‘My next plan is to buy her an aeroplane’
MATTHEW Ekeinde is the husband of star actress, singer and mother, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde. The friendly, light-skinned captain has been a pilot for the past 24 years. Fondly called Honey Boy by his wife, he had an interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly on Friday, September 22, 2010 at Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos. He spoke on his career, family and sundry issues…
Can you tell us how many airlines we have in Nigeria now?
We have about 20 airlines.
We have about 250 pilots in Nigeria. So, you can imagine, 250 pilots out of 150 million people.
Would you want to own an airline?
No, I don’t want to own an airline because it is very stressful. I am going to own a plane, but not an airline.
What is the difference?
There is a big difference between owning an airline and owning a plane. If you own an airline, you are open to public scrutiny and there is a lot of things that goes into owning an airline. But if you just own a jet, you don’t go through much stress. It’s like me, myself and I (laughs).
People say it’s more expensive to own a personal jet because it is very difficult to maintain and now we are talking about the president owning a personal jet, what is your advice to him?
First of all, the president of Nigeria is the president of the largest black community in the world. Nigeria is a great country. Although they say we are third world, Nigeria is not a poor country. They call us third world because we’ve not been able to manage our resources properly, but Nigeria is a rich country and I think our president deserves the best. There is nothing wrong with him owning a private jet.
Would you be happy to fly him?
Why not? It will be my pleasure any day, any time (laughs). I can fly anybody, it’s my job, it’s what I love doing.
How do you feel when you fly an aeroplane?
I feel good flying an airplane. If there is another life after this, I will still want to be a pilot. I enjoy doing it. I have put a lot of years into it, it takes me around the world, it makes me feel good, I get to meet a lot of people, I am passionate about it.
Can you exchange your job for your wife’s?
No. That’s not possible. She is good at what she does and I am good at what I do.
What are the challenges of being a pilot?
Staying healthy, fit, passing your exams every six months. We do exams every six months until the day you retire. So, you have to pass your medical test, you have to pass your written test, you have to pass your flying test and all that.
What do you enjoy most about being a pilot?
It’s about ego. When you fly an airplane that carries a hundred and something passengers and you take it from point A to B, you land safely and passengers come to you to say, ‘Oh captain, we enjoyed our journey. We enjoyed that landing, it was a splendid one. It was a smooth landing.’ It gives you a kind of ego, you feel good about it.
If you were not a pilot, what would you have loved to be?
I would have loved to be a footballer. I used to play football. Ben Iroha and Uche Okafor were both in the same school with me at Emmanuel College, Owerri and I was their games captain. We were all mates but back then in the 80s, being an athlete wasn’t really celebrated and of course, they didn’t enjoy large cash like they do right now. So, I opted out, but I had always wanted to be a pilot since I was young. When I was five years old, my dad used to be a police, the PPO in charge of Ikeja airport in 1973 and I can remember one particular independent day, he took me to the Air Force hanger when Lagos was the capital of Nigeria. They had Mid-21 Russian fighters then and they used them for air shows during independent celebration. So, my dad took me to one of the Air Force pilots before the show, he put me in the cock pit. So, you can imagine a five year-old boy in the cock pit of a fighter. It was like waoh! And since then my mind was made up to become a pilot.
How were you able to cope when you resigned from Arik Airline?
Do I look poor? Pilots leave one airline to another on a daily basis. So, it’s no big deal. You are working for ENCOMIUM now, tomorrow you could be working for This Day. Should that put a hole in your pocket? It is only if you stay on ground for too long and besides, I have been flying for 24 years. I started flying since I was 16 and half, I finished college at 16. So, while I was doing my A’levels in England, I was also flying. So, I think I can afford to stay out of flying for five years and I don’t think it will make any difference to me, not even in terms of my pocket. It is not an issue at all.
24 years is not a joke. That means you are an experienced captain?
I give all glory to God.
What would you say gave you your new job at Air Nigeria?
I will attribute it to experience, popularity. I have been in this industry in Nigeria for a very long time and I don’t think getting a job for me is an issue. The reason why it took me some few months to get another job was because I just wanted to be sure that I still wanted to work in Nigeria. I had other offers, I had offers from Emirates, but I don’t think I want to do this outside the country because of my family. I don’t want to be away from my family. So, I had to really think about it for a long time before I decided that it’s not going to work. The deal was, I will be out for two months and I will come back home for one month and for me, that is not comfortable. I am very close to my kids, I don’t think I can stay two months without seeing them.
