Mrs. Mayowa Ikuforiji is a pastor, while her husband, Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Adeyemi Sabit Ikuforiji is a staunch Muslim. But, this has never affected their marriage, and 30 years down the line, the couple is still waxing stronger.
One other thing is that Mrs. Ikuforiji is used to the scandals written by her husband, and she believes so much that the number three citizen of Lagos State is a loving husband, who is living up to expectation as a responsible husband and father.
In this interview, Mrs. Ikuforiji speaks on being the wife of the speaker, her growing up years, what women should do about bringing up their children amongst other matters of interest.
Your husband is a politician and the number three man in Lagos State, what have been your challenges as his wife?
I don’t see any challenges in this; it is only that he does not have much time for the family. That has been the challenge because he is very hard working; he has been doing his job well. Most of the time I have to call him on the phone that we need to discuss, even in the midnight he receives calls, so I switch off his phones sometimes.
Has there been anytime that you feel the whole thing is becoming too much that you could not cope?
As a human being, there are times that I felt that he is too busy, but as a Christian I believe that whatever you find yourself doing, do it well and I should not stand as an obstacle to that. I should understand that he is on an assignment that God has given to him, so I should support him so that he doesn’t fail.
Most times, people believe that women control men, to what extent do you influence his decisions as the Speaker of the House?
The position of the Speaker is not an executive position, it is a position that any of the lawmakers could occupy, he is just first amongst equals. I realized early that I am not superior to the wife of any other lawmaker in the assembly and my husband is not superior to any of the lawmakers. It is just that there must be a leader and God has put him there and others have graciously given him the position to be the leader. I respect them a lot, though I am older than most of them, I give them their due respect. Most of them are my personal friends; I am closer to some of them even more than their wives.
So, what is the relationship between you and their wives?
Yes, we have the Lagos State Legislators Wives Association (LASLEWA), there are all my sisters, sometimes, I am closer to some lawmakers, who see me as their elder sister and I see them as my brothers, even at that, they respect me, and I respect them back.
What is the motive behind the formation of LASLEWA?
Actually, LASLEWA has been there, I met it on ground; it was started by the wife of the former speaker, Rt. Hon. Olorunimbe Mamora, so I just believe that we should gather once in a while and pray for our husbands that God should guide them. Also, we do some teachings about house keeping, proper etiquette and all that; we have doctors, lawyers, engineers in our midst. So, it is a social avenue, I always know if any of them is troubled. I have a way of finding out and I try to come in to solve the problem.
You are a pastor and your husband is a Muslim, has it always been like that. If it has always been like that, how do you cope and how do you strike a balance?
So many people have asked me this question, I come from a Christian home, my father was an elder in the Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) and my mother is also a Christian. I married my husband as a Muslim, but he studied abroad and he has a wider outlook of what is going on. So, I didn’t see him as a fanatic, my father actually asked me a question and gave me six months to go and think about it. He said, ‘why do you want to marry a Muslim?’ After six months, I went back to him, he gave me an important point that; ‘you cannot divorce him, when you marry him. Whatever you see in marrying a Muslim, you are a Christian, you should think over it.’ But, I thank God, 30 years after we got married; I have no cause for regret. Whatever happened has never been because he is a Muslim, it can happen anywhere, no marriage is extremely perfect. We have had our ups and down, but God has helped us. I believe sincerely that there is no difference between Islam and Christianity, Islam preaches ‘don’t commit adultery,’ Christianity preaches the same thing. Be nice to people, be a giver and all that, all these are the same in the two religions. Anyone that goes outside the Quran to do some other thing is on his own, I have had the opportunity to read the Quran, there was a time I had a Muslim scholar coming to teach me. I have the opportunity to know how to pray in the Muslim way and say most of the things they say. My husband is being influenced by his orientation as someone, who studied abroad. So, he is not being influenced by the fact that he is a Muslim or something like that. Initially, he wanted me to be a Muslim; probably I would have joined him. But, there was a period in my life, when I was very ill, though everything seemed okay, but within me I knew I was not okay. That was around 1998 during the first Holy Ghost Congress of the Redeemed Christian Church of God tagged Lekki 1998 with the theme; ‘Divine Visitation.’ I was actually visited by God, I went with my daughter, and actually it took us hours to get there. I then said; ‘God, you have to heal me here today, if you cannot heal me, I want to die here,’ this was what I said and since then, I have never been admitted in the hospital since that time. I put a caveat there that ‘if you heal me, I am going to serve you as a Christian till I die.’ It is like I made a vow to God, there is no way I can go back. You have to fulfill the vow. It is not that I really don’t want to be a Muslim; I would have worshipped God the Muslim way. I believe that the sickness came because God wanted me to serve Him in the Christian way. My husband understands that, so he doesn’t bother me.
