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

What’s your first memory of each other?

Nan: At a campus event back in the University of Ibadan in 1986. 

I was in my final year studying economics. It was a public lecture, and she was leaving early when we crossed paths outside the hall. I said hello to her just as I did to some other students, but something about her made me want to ask her name. It was such a fleeting encounter.

Ruth: I told him my name, and he smiled so wide; his late mum’s name was Ruth. It was an interesting coincidence. We parted ways, and he promised to come look for me in my dorm. 

I soon forgot about him, and the semester passed without us seeing each other again.

How did you reconnect?

Ruth: Another coincidence. 

When I returned to school, my new roommate happened to be his sister. I guess it was meant to be. I followed her to visit this brother of hers about a week after we resumed, and there he was. 

Nan: She didn’t even recognise me at first. I saw her at my door and called her name. That’s when she remembered and smiled. I apologised for not looking for her as I’d promised. The visit suddenly became between me and her instead of me and my sister. 

We talked and talked, and after that, I started going to their hall for weekly visits.

I imagine that at this point you already knew you liked each other

Nan: Yes. There was something about how confidently she spoke. She reminded me of my mother, besides them sharing names. My late mother was a very formidable woman in her time.

Ruth: I liked that he gave me so much attention. He was also calm and smart. Back then, he ran a small poultry business that was earning him cool cash, so I felt confident to get into a relationship with him. He seemed responsible.

What was the relationship like as undergrads back then?

Ruth: Not much different from nowadays. 

We went out on dates, attended many parties together, and when we got back from school, he’d call on me at home. But we didn’t stay in the same city, so he did that only once in a while. I was always excited to see him.

Nan: We were always together once lecture hours ended. We didn’t have the luxury of calling or texting. Once we weren’t together, we wouldn’t hear from each other till the next time, so I was always looking to meet up with her again.

I was graduating at the end of that session, so as that time came, we got a lot more serious about the end goal of our relationship. 

Ruth: It’s so long ago, but I remember that we were so in love. You couldn’t tell us anything about heartbreak or how we were still in the honeymoon stage and all that. You would’ve started avoiding me if we were friends then. All I talked about was him. My friends were supportive, though. They all loved him.

Did his graduation change any of that?

Ruth: In some ways, yes. Although this wouldn’t have been my response at the time.

Nan: After the ceremony, I decided I wanted us to get married immediately, so I planned to come with my kinsmen to visit her father as soon as I got home. Not up to a month later, we arrived at her father’s duplex then in Zaria. 

We got married some five months later, and she left school so we could start housekeeping right away.

Why did you decide to leave school, Ruth?

Ruth: I was in love and ready to start the family. I thought I didn’t need a degree. I don’t know why. So many women were getting married and returning to complete their degrees. But everyone was supportive of it. We already planned that I’d open a store, and I did. 

We were very comfortable for a while, and I didn’t regret that decision. I got a couple of computer certifications later on.

Nan: I wanted her to be able to stay home and enjoy birthing and nurturing our family without the pressures of work. I was also comfortable enough then to make that decision because of my business, help from both our parents, and I also entered civil service some months into our marriage.

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What was marriage like after an almost whirlwind romance?

Nan: Things went smoothly for years. 

Ruth: We continued spending all our time together whenever we could. When he was at work, I managed our small grocery store which we merged with the sales side of his poultry business. When he was home, he came to the store and we talked and made plans then went home together. 

We had our first two children in ‘88 and ‘89.

Nan: Parenthood was a wake-up call for us. I think once the children became one and two years old, we realised that life isn’t beans. Money started finishing anyhow. There was always something basic to buy.

Ruth: Emotions started running high out of stress to make money and have time for all the children’s needs. He had to find supplementary sources of income which meant travelling a lot at some point. I suddenly felt left on my own to take care of two young children. They didn’t have to tell me twice to adopt family planning.

How did you navigate this stage after just two years of marriage?

Ruth: With a lot of tears, but also love. It didn’t feel too unbearable because we still cared deeply for each other and the life we were trying to build. Luckily, I had my mum come to help for several months. And money was coming in, so it wasn’t too bad.

Nan: There was so much pressure on me as the breadwinner. I wanted to be more present to support her at home, but I knew where my responsibilities lay. The only thing we got wrong was not communicating more to make sure our connection was still there. 

Again, I envy this generation where we can just pick up our phones to call when we’re out of sight for too long.