(Laughs) We met in church, maybe that’s why it is blessed. It’s 15 years on. We met through my elder sister who is abroad right now. Then, I was 26 years old and Omotola was just 16 years old. Yes, she was young in age, but she looked more matured than her age. Of course, she was 16 and I felt she was too young, though pretty. So, I told my sister that people would sue me if I had anything to do with her. So, we just became family friends. After two years, when she turned 18, it was like a scale was removed from my eyes when I saw her. Then, I was based in Chicago, I was flying for a company called AIC. I used to be out there for two months and I would come back home for a month and then it was her 18th birthday. I came in about two weeks after her birthday, then I got her some gift. She knew I was around, so she came around to pick up her gifts and when she walked into my apartment and I saw her, I was like, waoh, babe, you’ve developed. I had to take it a step further. That was it. I told her I was going to tell her parents that I was going to marry her. She didn’t take me serious. So, one day, I went to her house, she didn’t know and I told her mum because her father is late. She was like, oh, she is too young, she’s only 18. Leave her, let her go to the university. Then she just gained admission into Yaba and I was like, mummy she can still go, we will be married and she will go to the university. After all, my mum did it. My mum had us and she was still going to school. So, she was like okay, but you will have to go and tell all the other family members. I said, mummy don’t worry. I will surely give them my Edo charm (laughs). And that was it, I went to see other family members. The rest is history (laughs).
What was the attraction?
First of all, her beauty. Then, when I got to know her better, I realized that she had beauty with brains and then she has good manner, good upbringing. She is very focused, understanding and a charming person.
What is the best gift she has ever given to you?
Who do you love most amongst your kids?
I love all my kids, though I am closer to the girls. They are all unique in their own ways. Very independent, bold and very fearless.
How will you describe your wife?
She is inimitable.
Would you for any reason allow any of your daughters get married at 18?
I have been asked this question once and this is the second time. If she meets the right person, why not? It is not like the way Americans do it today, where they fall in and out of love. American marriages don’t even last for six months. So, if she meets the right person, why not? If they are both focused, but I am hoping she will be older though (laughs).
You’ve been married for a long time now and doing very well too, despite the fact that your wife is a celebrity and celebrity marriages don’t last. What has been sustaining your marriage?
God. Honestly, that is the truth and I give Him all the glory. I sometimes cannot understand why. I come home, I look at her and I am still very much attracted to her, just the same way I was 15 years ago and I have a lot of friends that are married. Of course, they tell you that after two, three years, they’ve seen it all. Nothing is exciting to them anymore. They are looking for a babe out there. But for me, it’s not like that. Anytime I see her, it’s like waoh! She’s like a new baby to me. It’s like a new day for me and I feel so happy to have met her.
Don’t you think your off and on schedule, is also responsible for that?
I think that is also a factor.
You are a pilot and always very busy, how do you relax?
I relax at home, I read a lot. I watch TV and if she is off and I am off and we are together at home, it is fire.
How do you manage some scandals that trail her?
Is it not you guys? It’s no big deal. I am a very comfortable person. People keep saying I am too comfortable. I allow my wife do what she wants to do, go where she wants to go, wear what she wants to wear and does what she wants to do, but the truth is that I am very sure that even if she is in bed naked with seven naked men, nothing can happen. No shaking, I trust her.
How true is the saying that men who are too comfortable with their wives are being cheated on?
That’s not true. Not in my case anyway, because I know she is a very focused person. She is a no-nonsense person, she doesn’t have time for nonsense. That doesn’t mean that men don’t approach her. They do. At times we make fun of them. Any day she is in the mood and I am at home, she puts her phone on speaker for me to hear all the nonsense they are saying. Foolish men saying come, you know I like you, is it a car you want? I will buy you a car and I will be like, what kind of car do you want to buy for her that I have not bought yet? Except you want to buy her an air plane, which is next on my agenda. I am thinking of getting her an air plane, at least take her higher. Let her stand out amongst the rest.
I am media friendly, it’s just that I tend to just mind my business and let her mind her business too. Let her remain in the spotlight, she is a star, while I remain in the back light. It’s not like I am not media friendly.
She is a star and you are the cool headed type, how does this make you feel?
Of course, we can’t have two stars in the house. There will be too much fire, I exercise my right.
Who is your favourite author?
The Bible is my favourite book and I love inspirational books written by great men of God.
What is your philosophy of life?
To be faithful, always confident, always do good and when you rise, be humble.
What are the challenges facing your profession?
Right now, we need money. We need support from the government especially for privately owned airlines. Nigeria Airways is no more and all the airlines in the country right now are privately owned. We need government support in terms of reduction of tax so that we can have enough money to buy spare parts, to train more pilots, to train more engineers and all that. Arik has been the first airline that started buying brand new air planes and others have towed the line. So, they need more encouragement.
Who is your best friend and what does friendship mean to you?
My wife is my best friend. A friend is someone who stands by you always, when things are rough and when things are smooth. A friend is someone you can rely on, someone who shares your joy and sorrow.
What is your favourite food?
This story was first published in Encomium Weekly on Tuesday, October 5, 2010