But one wonders if your children are Muslims or Christians…
Everybody wonders they are all grown up now; I have not really forced my religion on them. My husband actually wants them to be Muslims, I think the boy is more inclined towards Islam, he takes him to Saudi Arabia for Umrah regularly, may be the girls are Christians. There was a period they were going to NASFAT, but they are up to marriageable ages now, but as girls they might probably take to the religion of their husbands.
As a pastor, what do you think are the most fundamental issues a woman should look at in getting married?
The most important thing a woman should look at is ‘does this man have the fear of God’ because if you have the fear of God, there are certain things you would not do whether you are a Muslim or Christian. If you marry a man who can do anything, you are in for it. But if you marry a man who fears God, then all would be okay. Really, in the South West in Nigeria, we don’t have problems with Muslims marrying Christians or vice versa because in most families, you have Muslims and Christians. In my mother’s family, my uncles are Muslims and the women are Christians. It is like that almost everywhere, so that one is not a problem. The first thing you look out for is if the man is God fearing. He should not see himself as superior. I have not said everything has been rosy, but apart from God, my mother-in-law was another factor, she was very close to me before she died. The first thing she gave me, when I married her son was a seat; she said that the seat meant I would be with her son forever. As if she knew she was passing on, she said, ‘whatever my son does to you, please, don’t leave him.’ I had to give her my word that I would never leave him for any reason. So, whenever there was any storm, I would remember the words of the old woman and endure, the woman was a very prayerful Muslim.
You are educated, how do you see the belief that women should stay home at the early stage of their marriage. What would you say to a woman that is newly married concerning working?
I am old fashioned; I know that things have changed now. When I wanted to go to the university, I wanted to read law, I had an uncle, who was a professor at the Obafemi Awolowo University, then University of Ife in Osun State. He told me not do law, I was just 16 years old, when I got to the university, he said I should fill English Education that I should be a teacher because my mother is a teacher. The only reason he gave was that I could have time for my children, yet, in Part 2, I still wanted to study law, but he said no. Really, it helped me because when my children were younger, I had time for them, I would drop them in the school in the morning and when they close, I would go and pick them. Today, how many people don’t have time for their children because a woman would want to be a banker even, while having children. You leave your children in the hands of housemaids; you don’t know what those maids do to them, which is the problem we have today. When I read about what children do, I wonder, I think mothers should think about it, it is not about money, it is about God and the sacrifices we make. I don’t know how as a mother, you go out in the morning before the children wake up and you come back, when they have slept. But, I think it is only like that in Lagos, if you go to other states it is not like that. You allow the children to do whatever they like all because you want to make money. It is really bad, you see a lot of children, they think they can determine what they want. You dare not do that, when we were young. I remember when two of my children were in one school then and I went for a meeting of the Parents Teachers Association and some parents were warning the teachers not to touch their children. One parent even said that her child didn’t like a particular teacher that the teacher looked somehow, I was surprised to hear this. When we were younger, our teachers used to beat us and our mothers never went there to fight because most of the time, we behaved well because we didn’t want to be disciplined. That was the last time I went to the PTA of that school. My son was in Year 10 and after the meeting I went to the principal, I told her ‘I have two children here, I want them to be disciplined if they committed any offence.’ They said I should sign and I did. I was a teacher in two secondary schools for 15 years and I used to beat my students if they err. I said I wanted my children to be disciplined, one day, my son did something wrong in school, he couldn’t tell me, he sent another parent to beg me on his behalf. I told my son that if he did anything wrong and they report him to me; I would come to his school and beat him in his classroom in front of his friends. Eventually, my son became the head boy of the school before he graduated and went to the university. You need to know what your children do; most parents leave their children in the hands of houseboys, who abuse the girls. Most of these men that stay with people abuse the girls sexually.
Someone blame young mothers for some of these things, at what point would you say there was disconnect between the old and young generation of mothers?
