My life with Ojukwu –Bianca
She was without any iota of doubt, the closest person to Ikemba Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. In April 2010 Bianca, Ojukwu's wife of over two decades spoke about her relationship with the national icon. Excerpts:
How long have you been married to Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu?
We have been into a relationship since 1989 but we got married formally on November 12, 1994.
We have been together for over 20 years, because we had been living together since 1989.
How old were you and how old was he at the time?
Well, I was 22 and he was in his mid 50s
People considered you too young for him at that time. How did you feel then?
It's not your conventional relationship. Looking back now, I certainly realise that I was very young at that time but it didn't seem to matter , because we had so much in common and we had good communication. The gap was not there in our day-to-day interactions. People thought the relationship was bizarre , because of the age difference but it's only now when I look back, now that I have children of my own that I realised that it was rather unusual.
You were so much in love at the time that you didn't notice any disparity in your ages?
I don't know whether I would classify it as being in love. I just knew that the difference tended to melt away when compared to the common grounds that we had. We had a similar background and we had so much to talk about. We had common interests and we just did a lot of things together. We went to see plays at the theatre, we went on vacations and there was just no disparity in our interaction. I didn't feel it at the time.
How come you're feeling it now?
No, I don't feel it now, because we have gotten used to each other having been together for so long. I always told him I am like the furniture in your house. We are too used to each other. I can complete his sentences and he can complete mine. Really I think at the end of the day that's what is imperative in every relationship. You must be able to communicate. He understood me fully and he appreciated that mine has been a life of dedication to him. I know the travails he has been through and I appreciate that a man such as him needs somebody to step in and play the role of a wife, sister and mother simultaneously and give him peace of mind in his day to day life.
Would you say therefore that you were psychologically prepared to be Ojukwu's wife?
I come from a political family. If that's being psychologically prepared well I am not the one to say so. But I think I had to shoulder a lot of responsibilities beyond what somebody of my age would reasonably be expected to go through. I had to learn in the process. I think I have done well because it requires diplomacy and the fact that sometimes you have to get out of your skin to mediate in conflicts that will generally arise around a man of his stature. It's been quite challenging but I thank God that I have been able to navigate the terrain.
Has it ever occurred to you that people never gave this marriage a chance, yet it has lasted this long. How does that make you feel?
I feel blessed. I have known friends in more conventional marriages, who break up, remarry and break up again in this space of time and I am still here. I thank God for his grace because nobody gave this thing a chance of survival. In all honesty I was really young at that time and I did believe that I could handle it. Now when I look back I wonder how I did it. That was not a situation your average 22-year-old could handle. Normally the disparity ought to make the interests different. But the truth is that I didn't miss those things the average 22-year old would want, like going to parties, clubs and the like. Those were not my interests.
Though people have always said that I am very old fashioned and I didn't have those things that propel people of my age. I wanted a stable marriage. I wanted to live with a man that I have things in common with and a man that I could spend the rest of my life with. Having said that, the truth is that it requires a lot of sacrifice, commitment and hard work to be able to make it work.
Was it that you had to grow up to him or he had to come down to you? How was the mix?
No question about that, I had to grow up to him. I had to learn to interact with people who were a lot older than I was. Generally from the time I was 22 people who were coming to our various homes were people of his age. They were his friends and by extension they have become my friends too. I give God the glory. He had some of the most dedicated, committed and loyal friends to his cause. I feel privileged to have met these people. I consider them as family. So I had to grow up to his life.
You were not scared by that calibre of people?
Don't forget that I am the daughter of a former governor. My father was the governor of old Anambra state, now consisting of Enugu and parts of Ebonyi. So I was certainly not intimidated because we had such regular high calibre people visiting us. Presidents, ex presidents, Ambassadors, governors were frequent visitors. I was not intimidated in the least. It was just a progression. Just that the same calibre of people were now visiting in another house. The routine was basically the same, just a little bit accentuated.
