By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Features Editor
A former Managing Director of Skyway Press, a subsidiary of The Punch Group of Companies, Mr. Samuel Ogundare, in this interview in celebration of his 80th birthday and 50th marriage anniversary, speaks on his journey so far in life. Ogundare, who was born on a Good Friday, precisely three days before the birth of his wife, also offers insight into the secrets of a successful marriage.
You share the same birth period with your wife. What does it feel like?
It is one of the things we have in common and I am happy about it.
We are of the same age but it has never been an issue for us. She is respectful.
The man she mentioned in her interview was also a mentor to me as a young man. My wife and I did not know ourselves before she came with him to Lagos. He was working with the Teacher Training Institute in the 1950s. Whenever the man visited Lagos in the 1960s, he always stayed in my one-room apartment. When he became a member of the House of Representatives, he was also coming to my house. It was during one of those visits that he came with a young woman (my wife). He didn’t tell me he was bringing anybody. I didn’t tell him I needed a wife while my wife did not tell him he needed a husband. But he just brought us together.
Were you under any pressure to get married before then?
It is difficult to answer that question. There was a woman I wanted to get married to between 1963 and 1964. She was in a college then. But when she left the college in December 1964, she disappointed me, saying she was no longer interested in the marriage because I was a poor man. That pressure was there but between that time and the time I met my wife, I met other ladies, who I did not get married to.
When one is in that kind of situation, the first available people may not be the best people. I was looking for someone who was very lovely, beautiful and honest. I just had that in my mind. I did not want to just get married to any lady who did not have the qualities I wanted in a wife. It was not just because I was looking for a wife. Even with my poverty status, I was not ready to take anybody who did not have the qualities I needed. Between January 1965 and 1966, I met some women but I did not see in them the beauty and goodness I saw in my wife. When I met her, I saw what I wanted. Some other people may be more beautiful than her, but God made me see the qualities I wanted in a woman. Our meeting was ordained by God.
50 years of marriage is no mean feat. What were those things that ensured the success of your marriage?
She loved my mother and my mother loved her. My mother was more than anything to me. But for my mother, I would not have achieved anything in life. She took my mother as her own mother. It was easy for me to love her since she loved my mother. I felt that since she loved my mother who suffered so much for me, it will be very unfair for me not to love her.more
Women don’t like their husbands to spend money on their families. In fact, in most cases, it affects the relationship between the man and the woman. But my wife was sincerely happy that I was spending money on my family. I was very happy about it and it made me love her more. At that time, I was poverty personified. From the little money I was making, I was sending some to my mother, who was old and my wife was happy about that, unlike other women.
My mother taught me so many things that are useful to me in life. She told me not to eat anybody’s food whether I am married or not. When I was working at the Punch, I often came back at 12: am or 1: am and still eat because I didn’t have the habit of eating outside.
My children were well brought up because I left my wife to mould their character. Some people often say that the man is supposed to be strict with the children but it was not so for me. I didn’t shout at my children because of the experiences I had while growing up in my father’s house. My mother brought me up under difficult circumstances and I became a better man in life. When I was growing up, I could not talk to my father because he didn’t like me. I was not close to him because our home was a polygamous one. In Yoruba mythology, a man only likes the children of the wife who he loves. My father did not like my mother which made it possible for him to dislike me.
My father contributed little or nothing to my life even though I looked much like him. He hated me. Because of that experience, I love my children. When they were growing up, they always played with me and they didn’t run away from their mother who was the disciplinarian of the house. Other children would have avoided their mothers because of the way she disciplined them but my children did not do that. She took adequate care of them. For example, the baby of the house, who lives in the US, didn’t like relating with her mother when they were growing up because she always disciplined them. But whenever she calls now, she would talk to me for two minutes and talk to her mother for 30 minutes because she has realised that her mother was only making her a better person then. Now she has seen that the mother was not a difficult person.
Coming to Lagos in 1963
I left primary school in 1953 and Awolowo started free education in 1954. In my primary school, we were paying school fees. My mother paid half while my father paid half. I passed secondary school entrance examinations but my father said there was no money for me to attend secondary school. I had to teach in 1954 and 1955. I was one of those employed when Awolowo started free education. While teaching, I was able to save money which I used in paying tuition fees when I got admission into Teacher Training College. My mother also contributed to what I was able to save. The school fees were not expensive like secondary school. My father did not contribute much to it. I left the Teacher Training College in December 1959. I taught in Akure in 1960 and 1962 before coming to Lagos in 1963. I easily got a teaching job because Grade II teachers were not many in town then. I was also doing other courses.