I think the advent of these social media brought about the whole thing; this caused a lot of problems. You cannot really censor what your child comes across in the computer; they go to some satanic sites that influence them. You don’t have time to check to catch them unaware, most people think it is sophistication and modernization, they allow their children to do whatever they like. They want to copy what they do in the western world. I wonder how a son could kill his father and cut him into pieces, may be he was on drug, who knows the demon that was troubling him. The man must have prayed for him, but if the foundation is faulty what would the righteous do. It could have been from his foundation, probably the father was busy and the mother too was busy. There are so many things we really need to do because once the foundation is faulty it would be difficult. Children learn what they read, we learnt that the father woke him to come and pray and that was all, he killed the man and cut him into pieces.
So, what do you think is the solution to all of these?
Mothers are the ones that mould the children, in those days, women were not working. The whole nation should rise up, we have to start organizing talk shows and ask the young mothers to tell us how they were trained by their own mothers, and how they are training their own children. You see some children talking to their parents anyhow; you dare not do that in our time. My mother was a teacher, if you offend her; she would not beat you immediately so that people would not start begging on your behalf. Once we offend her, we would start crying because she would wake you up in the night and start telling you your offences. She would tell you the things you did wrong and counsel you before beating you at that odd hour, when nobody would beg for you. If she gives me a pencil, I had to show her the remnant before she could give me a new one, same goes for biro. That is what I also do for my children; they must take permission before they take anything in the house. If I am abroad, they would call me that they wanted to take something in the house before they would do so, and everybody is shocked, but they are used to that, they do it even before they take anything from the fridge.
Has your husband always been in politics and if you didn’t meet him as a politician, did you advise him against joining politics?
I didn’t marry him as a politician and I never told him not to do politics, I saw his plan to join politics as a way of serving the nation, I never looked at the bad side at all. I felt it was a better way of serving the nation, may be if I had discouraged him he wouldn’t have joined politics. Of course, he told me he wanted to go to the state house of assembly and become the speaker, but I didn’t really know what being speaker was. I just felt he was going to politics, become the speaker and be the head of the legislature. Along the line, I discovered that it is not easy to be a politician; my female children said that their husbands would sign an undertaking that they would never be politicians because of all the scandals the press write about their father. It is not easy when you read unsavoury things about your father in the newspapers and you know that they are not true. I am immune to that; there was a journalist who wrote terrible things about my husband concerning women. Later, he wanted to interview me towards my husband’s 50th birthday, I said, ‘since you know the girlfriends of my husband, you can go and interview one of them,’ and he was shocked.
Has there been anytime that you feel bad about some of the things they write about him?
Well, initially, I felt bad, but after some time, I became immune to them because they were becoming too much. Most of the times, I call him and tell him on the phone before he gets home. Recently, it was written in a blog site that somebody had a baby boy for him, I called him and said ‘congratulations to us, we should now celebrate the arrival of a baby boy,’ and that it is an addition to the family. He just said that I should leave them that those people are not serious, I will not kill myself because of that, I am over 50 years of age now.
Are you not afraid that your husband could practice polygamy someday as a Muslim?
If he has not been a polygamist in 30 years, is it now that he would be thinking about that. I have been married to him for 30 years, will he do that in his old age.
I am surprised that you are 50 years old because you don’t look it, what is your beauty regimen?
It has been the grace of God; I really don’t have a beauty routine. Actually, I was fatter than I am now two years ago, I was size 16, now I am 12. I made up my mind that I had to watch what I put into my mouth about two years before my 50th birthday, most especially, when you are approaching menopause as a woman. Don’t think there is no problem because there might be problems. I cut down my eating, I eat little food, and people have called me in several places to talk about nutrition because they could see that it worked for me. Most people might not be able to do some of the things I do, for instance I eat garlic and onions raw everyday. It got to a stage that I became so used to it, how many people can do that? Sometimes, I don’t eat for two days, I just go on warm water, it is those days that I am stronger than even when I eat, you would be stronger and have sound health, you can start with one day.
What is your opinion about women in politics?
We don’t even have enough of them, women are more emotional, it is like something is covering their faces of men. Women see most of the things that men don’t see, and as mothers, that motherly instinct is there. As women, we have the ability to multi-task, men don’t have that. I can be breastfeeding my baby and I would be cooking at the same time. Also, women don’t spend money on the opposite sex like men do. I don’t know why young ladies don’t believe that they could do things on their own instead of depending on men. I don’t like when people say, ‘wife of the speaker,’ who am I, don’t judge me by being the wife of the speaker.
How do you see the local government as a worker there?
It is the closest to the grassroots; I work as Council Manager in Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area in Lagos here. The CM is the most senior civil servant in the council; we take charge of the council and do administrative works.