Ruth: I felt he was using the fact that he needed to go out to make money to stay away from home as much as possible. He could go weeks on a business trip, and I’d just be left wondering what exactly he was doing. But he’d always wire money to us every week.

Did things ever get better?

Ruth: Yes, after about two years, things settled. 

He’d been able to establish a cocoa distribution business, so in 1992, we relocated to Ikom, Cross River, fully. I had our lastborn in 1993, and things were good. I had to close my shop for us to relocate, and he lost his poultry somewhere along the way. 

Nan: But I’d also gotten high up in civil service, so things were great.

Ruth: We had peace for up to ten years until 2001 when everything crashed.

What happened?

Nan: My cocoa business went bad. I lost a large consignment after a bad deal and had to use most of my revenue to pay off loans. It was a very tough time for us. The kids were in secondary school and fees weren’t cheap even then. Luckily, our house was rented for us by the federal government. 

Ruth: We lived in a nice house and estate but ate hand to mouth for months. 

Nan: We had to go back to the drawing board, so I came up with the plan to use a large chunk of our savings to go into oil and gas. We had to buy two tankers, employ drivers and pay for parking at a trailer park daily. 

Ruth: I actually advised against it because I felt he didn’t know enough about the industry to get into it.

Oh no

Nan: I consulted with someone who was running the business successfully, and we thought we had all the right information to hit the ground running. But it was one issue after the other: policies changed every other month, there was always some official or officer to bribe, and you never knew what your drivers were doing with your tankers once they crossed the expressway. 

Ruth: Long story short, we lost the two tankers and ended up in a long court case over illegal interstate distribution over something one of the drivers did behind his back. All our money and investment was gone in less than a year. We’ve still not sighted those tankers till today.

It was a brutal stage in our life. Not only was it jarring to lose so much money in only a couple of years, but our standard of living changed greatly. We only had one source of income: his civil service job.

Nan: It took us years to cover our debts and get reasonable savings.

How did this affect your relationship?

Ruth: We were two angry adults for a long time. Although, we weren’t necessarily angry with each other. There was a lot of quiet in the house for years, and more tears.

Nan: I blamed myself for how things turned out for our family, so I kept to myself mostly. I cut off most of our friends and focused on going to work and coming back. Ruth was always at church so the divide just widened.

Have you had a major fight in your years together?

Nan: Oh countless times. We fought during those early years when I used to travel a lot. We fought when I asked that we move our lives to Ikom.

Ruth: I didn’t know anyone there and had never even been to Cross River before. Besides, it was never part of the plan when we first got married. I refused to pack, but he had to bring our families into it, and I had to consider that we needed to move to where he could make more money.

Nan: We fought after the fuel business went under. I realised I should’ve been more transparent with her about the running of the business. I should’ve listened to her input. It was a tough time indeed.

How did you recover from it?

Ruth: We’ve simply coasted through since then. Nan focused on work rather than business. I’ve done some buying and selling over the years, mostly fabric and clothes. But mostly, I ran the home until he retired and the children moved out one by one.

Nan: Now, we survive on returns from investments I made over the last decade. Properties, dividend-paying stocks and our children’s goodwill, haha.

Ruth: We also bought land right after his retirement in 2022, and started building small small. We’ll move into the BQ later this year. 

What’s kept us sane is always sharing our plans with each other just to soundboard if nothing else. We’ve also not gone into many high-risk investments, but I think we’ve tried.

Nan: Yes, we took a lot of risk in our time and made the most of it.

What do you think has kept you together for so long considering the ups and downs?

Nan: We decided in 1987 to do this life together. If one can’t keep that most special vow, why should anyone trust us with anything else? It’s been a decision every step of the way, that we’re a team and we have no choice but to carry each other along.

Ruth: What you just said, I think that’s it. We’ve learnt to consciously carry each other long no matter what. Whether it’s a win or lose, we regard it as ours, never his or mine. Especially after what happened in 2001, it tore us apart but also drew us close. A lot of the decisions he made then, he made alone. We’ve learnt to be more accountable to each other since.

Nan: Maybe it’s also our upbringing. We were taught that it was till death do us part. 

Ruth: Just because that initial passion and romance fade doesn’t mean everything else that’s great about marriage — companionship, duty, faith — means nothing.

Nan: But if it wasn’t ingrained in us by society to value these things, maybe we’d have divorced by now. There were certainly many opportunities for us to do so.

So on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your Love Life?

Nan: 10. It’s not perfect, but it’s ours, and we’ll value it like it’s gold.

Ruth: So well said. I’ll say 10 too.

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