Let's talk about Ojukwu. What kind of a man was he?
I think you are in a better position to do that. Having spent the better part of two hours with him today I think you are probably in a better position to do that. As you can see he is a very complex man, very complex. He can be like a volcano about to erupt this minute and the next he is like a kitten. His persona switches so rapidly that it is really quite hard to pin him down, to paint a complete picture of him. There would always be that mystery. He is kind, caring, and as you have witnessed, a very stubborn man. A lot of the time, he gets impatient and most people find that rather intimidating. But he can be very meek. One just has to find that meeting ground of interacting with him. Once you can do that then you are on safe ground. But he can be quite difficult to decode.
Obviously he loved you and said it to anyone who cared to listen. What did he do differently to you that also gives you the impression that he really loved you?
I think it's the absolute trust that he has in me, the faith. I think everyman is looking for a replacement for his mother. That's one thing I have learnt. In life, every man looks for that woman who would not just be his wife but his mother, whose paramount objective is to ensure that he can be the best man he is meant to be. I wouldn't say that he loves me in an irrational way. Perhaps in me he has been able to find that combination of wife and mother. The mother element is very important, because it's only your mother that you would trust so absolutely to be able to deliver the best judgments and to be able to pull you back when they think you are doing something wrong. It's just to have absolute trust in your judgment and go to bed with both eyes closed.
A lot of people don't have that in their families. A lot of men find that their wives tend to be quite demanding and impatient and the men then reflect that in their attitude. But I think a woman cannot get the best out of any man by nagging him or making him feel bad and less of a man. But if you let him be a man then you get the best out of him. That's what has helped this marriage to stay the way it is today.
You are a lawyer but you seem to be averse to politics even when you grew in a political home so to say…
Well, I have seen quite a lot in my life with Ikemba and I have seen that you need to develop very tough skin to go into politics. Unfortunately, that's something I am yet to develop. Until Nigeria offers an opportunity for one to be a decent politician without having to sell their soul I will continue to be averse to politics. I have hope that we will get to that stage soon because the Nigerian people are no longer willing to just sit back and watch and accept whatever is rammed down their throat. The recent election in Anambra is a pointer to that.
I understand that one or two political offers had come your way. You don't want them or you just prefer being Ikemba's wife?
Being Ikemba's wife is a job on its own. These are issues that are being constantly discussed. Right now my prerogative is my husband and my family. I have a very young family. I don't want a situation that would have my attention divided. I would like to help determine the path that my children would take. I would like to be instrumental to raising and shaping their lives. I am not saying that I cannot do that and serve the people at the same time. These were offers that were made even before the elections but I just didn't feel that the time was ripe.
You relationship with Ikemba is the longest he has had with any woman. Does that make you feel special?
(Long laughter) It must be one of two things: its either that I am made of a sponge-like material that can absorb or that I am made of a shell-like object, like a turtle's back and I have found a way of making things work. Sometimes you are lucky in life. You just come across somebody that God says this is the person that you will stay with for the rest of your life and you just have to work at maintaining that relationship. He is working and I am working too and we both appreciate the fact that we need each other and that we both need to be as committed as we can for the relationship to work. That's what we are doing, building on it everyday. That's just the key. It does not make me feel special. It's not like being in Las Vegas everyday. But the high points are always more than the low points. I think if you can get 70 percent you have done very well.
How do you relate with his other grown up children, and perhaps the other living wives?
(Laughs) I like the way you put, living wives. The fact is that at the time I met him he was a bachelor. He was not living or married to anybody at that time and that's probably why we were able to go through a Roman Catholic wedding. We had our wedding in a Roman catholic church and that would have been impossible if he were designated a married man. Otherwise he would have been a bigamist. I am just making the point that I met him as a bachelor. Of course he had been in a lot of other relationships but I have not had the opportunity of interacting with those people that he had had relationships with in the past.
What about his children?
