RAMBLING THOUGHTS ON PARENTING
'I've won my own World Cup o!' Mike Awoyinfa screamed to me on the phone, blasting my ear drums. My mind skipped beats. Have we got a great news from one of our elusive prospects?
'My son has made first class o!' he shouted the more. Me, I joined the madness, the excitement. OK, we saw it coming, had suspected it may happen, but we didn't want to invest too much expectation into it in case it slips off the radar. Besides, you don't want to put too much pressure of expectation on the boy, a factor which may turn counter-productive. So, Awoyinfa played the fool, pretending not to take the matter too seriously.
A father of three boys, two of them twins—Taiwo and Kehinde—Mike had always known that his boys are hot. The twins are studying information communication technology at Covenant University and are extremely good on the subject, running neck-on-neck in their class from their secondary school days to the university. While one of the twins made first class, the other barely missed the top score but came up with a respectable second class upper.
Well, knowing Mike as I do, I can safely say that he had not been your run of the mill parents who attend their children's school events and scrutinize their home works at home.
I wonder if most journalists were, being so busy often thinking of the next headlines, catching up with news sources and events, coming home late most times, dog-tired, working the phones even late at nights as events often choose the odd hours and moments to develop. In our book on Osoba's media years, media patriarch, Alhaji Babatunde Jose told us of a question he used to interview aspiring reporters in his time, a question which the then rookie reporter, Osoba passed in flying colours. The questions: If you were on top of your wife in the night and a phone came that a major news had broken, say, that Carter Bridge (there was no Eko and IBB bridges then!) had broken, what would you do? Some aspiring reporters who faced Jose's panel said they would quickly finish the business at hand and then jump off to the news event, after a quick shower.
Good answer, but not good enough for Baba Jose. Only Osoba said he would cut off from the orgasmic ecstasy and dash off for the news spot. Jose approved. But he had more posers for the applicants. If you were on your way to work and the news came that your wife was in labour, what would you do? The answers from many aspirants were: take her to maternity to deliver her baby first, then rush back to the office for the production. Jose's response: Are you a doctor or a mid-wife? Would you report on the front page the next day that the newspaper was produced late because your wife was in labour! In Jose's days, reporting was a religion that brooked no distraction, no rivalry—something akin to idolatry.
Well, Osoba again hit the bulls eyes in Jose's perspective, for he said he would put the groaning woman into a taxi that would take her to the maternity for safe delivery and go on with the production—after the production, he would go for his baby. For Jose's archetypal reporter, that was more like it.
You can imagine what just hit you if you had such media devotees as your parent. And, I suspect that Mike as a reporter, as a journalist, as Nigeria's best headline writer that I know of to date, is of Jose's school of reporters.
So, such men as parents? How did they do it to end up with good result?
I recall those our Weekend Concord days when Mike made his boys keep daily diaries, read Harry Porter and Amos Tutuola books, then other books, then stage essay competitions that were at times so fierce that only a neutral outsider like me could be trusted to mark them objectively, etc. Then, music, music, music. Sports and sports. In those days, the Awoyinfa family craze was boxing, but that was soon supplanted by football madness. In the midst of this unholy brew is the seductive spell of internet that has left everyone under its thralldom. Where is the seed of academic success in all these? Is academic success inherited or a matter of practice? To my children I had argued that there is no genius as such, that a genius is just the average person who prepares and prepares until you hit excellence. But, they have their views, some of which they are not sharing with me!
This question is more puzzling because we are in an era where standard of university education is going down and down, lecturers hardly teach anymore in many schools, leaving their students at the mercy of their highly prized handouts as substitute for tutorial engagement. You have failed the course already, if you do not buy the lecturer's handouts! On the other hand, you have already passed half-way, if you buy the handouts. Our distinguished academics are now part of the rat race and in a situation where a councilor earns as much or more than a professor, will you cast the first stone on feckless lecturers who are also battling with their own survival demons? OK, we have lost the battle for the first quarter of the 21st century already since we've not even taken off from the starting block, but must we throw in the towel in the battle of the coming decades? It takes 20 to 50 years to effect a fundamental restructuring of the future of a society as Mao Zedong's cultural revolution did for China, which makes it more frightening that in the battle to shift our socio-cultural and developmental paradigms into a competitive and success mode, we have not even began the first steps.
Public universities admit thousands of students each session without corresponding infrastructure to take them in, leaving the students roaming, classrooms spilling into open space with students who had no seats, no even standing space to hear what their lecturers are saying. What grades, if any, are we likely to get from students of such universities? If our students are half-baked or not even baked at all, especially now that even routine things like semester exam questions are leaked for fees ahead of each exam and everything and everything has its market price in our universities, with the results that many students no longer even need to exert any effort to pass exams, how can we compete in the market of tomorrow?
Me, I am so scared, but I don't know about you? After the rigged 1983 presidential election when Awo swore that this generation of Nigerians may never see true democracy in our lifetime, I took the old man's curse lightly thinking that things would soon change, but almost three decades later, where are we as a democracy? As they say, the things an old man sees sitting the young may not see standing on a ladder.
As parents, what should we do? Take our children to private schools, from primary to tertiary level, then graduate them to work in a society forged from a decayed public institution?
Take them to school abroad—if you can afford the fees—and then bring them back to work where? In the dysfunctional maelstrom of our society?
As things stand now, we are in trouble and I need no soothsayer to know that. I've been informed that five of Professor Dora Akunyili's children all made first class in their various disciplines. If so, people like her ought to be at the Ministry of Education showing us how she did it for herself, rather than rebranding Nigeria from the Ministry of Information when it appears that the fish had already rotted from the head.