Love Life is a Zikoko weekly series about love, relationships, situationships, entanglements and everything in between.

Love Life: We’re Married but Visiting

What’s your earliest memory of each other?

Rasheed: It was at a party rally in 2011. By party, I mean political party. I’d been an active member for about five years at the time, but she’d just become a card-holding member. It was one of the first activities she attended, ahead of the general elections.

She came and sat on the bleachers with her aunt, who was the PA to a popular state first lady. She was one of the few young ladies present, so I noticed her quickly.

Toyin: I noticed him because he moved around a lot during the proceedings, and I was curious about who he was in the scheme of things. He dressed well, in a neat native kaftan, and looked generally clean and put together. I asked my aunt who he was, but she only had vague answers. He was a political aide or party agent or something or the other. 

We didn’t notice each other noticing each other. It was a stadium, and rallies are chaotic. The only reason why we even crossed each other’s eyes was because we were in the same section of the stadium. We supported the same aspirants.

Rasheed: It wasn’t until she became a more active part of a federal reps’ campaign as one of his speech writers that we met in earnest. 

During campaigns, the team would stay up many nights in the aspirants’ living rooms, strategising but mostly gisting. The young people usually formed a coalition against the older folks, who were usually the majority. We had many such nights of casual debates. 

She didn’t spend as much time with us on those nights because her parents weren’t supportive of political work. She also worked full-time at a law firm, and I could tell it was hard for her to balance both responsibilities.

When did you realise you liked each other?

Rasheed: When I found out we attended the same university. Although I’d graduated before she even entered, it gave us some nostalgic stories to share that only we could relate to. Her smartness was also evident. She’s a beauty with brains, so I had no choice but to like her. Many of us liked her that year. It was an inside joke that even the honourable was toasting her.

Toyin: They couldn’t approach me because of my aunty and her boss. Alhamdulillah because I didn’t want those political boys disturbing my life. They’re notorious for carrying girls up and down. I wasn’t sure if Rasheed was like that, but at least, we could have decent conversations.

One day, after the elections were over and our candidate unfortunately lost, he sent a consolation package to my office. It had a handwritten note, a bottle of fruit wine and some assorted fruits — it was during Ramadan. Seeing the package and finding out it was from him was the first moment the possibility of liking him more than a friend came to me. I just sat there smiling and ignoring my colleagues’ many questions. I didn’t expect it at all.

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When did you both know you’d fallen in love?

Rasheed: After I sent the gift, she didn’t call to thank me, so I felt, “This girl doesn’t have manners.” I waited for some days, and when she still didn’t call, I had to bite the bullet. When we spoke over the phone, she immediately apologised, claiming she’d been overwhelmed because her boss had a serious litigation case and was making all the associates’ lives hell. 

I was still annoyed, but when I heard she was spending late nights at the office, I decided to go visit her at 6 p.m. one evening. I went with some snacks and drinks, of course. That was when we first spoke — well joked — about running for office ourselves, and leaving the rat race behind.

Toyin: It helped that we’d left the political campaign arena for a bit. That space could get a bit like secondary school, where you’re clustered in the same environment for too long. 

He had an unofficial job in the government because that rep aspirant was appointed as a commissioner by the state governor. Rasheed helped him run contracts out of office, so he was a lot more flexible than I was at the law firm. He talked me into leaving the office earlier than I might have — even though it was getting to 8 p.m. No one else would’ve ever convinced me to leave those folders and literally risk my job — one of the partners was still on seat — to sneak home. 

Our relationship kicked off from there.

Rasheed: Don’t worry, she left that job soon after, when I got sponsorship to run for the state house of rep later in 2011. I didn’t win, but she was a huge help, travelling with me and offering great advice. We both got our first big political gigs after that long campaign travail.

What was your first major fight about?

Rasheed: When I had to go to my hometown to take up a government appointment. She’d just started at a multinational NGO, so she couldn’t leave and come with me. This was in 2013. We were discussing getting married when the job and then my appointment came in quick succession. It was like God was challenging our relationship.

Toyin: It all but paused when neither of us agreed to stay with the other. I was upset for a while. I remember when he was leaving, a lot of people around me knew about it and asked why I didn’t want to see him off. It was partly because I was angry, but also because I knew I’d miss him. I didn’t want to watch him leave. He had a better chance of winning elections in his own hometown, so I didn’t expect him back. It really felt like the end of us.

