Nkechi Ali-Balogun – That Marriages May Last
In the boardroom, she is a gifted strategist. Yes, she is Principal Partner, NECCI Consulting, a public relations and communications outfit. At home, she is the quintessential wife of ace film maker, Mamood Ali-Balogun, and doting mother of Ikeoluwa. And, in church, she is a minister of God. She is also a counsellor and author of a book, ‘The Talking Couple’.
Mrs. Nkechi Ali-Balogun, a graduate of the University of Lagos who holds an MBA in Management from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and honed her PR skills at Frank Jefkins School of Public Relations, London, turned 60 yesterday.
Her new age was well celebrated with friends at the Civic Centre, Lagos. In this enriching interview, she takes a look at the marriage institution, and shares tips that will help young couples.
What has the journey been like to this point in life?
Well, for me, it’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of tenacity, a lot of resilience and clinging to God that tomorrow will be alright. When I look back, everything I have ever achieved in life I have had to work for it. I cannot really say this is the person that really helped me do this or that. It has always been me and God.
That is why I like the scripture in John 15:5 which says that without Him, I can do nothing. It’s very meaningful to me. Early in life, I realised this so when things overwhelm me, I run to Him. And you know, because I have this imposing personality, people never believed when I said I needed help. It’s either they thought I was joking or that I will get by and I did get by. I thank God that it’s been one journey worth it.
When you look back, what would you say helped you go through life?
It has to be my faith in God. I was brought up in a Christian home and I saw my mum put her whole trust in God. I saw her go through hard times and good times but one thing remained constant – her God. This, I also took from her.
I can beat my chest today to say that in the work place and in business, I never compromised; not even in the university when I was studying. My faith in God has helped me to put value on myself. I have very high self esteem and confidence and this came by His grace.
My faith in God brought contentment. I don’t go fighting to have what other people have. That is not to say I don’t love what they have but I know my limitations and I always concluded that if it was something God wanted me to have, I would have had it or will still have it. That has helped me a lot.
You gave credit to the values you got from your mother. These values are fast disappearing. What could be responsible?
A lot of things are responsible. Some things are not properly managed. For instance, in my mother’s time, a woman was contented being just a house wife and the man liked it that way. But today, no man wants a liability in the house. A woman, whether she likes it or not now, has to bring in something to support the family and that has its attendant problems and challenges. That means that she may not be there to make breakfast and comes back same time as the man and is expected to take over and put food on the table. It may not work unless you have support.
The man still expects the woman to fit into all those age-old compartments. The poor woman, today, can’t. But there are women like me, perhaps, because of the way we were brought up, who can balance things. Some of us want careers, we want to get to the top but there is a price tag to it. If you are one of those men who wants his wife to take her career to the very top, then you must also be very considerate in your demands.
Are today’s brides ready for this?
They are not ready. Society has changed, values have changed, demands have changed and even the man has changed. Now, where a man expects the wife also to bring in so much, the wife also sees herself as co-head and, sometimes, head and this brings a lot of conflict.
Today’s woman is assertive; she knows what she wants, she refuses to be a slave so, she is not somebody you want to dangle submission to in order to get what you want. She is a go-getter, she is resilient, she is intelligent and she can play the game in the boardroom. So really, she operates at the same level with today’s man. So, she is not intimidated by the man’s success or what he might do to her if she doesn’t conform.
This is truly disturbing because, we see marriages now that don’t last a year and when you do five (years), it’s like a miracle! Between career and being a wife, which should come first?
I will go back to my faith and my upbringing. I don’t like to castigate mothers but the truth is that we have all failed. We are not bringing up our daughters the way our mothers brought us up. I was telling somebody, the other day, that God never makes a mistake. Our mothers gave us so much because He knew what kind of children we were going to have.
We were so equipped but we are not there to equip this generation. So, a lot of them think marriage is a contract between two equal people. So, if you don’t want to stay, you check out. Gone are the days when we were told that your husband is the head of the family and you must submit to him. And, the kind of submission I was taught is that you work in agreement with your husband to achieve a common goal at home; not to become his slave or be pushed up and down but a respected partner who will give in to her husband’s authority when needed.
We don’t teach our daughters any more that when you come home, you must put food on the table – not just for your husband but for your children. Noodles is not food!
So, when there is a conflict, she says “You are a banker and I am a banker. You want to kill me”?
