On 19th December 1998, exactly 20 years ago today, I was among 20 grooms facing the congregation at the then headquarters of the Living Faith Church otherwise known as Winners Chapel, in Ipaja, Lagos. It did not escape the attention of church members that while 19 men had their brides by their side, I was standing alone. Meanwhile, the service had long started with the scriptural readings and we were at the point of taking the marriage vows.
As each of the 19 couples exchanged their rings and were pronounced husbands and wives to thunderous applause from the congregation, I was all alone and in a state of utter confusion. When the sermon was about to begin, I rushed out of the church. My Best Man and former Edo State Commissioner for Information, Louis Odion ran after me. We were soon joined by the late Chief Mrs Elizabeth Funmilayo Adebayo, who deployed all her training as holder of a Masters degree in Guidance and Counselling and the instincts of a mother, to calm me down with the assurance that my bride would come.
I was not consoled as I pondered several questions. If Tosin changed her mind, why did she have to wait till the wedding day to disgrace me? For a brief moment, I reflected on the possibility that something might have happened, either to her or to somebody in her house. I used that to console myself that perhaps it was a situation beyond her control. But then, I also surmised, whatever it was, why didn’t someone send a message rather than make a fool of me in front of a huge church congregation?
This was pre-GSM era when telephones were beyond the reach of the average Nigerian. There was no way of contacting Tosin or anyone in their family to ascertain what was going on. At some point, my cousin, Wale Banmore, hopped into a vehicle to go in search of my wife-to-be. Wale did not return. When it appeared as if I was bent on leaving the church premises, Louis moved from being my best man to a bouncer as he insisted I could not leave.
To be sure, Louis had the authority of his position in the matter at hand. Not only because he is my close friend but also because the two of us planned the entire wedding together, in the newsroom of Sunday Concord. Even the way we got the money to buy the wedding suits, delivered only the previous night, is a Nollywood story on its own. I am sure Mr Tunji Bello (to whom I was deputy at the time) will chuckle at this because he facilitated the writing assignment from which we earned the money. And the honeymoon at Sam Health Resort had been paid for through a barter arrangement with Concord Press.
In a way, the wedding was a newsroom community affair. From Mr Yomi Idowu to Bourgeois-Comrade Kayode Komolafe and Alhaji Waheed Odusile and even Mr Sam Omatseye, in faraway America, everyone had designated Tosin as my wife right from the first moment they met her. But it was on 1st January 1998 that the plot was taken to an incredible level. I got to the office that day to be told the Chair of Concord Editorial Board, Mr Segun Babatope wanted to see me. On getting to his office, Mr Babatope said, “Segun, I did something crazy today. I am just coming from Tosin’s house where I went to meet her dad. I said he should allow his daughter to marry you, my son.”
I was stunned. While Mr Babatope brought me to journalism and had always treated me with much affection, I did not send him on the mission he undertook. Yes, I recall that a week before, he was in my office where he met Tosin and asked, “When are you two getting married?” I replied that Tosin’s father did not even know I existed. He turned to Tosin and said, “Give me your house address. I am coming to meet your dad to tell him you should get ready to marry Segun.” I laughed. Although Tosin gave him the address, I considered it a joke because I never imagined anybody would do that.
At that period, Tosin hadn’t the courage to tell her father (now late) that she was dating anyone and we had not started official courtship. Besides, she has an elder sister who at that time had no marriage plan. When I asked Mr Babatope how Tosin’s father reacted to his request, he replied: “Of course, he was dazed and dumbfounded. After a while, he said he and his daughter are very close and she had not told him she wanted to marry anybody.” Mr Babatope shook his head and then added: “It was when I left the man that I also realised the gravity of what I did; especially since today is January 1, the first day of the year!”
Well, as it turned out, following that visit by Mr Babatope, Tosin’s father sent for me and that started the process for our wedding. But on 19th December 1998, as the church service was going on without my bride or any representative from their family, everything came back to me. Perhaps it was all a joke, afterall. To compound my problem, I could not see any member of my church either. As I would later learn, they were all trapped in one of the worst traffic jams ever experienced in the Lekki axis of Lagos. My wedding coincided with the weekend of the first Holy Ghost Congress of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) tagged ‘Lekki 98’!
I must state of course that my friends, Oti and Ireno Yoweren, who were also at ‘Lekki 98’, still took the trouble to show up that day. I will never forget that.
But back to the wedding. Louis eventually managed to drag me back inside the church where I resigned myself to fate. With the service over, the presiding cleric was about to pronounce the final blessing when the whole church stood up with applause. The noise roused me to consciousness as I saw Tosin running inside the church to join me at the altar. The standing ovation did not end until the pastor turned to Tosin and said what I will also never forget: “You are almost late. But you are not late.”
Despite the fact that it was a mass wedding, the drama of the late appearance of the bride had turned us into a star attraction such that after the service, people milled around to congratulate us. Of course, many were also curious to know why the bride came late. It was a period of acute fuel scarcity in the country when vehicles normally queue for days for what was not available. But on that particular day, about three fuel stations on the LASU-Ipaja expressway had fuel and the uncontrolled queues of desperate motorists generated as a result created a serious traffic jam along the way. Tosin was caught in the traffic gridlock.
Although I felt relieved that the fear of being abandoned on my wedding day was misplaced, I was also worried about what had just transpired, wondering whether it was an ominous sign. Even though I had never been superstitious, I kept asking myself that day whether the marriage contracted under such a dramatic fashion would last. But 20 years after that drama, on a day such as this, I can affirm that it has been an amazing journey with the additional blessing of three wonderful children.
As I stated when my wife clocked 40 in April 2014, the good virtues that other people saw in her have been a blessing for me. In good and bad times, my wife and I have together taken leaps of faith but in most instances, I just coasted along, ever trusting in her love, wisdom and strength of character. And on a day such as this, as I reflect on how the journey started 20 years ago, I cannot but thank God for sending my way all the good people who voted for Oluwatosin, even without the card reader!