It is not often that we are regaled with happy-ending stories of polygamous families. Unlike monogamy, polygamous families frequently go all-out in jealous conflicts. Even in the days of old when it was not frowned at like it is today, having more than one woman under one's roof required a special kind of blessing. Usually, the rivalry that is generated is not limited to the wives but extends to the man's progeny. The enmity becomes intense at the demise of the head of the family, especially if the deceased was wealthy with a vast estate. Claims and counter-claims on the rightful heir to the inheritance among family members lead to unsettled feud and push the property into ruin.
However, there are some rare tales that differ from the ubiquitous polygamy scandals. Such is the story of the Apatas. Once upon a time, there lived a retired soldier, Simeon Olaosebikan Apata, from Ekiti State. Apata was of the famous Third Marine Commando under ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo during the Nigerian Civil War in which he fought gallantly. His military background was later deployed to combat crime in his immediate environs at Ire Akari Estate, Isolo-Lagos where he lived till his untimely death.
Apata was also into pet breeding and kept Dobermans and German shepherds. Besides his love for dogs and luxury cars, he had a thing for women. His devotion to women was mutual. They returned as much love to him. Apata married three women from different backgrounds. The first wife Gladys Ify was from Delta State. For a second wife, he took, Margaret Olayinka from his home state. Another Margaret (Folajogun), this time from neighbouring Ondo State completed the trio of angels.
Unknown to these women, walking down the aisle with this man meant more than saying 'I do'. Apata didn't marry them to show off his wealth or display his amorous nature nor was there any tale of infertility among his wives. He brought these women together to fulfill a vision in education. Seeking ways to further his love for learning, he believed education was the best legacy a parent could bequeath a child. Therefore, he embarked on building the Apata Memorial School.
Over the years, the school has become one of the majestic landmarks in Ire-Akari Estate. It's not an easy sight to miss. Situated at the roundabout that connects Isolo Road to Jakande Estate, the educational edifice adds a regal appeal to the environs. Founded in 1980, the school is one of the prominent schools in the country and serves as alma mater to many successful personalities in the society like popular beauty surgeon Modupe Ozolua among others.
Recently, the school commemorated the 20th memorial service of the founder. Not much has changed. The structure has been kept intact. Perhaps, the only visible change is its white paint which has been replaced with peach to add a sparkling feel of maturity. Indeed, the school has come of age. What used to be an ordinary free education centre has evolved into a majestic tower of education. New infrastructure, experienced and skilled teachers and, of course, the regular modification of the school curriculum and methods of teaching to meet modern trends guarantee a holistic moulding that conforms tointernational standard.
The week-long celebration threw the school into a flurry of activities. There were quizzes and other competitions among the students which culminated in a grand memorial event on January 8, the day Apata died. On this particular day, students were seen carrying percussion instruments up and down the staircase while others engaged in one activity or the other. However, this frenzied mood didn't disrupt the routine. Classes progressed on schedule, as staff members carried out their duties. Parents and guardians trooped in and out of the reception to inquire about their wards.
The school presents a puzzle of sorts to many. Following Apata's death, not a few thought the institution would die with the owner. They were wrong. This expectation of doom was mainly anchored on the fact that the founder of the school was a polygamous man. The probability was that his wives would go their separate ways and the foundation of the school would collapse. Two decades after, there is no crack in the wall of unity of Apata's wives.
Cementing their relationship to continue harmonious co-existence could not have been triggered only by fear of losing out on Apata's wealth. In death as in life, Apata remained the common thread that tied the women. The Apata magic has been active and never on the wane. Respect for the memory of the man they loved and revered has kept them together. Smiling, Margaret Olayinka opened up on the secret of their peaceful co-existence.
"When Apata was alive, he constantly drummed it into our ears that his family and school should not die with him. He pleaded with us that his legacy should not die. He was a man of vision. He was very loving and caring and ensured he carried everyone along, there was no secret among any of us. Even with the construction of the building and purchase of the materials, he ensured that at least one of us accompanied him to the market or site to see how things were being done. He taught us how to fish and not how to eat fish. He was a great disciplinarian."
Although she makes it sound easy, it has not been a smooth ride for the Apata wives. There have been a lot of mines on the way, but they have managed to navigate their way to safety, much to the chagrin of the prophets of doom. Some thought that the school would no longer wave its bold colours of excellence. Like a seer, Apata foresaw his death and trained his wives well to handle the various challenges that will be thrown at them before he embarked on his eternal sojourn. He groomed them to be self-sustaining and continue to advance the frontiers of child education and development in order to keep his dream alive.
While he was yet alive, he assigned roles to them. On the home front, he ensured that the family structure was strong and tight. On many occasions, his wives recalled how he would plead with them not to split his family. He instilled the importance of family in them, but more importantly, he taught them to observe the beauty and strength in diversity. He introduced his wives to one another as help-mates to fulfill his vision. Encouraged by him, the wives address one another as sisters till date. They live in the same building, occupy the same office and never allow their children use the word 'step-mother'. This is not to say that they do not have their high and low moments.
