Mrs. Adunni Bankole, a popular fashion designer, is the fourth and youngest wife of Chief Alani Bankole, the father of the Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole. In this interview with ADA ONYEMA, she explains why she shunned younger suitors to marry Chief Bankole. She also speaks of her relationship with the speaker.
How much of education did you have?
I went through school like anybody else. I am averagely educated. I went through the usual elementary primary and secondary school, and had tertiary education. I trained to be a journalist and a public relations practitioner. Interestingly, I went to a catering and hotel management school in England. That side of me is not known to a lot of people. I did a bit of Business Administration there. I grew up like any other lady-childhood, adolescence, adulthood-and here I am.
You started life as a broadcaster.
How did that come about?
I had always been a broadcaster right from secondary school. I got a job then in Ibadan with WNTV/WNBC, which metamorphosed into Radio OYO. I was working as a cub reporter, but then they said my diction was good, so they tried me on the news occasionally. I was more like a trainee reporter.
Why did you leave journalism?
The remuneration then was not good enough. Then, of course, my marriage got in the way somehow. My routine as a married woman did not quite fit into my routine as a journalist. Because journalism is time consuming, you have to put everything next. It is better now that journalists are seen as professionals. In those days, journalists were treated like hounds, like lepers. Nobody wanted to associate himself with a journalist. And the people we were working for did not now what being a journalist could cost the journalist. So, I did not get satisfaction from it. I felt I needed to do more things to satisfy my yearnings. My marriage, like I said, and quite a number of things. But that is relative in the sense that I still consider myself a journalist in my approach to life and I am necessarily close to journalists. I see myself as a member of the fourth estate of the realm, only that I no longer practise.
Why would a journalist transit to the fashion world; children’s fashion for that matter?
I see being into children’s things as a ministry. I love children. I see a child as too vulnerable. I like to think like a child, and the innocence of a child gets to me. I love the transition from childhood to adulthood. I write a column on children and counsel mothers. Anything that has to do with children interests me. I do other things by the side, but mainly, I derive a lot of pleasure from children. It is not about money or the gain from doing children’s things. I trained to become a journalist, but finding myself in the children’s world is a natural thing. It is not something that is too profit-oriented; it is something that you do just because you enjoy doing it. So, that is why I am into children’s fashion. I do a lot of other things. Like I run a courier company. I sell lace materials. I am the chairman of one or two companies. I am into public relations too, and quite a lot of other things. But what I want to be identified with is children fashion business.
How did you meet your husband?
I met him at a function in our native land 28 years ago.
And he fell head over heels for you or you did?
When I talk about how I met my husband and how the marriage has been, I say it is a bit strange. I met my husband straight out of college in England as a young lady. Then, I was very well sought after. A lot of men wanted my hand in marriage and I measured them. I am a bit strange by my assessment of how I accept people. I was like someone who had a lot of attention. People said I was attractive then, so I measured the men that came by their IQ. I was more of a tomboy as a child; a lady who knew what she wanted and who would do anything to get to where she wanted. So, at the time I met him, it never went beyond speaking with the men then, and I only needed to speak with them for about 10 or 20 minutes before I knew that they just did not have what it took to earn my respect. So he came, he was an older person; 18 years older.
Why did you decide to marry a man as old as that, and as the fourth wife?
What I saw in him then, now I interpret it as a hard man. Then I saw it as strength. You know being hard and having strength are two things. But then, what I saw in him was a man who was in control, an alpha male, and I bought it hook, line and sinker. And here I am today, still in it 27 years after.
So what attracted you to him?
I saw him as a macho. I was a funny person when it came to reasoning. All the others gave me too much attention and I was feeling choked up. But when he came, he appeared like a stronger person, like he knew his onions. I am not someone who would respect just any man. There are certain things that had to be in place for a man to earn my respect, which was what happened then. So, that was the attraction.
So, how much love was involved?
Please, don’t ask me that, because he has other wives. I am not going to answer that question. I have been in this marriage through determination and resolute spirit. Anything I do, I want to defend it. I mean I always stand by my decisions. When you are resolute, you abide by whatever you do. When you open your eyes wide and go into such at a tender age like I did (I was 23, 24 years old when I married him), you have to stay through it. Because there were times when challenges came like it would come in any association, let alone polygamy, and I said ‘you did it with your eyes opened’. So, I was determined to go on.
What were your parents’ reaction to your decision to marry him?
They were not too happy about it. It was like why must you go into polygamy? And I stood my ground. My parents were like, I must have seen it through, knowing me and the fact that I make decisions and stick to them.
What is your relationship with the other wives like?
Our relationship is perfect. We relate like sisters. I am not going to tell you how many wives my husband has, but it is within the limits of Islam. And I am the last for now. It has been 27 years since we were married. If he wants to go for another wife, then he is free.
