Award-winning actress and one of TIME 100 most influential persons, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, is a reporterâ€™s delight. After several months of chase, she and her husband, Matthew, agreed to an interview last Saturday. Held in their Lagos home, they talk about their 18-year-old union
What was the initial attraction?
Matthew: She was beautiful, fresh and untouched. I decided to start with someone who hadnâ€™t seen the world yet.
Omotola: He was good looking but basically, it was his sense of humour and sense of responsibility. He is God-fearing too and a serious-minded person.
When did you propose to her?
Matthew: We didnâ€™t court. I met her when she was 16 and I was 26. We got married when she was 18. She clocked 36 recently. We were family friends and I met her through my elder sister. She used to come around the house and when she turned 18, I decided she was ripe. I told her I would marry her and she didnâ€™t believe. I went to tell her late mother, who said I should wait till after four years because Tola had just gained admission to the university then. I told the mother that I couldnâ€™t wait because I didnâ€™t trust the guys in the university.
How did he propose?
Omotola: That was when I turned 18. We had been friends for about two years. He was like a family friend then but I knew he had some plans. He didnâ€™t say anything serious and I was somehow underage. When I turned 18, on my birthday, he jokingly said, â€˜babes you don grow o.â€™ He told me his plan.
Were you scared of getting married then?
Omotola: I wasnâ€™t. I have always been very mature for my age. But otherwise, I had already known him for so long and was very comfortable with him. I just knew that life with him would be comfortable and easy. I didnâ€™t know I would conform to a marriage setting because my mother used to tell me that I was very headstrong. I just thank God that I found someone who could understand me.
How has the journey been for 18 years?
Omotola: Nothing has changed really. It is still the same relaxed, easy-going relationship. There are times when we have misunderstandings but it is never anything serious or unbelievably scary. It has been the grace and fear of God. Everything results in what God thinks about the situations and we pray about it. Everyone is conscious of the fact that we must respect God in the relationship and then your spouse. We donâ€™t just do things. Secondly, we are very grounded and real. We try the best we can to make everything natural. We donâ€™t stress ourselves.
How did you manage the fame?
Omotola: It is just by Godâ€™s grace. If a couple cooperates with God, then He gives them the grace to tolerate each other.
How do you react to alleged scandals about your wife?
Matthew: I have heard and seen a lot that were untrue about her. I trust her. I know they will always write a lot of nonsense, why should I bother myself?
How do you feel when she plays romantic roles in movies?
Matthew: They are all make-believe. They are not real and most of her movies are pecks and not kisses. I told her not to cross that boundary.
What are the secrets of your successful marriage?
Matthew: It is Godâ€™s grace. We are disciplined and prayerful.
Omotola: It has to be God. There is no other strategy. One person can be perfect and the second person can be nasty. On our part, Iâ€™d say also that we donâ€™t look at the relationship as something we can walk away from. We look at it as a life commitment. When you parents upset you, you cannot divorce them. Even the bible says you will leave your father and your mother and cleave to your spouse. Luckily, he doesnâ€™t drink or smoke or abuse me. I donâ€™t have any major thing to complain about, and I hope it is the same thing for him.
Do you quarrel?
Matthew: Yes we do. A lot. She is very argumentative. She always wants to be right. You can never win an argument with her. But she is the first to apologise.
Omotola: When there is a quarrel, I usually apologise first. He doesnâ€™t say sorry. Overtime, I have come to realise that it is an ego problem. Even when he knows he is wrong, he will rather do every other thing or buy things for me than say, â€˜Iâ€™m sorry.â€™ Fortunately, the â€˜sorrysâ€™ are not too many. He is very responsible and more hardworking than me. By Godâ€™s grace, we have been able to understand our routine.
What is your advice to celebrity couples?
Matthew: Foundation really matters. Some people get into the relationship for one wrong motive or the other. Most of them live false lives. Couples that are in the same profession hardly last in a marriage. There is always competition. The best thing is to marry someone that is compatible with you.
