Donald Duke: My Love Story with Onari



Onari and Donald Duke have been married for 32 unbroken years. A recent encounter with the duo reveals the true depth of their love. After over three decades of marriage, Duke talks about his love story with Onari in this interview with Joseph Ushigiale and Ugo Aliogo

•Marriage is a fusion and that can take one year depending on your mental state and compatibility

I Want to Believe we are Married, Fused, Because I Cannot Contemplate being Without Her

Love is a strong feeling of affection. If that is the case, why do some people who claim to love each other end up killing one another? There are several cases of wives killing husbands and husbands killing wives in bizarre circumstances. Where then is the love? The former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke provides an answer. Giving a vivid insight into his love story with his wife, Onari, Duke attributes their success story to their development of a right mental attitude; submitting that there is a clear difference between wedding and marriage proper.

“My wife and I have been married for 32 years which is three decades. We got married in 1986. Staying married and staying friends in a marriage is a mental attitude. First of all, I like to separate the difference between wedding and marriage. So, we got wedded 32 years ago, but marriage is a fusion and that can take one year depending on your mental state and compatibility. You can even be married before you wed. Some people stay for a whole lifetime and they are not really wedded.  A marriage is a fusion of minds and going forward, you two have to start thinking or reasoning together.”

He says that for any marriage to work, a partner has to anticipate what the other person is going to do at any point in time during courtship and must be immensely compatible. “By the time you are fully married, the thought of a divorce cannot occur to you. So, we have been wedded for 32 years. I want to believe we are married, fused, because I cannot contemplate being without her and I want to believe she feels the same way too and when you get to that stage, that is when you understand the concept of love, the infinite ability to forgive.”

Throwing more light on the concept of selfless love, Duke points out the strength of forgiveness in a relationship and also of embracing your partner as yourself in line with the biblical treatise to “love your neighbour as yourself.”

Going down memory lane to recreate the scenario of how he first met his wife 32 years ago, Duke said: “The first attraction that drew me to my wife was her attractiveness. I met her when she was at the age of between 17 and 18 during my university days. At that time, I was running for election for the position of Social Secretary in Ahmadu Bello University, and I was with a friend of mine, Col. Amadu (Rtd) and she was walking across the car park trying to register as a fresher in the University.

“I was already in my second year, and I was telling Amadu that after this campaign, meeting my wife will be the next campaign I will take on. Then someone introduced us and we got together and became friends, we got so close and became so friendly that when I now proposed dating her she thought I was crazy. She asked me if I was either crazy or drunk.  I was very hurt and taken aback because at the point that I made my move I thought it was a done deal. So I stayed away from her for a while to nurse my hurt and not too long after she came looking for the drunkard. So we took it up from there. At our marriage reception, I mentioned it that drunkenness sometimes helps,” he explained amidst laughter.

Duke says he is inseparable from his wife because she is his great companion and true friend: “Sometimes, you could go out with friends, but you are lonely. There is just something that she provides and you want her to be there especially when I am under a lot of pressure and stress and things are not working out too well and I sometimes get very lonely internally and need a shoulder to lean on.

“At that point, I retreat to her because she is someone you can open up to and pour out all the problems and you will get unbiased advice on what to do. It has happened on several occasions when we cannot provide the answers that we needed. Whenever such scenarios play out, she is the first person to tell me to go on my knees and pray. She is a pastor and invariably, regardless of how the situation has appeared, it just dissipates. I try to be highly spiritual if you are married to a pastor as a wife you have to try and keep up with her spiritually and I am doing just that.”

To capture the level of fondness for each other, Duke said they devised all sort of pet names to enamour each other: “We call ourselves all sorts of pet names such as ‘Baby’. She said to me: When you cannot readily remember my name you call me sweetheart. How many people know my wife’s real Kalabari name? Her real name is Owaonari but I made it Onari,” he declared.

Giving the fact that both of them are always star attractions and heads turners at social events, do they feel threatened by the admirations from the opposite sexes? Duke dismissed such thoughts saying it was pointless and asserting that “after 32 years, where is she going and where am I going? In the early stages of a marriage, you could feel threatened. But if it is a union you are sure of, there is nothing to threaten you. You will not be bothered if she is seeing another man or the man is seeing another woman. Yes, Onari had in the early years expressed concerns about me, but it is my duty to reassure her. I never expressed any concern about her because I am usually the guilty party”.

On whether they have served as role models to the two daughters who recently got married, Duke said: “I hope that Onari and I have been good role models to them. That is the first prayer. It is not words that matter, it is action. They grew up in this household and they see how their parents live, that is what they take with them. You may not realise it, but you are impacting on them. So, if a child grows in a home, where the father insults the mother, when a child from such a home gets married, he will do likewise.  So we have impacted positively on our children and even when we have disagreements, it is not before the children.

“In that setting, they have not seen both of us raise our voices at each other. But what I did tell them is that ‘you have to go into this union with a mindset that I am not getting out of it and if you go in with that mindset, then you must be prepared to forgive whatever happens within because neither of you is perfect and you are the two rough stones that have come together to rub each other. The rubbing is frictional to both of you smoothening out.

“I think they are well grounded. They are not perfect, they are just well grounded and if they go in with the right attitude, they will have a successful marriage and I hope that beyond the wedding, their fusion will be much shorter than most others. We live in a society where they are too many break-ups, and most of the time, they got married for the wrong reasons, it is not enough to be attractive or good looking or wealthy,” he pointed out.”

On how to make marriages last forever, Duke stressed that couples should strive to look beyond the superficial façade of beauty, wealth and material things which hardly last. “After a while, you don’t see the beauty any longer. You see the real person, and at that point, you could begin to see someone who is not attractive externally, but internally an angel, so that is the bond that holds you. So, you have got to look beyond beauty because beauty is skin deep. You have to look beyond beauty and see how compatible the person is and how much you complement each other. If the wife says A and the husband says B, it is not going to work. Someone has to take charge.

“You should always forgive and it does not mean you don’t get angry or disappointed by his or her action. But you forgive. You start looking at the person as my own. That is a fusion, so you work at it, you pray for it, and you are there for your own reason, not because of the children. Some people stay together because of children or one reason or the other or the social safety valves that it provides for them. This one is beyond that, you just cannot contemplate being without the other person.”

Commenting on the high rate of divorces in the society today, Duke posits that divorces are the product of people getting together for the wrong reasons; people who are not compatible from onset: “They got together for the wrong reasons. Sometimes, families try to put people together because it looks socially-convenient. All over the world, where that happens, it is a disaster in the making. Few times it works conveniently, most of the time, it really does not work.

“One person will just totally become subservient to the other, usually the wife, they just move along and they have children, and she becomes so dependent on the man. But people should find their own union. Let me say this; it is not a woman’s vocation to be married. If you are not going to find a union that will provide happiness, don’t go into it. Worst still, don’t bring in children into that union that will not provide happiness. You are better off being on your own. Unfortunately, you are almost stigmatised if you are not married, but it is wrong. You don’t have to be married.”