Senator Oluremi Tinubu, wife of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, speaks about her 25 year old marriage with the national leader of the Action Congress Party of Nigeria
How would you describe Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as a man, husband, father to the children?
As a man, he is very courageous and hardworking. He is also very loyal to his friends and always ready to sacrifice himself for others. Describing him as a husband is going back into the years, because we have been through different things in life, which we grew and adjusted to. He knew what he wanted from the beginning, but I had a different picture of things when we got married. But as time went by, I was compelled to adapt. I believe that as one lays one’s bed, so one lies on it. It took a while for me to adjust, because my concept of marriage and expectations were high, but with time, I was able to settle down and understand what marriage was all about. I wrote about my early experience in marriage in the little coffee table book I wrote sometime ago. He later became my best friend. I love him a lot, and I think he loves me, too. If he didn’t, we would not have come this far. So, the feeling is quite mutual. I respect him and can call him a good provider. He loves himself and his family. I have come to understand that love is a basic ingredient in a marriage and the moment I started understanding the concept of love, I began to understand more what living together entails. With him, I have found the love of God and the concept of love in its totality, and I can say that I have found a place of rest and fulfilment. He is not a man that complains and has a huge heart for forgiveness.
How did the love affair begin?
I know that is what most people want to hear, and it is quite strange. Initially, I felt like an alien from another planet. It was my sister who introduced me to him. He was a friend to the family even before he travelled abroad. Then, I had already graduated from the university and had started working. My sister became worried that I was always keeping to myself; I am naturally not an outgoing or sociable person. I love fashion and love to dress well. She match-made the two of us and we didn’t really have a long courtship before we married. I realised that it was a relationship that required seriousness and not one to play around with. For me, it is either a relationship is working from the beginning or not. He saw me and thought that I was a wife material. I was interested, too, and realised that he had a good job.
Was it love at first sight when you met him?
The first thing to know is the attraction that brought the two of us together. Though I didn’t remember who he was any more, my sister tried to remind me. I saw his eyes and thought he has very kind eyes. That was one of the things that attracted me to him. I believe that from the eyes, one can know the mind of a person. I think he got me with his eyes; they were very kind and penetrating eyes and that was how we started. He was serious about his job and had lofty plans about the future. He didn’t say things you would hear from most guys when he met me. He just said: ‘I don’t have a lot of money, but I love to help people.’ So I thought that we had to cut the chase and was ready to settle down for the real business. I just thought that somebody was trying to introduce me to a journey and I concluded that it was a journey I wanted to be part of. I am generous in my own little way and from that angle, I thought it would be quite interesting to go along with.
Did you at the beginning nurse any fear that his outgoing nature could predispose you to some hurt?
At that time of my life, at 25 years, I was quite confident of myself. There are a lot tricky things when going into a relationship. Yes, I thought to myself that I was gorgeous and all that, but as time went by I realised that those things didn’t really matter when both parties settle down to a real relationship. I am quite homely and not the jealous type and I think it really helped. I believed that it was enough to feel love for him. He was really an outgoing type and a disc jockey. He was telling somebody sometime ago that he was really ‘bad’ in those days.
Did you face any competition for him?
I didn’t compete for his heart. I don’t do competition. I am very confident of who I am. I think he had some people he was dating, but he felt he had met the right woman when he met me. I wouldn’t say I really competed with anyone to have him. If there is anything I hate, it is fighting over a man and an environment where such is happening. I always believed that the way a woman presents herself to a man is the way the man sees her. He showed some respect at the time and I felt that was adequate. I wasn’t the type that would barge into a man’s house uninvited. So, whenever I was going to see him, he usually knew I was coming. My mother equally warned me about barging into a man’s house without invitation and that was the advice I took from home and applied in my relationship.
Did anyone put some pressure on you to reconsider your position on the basis of the difference in your religion?
Yes, my dad did. Though I was born into an Anglican family, I wasn’t a born-again Christian and wasn’t really the church-going type. We were raised as Christians. One of the things my dad told him when we visited him was not to stop me from being a Christian. I can tell you now that I am a better Christian now because of my relationship with him. I would say that I know God more now than before. Maybe I would have been drawn away from the things of God if it had started as a lovey-dovey affair. He was a man who is set in his ways and knew where he was going; unlike myself, who was just playing with life and didn’t know my right from my left. With that, one needs a balance and I can say that it became a plus for me to know more about God, which has helped in stabilising my home.
How did you react when your husband told you he was leaving the corporate world for politics?
You know things just don’t happen. When I met him, I met him with a lot of people. His house was always full of people and he told me from the beginning of our relationship that he loved to help people. I was always the one to entertain them, and would always want to stay away in the television room. He knew I loved my privacy. He married me when he was in the corporate world, which was steady and peaceful; it was fun attending banquet with him. He was moving up the ladder in his career and the future was bright. But with a lot of political inclinations and mama’s influence, you would know that anything could come in anytime. He was always sponsoring politicians before he eventually joined in. It was very difficult for me to adjust to the fact of people coming into our house when he became a politician, but it didn’t make much difference because I met him with a lot of people at the beginning. So, it became my duty to welcome people and he would always remind me to make them comfortable. While I did all that, I was never scared of new challenges and that is one of the things that have made the marriage quite interesting. I always like new things and became tired of the boredom I used to feel when he was still in the corporate world. Though we had a very memorable and interesting life when he was in the corporate world because he had numerous corporate friends. It was a setting where you mixed with them and their families. But with politics, it is a breakdown of order. I would say that at the end of the day, I am at peace with it. Now, I feel life has more meaning. We came with nothing into this world and we would die with nothing when death comes. So you share whatever you have with people around you. Life is about sacrifice.