What are the reasons for break up in celebrity marriages?
Omotola: It is really hard but you both have to feel extremely secure. You have to be extremely confident and trust each other. There are so many things to deal with, especially in this environment where some people just thrive in hurting other people. The weird part is that you cannot believe that people are capable of such wickedness. You are sane and cannot believe other people are insane. These are the things that cause break up in celebrity marriages. A lot of people are talking and saying nasty things that are not true. It is just as if there is a gang up to break you up once they know you are a celebrity or in a relationship. Most times, they are all lies! Celebrity lifestyle gossip is getting to a point where they are getting close to your kids and family. They try to put your relationship in jeopardy. Then, petty things that wouldnâ€™t cause any problems become issues. I hope there would be legislation that will protect families.
Have you ever felt threatened by her success?
Matthew: There is no reason or room for it. When I met her, she was just Omotola Jalade, and she had done just one movie. I am happy for her. When I met her, she was just getting into the movie industry. I always encourage her and hope for the best. I donâ€™t feel threatened in any way.
How do you switch from the lifestyle of a celebrity to that of a wife?
Omotola: It is easy for me. It starts with who you truly are. The real me is not very glamorous. People may not believe it. I know what peopleâ€™s perception can be. I am a homely person. If I had my way, I wouldnâ€™t go out. When I am at home, I am Omotola. When I am with my close friends, we donâ€™t impress each other and we try to keep it very real.
With the children, who is stricter?
Matthew: She is. We are blessed with kids that behave themselves. We do not have children that are into all sort of funny things.
How about the recent warning to bloggers about your daughterâ€™s pictures?
Matthew: I do not know why they would do that but it is just another lesson for the kids to be very careful about what they put out there. Actually, she did it with the intent of exchanging with her friends, not knowing that people will get into her private business. We have told her to take down all the pictures and leave only one.
How do you handle finance in your marriage?
Matthew: When we first started, we had one account. We had goals and things that we wanted to do. Whatever we earned had to be in one purse. Then, we sat at the end of the month and drew a budget. We did that for so many years and were successful until she started her own company and we decided she needed to have her own account. In most marriages, the man goes into the marriage with the mindset that he will be the sole provider even when the wife is working. That does not make any sense. He uses his money to pay bills while the woman will use hers to buy only make-up, clothes and shoes. If the couple is one, they should join resources together to move ahead. Money causes problems in a family when one person is being selfish. It doesnâ€™t matter who earns more or less. They should have a common goal. Save together and accomplish things together.
Omotola: When we first started, we used to have a joint account and I was in charge of the finances. But as time went on, he started expanding. He has his own businesses and I have my own too. It is very difficult keeping a joint account. One of the things that scare couples about finance is trust. Luckily for us, we do not have vices. The trust is intact and I know how he spends money. He is more organised than I am. He has his budgets and it is always open. Sometimes, he even tells his kids to go and look at his budget because he is trying to teach them how to make budgets. Pilots are every meticulous about schedules. For that reason, his life is almost boring because everything is to the letter. I am the one who never has a budget because I am a spontaneous person. But he knows I am not a trivial person. I donâ€™t just go about buying jewellery. Thatâ€™s why I donâ€™t have many girlfriends because I donâ€™t talk about those things girls talk about. I am like a dude. I am always checking out cars or properties. He knows the kind of things I would invest my money on.
How can a woman have a successful marriage?