We were brought up to know that it’s your primary duty to take care of the home, to support your husband and build a home for your family. This is not there anymore. There are so many things wrong. So we are not teaching them the truth.
We are painting a Mills & Boon or Telemondo or Kardashian world. Marriage and relationship is more than these. We are Africans; we have a culture and tradition. As Christians, we also have a culture. What we see today is not our culture or tradition. For example, it is like old-fashion when a woman says “I am going to cook or my husband says I shouldn’t go out” and I stay back. People will look at you like you are so old-fashioned, you are not trending.
And, the woman today is not able to know the difference between feminism and being a ‘woman liber’. I don’t see why any woman wants to be (that) anyway because if you understand the whole matrix of marriage, the man is the head of the family but the woman is the neck. And, if you play your cards right, the neck turns the head to which ever direction she wants.
Cultures differ from place to place. What was it like coming from your culture into another?
Again, I will say that foundation is always very important. When you have the right foundation, you will fit into any culture that you find yourself in. There is no culture in Nigeria that says you should disrespect s your in-laws or any that says you shouldn’t provide meals on the table or build your home. At the end of the day, you’d find that the cultures are the same, with variations here and there.
If you have the right foundation, if you are well brought up and well trained, you will fit into any culture in Nigeria. If you want your relationship to thrive, you must learn the language of that relationship. Every relationship has a language. A good wife and a good husband must learn the language of their marriage for it to work. So, if you know that language, you can speak it and as long as you are speaking that language, any culture, any tradition will work.
Coming from the East to marry in the West, were there culture shocks?
Of course, there were culture shocks. The first was that you find that the average man from the South West is very free, very independent. I am from a culture where you do ‘Mr. and Mrs’. You are going to a party, you go together; even when you are going to the clinic, he is there. But I find that life here, you are allowed to be who you are. I wasn’t used to that space but then, I find that I was wise enough to understand that this is who they are.
Years before, I had read a book: “Understanding Why People Do the Things That They Do”. So, once you understand that this person is doing this thing not because he hates you or to put you down, but because, this is who he or she is, you quickly adjust.
I remember one incidence. A friend came and said we were with your husband last night. It sounded like he had committed such a huge crime, unforgivable, unpardonable. He went to these people’s house without me? It depends on how you look at it. He might be seeing my own culture as bondage. Today, if you ask me which one I prefer, I will tell you I prefer my husband’s culture now.
So, what did you do with your space?
I am married to a highly independent human being and I am also very independent so it works for us. It has allowed us to express ourselves individually and helped us to build careers. I also learnt that when they leave you to be on your own, it doesn’t mean they don’t care. It’s to bring out the individual in you and not to stifle your potential. It helps you to bud.
That was my own experience. I have had so much space that I have been able to bloom. I have been able to do things on my own within the ambience of decency, what is acceptable, what is normal. I have never done things because I have the liberty; because of that trust, that space. I value it so much because it has helped me to be who I want to be.
What did you bring from your culture that had appeal for him?
Well, I saw my mum cook until she was 70 years of age. I intend to do that. I come from a culture where you should be at home when your husband is being expected. Except for very few occasions, I always cook for my husband before he comes back from work. I try hard to make sure that his meals are ready and work in agreement with him; even though I can be stubborn in what I believe in. I try, as much as possible, to open our home to both his relations and my relations.
What areas of conflict would you counsel women to avoid?
Age-old in law issues, finance these days, food and sex!
Africans don’t openly discuss sex. Should we shy away from the things that bother us for fear of being branded as promiscuous?
Even the Bible says that husband and wife should be naked before one another and being naked means talking about anything and everything that bothers you. That is the only way. You should talk about sex with your spouse.
Remember, values have changed. Most men are not thinking that way today. Most men are looking forward to women wooing them also. They are tired of coming to you. They want to know that you also love them, want them, feel them. So, a lot of men will say if you feel like making love, why don’t you let me know? Why do you wait for me to come to you? And, the truth is that men are busy.
Gone are the days when you think that when a man doesn’t make love to you, it’s because he has other mistresses outside. He has other mistresses ‘in quote’ – finance, such mistresses as paying rent, etc. Coming and looking at the family and not knowing where the next meal is coming from, all those are mistresses that distract him.
By Jemi Ekunkunbor