How do you relate with the children of the senior wives?
It is perfect. In our house, you would not know who the mother is. We relate well. Each of my children call me mummy, and they refer to the other wives as mummy as well. We have been able to build a cordial relationship within the family, which may not be present in other polygamous homes. We live under the same roof. We try to speak with one voice. I consider my husband exceptionally lucky with his polygamy, because we the wives have kept the home and the children together, which is a very big sacrifice on the side of the women. If you want peace, you dish out peace and get peace in return. And if you want war you dish out war and get war in return. We are very peaceful and responsible women, and that has impacted on every sphere of the family.
As a Christian, how has it been marrying to a Muslim?
We got married the Muslim way. Their religion says they should convert their wives. My husband tried. He got me some scholars to teach me Arabic and how to be a Muslim, but it did not work, because you can only speak a language you understand. The same thing applies to religion. I could communicate with God better as a Christian because I grew up as a Christian. So, he tried, though it was not pleasant to him that it did not work. I could not practice Islam the way he wanted. But over the years, he had to accept, because marriage is all about compromise.
Has that affected your faith as a Christian?
No, my faith is still in Christ. I am not a fanatical Christian; I am just an orthodox Christian. I feel more at ease when I am with Christians.
Are the other wives Muslims?
Some are Christians while some are muslims.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole is your stepson. How is your relationship with him?
It is perfect. I relate with him like I relate with any other child. Though we can no longer refer to him as a child because he is a big man now. He is the number four citizen of this great country and he is a fine gentleman with a wonderful personality. Like I told you, we live in a very cordial environment, like a big tree with a lot of branches.
Do you get contracts from him?
Why must I get contracts from him? I am not a contractor and I would not scramble for contract. We do not see his position here as a moneymaking opportunity for us. Everybody has continued to do what they used to do before he became the speaker. And you should not ask me if I get contract from him. Do I get contracts at all? I don’t like running after contracts. I am content with what I can do myself. In the past, even before he became speaker, I tried getting contracts but I am not the patient type and I hate disrespect in any way. So I am not cut out for such a thing. But I have not received any contract from him, and that is not a criterium for anything. I have a job and I have continued to do my job.
How do you relate with him?
I relate with him normally. It is cordial. His relationship with us, not me as a person, has been as it was before he became the speaker. And now that he has become busier, he necessarily attends to a lot of people and government issues. We give it to him and try to understand him, because we keep together and support ourselves in prayers. And with our understanding and our emotions, we are closely knit family. We understand one another’s problems, live with them and try to be good ambassadors of that house in every aspect of our lives, and that makes us to be very accommodating and understanding.
Has his emergence as Speaker affected your personality or business in any way?
It has. First it has raised my social status in the society. I can now talk for myself on this platform, because I am a public person. So, when he became elected as the speaker, it directed fresh attention to me. People come with a lot of things that they want me to do. Over the last three weeks, I have received letters from about four or five organisations making me matrons. I have not even replied them. People come to me and they want my attention on things. They want me to put in a word here and there. They tell me they want to meet the Speaker. People I have never met in my life, they come here. It even puts a hole in my pocket, because things are not the same anymore. It may still be the same with me, but not to people. And then of course it has affected me positively because nobody would dare to harass me or toy with me. It has given me immunity and protection, although I am not a troublesome person; I am always on the side of the law. In our family generally, that is how we are. But then, you get to earn more respect from people necessarily. Financially, our family is different. We don’t think of anything in terms of material or money. And let me put it this way: the strictest person I know is my husband. He is extremely strict and principled, and also very sensitive. He still does to me what he used to do to me before he became the Speaker. When you think about the situation that brought him to that position, we have to be very careful. And we are. Being careful is not something we need to imbibe; we have always been. We spend within our means. We do not count our wealth or our riches in money or what we have in the bank, but how we affect our immediate environment. And that has been our policy through the years.
Why did he marry late?
Dimeji didn’t marry late. Things get done when they have to be done. There are no rules about when one should get married. Are there rules? Maybe if he had married ealier he would not have become the Speaker. And behind every decision made by a human being, there is a divine touch, a force that you don’t have control over, which I believe is the case with Dimeji. He is a well sought after person and a very good personality. Nothing happens to you by mistake; you only get what you yearn for. For a man who is extremely focused, a man who knows his onions, a textured man, a man you will never describe as naughty, a man who will never disappoint you or himself to have things happen this way, do you call that late marriage? Definitely, he must have known that he was going somewhere and he took his time. A young man who graduated from one of the best universities in the world in flying colours, he served in the British army, a promising and charming young man, there would have been more than enough ladies for him to marry. He was any lady’s dream man, but he looked and said let me take my time. He did, and at the right time, he found the type of woman he believed he could live with.