I was teaching at a school in Surulere in 1966. At that time, many Igbo people were leaving Lagos for the East. In November 1966, I went for an external examination only to come back and was handed a letter of termination of appointment. The reason was that most of the pupils, who were Igbo, had left. I was very disappointed. The authorities felt that those of us from the Western Region would be the first to have their appointments terminated.
I was a Grade ll teacher with seven years experience. That incident made me to decide not to teach again because I had passed some external examinations and, if I had been employed by the Federal Government, I would have been an Assistant Executive Officer, AEO. In some other places, I would have been a senior clerk. When I received that letter, my wife and I were already dating. I wrote a letter informing her that we couldn’t get married because my appointment had been terminated.
But when she was replying, she encouraged me, stating that losing my job was not the end of life. I was thinking I had written a stinker because I had no hope as a result of joblessness but she encouraged me a lot when she replied my letter. That act brought me back to my senses and I realised that the incident was actually not the end of my life. It was even a prayer answered. I knew I would marry a teacher. I also knew that I will not be a teacher and get married to a teacher at the same time because our salaries were not regular at that time. Teachers were not treated well.
Even in the good old days?
It was the bad old days. Teachers are even better off now. How will my wife and I be teaching in a school and will not be receiving salaries? That was why I prayed to God not to allow my wife and I to be teaching at the same time. Three months later, I got a job in a finance house in Tinubu and my salary was much lower than what I was receiving as a teacher. And that was the time we were planning marriage. In August 1967, I was on a salary of 24 £ while my wife was receiving almost the same amount in Akure as a teacher.
In November, I got another job in the bank with a salary of 34£. When we got married, I was receiving nearly 35£ while she was still receiving her old salary. I actually rose in National Bank to become Manager Grade lll. Five years later, I left when Chief Olu Aboderin left. He was our Chief Accountant at the National Bank and he knew my capacity. In the bank, I was the only person he requested to join him because I was a qualified chartered company secretary at that time. In December 1972 we left the bank and started the Punch in January 1973. In fact, the first Sunday Punch was published on January 18, 1973. I was the Company Secretary.
Were you not bothered that you were leaving a lucrative job for uncertainty?
Everyone I told that I was leaving the bank with Chief Aboderin discouraged me but my wife encouraged me. I didn’t know where she got the confidence that I should go. I didn’t know the parameter she used in making that judgment but I thank God that I did not regret it. I like her so much to the extent that we discuss everything. With her support, I left the bank for the Punch. I did not regret being at the Punch.
Having been at the Punch for 10 years I felt that my responsibilities were much as the company secretary. At a time, I was the Clearing Officer at the wharf, I was the one hiring and was just in charge of many things. In fact, the name Ogundare was becoming synonymous with the paper. There was a time Chief Aboderin went to the US and the Trade Attaché of the Nigeria Embassy told him that the person he knew as the face of Punch was Mr. Ogundare. I had been dealing with the man in Lagos before he was transferred to the US. Chief Olu Aboderin came back and narrated his experience to me. In my seventh year, I called Chief Aboderin and told him that I was the cynosure of all eyes in the office, adding that anyone would want to take my position. I told him that if I didn’t leave at that time, someone might decide to use juju on me.
He was not happy about that but he told me a month later that he had decided to split my position and make me the General Manager. He also employed a Secretary, Legal Secretary, and Personnel Manager. The work I was doing was now divided among four people. After three years I became the Managing Director of the Printing Press. I was not the Managing Director of the paper because it is different from the press. Having occupied that position for three years, I decided to quit because I will not become the owner of the paper.
As of then, I had won the bid for this house where I reside. Before I moved to the Punch premises where I resided when I worked there, I had a plot of land where I built a small house. When I left the Punch I travelled to the UK to buy printing machines which I installed at the place I built in Egbeda. That was how I started Owonike Printing Press in January 1983. We did that until 2008. I am not a qualified printer and had to employ people. When the power sector crisis started it affected us so much. I didn’t regret leaving the Punch as of the time I left.
Peace of mind is key to longevity because it is believed that a man with a happy home lives a longer life. What advice do you have for people who are struggling with their marriages?