How did you cope with his frequent absence from home when he went into politics full-time?
I can’t say that it is not challenging. It was not easy, but I learnt to take the challenges as they came and adapted to them. It is like a hurdle that one needs to scale. I tried to show understanding. One of the traumatic experiences of that time was during the 1993 elections, when men of the State Security Service invaded the house to pick him up. They surrounded the house. I was ill, but managed to look out from the window and I had never seen such terrifying men like that in my life. I was about 32 years old then and I wondered what kind of life that was. Quickly, I dismissed the thought, when I considered that he was fighting a noble cause. I supported him since I knew he was fighting for the truth and justice. I asked myself if I would want him to support a bad government and carry on as if everything was fine or fight for the cause of the people. Right there and then, I knew he was on the right path and resolved to live with the situation. It was difficult and I didn’t know what would come after. After then, we fled the country into self-exile for five years.
How were you ferried out of the country?
That is one experience I don’t like to talk about, because it was the most traumatic moment of my life. It was very traumatic, but I would talk about it because two of your bosses, Mr. Bayo Onanuga and Dapo Olorunyomi were in exile with us at the time. It was not the most pleasant time I can talk about. I returned when he became governor, but many people didn’t know I had returned. The trauma of that time affected me psychologically and I had problem remembering names and faces of people I knew before we went into exile.
What pet name does Asiwaju call you?
He has always called me Remi, but now, he calls me mummy and I call him daddy. My husband is very down to earth and not the lovey-dovey type. He is a soft man, though he hides his emotions. On several occasions, he forgets my birthday. He even does funny things on Valentine’s day because he knows I like Valentine’s. But he would just come, analysing who Valentine was and all the story behind him to the extent that he messes the day up for me. Asiwaju would purposely forget my birthday. I was set in my ideas about marriage, but he made those ideas crumble in his own way. I would say that we have to be together on the 31st of December, because I had this funny belief that the first person one sees on 1 January is the person one would spend the rest of the year with. See how twisted I was! But it is different with this man. I have a lot of people who share him with me. It was not like that before he became a politician. He would always remember my birthday and other important events. We don’t have a private life anymore because he is always surrounded by a lot of people. On some occasions on my birthday, I would just excuse myself and stay in my room, and he would leave the people quietly when it is midnight, to say happy birthday to me. He would come upstairs and pretend as if he wants to use the toilet or bathroom, just to make sure he doesn’t miss saying happy birthday to me when it is exactly midnight. He knows how sensitive I am to such things. So, he tries to bend backwards in his own way. I believe there is a strong love between both of us and also subscribe to the saying that love suffers long and conquers all things. Even when I advise couples, I always emphasise that love endures and has to be made strong.
You have stepped into your husband’s former shoes. As a senator, you now leave him at home for the National Assembly in Abuja. How have you been able to manage that?
Someone recently asked me how I feel leaving him at home to go to the National Assembly and I explained that our lives have always been devoted to service. My husband isn’t the type of man to live at home. There is so much that needs to be done, if one truly believes in turning the society around. I believe there is so much everyone can do in that respect. It is very tough for me going to Abuja and home for me is where we live and where my family is. Abuja is never home for me. It is hard though, and it must have been hard on him, too. He is used to having me where he feels I should be. There are times he would tease me that it seems I have started enjoying Abuja. I remember one day we were speaking on the phone and I told him he shouldn’t make me choose when he raised the issue of Abuja. I told him that he knew that I would rather be home than be in Abuja. He stopped bothering me when I said that.
What is his eating habit like?
Our eating habit is the same. We are not big eaters, but we eat anytime we feel like. If we really want to eat, we eat. We aren’t fussy about food. He always likes me to cook.
Did he cook for you in those days?
He never cooked for me o! But on a particular day while we were abroad, I was surprised that he knew how to prepare yam flour. I came home from church on a particular day and saw a used pot with residue of pounded yam stuck to it. I first wondered if anyone had come into the house to fix his meal when I was absent. But I later found out that he did make the yam flour by himself. He tried it again and I discovered that he was better than me at doing it. You could still see little lumps if I made it, but he does it so smoothly. I also remember that I have had to tell him to take his plates to the kitchen after eating, while I took care of the kids and other chores. It got him angry, but he later did it. He is not a man any woman can push around because he would do whatever he wants to do in his own time, and at his own pace. And that was the only time I ever said that.
What is his typical day like?
He is a very busy soul, who always finds something to do and believes there are needs to be attended to in the society. He wakes up early to read his newspapers and listen to the news. I remember during our days in exile that he would always mention to me that I wasn’t reading the papers, but I didn’t know how to convey it to him that I was still traumatised.