Omotola: I donâ€™t believe in gender equality. I do not believe that God made man and woman to be equal in any way. I believe that in every organised institution, there is always a head and an assistant. It doesnâ€™t mean that one should take the other for granted, or disrespect the other. I believe the husband is the head of the home and the wife is an assistant. My husband is a pilot, I have flown with him several times and I understood that here is a captain and a co-pilot. They are both responsible for the passengersâ€™ lives. But when there is a final decision to make, it is up to the captain to make it. He is more experienced and the one with the responsibility. But any mature captain will not ignore his co-pilot because the co-pilot is not a cabin attendant. He is there for a reason. It just depends on how you understand and play your roles. I believe women should understand this. When a woman starts a struggle for power tussle with him, it tends to cause friction in the home. The woman should give the man the respect as the head of the home and also prove herself as a worthy co-pilot. He needs to see you as a reliable co-pilot. Sometimes, he may not be the one running the house day-to-day, you are the one to take decisions but you have to do it in such a manner that he is comfortable enough to see you as someone he can rely on. When you have a proud and egocentric husband, hand him over to God. If you feel like your life is being threatened, or that of your children, get yourself out of that situation. You owe your children that. Try separation for a while, but before that, you must have tried other things. I do not believe that people should throw in the towel in their marriage at every flimsy excuse. You must have been a diligent wife and tried prayers and intervention. If all those fail, then you can remove yourself from that situation. Also, couples should be friends and communicate. What we call love sometimes fizzles out. True love comes from friendship. When you donâ€™t feel those initial sparks, friendship is what keeps you together, until when the spark comes again.
Do you still have time to cook?
Omotola: I cook all the time. I love to cook. I donâ€™t go to the market but I do the cooking.
You go to the market for her?
Matthew: Yes and I donâ€™t feel bad doing it. I am not just doing it for her; I do it for the family. I enjoy it a lot and I have been doing it since we got married.
He said you are stricter with the children
Omotola: My kids think I am the strictest parent on the planet. I was brought up under very strict parents but I try to balance it. I know the things that really matter and the things that donâ€™t. When you meet my kids you will know that they are well brought up. Thatâ€™s what gives me the biggest joy.
How do you feel with bad press?
Omotola: I donâ€™t think about it because I have a lifestyle that corrects everything. Talk is cheap and I tell them to come out with proof if they have any. But if they donâ€™t have anything, they should shut up for life. I am not interested in those kinds of talks. My husband knows me, I know myself and the people who are close to me know I canâ€™t do the things they write about. They know what I stand for and what I signify. My hands are clean and I donâ€™t have any hidden skeleton in any cupboard. I meet people that I want to meet but in everything I do, I make sure that I do not do what I cannot explain.
How would you describe your wife?
Matthew: She is a go-getter. She is very determined to succeed. As a wife, she is good. But sometimes, I wish she was a lot more around. She travels almost as much as I do. Sometimes, I wonder who the pilot is. As a mother, she does well; the kids are even more scared of her than they are of me. I keep thanking God because of my family because when I look around me, I see marriages that are still struggling.
How do you spend time together?
Matthew: We always talk, spend time the best way we can and usually stay at home, to do what couples do.
Omotola: Whenever we decide to spend time with the family, we dedicate sometime. My kids do not go out without us. They do not visit friends. They are very sheltered. They are always in the house with us and we hang out together.
What would you like to change about him?
Omotola: I donâ€™t know if it is even possible to change it. I am not someone who tries to change anyone. I just try to manage situations and people. I live with them in such a way that it does not hurt me. Maybe if he can talk more. Generally, I wish he could be more communicative. But they say women are talkative.
What is your advice to couples who want to stay successfully married?
Omotola: If they want to be successfully married, they have to take time to be so close to each other that every other thing does not matter. There should never be third parties in your marriage. It is like a wall. The minute itâ€™s cracked and lizards start coming in, it will be hard to find the lizards and throw them out. And they will start creeping into your family. Try and always sort out the issues between you. Moreover, pay your tithe individually. Itâ€™s a covering. This is our secret. When you donâ€™t pay your tithe, you have not committed yourself and your home will not be put together. It is your foundation. But when you pay your tithe, God helps you take away every devourer. When that is taken care of and you are God-fearing, as darts are coming from every angle, you are already fortified. If you trust each other, tell each other the truth even if one person errs.
What pet names do you call each other?
Matthew: I call her Omosexy.
Omotola: I call him Honey Boy
Do you see this love lasting forever?
Omotola: Yes, though Iâ€™m not playing God, I believe our love shall be forever.