Rasheed: For some weeks, we didn’t speak. And I think it’s only because we didn’t make a conscious decision to and we were overwhelmed with settling into our respective jobs. But soon after, we were calling each other to check-in. I don’t even know who called first. Some months in, I invited her to come and spend a weekend. That’s how our relationship kicked back off.

Toyin: We started making the trip to spend some days with each other every so often.

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How long did it take for the topic of marriage to come up again?

Toyin: It took some time because we were so focused on our careers. We had so much ambition that we couldn’t just settle down to all the logistics a wedding entails, given the families we come from. But we’d started getting external pressure at that point when he moved to his hometown. My mother and aunties urged me not to “let this man see you finish before doing the right thing”.

Rasheed: I was getting political pressure as well. Elections are easier to win when you’re married and have your own family.

Toyin: I wasn’t ready for all that at all. I knew the moment we wed, I’d have to pause my own political ambitions and be his “helper”. That’s the way Nigerian politics goes. “First ladies” are put in a box, and it’s only after your husband has done it all politically that you can even attempt to come out of his shadows if you’re lucky. I didn’t want that.

Rasheed: I decided to respect her wishes, and that brought some ups and downs for us for the next four or so years. I loved her dearly, but there were a few times my eyes strayed, and I wasn’t so sure we’d ever marry.

Why d’you think you lasted together then?

Rasheed: No other woman ever gave me that pride I have when I’m with her. She’s an impressive person, the things she’s been able to achieve in her own right. I wanted her and was willing to do anything to have her as my official wife.

Toyin: I think it’s just the fact that he waited for me. I wanted to get my master’s and reach a certain level in my governmental career. He waited through all that, and it took five years, I think. He wasn’t just patient; he was immensely supportive. I know he had other women a few times, but to me, he was faithful in the ways that mattered. It’s clear from how he proposed. 

He just sat me down one day in May 2018, when we were finally living in the same city for the first time in about a year. He said, “Listen. We better do this once and for all. Before I just announce to the world that we’re already married without you and your family’s consent.”

The man was tired

Rasheed: I was. I also wanted to be sure we were still on the same page. Maybe she had someone else she was waiting for while stringing me along on the side.

Toyin: You’re not serious.

Rasheed: We finally got married in January 2019. The next month, I won my first election, and I truly believe she was my good luck charm.

God, when? What’s the most unconventional thing about your relationship?

Rasheed: We live in different cities again, because of our jobs. I’m in Abuja now, in a political office. She’s a commissioner in our state. We’re married but visiting. She has her house, and I have mine. It’s brought a lot of excitement into our marriage, truth be told. You know the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”? That’s so true for us.

Toyin: Our jobs give our marriage breathing space by force so that when we see each other maybe every other week, we’re so excited. We’re always in a good mood when we’re together in one home. He’s gotten used to cooking for himself or having our cook make his meals. It also makes conversations about me needing to travel for work easier.

Rasheed: Don’t get us wrong. It’s not a long-distance marriage. It’s just that where the average married couple sleep in the same bed every single night, ours is maybe ten nights a month. And it works perfectly. It’s like we’re still only dating.

What about your children, if you have any?

Rasheed: We have a son, yes. And we don’t carry him back and forth if that’s what you’re asking. His stability is paramount to us. He stays with me, and my mother and sister take care of him fully. I didn’t marry a housewife, so no one expects her to be doing homemaking. However, she manages both houses and all our staff answer to her.

Toyin: Our son is still a toddler, so we try to shield him from the chaos of Nigerian politics the best we can. While I wish we could be more present for him, he has the best care from his grandmother, and she has the luxury of time to give him that I don’t have right now. I’m glad I can create a legacy for him to inherit instead.

What’s the best thing about being married to each other?

Rasheed: Our shared ambition. I’ve had girlfriends in the past who simply didn’t care about doing anything to change the world or help society. With Toyin, I can talk about my ideals without feeling foolish. It’s been that way from day one. We’re still going to rule the world together; that’s the goal. She’s the reason I can confidently have that kind of goal.

Toyin: We’re a power couple, and I love it. There are very few power couples in Nigerian politics.

How would you rate your love life on a scale of 1 to 10?

Rasheed: 7 or 8. But no marriage is perfect.

Toyin: Very true. I’d say the same.

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