Chief Nathaniel Haanya is a retired civil servant, and has been married to his heartthrob, Mrs Martha Mary Haanya, retired nurse, since 1968. The marriage, which has lasted 53 years and still counting, is blessed with six children – three male and three female – as well as many grandchildren. In this interview with Scholastica Onyeka in Makurdi, the couple shared sweet stories and memories of their marriage. They also gave useful advice to young couples and intending bachelors and spinsters.
Could you tell us a bit about yourselves?
Chief Nathaniel: I am a retired civil servant. I started with the state government of Benue Plateau and then Benue State. Then I transferred my services to the Lower Benue River Basin Development Authority in Makurdi. I’m retired now.
Madam Martha: I am a retired nurse.
It’s amazing that you’ve been together for the past 53 years as a married couple. Could you tell us how you met before you got married?
Chief Nathaniel: We met in Jos in 1968, in December to be precise. We met in the church. She was staying with her elder brother, my brother in-law, and one day when I came visiting to the house, my sister asked me whether I was married or if I was willing to get married. I said no, that there were no preparations yet for marriage. She said she didn’t want me to be wasting time, and that I should come and marry this girl. That was how we started. My sister recommended her to me and I have no regret marrying her.
Madam Martha: That is the truth. I was staying with my in-law who was working with high court in Jos. We were attending the same church; Our Lady of Fatima, Jos, where I met him and that was where it started and in fact, from the day I met him, I neglected every other person until we got married.
When you told your people, was there any opposition from anywhere – relatives, friends, etc, concerning your marriage?
Chief Nathaniel: After that introduction, first of all, I travelled back to the village to inform my parents and her parents. I told her parents that I had seen their daughter in Jos, and that I wanted to marry her. So, my father-in-law was a very practical person and he didn’t waste time. He quickly gave us the go ahead. On my side, there was no problem because I was the only son of my mother at that time and when I came home and told them I had gotten a lady to marry, they were all very happy.
Madam Martha: On my side, there was no objection. My husband went to inform my parents and they agreed.
You said your sister introduced her to you. So what made you agree to marry her, as you didn’t know her much at that time? And how did you propose to her?
Chief Nathaniel: Well, my sister encouraged me to marry her. In fact, she said I was wasting time and I should get married. She reminded me that I was the only son of my father and that I should not waste time. She said she had found a lady for me to marry. She further encouraged me that my wife here was a good girl and so I had to oblige her. I didn’t need to say much.
What did he say when he proposed and what was your reply?
Madam Martha: When I saw him, he told me he liked me and wanted to marry me and when he told me that, I simply said yes.
What other thing made you decide to go for your wife then?
Chief Nathaniel: She was a small girl then and very obedient. We have had no problems since we got married. I told you my father-in-law was a very practical person. He had so many daughters and if you came to him that you wanted to marry his daughter and he liked you, he would just say yes. He was someone who hadn’t time for much ceremony.
What do you remember and love most about your marriage?
Chief Nathaniel: We have been staying together and the marriage is very cordial and God has blessed us a lot. We have six children alive, three boys and three girls, after we lost two.
Madam Martha: I remember so many sweet things I must tell you. I can’t even count them. I have had so many happy days since I married him. You know that the tongue and the teeth are friends, they live together but sometimes, the teeth bite the tongue. I only remember frowning my face at him once but after I complained, he never repeated what he did again and that made me happy and since them, we have lived in peace.
Could you remember your first misunderstanding in marriage? And how did you handle it?
Madam Martha: When we got married, one day, he went out and a nurse came and told me she saw my husband in a car with another woman. So I was very angry and when he came back, I took the car key and locked it somewhere, that he would not go out again. I still remember that. (Laughing) We still settled it amicably. His father was alive then and he warned him strongly. He got to know what was happening because he said since the son married me, he never saw me frown and now that I had frowned, something was wrong and he told him whatever it was should not happen again and that was all.
Chief Nathaniel: Well, she just told you that. But I wasn’t used to quarrelling with her.
What’s your wife’s favourite food?
Chief Nathaniel: You know us Tiv people, we like pounded yam a lot. We both like eating pounded yam except now that we are old. We don’t eat it much anymore. We also eat other food.
Madam Martha: Yes, that is true. His favourite food is pounded yam.
Since you married your wife, what is it that you like most about her?
Chief Nathaniel: There is nothing I don’t like. Now that we are old, we are enjoying one another, staying together and most times, spending our time playing games. We are enjoying our old age. We play local games together a lot. We call it “daa” in Tiv language and the English call it mancala. Since we married, I will tell you she is someone who doesn’t nag. She is patient.
What did you like most about your husband?
Madam Martha: I like everything about my husband.
Is there anything you will want him to improve on?
Madam Martha: My husband is really taking care of me. December 31 2022 was my birthday. That was the day I turned 68 years, and we’ve been married for 53 years now. That day, one of my sisters saw me in church and he was praising my husband that he is taking care of me. I was 15 years when I married my husband and I had just finished primary school then. I married my husband and he furthered my education. I went to school while I was in his house, adult secondary school, school of nursing and all that. I’m really grateful for that.
What is your advice to bachelors who are going into marriage?
Chief Nathaniel: My advice to young people, especially the boys and the girls, is, marry somebody for who they are and not what they have. If God has blessed you, be part of that blessing, mould the blessing to be double. If you want to marry, don’t go looking for an already made wife or husband. Secondly, be patient. If there is anything your partner does that is not good, calm down and settle it together. Since I married my wife, I don’t invite any third party to settle any matter for us. So when you marry and there is a problem, settle your problems yourself. And when you marry, do not expect heaven the next day, No! You have to work for everything. So be patient and engage in prayers and God will give you what you want.
What advice do you have for spinsters who intend to marry?
Madam Martha: First of all, prayer is the key to everything in life. He has said it all and to add a little, I will advise that couples should first of all understand one another. They have to be prayerful and God is there to answer their prayers.
Divorce in marriage has become very rampant these days. From your own personal experiences, what would be your advice to newly married couples to enable them have a long lasting marriage like yours?
Chief Nathaniel: For some marriages, divorce comes in quickly because the love is not there from the beginning. Maybe the boy was marrying the girl thinking that the parents are rich and they would get something from there or the girl thought the boy has money. So when they get together and they don’t see what made them agree to the marriage, the relationship will not hold because there is no love backing it. When there is love backing it, you will concentrate on your love, build your marriage and achieve what you want to achieve. So let love be the reason and basis for the marriage first.
Like I said before, they have to be patient but they are not patient. They don’t want to wait and let God work it out for them. Anything they want, they want it done sharp sharp, the next minute. Things are not done like that. If you have that kind of character, you will find it difficult to sustain your marriage. Some people think having a successful marriage is magic. It is not magic. So marry someone and build your home together. Don’t look for already made partner. If you get one, good for you but don’t make it your focus because it might land you in trouble.
Madam Martha: As we already said, love each other and show understanding with one another. Be patient and be prayerful. I don’t like my children bringing home anyhow friends. I have always advised them to mingle with people from good homes. So I also advise that young couples should keep good company because some friends can mislead you and break your home. Let your spouse be your friend. If you must keep friends, choose them wisely. Let them be from good families, those that will help you grow and not those that will bring you down.