taking the phone and going through, I don’t think it is necessary.
Any additional advice for young couples?
Kenneth: There should be openness, and this includes finance. First of all, the couple should know what each other earns so that there would not be unnecessary demands. For instance, my wife and I have a joint account for the upkeep of the home, and we plan the home budget together. If I don’t have enough, she supplements. Our home is not a home where you say it is the man that must buy the water and the woman must buy the yam. Anybody can buy anything anytime. Anybody can pay any bill. Most friction in marriages comes though finance. Secondly, you must reduce to the barest minimum external interference. Once you do that and bring God in, the marriage will be sustained.