Whatever anyone is doing, he should be honest with himself. I believe that I am the only person who is important to myself. Any other person is secondary. I love my wife because God has joined us together. People should be satisfied with whatever they have. I learned something from an article Uncle Sam Amuka wrote in the Punch on March 18, 1973. After writing the article, people found it very interesting and were praising him but he responded thus:”Let us thank God.” I emulated him by thanking God for whatever He has given to me.
No matter whatever I have, I am always contented and happy. My wife and I encourage ourselves to be happy with whatever we have. Some people may think that we are wealthy but it is the joy that we have that created such impression. That is what has kept us going for 50 years. I was born on a Good Friday, precisely on March 27, 1938, while she was born on an Easter Monday, precisely March 30, 1938. I used to see her in Akure before we got married but we were not close. She was known as the only woman who passed in her class at the Teacher Training College.
My husband is sincere to a fault– Mama Ogundare
Mama Morenike Ogundare reveals why it was possible for her not to experience challenges for once in her 50-year-old marriage.
I was very brilliant during my years in school but, after my primary school, my parents said there was no money to send me to secondary school. At that time, we sat for several examinations before securing admission into secondary school. I had to teach in a primary school because of the inability to send me to secondary school. I taught at Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Primary School, Ogbese in the defunct Western Region. I spent one year there. I came back to Akure and taught at Queen of Apostles. I was able to save money which enabled me to proceed to Teacher Training College for my Grade III teachers training. During our final examination, I was the only woman that passed the examination. When I left the school, I started teaching again as a graded teacher. After a while, I went back to the Teacher Training College where I spent another two years. I left the school in 1964. When I returned to Akure, I taught at Saint Joseph. During that period we were writing letters to ourselves. I later attended University of Lagos where I did my postgraduate studies. Because I am very brilliant, anytime the school I worked at was invited to an event, I was always the one who represented the school.
Meeting my husband
There was a member of the House of Representatives in the First Republic, who was our mentor. He loved me so much and loved my husband even though we had not met at that time. There was a day he told me he wanted to travel abroad. He told my father that he wanted me to escort him to Lagos where he would board an airplane to London. My father said there was no need for him to ask, stating that I am his daughter. When we got to Lagos, we stayed at Mr. Ogundare’s (husband) house. We knew ourselves from afar but there was nothing like friendship. When we were coming to Lagos, the man did not tell me anything about him (husband). The man was his friend and also my friend. We met during that visit to Lagos when the man was traveling to London and the relationship started. That was in August 1966. I went back to Akure and continued communicating with him. When I had one holiday I visited him to discuss the marriage plans with him. We got married in December 1967. I fell in love with him because he is very honest.
What were things you liked about him that made you agree to his proposal?
He says things the way they are. Another one people might find funny is his handwriting. I love his handwriting. He loves me and does not hide anything from me. A man and a woman living together would sometimes have disagreements, we do have ours but it does not last. I like everything about him. When we were courting I saw him as someone who will be responsible. As a young man, I will not say that he did not do some of the things men do, but he never messed up. He never did anything that affected the family negatively. When we were having our children, I was the disciplinarian of the house unlike him who did not like beating children because of some personal reasons.
On 50 years of marriage
The secret of our successful marriage is our truthfulness. Yes, we are of the same age but it made no difference because a woman is supposed to respect her husband. We have not quarrelled for once in our 50 years of marriage. For instance, during one of the marriage counselling lectures I gave, some attendees were surprised that I did not mention any instance when my husband and I quarrelled. They asked why and I told them that we never fought for once. They were surprised and even said I should just mention any one but I said that I didn’t need to lie to convince them that nothing of such existed.
The man I escorted to Lagos when he was travelling, the late Mr. Olaiya, was our mentor. My mother also assisted me when I had difficulty raising money to go to school. I had a brother who always advised me especially when I passed several secondary school entrance examinations but had no money to go to school. My husband has always been there for me.
My memorable moments were the times I was pregnant. I get special treatment from my husband whenever I was pregnant. He treated me especially like an egg. Couples must work together. They should not hide anything from each other. Anytime they feel bad about anything, they should say it. At this particular moment in the country, couples should support each other because there are men who don’t have jobs. Therefore, it is incumbent on their wives to assist in running the homes. Wives whose husbands have no jobs as a result of the challenges in the country should respect their husbands. Anytime couples disagree, they should agree moments later with an explanation.
I am interested in religious activities. I coach people especially spinsters on the word of God. I am the Deputy of Women Bible Study and Prayer Fellowship. I am a recipient of various awards because of the various activities I engage in.