"Not that we don't quarrel, we do but when we remember him, we settle our differences. We quarrel. When we do, we close the door, shout and bicker at one another, pray together and then open the door. We believe so much in prayers because without prayer, this family will not stand. We have never called any family member or someone outside the family to settle any dispute among us." said Ify.
The Apata wives share a few common trait. Their height seems to have been calculated with the same measuring rod. Ify, however, was a shade lighter in complexion and exuded a calm and controlled disposition. Olayinka, though not as light skinned as Ify was reticent and exhaled that unmistakable aura of discipline known to teachers. Folajogun appeared more social yet, showed signs of respect for her older colleagues.
The three wives are addressed as the directors of the school. They share the same office. The setting of the office didn't reveal each person's place on the hierarchial ladder. They looked like regular employees sharing the same office space. At the entranceof the office is Folajogun's table. Olayinka occupied the middle space while Ify took up the back space. Their tables were not marked with name tag or designation. Much of the work space was taken over by an array of computers, book shelves and other educational materials.
With a plan to establish a technical tertiary institution that will cater to vocational studies, the furture looks even brighter, as the students are also groomed to acquire vocational skills.
The death of their husband left a vacuum in their hearts. Sunday, January 8, 1995 will always bear painful memories to these women. It began like another Sunday filled with promises, but ended with a hollow that has never been filled. Gladys Ify had gone to the salon to have her hair done. They were to resume work on their new building the following day. Margaret Folajogun was still nursing her 16 day-old baby when tragedy struck.
They had just watched an episode of the Bisi Olatilo Show and were relaxing when one of the daughters ran in to announce the presence of intruders. Ify was with Folajogun since she sprayed insecticide in her room to prevent mosquitoes feasting on the new-born baby. The villains had already been to Olayinka's room where they frisked her. Unknown to them, the assassins had taken the first daughter downstairs while the first son narrowly escaped through the fence when they ordered him to take the puppy to where the other sedated dogs were.
Although the late Apata was skilled in self-defense, the assassins were too swift for him and ended up sending him to an early grave at the age of 50. Months after his death, these three women drew support from one another. They shared the same bed for months before they garnered the strength to move into their separate rooms. Since initial efforts to bring the criminals to justice seemed futile, they accepted their fate and left vengeance to God.
Ordinarily, the death of Apata freed this women from any marital obligation and gave them an opportunity to re-marry but Folajogun explained, "I couldn't just bring myself to leave my sisters alone. I wondered how they would cope without my help in running the school just like my late husband requested."
That was how Apata had trained them-to be together and love one another. Did the thought of remarrying ever cross their mind? They chorused a resounding "No!"
If the three wives were put in the same room and asked to describe their husband, the answers would probably be the same. Each time they talked about Apata, the constant words were 'loving, caring and a disciplinarian.' They recalled how he instilled discipline in them by ensuring that they haboured no secret and entertained no room for discord. "In fact, if you have issues with any of my sisters, it was better you settled amicably with her than reporting her to him," said Olayinka. The other wives confirmed this as true.
Polygamy was not new to the Apata wives. They all came from polygamous background which had also known love and peace. When he decided to expand his coast in wives, he was careful to secure total agreement from the existing wife. He compelled them to accompany him to bring his wife home. By so doing, he imparted love, tolerance and perseverance into their lives.
Also in his lifetime, the deceased was known for altruistic service to the community. He gave scholarship to many indigent students, especially Awori indigenes of Isolo community. Some of his staff whose children are students of the school till date benefited from this show of charity. He was a founding member of the adult education board through his investment in Success Tutorial Academy in the 80s. Apata was also very actively involved in fighting crime in his residential area.
However, he was averse to partying of any kind and cultivated the wives along the same radical line. He may not have lived to see his children become graduates but today he has nine grandchildren to his name. One of his children, Niniola is already carving her name in gold in the music industry. She emerged the first runner-up in the 2013 MTN Project Fame Reality show.
The Apata wives refused to take credit for the continuous growth and success of the institution. Rather, they attributed it to the success of the students who attended the remedial classes back then.
"The success of this school is based on the testimonials of those who attended the remedial classes back then when it was still Success Tutorial Academy. We didn't do any advertorials. They spread the word and provided the need to expand the school to the level it is now." Till date, products of the school are awarded scholarships to the university level based on their excellent performances by oil companies like Shell.
Twenty years might have gone by without Simeon Apata, but the scar of his loss is still fesh in their hearts. These women have immortalised their husband in different ways. In memory of their husband, Ify had never groomed her hair beyond a low cut. Olayinka stopped paying social visits unless it was extremely necessary while Folajogun expresses her devotion to her late husband by loving all the children with her heart.
In case you wonder if they will marry Simeon Apata should he return from the grave, their answer is Yes!