Editor’s note: There is almost nothing more beautiful than love that has stood the test of time. That’s why this month, BellaNaija Features and BellaNaija Weddings bring you beautiful stories of couples whose love has not waned through the years with The Ever After Special Valentine Edition series.
Today, Mr. and Mrs. Ariko, who have been married since 1990, share their insights on love, marriage and the forever journey. We take you on a dive into their Ever After story. Ride with us!
There is a panacea for when your heart is broken into small pieces, bleeding and left lifeless: love. Love takes sutures and sews the splinters together, feeds him pints of blood until he recovers and nourishes him until he is revived and jumps alive. And when – like the Arikos – this love is made in the hospital, you know that the hearts will be healthy forever and ever.
In 1989, Ahmed Ariko, a retired permanent secretary from the Kogi State Ministry of Health and Victoria Ariko, a retired midwife from the hospital management board, Lokoja, met in a hospital. Victoria was a nurse and Ahmed, a pharmacist. Their love blossomed and blossomed, and come April, they will celebrate 33 years of “unbroken marriage.”
The Arikos’ friends and family call them a unique family – Ahmed Ariko is a practicing Muslim and Victoria Ariko is a practicing Christian. Victoria believes in the power of love. So much so that she says, “We thank God for love.”
They say that love smashes obstacles, breaks mountains until they become sand and dust. And when one of these obstacles is the question of religion in a country of deep religiocentrism, you know that this love will cover you.
Victory: For us, it was love before religion. Love overcomes everything.
Who can argue with that?
Ahmed Ariko: Let me take you down memory lane. She agreed to change my faith. As I tell you now, her official name – until the time she retired from the service – is Aishat. I converted her to Islam, and she agreed. But down the line, I discovered that I was not very serious about my religion at that time. It is not like now that I am an Alhaji and have been to Mecca. But at that time, I saw that I was not serious about my religion enough to lead her into a new faith.
One day, she came to me and said: “You have converted me, but you do not practice as it should be, how can I follow.” So what is my faith?
So one day I called her and I said: “I have given you permission to continue practicing your faith. It doesn’t matter anymore. Incidentally, the first day she went to church, she was rejected by her pastor because they knew that I was a Muslim. They said they didn’t want to break a house. They needed evidence that the right was from me. I had to write a letter saying that it was really from me.
Let me tell you that along the line, there have been many challenges. It took a steady mind for the time. Family and friends would make fun of me and embarrass me and strangely enough, I loved it all. I asked myself, “Isn’t it my decision?” Even if I have to answer any question before God almighty, it is me, not you. So what is your problem?
In Islam, we recognize Jesus who is the prophet Isa, we recognize Mary who is called Mariam, the mother of Jesus. We recognize the divine way of the Christian religion and Islam has asked us to respect them because they are the people of the book. So Islam allows a Muslim man to marry a Christian woman. The people who criticized were just ignorant of the Qur’an.
But today, we have every reason to glorify God and then they call us a “single family”. Indeed, we are unique.
In marriage, discomfort comes in many shapes and sizes. Like your baby who pulls out his diapers and smelling poop all over the walls. Like coming home from a hectic day at work with plans to stretch your legs and rest, only to have uninvited guests knock on your door. Like family members who make your wedding their business.
victory: I’d be lying if I said it was easy.
Clearly, calling the Arikos the “single family” does not prevent family members from interfering in the marriage. Victoria says that “tolerating them was a huge challenge”.
Victory: Uninvited family members come alone – second cousins, third cousins, not even immediate family members. They just came to poke their noses and check how we run our houses. They appeared at any time without prior warning. It was really annoying.
Refusing them entry into the house was a no-no.
Victory: My husband also, as an African man, had to dance to them sometimes.
They don’t pay the piper, why dictate the tune? Why did he dance with them?
Ahmed: See, I believe in African culture. I am an African at heart. When she said she didn’t like how these people behaved, I would tell her, “These people don’t live with us, but every time they come, we sacrifice that time.” Let them do whatever they want. Once they go, we pick up our pieces and move on.
victory: I feel betrayed. I kept saying that my husband is closer to his people than I am. It was as if they robbed me of my right. My husband is the first child and everyone runs to him. I had to give up so many things that were mine. It was a serious problem. With God and prayer, and talking to people, it was managed.
