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How Rev. Esther Ajayi met her husband as a student 45 years ago

Do you know that Rev. Esther Ajayi met her husband as a student at the Ikeja Senior Grammar School in Lagos?

According to a recent book entitled: Exceptionally Outstanding, she and her husband met at the Grammar School, way back in  1974.

Rev. Mother Esther Abimbola Ajayi’s early education was at St. Michael’s Catholic School in her neighbourhood in Mushin, Lagos. At the school, she was baptised. She consequently finished at the primary school and gained admission for secondary education into Ikeja Senior Grammar School, Bolade-Oshodi, Lagos in 1974 owing to her brilliance.

The school was founded on January 22, 1962, with a mission statement: “To inculcate in our students, qualities of leadership; to achieve this, we lead by example and teach our students the virtues of industry, humility and above all, the fear of God. In essence, we intend to nurture tomorrow’s leaders today.” With the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious the school tremendously made an impact on Rev. Esther Ajayi’s life.

It was at Ikeja Senior Grammar School that providence brought her face to face with her future husband, the Reverend (Dr.) Ademuyiwa Amuwaoluwa Ajayi, for the first time. She recalled the first encounter with Dr. Ademuyiwa Ajayi with nostalgia.

“We both met outside the principal, Mrs. Majekodunmi’s office for the first time in November, 1974. I was waiting for my Common Entrance Examination result and was to be given admission as a fresher into Class 1. He came from another school and was to be integrated into Class 2 and we started a conversation before the principal called us into her office one after the other.

The attraction between them was instantaneous and once they were admitted into the school as students, they became close friends. Ademuyiwa, who hails from Odogbolu in Ogun State, was living in his mother, Madam Omotunde Ajoke Sulu’s house at Ebute Metta, Lagos while Abimbola was living at Mushin. The distance between their homes was about 9 kilometers, but in spite of the distance, both were inseparable. They were, however, quick to tell anybody who was inquisitive about their relationship that they were “just mere friends.” “To us at that point, we were just friends,” Ademuyiwa said.

Everybody knew they adored each other and it was known to their colleagues that Abimbola and Ademuyiwa could hardly be seen without each other within the school premises. Abimbola excelled in arts, while Ademuyiwa’s turf was sciences; so naturally, Abimbola consequently got a promotion into the Arts Class, while Ademuyiwa was in the Science Class, with a year difference between them. Ademuyiwa was also a very brilliant student and he used to give her a helping hand in Mathematical Studies and that further endeared them to each other.

Unknown to him, she constantly regaled her household members with tales about the “adorable, brilliant and nice Brother Muyiwa” in her school, who was her friend. She even composed a song in his name, which she incessantly sang, yet she always maintained that he was “just a friend!” She was a regular visitor at his home where she was loved for her good aura and generousity. People at Ademuyiwa’s house could readily recall the “pretty, rich and happy girl” who was always full of smiles and bearing gifts whenever she visited the land lady’s son. “My mother was very fond of her. Abimbola too had a soft spot for her and she used to shower her with gifts,”

Ademuyiwa recalled.

The young teenagers both carried on, not having an iota of idea that the relationship would lead to marriage. One day, Abimbola asked Ademuyiwa to come to her house for the very first time. The occasion was meant for teaching her Mathematics. Unknown to him, she had already told everybody in her house about the forthcoming visit. It was intriguing as they all wanted to meet Abimbola’s so called “friend.” When Ademuyiwa appeared at their street in Ojuwoye, he was shocked to see a lot of people looking out to see him from the balcony of her house. “The Irawos were a very big family. Chief Irawo had many wives and children and it was a mammoth crowd looking down at me,” he said. He was so overwhelmed by the attention he attracted that when he got into the house, he couldn’t even teach Abimbola Mathematics as planned, as people instantly milled round them, asking a million and one questions and getting no answers in return. The young boy, awed by the crowd, was lost for words.

Abimbola was in Class 4 when Ademuyiwa graduated from Ikeja Senior Grammar School. He was at home, seeking admission into the university, while Abimbola was preparing for her final year examination. They were, however, in constant touch with each other. Abimbola subsequently graduated and also joined him in the quest for higher education. They were both optimistic of getting admission into the university in view of the fact that they had high grades.

While still searching for admission into university, she got a training opportunity at the first television station in Africa, Nigerian Television Authority, (NTA), Ibadan and had to leave Lagos for Ibadan for the training. This meant losing touch with Ademuyiwa and living in Ibadan, the largest city below Sahara Desert in Africa, which is a distance of 132 kilometers from Lagos.

