Last week, high society people poured into the home of Chief (Mrs.) Emily Sakpere in Lagos to commiserate with the top socialite and businesswoman on the recent loss of her husband and former Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Engr. Isaac Sakpere, who died in London penultimate Sunday. The late Sakpere had returned home to work at FAAN after studying in Germany and Canada, and rose through the ranks to become a director and Acting Managing Director. Still in mourning mood, the widow, in this interview with PAUL UKPABIO, describes Sakpere’s death as puzzling even as she recalls the good moments of their more than 40 years old marriage.
Accept our condolences on the loss of your husband.
What actually happened?
Monday (July 31) was a very interesting day for me. We got the news on Sunday and Monday was a tough day for the family. He went for his medicals in London a couple of months ago. He was said to be okay and about to return home next Sunday (August 6) only for him to pass away last Sunday (July 30). In fact he was already running around and doing things by himself in London, and we were all happy.
What was his ailment?
We took him there to treat his diabetic condition and his eyes. Before he left, he was busy with a small building in the compound for his advanced age. Initially, I felt he was losing too much energy on that. But I later allowed him to have his way because I saw that as a form of exercise for him. He fell sick and we flew him out for treatment.
Over there, he even marked his 76th birthday with his grandchildren who were all over him. In London, he was the one opening the door for guests and visitors. Before anyone could knock twice, Daddy would open the door. Even if they were police or council people, he would go and open the door for them. At times, we would tell him to relax and let the children do those chores, but he would say, ‘Let me open the door for them; I am not afraid of anybody; I am not a criminal, I am a learned person’.
He was full of life. He was a strong man. Even here in Nigeria, he would always be the one to open the door for visitors. In fact, when the medical officials (ambulance vehicle managers) were passing by our home in the UK, they would stop by and hail him, saying ‘Papa’, and he too would hail back. He became so accustomed to them. Again, if we went out, before we returned home, Daddy would have arranged the entire sitting room, and we kept wondering where he got such energy to lift those chairs and tables. Even at my age, I cannot lift some of those items, but Daddy would do so and re-arrange the whole apartment. Some of the clergymen who visited last Monday said some people are like that; they get healed and go peacefully. But I still find it puzzling because he was such a great human being.
Tell us about your marriage
He was supposed to be an architect and not an electrical engineer. That was what he said. He was a child of grace. He lived under grace. In his days at FAAN, he was such a transparent person. His colleagues said he was transparent to a fault. He was the only MD of FAAN I knew that would drive himself in his car without escort. He had no police orderly or retinue of aides like others. He used to drive himself from home to office and back. No airs of importance. He served Nigeria diligently.
When he graduated from school in Canada in the 60s, he was on the prime list of three international firms—Siemens and two other global firms in Germany and Israel desired his service. Philips Engineering was also calling him to come to Germany to work. We were a young couple at the time and we just had our first child at Newfound Land, Canada. Then another company in Israel wanted to employ him because they said he was brilliant in his measurement of electrical data and all that. But I think he just felt his brain was for the development of his fatherland, Nigeria. The offers were many but he chose Nigeria. Well, he served Nigeria, but he didn’t like the way his efforts for fatherland was treated. He is gone and I think we should just respect his memory.
They were ready to make him work for them in their respective countries, ready to give him all he wanted, but he turned down their request, opting instead to work for Nigeria. He said Nigeria was his passion. He served as the Director of Engineering at the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria for 12 years and Acting MD at various times.
When he retired what was he living on?
He was living on his pension?
What were his last moments like?
I think he was very happy to see his grandchildren in London. During his last birthday on June 13, he danced and danced with them. He was in very high spirits. He was so happy that you would wonder if he won lottery (laughs). There was a day we went out in London, just few days after our arrival, and when we returned and he saw the twin children of one of our sons. He had not seen them since they were born about one year before then; he only saw their pictures. So he asked, ‘Who are these people?’ You know my husband at times could make everyone laugh. His sense of humour was high. I asked him, ‘People? They are kids! Why do you call them people?’ We laughed over it and I said ‘these are the Brumei twins’. Brumei is one of our sons.
He was so delighted seeing them, and on his birthday, he requested that all of them be brought around him and he really, really made merry with them. He had many of them (they have five boys and three girls with the last girl in school). We never knew he was saying goodbye. He was a great man. In fact, the doctors who treated him said he was a strong man, because he managed his diabetes for almost 10 years. Nobody believed he could live so long but God gave him the grace to live so long, and since his demise, the condolences have been pouring in. I thank God for his life and I thank Nigerians who have been visiting to support us in this critical moment.
What else did he do in London?
One of his former staff at FAAN, Mrs. Kabiowu, visited him in London with her son, Yomi, who flew into London from Australia to see him. When she traced our place and knocked on the door, it was Daddy who opened the door for her and she was quite shocked. She never believed her eyes. He said, ‘Come in matron,’ and she asked, ‘You still recognise me? He said, ‘Why won’t I? Didn’t I employ you?’
How long were you married?