Ahmed: You know that when you get married in an African environment, you have to mix both sides. Before you know it, they were saying “don’t put it in the pot”. But the practical thing is that you don’t have to submit at all. I was firm and allowed them in my house. But as much as I have to protect my family, I have to protect my wife and my marriage. I had to strike a balance. There was a time I went to a wedding and someone said: “Do not allow an outside influence to score a goal against your husband or your wife.” It is a parable; if they score a goal against your wife, you are also affected. So there were challenges, but if you are firm and believe in God, you will make the relationship work. And today, I can say that we are consultants for new marriages.
Outside interference aside, people say that the first few years of marriage are usually hard. Two people from two different worlds come together to build a family. One is pressing the toothpaste from the middle and the other is lying down in anger. One cannot sleep with the lights on and the other cannot sleep with the lights off. One throws his shoes in different directions when he returns from work and the other…
Victory: My husband is an ugly man.
Ahmed: He is the type of person who is very conservative and prefers things to be 100% clean. But hey, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t care how things go down. Of course, human nature, you say.
Victoria:… he tried to cover that up, but during the wedding, it came out.
Ahmed: We had some encounters here. I called him an idealist and I am a practical. But along the line, we got over it and said that this marriage must work. We had to give and take.
Victory: I had to tolerate him.
Ahmed: Interestingly, this exchange was recognized by our son. When he was a child, he used to sing “shouting shouting mummy, jagajugu daddy”.
Shouting shouting mom and dad jagajugu? Ha ha! Victoria and Ahmed’s son didn’t poop on the walls, but he sure knew how to sing songs. And the couple had to be careful, because a trumpet and a bass guitar enter the picture and this song becomes an album. With four children and two working parents, how did they navigate parenting?
Ahmed Ariko: We got married in April and our first child arrived in September. It wasn’t easy initially. He had a work commitment in the health sector. We can’t even bring a child to work especially in a hospital. So it was difficult to take care of the children.
Victory: At that time, it was not easy. When I moved to a new house as a married woman, a cousin was living with me and she really helped me. Even my children know her as their first mummy. As a shift nurse, I worked several shifts. But we thank God for this cousin of mine who took care of them. It was when she went to school that we had to have a nanny. But immediately he returned, he took them again.
Ahmed: After little by little, the children started to grow up and those challenges were no longer there. God was on our side and we are very proud of them today.
In a multi-religious family, there is a chance that children may be unable to decide how to worship. But…
“It wasn’t a problem,” says Ahmed Ariko, because God was able to take control. My policy has always been that as long as they are in my control – being in school and in my home – they must practice my religion.
But when they graduated from school, they became adults and could make decisions. They made their own decisions, some are Muslim and some are Christian.
The Arikos may have had many challenges in their marriage, just like any other couple. With their children being successful today, they clearly have the right to be parents. Another thing they have right is their finances.
Ahmed: As civil servants, we have our own bank accounts. I am not an apostle of joint bank accounts. But we take care of the family and pay for the school. It is a double responsibility. The common account we have is a common allocation that everyone brings money to solve the need in the house. But individually, everyone has their own account.
And then romantic.
Ahmed: My wife is more romantic.
Victory: There is one romantic thing my husband did that I can never forget. During my thanksgiving retreat, as an Alhaji, he came to church, danced with me, hugged me and till now, we are still the talk of the town. Even the reverend father was surprised. There are many things he did for me, but the one that always rings in my memory. That shuts the mouth of the amebo.
Want to know another thing they got right? Come listen to this:
We kiss up to five or six times a day.
Stop it! I’m shy. As the Arikos talk, I keep replaying a scene in my mind; Simon telling Daphne “I’m burning for you”. Bridgerton. If you’re still burning for each other after more than 30 years of marriage, you’re clearly doing something right.
victory: This is another rekindled moment.
Ahmed: We have all the time now, we are not under a tight schedule, and every day is a weekend for us now.
Victory: During this retreat, we returned to our love days.
Baby, I burrrnn for you.
Did you miss the first edition of The Ever After Series? Read all the episodes here.
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