Interviewed by Funke Olaode
Does your calmness reflect your personality?
With God and a husband like Abel Ubeku, a fine, handsome and disciplined man you would exude calmness. I lived with him for 45 years before he passed on in 2014.
Why have you been quiet lately?
I nursed a deep pain with the sudden loss of my husband when I was looking forward that we were going to live together till the end. So it was like a blow from nowhere. He was a good man that I can’t forget easily. He was good to me, tutored me and encouraged me. I may be out of public glare but I am still very much involved in philanthropy works. I once worked with UNICEF in the past on HIV/AIDS and exclusive breastfeeding. My state, Delta, came 6th when it was rated by the Federal Ministry of Health then.
I was a vocal person for West African Women Association (WAWA) which comprises of 16 African countries. I have a team of women and school children working with me. I played a key role with one-day governors under Lions Club. They were part of the international exchange programmes that involved 22 countries and Nigeria participated. This makes me happy that I am touching lives.
How has your husband’s death affected you?
I was devastated because he was a good man. He encouraged me and some other women whom he came across through my networking. Some of these women are lawyers today. He believed a woman who is empowered will assist her home. He pushed me and it came to a stage he said ‘Betty you have to go to school’. When I married him I didn’t have a degree. It was a setback for me because I met him early when he came to teach in my school City College, Lagos and his older brother was our next door neighbour.
During our time there was no girlfriend and boyfriend. Once you had a suitor your parents take a decision but my uncle insisted that I must go to the university. This uncle of mine was a lecturer in Ibadan and took me to live with him on holiday. From there, he took me to Adeola Odutola College in Ijebu-Ode. I forgot about my suitor, Ajegunle and Lagos.
How did your path cross again?
My parents were working with the Nigerian Port Authority at the start of the Nigerian Civil War and they had to relocate to Port Harcourt. I found my way back to Lagos and got a job with the Pay and Record Office. I stumbled on this man again and he was all over me. Family members who knew about his earlier moves intervened and we got back together.
What were the fond memories you have of him?
We loved ourselves to bits. In the face of challenges, this man gave me his words that I shouldn’t panic. I had only school certificate but he encouraged me to go to the university. I enrolled at the University of Lagos where I studied Business Administration. I registered for my masters which I later put on hold. By virtue of his position in various places he had worked, I was exposed to the world. He became the first indeginous black man to head Guinness. When I left my banking career to focus on my charity works, he supported me. I was in Beijing ’95. I was one of the women who spoke on behalf of Nigeria. Those are the legacies of Dr. Abel Ubeku for me.
How would you describe his last moments?
My husband was never a sick person for many years that we lived together. In 2012, he had a health challenge and before we knew it was getting severe. Abel would never go abroad. He goes there but not to see doctors because he believed so much in Nigeria. I was full of hope that he would overcome. The doctors tried their best but God said his time was up. I was so shocked that when it happened, I didn’t believe it because we were so close. The shock was much that I said to myself ‘Betty, you are now alone.’ I remember his words ‘you can’t be alone when you trust the Lord.’ I am banking on that Lord he believed in.
Did you have the premonition that he was going to die?
Not at all. He was well taken care of and he had been discharged. We were preparing to come back to Nigeria. We had planned to go for thanksgiving in our church. Less than 24 hours before we left Dubai, there were complications and he was taken back to the hospital. His end had come and I was so traumatized that I held him and was weeping. If money could buy life, Abel would have survived. Money is useless. If you have the money do what you can do because when the chips are down, it can’t help you. My husband never worshipped money. He never believed in acquiring wealth. He was a disciplined man. With all his connections and contacts, he had only one beautiful house in Lagos and in the village. He said God has been good to him. He came from a swampy village in Araya, he trekked to Warri. From that nowhere he became somebody. If there were to be another world, I would marry my ‘Mr. handsome’ all over again.
What lesson has life taught you?
I learnt that your background shouldn’t be a barrier to attain greatness. My husband grew up in Araya and I was raised in Ajegunle. From my background I have realized that it is only God that elevates.
Are there plans to immortalize his memory?
Dr. Abel Ubeku impacted lives because he believed strongly in education. The two books he wrote which were approved by the Nigeria University Commission (NUC) is impacting lives. I have re-activated his chair in the University of Lagos to reward the overall best student.