More than 40 years. He was a complete husband and father, a mentor and leader. Above all, he was a gentleman to the core, a nationalist who worked and promoted all tribes in FAAN. As the Acting MD and Director of Engineering, he was so loved by many for his astuteness. My happiness is that he died a Christian. His heavenly abode is assured.
What has been the secret of your marriage?
The secret of my marriage has been patience. Marriage is not just about love, because when you marry your husband in the first two, three to four years, it is love that will work for you. But after love, patience is the next tool because the man may do certain things you may not like, and if you don’t have patience, you will just quit the marriage. But because I have patience. That is why you still see me with Daddy today. I always advise my children too to study me and Daddy. Without patience, Daddy and I won’t be together. We would have been separated and we might have become single parents.
How do you feel being a grandmother?
I am the happiest woman on earth. I feel happy and I feel successful because God has given me twins for the first time through my son. I love twins, but I never had the privilege of having twins throughout when I was having my children. So, with this, I know God is on my side. God is with me and God is great by giving me twins as grandkids too.
How did you receive the news of your twin grandchildren?
It came as a big surprise to me. When I heard that my daughter-in-law had put to bed, that she was delivered of twins and that the two of them are boys, I said, ‘Thank God o, my son has a daughter as his first child, and today, he has two boys at a go. God is marvellous.”
What is your advice to young couples?
The advice I will give them, especially the wives, is that they should have patience. Husbands should love their wives. That is the first thing to do, because if you don’t love your wife, even if you give your wife money, the money is nothing. The wife on the other hand must be tolerant, because men will always offend their spouses. They offend their wives 24 hours. They will tell their wives all sorts of things, including lies. If the woman is not tolerant, she will run away. That is why you see so many families having divorce. We have single mothers and many frustrated parents all over Nigeria. It is because we don’t have patience. But if you have patience, you won’t lose your marriage; you won’t become a divorcee. Patience allows you to see things differently and tackle them differently. With patience, your marriage will last.
There was a big age difference between you and your husband…
Yes, we were very young at the time and men had their ways of getting ladies along at that time. They would say, ‘Oh, if you marry me you will enjoy. I will do everything for you.’ In his own case, he used to cook for me. Before I returned from any outing, he would have made food for me. Yes, we were married quite early because he was just leaving high school in 1971 when we rolled the tape. He was a young, up and coming engineer and all eyes were on him. But he did not follow all those eyes because he chose Emily (laughs). So, he loved to cook for me.
He later got a scholarship to study engineering at Newfoundland, Canada. And even in Canada, he would baby-sit and take care of the baby whenever I went out shopping. When I returned he would say ‘Emily, I have bathed for the baby already, I have fed the baby,’ because the feeding bottle and other utensils were always there, and my husband would prepare the baby’s food and feed the baby. I think he was an all-round man. He dealt with me compassionately, and that was why I loved him and stood in the marriage with him.
How did you manage the women who ran after your husband?
That is why I told you initially that patience is the bedrock of any lasting marriage. Let me give you an example: when you see a car now and you are admiring the car, you love the car, you desire to have the car. Let’s say a Rolls Royce or Lincon Navigator or any of those cars that glides, you put in the pressure to work for the money and you buy the car. The moment you acquire the car, that old passion to own it disappears. That is how a woman is with her husband.
I told you earlier that in the first four years of marriage, you might still be in a honey moon atmosphere. But immediately the kids start coming and reality starts to hit you, tolerance will be the next instrument that will keep the marriage going. Love has taken you guys from the campus or street or work place into your respective homes, but tolerance will be the next vehicle that will keep you going for the rest of the journey. I am not saying don’t love. Please, love, because without love you cannot tolerate. Tolerance takes you miles away from noticing each other’s shortcomings.
Now, when my husband was the Director of Engineering at FAAN, he had women who admired him simply because he was a gentleman who was in the limelight. I understood that fact and I never let it get to me. Some of those ladies would even phone me and say, ‘Hey, we are Daddy’s girlfriend o,’ and I would just say congratulations. I can’t be bothered because I have no issues with those women. I only have issue with my husband, and he will always come back home to me. That is the patience I am talking about. And when he returns home, he will say ‘Haa, once I leave home, you carry the phone and start phoning women all over the place, calling them my girlfriends.’ I would say ‘thank you sir’. Meanwhile, it was the girlfriend that called to insult me and not the other way round. So, patience is very powerful. Love will do the work at the early stage of your marriage, but patience will take you to the very end of the journey”
You have eight children, how did you raise them?
Raising my eight children was fun. At the same time, it was challenging. The difference was the fact that I have an understanding husband who loves to share house chores with me. He loved his kids passionately. I was into business while he was an engineer. If he returned home before me, he would help the children to prepare their food. In fact, at times, he would be the one to go and pick them at school. That was when he had not taken higher responsibilities.
In the early days of our marriage, he was doing that before we became bigger and engaged house helps. I think the secret was that we rationed our activities. He who returns first cooks the meal. It was fun then because a lot of people used to wonder how a man would go to that extent to show love to his family. But to us, it was normal, and I can say that is one of the secrets of our over 40 years old marriage. He loves his children just the way I love them and he does not boss me around. He appreciated the fact that raising a home is a joint effort. That really helped me.
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