Dear Nigerian Parent
By: Deji Yesufu
Samuel is 26 years old. He is a Nigerian that lives in a suburb of Lagos with his parents. Samuel was not the particularly bright child among his siblings so that at his age the only job he has been able to get with his lean qualifications is the job of a waiter in a hotel in the area he lives in. But with the coming of COVID-19, Samuel lost his job and has not been able to lay his hand on something to do for a while. To take his mind off his troubles, Samuel visited a nearby “viewing center” to watch a Liverpool match – he is a Liverpool FC fan. The game ended a few minutes to 11pm. Samuel arrives home to find his father waiting for him in the living room with a chain in his hands. Samuel’s father gives him a thorough beating; telling him that he is not supposed to be walking outside this late and “by the way, if you have work to do you will not be running around watching football matches”, he bellowed. Samuel published his story on Nairaland with title “At 26, his Father still flogs him” Samuel is suicidal.
Yesterday I got a call from a longtime friend. Unlike Samuel, my friend has managed to make a life for himself. In fact he has relocated to Belgium with his family and is just about building a solid home state for himself. My friend, Kabiru, is the first son of his family and I witnessed how his parent put in a lot of resources for him to get some of the best education this country can provide. Now that he is in Europe, Kabiru’s plans center on raising a family, while at the same time assisting his siblings to find their feet back in Nigeria. It all looks fine and good, except that Kabiru’s parents think he can do more than what he is already doing. Kabiru father’s all time dreams is to have his own jeep. Kabiru, on the other hand, wishes to have his parent come to Europe and get their health examined. He thinks the matter of a car will still be realized; especially when you understand that it is only a healthy parent that can drive a car. Kabiru manages to bring his father and mother to Europe for a visit, following the birth of their youngest child. They get their health examined; Kabiru’s father is diagnosed with some life threatening diseases. Kabiru’s fears are confirmed. The father is stabilized and life continues.
Unfortunately after staying a few months, Kabiru discovers that his parent had simply come to Europe to lounge. His wife gets no help in the house with taking care of the baby and she has to divide her efforts between work, cooking for her in-laws and taking care of the infant. The situation deteriorates. Kabiru speaks to his parent about the matter. They are angered that he dares to raise his voice at them. They move out to another relative’s home. Kabiru’s father develops some health complications while at this relative’s place. Kabiru is not informed of the situation and cannot provide the insurance he had purchased for their visit. Bills mount up and they are eventually sent to him to pay off. Kabiru’s parents and sibling cut-off communications from him. Kabiru has been paying the health bill of his father for the past 18 months. A bill that could easily have been taken care of by the health insurance he purchased – if he had been informed in time of the illness.
A few months ago, an OAP in Ibadan, Ronke Giwa-Onofuwa, raised the question of the unhealthy expectations that Nigerian parents place on their children. Her discussion centered on how a child balances the matter of providing for his immediate family, who are usually young and providing for the parent. I was actually unhappy with the direction that discussion was going because it appeared that the OAP and her guest were saying that children do not owe their parents any responsibility to help them: whatever they get from their children; they should live with it and not demand more. I felt this sort of thinking was wrong and that it ate at the root of a Christian and cultural norm of one providing for his parents – particularly when they are old and cannot fend for them. However, a closer examination of the issue, and in the light of some other stories I have heard, young Nigerians are beginning to imbibe the Western attitude of discarding their parents at old age because of these parents overbearing demands.
I have come across a discussion on how many Nigerian children allow their parent on their social media listing. The almost unanimous position was this: you never allow your parent on Facebook. Somebody said she had blocked her mother forever from Facebook and there is no way she would be allowing her back on that space again. I have blocked my own father three times and he somehow manages to talk me into getting him back on my listing. Unfortunately he is again breaking our unwritten rules and I am thinking of blocking him again – this time it would be final. What is the issue? It is the matter of ideologies. Ideas rule the world. And parents must settle the fact that they cannot enforce their own life ideas on their children – especially when those children are adults. There is an age to teach a child life ideas; if you failed to do it at that time, you cannot begin to enforce those on him now that he has a wife and children. I am perfectly aware that my children may discard my Christian worldview when they grow up. This is why my priority for them at this age while they are young is to imprint the gospel in their hearts and spirit. But even more than that, I hope to live out an exemplary life before them such that my life speaks more than words to them and they would have no choice but to imbibe my ideologies when they are grown up. The Bible commands that we should train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is grown up he would not depart from that path. If a parent teaches a child an ideology and lives out those ideas in an upright manner, that child will imbibe those ideas. There would be no need for Facebook spats between them when they are grown.
What are my talking about in this essay? I am writing to all Nigerian parents and I am asking them to give my generation some space.
My generation came with a peculiar challenge. We are the generation that saw the past glories of Nigerian riches. Then we saw Tunde Idaiagbon’s War against Indiscipline; and then Ibrahim Babangida’s austere times; and we saw many coups. When we finished from school, we had no jobs waiting for us; unlike our parents. Some people wonder why my generation are the ones railing against religious oppression in the churches. It is because when we began to earn our salaries, tithes and offerings were not that easy to give to churches; as it was for our parents who had so much on them, they were forgetting wads of Naira notes in taxis in London in the 1970s. My generation met no white collar jobs and we have had to create jobs for ourselves and for others. At the moment, we are providing for our families and also working hard to provide storage for our retirement; so that we do not have to depend on our own children too. One parent that I know enjoys at least two pensions, in Nigeria and abroad, and they are still requesting that their children send something to them. Talk about entitlement mentality. I have not met any child that wishes to discard their parent or watch them suffer at old age. At the same time, parents must be reasonable and considerate. Nigeria is in desperate times and my generation has the immense duty of directing this country out of the mire that our fathers plunged us in and at the same time must provide for these parents and our children. We all can be considerate.
I am aware that a rejoinder, Dear Nigerian Child, may be brewing in the minds of some Nigerian parent. Let the debate continue; that is the essence of a national dialogue. As we discuss resource control and restructuring, let us also talk to ourselves about the healthy boundaries we should give ourselves as parents and children. I now end this essay with a word of encouragement for Samuel.
At 26 years of age, I had just finished NYSC. I would consider myself someone who is bright and so I did not have any challenge getting qualifications through school. But Nigeria did me in because I went into the University at age 17 and graduated at age 25 – Nigerian lecturers added two extra years to my five year course through incessant strikes, while I added an extra semester because of a carry-over. At age 30, I was still living with my uncle and I remember crying myself to sleep on my thirtieth birthday – moaning my situation. All of that changed when I got married at age 33 and got a “reasonable” job that same year. Things got better from that time on. Even though I would not consider myself a millionaire today, at least I am no longer living with my parent and I am not suicidal. I am adding to national development through my essays and I hope that I would see the Nigeria of my dreams. At 26, dear Samuel, you can still get a University degree and get a job and build a life that would make your father proud of you. Hang on there; young man. Hang on there Nigerians of my age. Everything good will come.
(All events relayed in this essay are true but names and places have been changed.)
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