Oh yes. You know he has three children that are older than I am. We get on quite well. Most of the children don't live here. They live abroad. My marriage to their father is not anything new because they live in societies where such things are not abnormal as such. They know their limits.
We hold family meetings and things like that. Some times issues come up that we don't all agree upon. At such times Ikemba steps in and sorts things out. That's normal but generally we get on well. So far it's been quite cordial and when they come on vacation they stay here and I am glad to tell you that they all have their rooms here. I have tried to make sure that we are one united family.
What I deduce from the foregoing is that you are Ojukwu's only legitimate wife.
That's correct. If there is anybody else who can present a wedding picture, a marriage certificate in the church then I am willing to defer to that person. However, we live in Africa and the church format is not the only acceptable mode. There is the traditional mode. In my own case I did not start with the traditional marriage because my parents were initially opposed to the marriage. I only went through the traditional marriage after the birth of my children. My children were present at the event. Any woman who has been married in the traditional mode is also an acceptable wife. The only time both modes come into conflict is when there is a legal contention. That's why I am making it clear that he went through both processes with me.
You mean you are not aware of any other women who went through those processes with him.
I am not aware of anybody that went through a church wedding with him. You know the Roman Catholic Church is very strict in that respect. If they had any such information they would not have done the wedding. No Catholic priest would wed you if he considers you a bigamist. They wed you strictly on the basis that you are a single man.
Is he still the romantic man you met in 1989?
Oh my. I think romance runs in his veins. He will never change. I am the one who is not romantic. I am very practical. But he is very poetic. By virtue of his education and interactions in life, Ojukwu was raised as an aristocrat, so he tends to focus more on the classics, the arts, literature and so on. When you look at him in that light you find that he cannot but be romantic. In every thing he does it comes through. It's part of his everyday life. Even now when he is not as strong as he used to be, he would still come to open doors for me to get into the car. He would ensure I am served a drink before him and things like that. He is a typical gentle man. Without a doubt if Ikemba is nothing else he is a perfect gentleman.
Why did you say you won't allow him present himself again for an elective post?
I think he has done his bit. There comes a time in every man's life when you just need to find the nearest beach, find a deck chair, sit by the ocean and reflect. I think he is at that stage in his life. He has done nothing but live and breathe the Igbo course. Sometimes he would hear of some injustice somewhere and he would stay awake all night trying to find how it can be redressed. I remember the situation of the Apo six. He would wake up at night and say to me, what's happening, have these people been found, what are you gleaning from the media? Anytime an Igboman suffers any form of injustice it makes his blood boil, even in situations when he feels helpless. At such times I simply pray to God that he does not have a blood condition because you see him so agitated.
At such times I also tell him to stop knocking his head against the brick wall. I think he has sacrificed everything including his family. There are things he ought to have done but didn't have the time to do because of his struggles. Now I think that whatever time he has left should be used for his family, to nurture the family and let other people carry on from where he left off.
You are the closest person to him who can tell me this: will people ever get to read his memoirs?
Like you and everybody else I also keep my fingers crossed. But I can tell you that he has been writing but slowly though. Sometimes he wakes up, remembers an incident and then writes. One thing I know is that he is not writing the account in sequence, he puts down incidents as he remembers. At the moment there is a group currently showing very strong interest in getting him to complete and publish the memoirs. But I do not know how soon that will be. And it is something that we all really need to see, to know what really happened or more importantly how his mind was working at the time, his fears, anxieties and aspirations, what he wanted to achieve and why he took some of the decisions he took. A lot of people still do not have a real grasp of those things and we need to get into the innermost recesses of his mind to know them.
But is he really working on it?
Yes, I know for a fact that he is working on it but at a snail speed.
You still look trim and fit, how do you manage to keep this fit?
Do you know what it takes to run this house, run my NGO, run my law chambers? There are so many things I am doing that sometimes I don't even have time for lunch.