By Debo Akinyemi
Facially, they have a striking resemblance that makes many mistake them for twins. But John and Ibironke Okunola bond deeper than twins. At home, at work and even at the church, they admirably play the love birds with no inhibition.
In this interview with our man Debo Akinyemi, John Folorunso Okunola and his wife Ibironke , both senior ministers of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, share the secret of their love that seems to wax stronger by the minute.
PLEASE GIVE US YOUR OWN DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE FROM YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE
He: Marriage is a divine partnership and arrangement by God to add meaning to the man’s life. As we all know, companionship is vital in human existence. Though I had chains of friends before I got married none of them has given me a true, warm companionship like my wife. So, my idea of marriage is for the husband and the wife to see their separate families fusing in to one. His parents become her parents and vice versa.
She: In my own view and in addition to what he said, marriage is a relationship between two best friends that cannot be separated.
HOW DID YOUR PATH CROSS?
He; I met her in a white garment church in our home town and it happened in a way that showed there was God’s hands in it. I was then a part 3 student in the university, a Casanova with chain of girlfriends. I was not in to any serious relationship then because I had vowed not to have any steady relationship with any girl in my home town.
But on this fateful day that we met I had gone to see my father at the church. Then the old man said to her “come and serve your husband food now’’ When she came out to give me the food I took her to be wife of one of our relations that I was yet to be told about. When I sought to know whose wife she was, I was told that she was still single. In addition, they told me she was a decent girl who would not allow any man to mess around with her.
Then I took up the challenge, thinking I could use my Casanova sweet talk to make her agree to start dating me. But I was wrong. She turned down all my advances and for the first time made me feel inferior. No woman had ever spurned my love advances like that before. So, I decided not to give up and it took three days of effort for her to even agree to a mere friendship. That really shored up her value in my assessment which was why I vowed to never to give up until she became my lover. To God be the glory, she eventually accepted my proposal and to my surprise my wife came to my house a virgin.
She; I really bless the name of the Lord for making me to be at that spot that we met. My husband turned out to be my Messiah. She raised me up from my poor background. I was nobody. My father was sick and poor. But I was determined not to mess around with any man because of money or anything else.
I maintained a straight face and would not look at any man twice, no matter how rich or comfortable he appeared. So, when he came I thought he was one of those boys seeking to prey on available girls. I made things difficult for him until I discovered that he had good intention. I saw that he was so caring even after I had turned him down. This really melted down my heart. So, one day I decided to give him a trial. And I have never regretted that decision.
DID ANY BODY OPPOSE YOUR MARRIAGE?
He: The only opposition came from her uncle who insisted that he would not allow us to marry. He said his sister married someone in my extended family line and she was maltreated. He also was not too happy with my background, thinking I would never be able to earn enough to take care of his niece.
Since he was very wealthy and influential both in the town and in the family, nobody could challenge his position. After holding on for him to change his mind for a long time, my mother –in-law lied to him that my wife –to-be was pregnant. It was at this point that he reluctantly invited us and gave his blessing.
HOW DID YOU COPE WITH THE FINANCIAL CHALLENGES OF THE EARLY DAYS OF YOUR MARRAIAGE?
He; Things were rough at the beginning but we were firmly united against the tough and rough weather. In those days when Abacha was paying us N3,500 monthly salary, I would hand over my pay packet over to her. And she would trade with it to enable us survive. There was a time she would make rice and stew and hawk it on the street of Somolu. She also hawked other things like egusi, bread and across-the-counter drugs. The profit trickling from the road side trading went a long way to stabilize us financially from one month to the other.
She: To God be the glory, those early years were not easy but He was there for us. Like he said, I would collect his salary and trade with it. As time went by, the business started growing significantly. Later he rented a shop for me to do the trading. And when the GSM revolution came we quickly recognized the inherent opportunities in it. We were selling mobile telephone lines and that was when the big breakthrough came. Today I am now a proprietor of a primary school in Ogun State. God has been very kind.
YOU HAVE FOUR KIDS. WAS IT BY CHOICE OR ACCIDENT.
He; we had planned to have four kids, except that we were not ready for the fourth one when she came. My wife was preparing to go to the school of Nursing to earn a certificate. And then the pregnancy surfaced. Since that would disqualify her, we were not happy. Honestly, if we were not born-again Christians, we would have opted for an abortion. But today, that same child is an under graduate.