They were, however, committed to each other and he was very proud of her achievements. As it turned out to be, Abimbola became an instant “celebrity” to those who knew her, while training at NTA. She acted as “secretary” on a television programme, Toko Taya (Husband and Wife), which was aired to viewers nationwide. She was constantly shown on air, looking pretty in different attire, to Ademuyiwa, their families and friends’ admiration. It became a weekly affair for Ademuyiwa’s entire household to gather around the family television to watch the “new star on the horizon”-his adorable Abimbola.

“I was very proud of her and I couldn’t contain my joy. My family was also happy being associated with her as a budding star. My whole household would talk endlessly about her after the programme must have ended, relishing her looks and composure and eagerly looking forward to yet another edition of the programme the following week,” Ademuyiwa said.

While at NTA, a development took place to prove to all and sundry that Abimbola was unique in different ways. Her bosses at NTA were making overtures to her. With the promise of being retained for a lucrative job at the end of her training session and the expectation of becoming extremely famous as a television broadcaster, they pressurised her to dance to their tunes. Likewise, they pressurised other ladies in the establishment. While others, including married women, were capitulating in the expectation of getting automatic employment and promotion, Abimbola was resolute in her decision not to give in to pressure and betray her commitment to Ademuyiwa.

When the harassment was getting to a head and it was crystal clear that she must either cave in or get dismissed from the training, Abimbola chose to resign and she left NTA for good. She travelled back to Lagos to tell her story. Her entire family was surprised when Abimbola narrated her ordeal. She emphatically told those she could confide in that she did not want to disappoint Ademuyiwa and betray his trust in her. Ademuyiwa was speechless when she told him about how her bosses were pressurising her. He was touched by her rare loyalty and true love for him and he counted himself extremely lucky to have her as his girlfriend.

Once again, both of them were back to seeking admission into university. The courtship between Abimbola and Ademuyiwa progressed swiftly and became apparent. The couple was very much in love. Abimbola got pregnant and marriage beckoned.

Early in life, a revelation had been given to her parents that she must be allowed to get married to any man of her choice, without inhibitions. The point was driven home that it would be God’s ordination and there must not be any interference whatsoever. When she became pregnant, her family. vividly recalling the revelation that she must be allowed to marry the man of her choice, without much ado, allowed them to get married to each other.

Ademuyiwa’s family brought a letter to the Irawos as it is customary in the Yoruba tradition, since both families are of Yoruba stock. The letter stated specifically Ademuyiwa’s wish to marry Abimbola. The Irawos replied in the affirmative as expected when the bride-to-be’s family approves a union. The ground was thus set for the couple’s marriage.

Consequently, the couple got married in 1984 and started their marital life. “I was grateful to the Irawos for the fact that despite being unemployed, they still allowed me to take charge of my wife immediately after we got married,” he said. This was contrary to what the rich families could allow in that part of the clime. They could approve the union, get the couple married and glaringly make the husband know he could be pushed around, at the slightest opportunity. The man could be incessantly subjected to psychological torture for marrying into a rich family, more especially if the couple had issues to contend with. This intrusion by the family of the bride, often would not augur well for the marriage. If the husband had self-esteem, it would definitely be a running battle.

Ademuyiwa counted himself lucky in his own case. His in-laws were marvelous. They gave him a ‘free reign’ and the couple moved into a room in Ademuyiwa’s mother’s house at Ebute Metta, Lagos. Both families, knowing fully-well that neither of them was working and Abimbola was pregnant, were always ready to support them.

In spite of living in a room, Abimbola and Ademuyiwa were extremely happy with each other. They had burning ambitions and knew it would only be a matter of time before those ambitions were fulfilled. When their new bundle of joy and first son, Emmanuel Adewunmi was born on June 4, 1984, the couple was ecstatic with joy. Abimbola would later in life recall that moment as one of the most memorable in her life. “I started to respect my mother more. So, this is what women pass through during childbirth?!” After their son was born, Ademuyiwa, being computer-oriented, was lucky to get a job as a computer operator at Nigerian Telecommunications, (NET), Lagos-which later metamorphosed into Nigerian Telecommunications Limited, (NITEL). He was now in a position to support his young family and their lifestyle improved. Providence played a role in turning their lives around.  As Ademuyiwa was working, Abimbola too got a job.

Written by: Oluwadamilare Joseph Salami

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