Last week, I received a call from the Governor’s Office in Awka, Anambra State that the condolence letter of Governor Willie Obiano on our father’s death was ready for collection. I decided to send my 18-year-old nephew to go from Nnewi to Awka, a distance of about 33 kilometres, to collect the letter. It was not the kind of errands he was used to. But he looked forward to the trip.
I gave him money and described to him how he would get there by public transport. I sent his name to my contact at the Governor’s Office as the person to collect the letter on my behalf. By the time I called my contact at the office as a follow-up to the SMS I sent, she confirmed that he had picked up the letter, and added that he was “a smart boy.”
When he brought the letter back, he had grown so tall and large that it was hard for him to pass through the gate! First was that he travelled alone to Awka and came back. But more importantly, he went to the office of the Governor of Anambra State! He had hoped to catch a glimpse of the governor, but even though he didn’t, it was still a milestone for him. It was something he would tell his friends. Whenever a discussion about Government House, Awka came up, he would say that he had visited it on his own.
Why was this important for him? The children of their generation were driven to primary school by their parents (our generation). Most of them went to boarding school but their parents (our generation) ensured that they were always driven to school and brought back during the holidays or midterm break.
Parents living in the city ensured that these children were driven to church or mosque and brought back. We never allowed them to go to any market to buy anything for themselves or the family. We took care of all the processes leading to their university admission, and drove them to the university like babies. We visited them in the university frequently as if they were in secondary school. If they needed to return home from the university, we even went to pick them up and take them back afterwards.
Some days before this incident, I had sent his younger brother to the Nkwo Nnewi Market to buy some items for me. When I told him that he would go to the market to buy some items for me and hire a vehicle to bring them back, he looked at me as if I was speaking Greek. But when he saw that I was serious, he became excited. His phone had some issues, so he could not even call me in case he needed to confirm some things.
When he got there, a problem arose. He had the initiative to ask a shop owner he was discussing with to call me and ask me to call the number back. I did and he explained the challenge to me and I told him what to do. He negotiated with the sellers as I had told him, got the items at cheaper prices than what I was told, hired a truck and brought them back. When he returned, his ranking changed.
Two days later, it was the turn of their cousin to get his own street training. He was to go to the market and buy an item whose sellers were known to cheat buyers in price and quality. I told him what to look out for and how to make enquiries. He went, got some types and prices and called me to confirm. I asked him some questions and told him to seal the deal and come back home. He got a vehicle to bring the items home. He felt good afterwards. I ensured that I rewarded each of them financially and also commended their efforts.
Years ago, when our children were in primary school and were aged about eight and six, I came to their school one day without a car. I brought them out of the school and told them that my car was not in good shape, and that I was going somewhere and had come to tell the first child that he would take his brother home. They looked at me as if a nut had loosened from my head.
I gave them the house keys and told them that I was leaving. Indeed, I began to walk away.
They began to cry. I told them to stay there and continue crying until darkness fell upon them. When they saw that I meant business, they began to walk home. I hid behind a house at the corner of the street and watched them. Our house was about 800 metres away. When I noticed that they had turned into the next street, I walked fast and hid by the wall at the corner. Then, I saw them walk into our street. I waited for some minutes and then saw them walk into our house. I waited for some minutes again before walking home.
The moment I walked in, our first son smiled proudly as if he had just torn a lion to shreds with his bare hands. The next day when I arrived at their school to pick them up, he told me not to worry, that he would take his brother home. I had to use force to drag them into the car. Indeed, when he was nine and in primary six, he walked home many times when he had extra lessons in school.
Similarly, the day a family friend was in our house, and my wife was sending our first child, who was then about nine years old, to the market near our house in Lagos to buy some items for her cooking, the lady was shocked that she could take such a risk. Our neighbourhood was safe. Children moved up and down the street all day and even at night. So what was the hullabaloo about?
It was just that parents of our generation have built a siege mentality that witches, wizards, vampires, ritual killers, kidnappers, and evil people were all over the place. Therefore, children should not be allowed to step out alone, so as not to be harmed. But the house helps, who are our children’s age-mates, can be sent out alone to do all that without any fear that they can be harmed. Our house helps are not people’s children. They are not as precious as our children!
Consequently, we end up training other people’s children who live with us to be strong, rugged, wise, and bold in a tough world as ours, while we use stifling love to keep our children away from learning how to survive in the world. When they grow up, the children who grew up in the street and understand life better have an edge over them.
We give excuses that the times are evil unlike during our childhood. But we forget that during our childhood, there were also stories about people who used sacks to carry away kidnapped children; those who were looking for human heads with which to bury one king or the other; people who were looking for human heads for sacrifice, etc. Yet, all through my childhood, we moved around freely, without any of us getting missing. As teenagers, we travelled to states outside ours to check our university admission score.
Yet there were no phones to monitor our movement. There was no way to know if we got to our destination in peace. When we gained admission into university, we would travel back to campus with no phone to tell our parents that we had reached our destination. It would take a month or two for us to return or send a letter or message home. Nobody used us for sacrifice; nobody collected our destiny. We lived to see this day.