Retiring from work and with dwindled fortune, and unable to meet his family needs, he was directing his children to his siblings for help…
Two months ago, Chimezie Agwu wrote on this column and we enjoyed him. He has written again. Please, read him:
It can be a herculean task raising children in Nigeria and in many other African countries. When a couple, ravaged by poverty, has many children, attention is focused mainly on the first child for their education. If the parents struggle to see the first three children through secondary school, the children are expected to assist in educating their siblings. The first child shoulders more responsibility than others.
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The problem that comes with caring for children or relations from overblown nuclear family can be alarming. A few years after the Nigerian civil war, a newly married couple at Amukoko in Lagos, lived in constant disagreement with each other. When their noisy quarrel was becoming too frequent, some neighbours and close relations intervened to broker peace. They discovered that the main cause of their bickering was the wife’s continued reluctance to sleep with her husband for the consummation of their marriage.
Sulking with her eyes suffused in tears, as she tried to make her defence in a voice that was scarcely above a whisper, the young girl stammered, “Two of my oga’s grown-up brothers dem live with us in the same room. For night, I no know when dem sleep, I no know when dem dey awake.” With that short statement made labouriously, sympathy tilted immediately to her favour. Her husband was persuaded to find alternative accommodation for his two siblings. Fifteen months after, the marriage was blessed with a baby boy. That was good news but not in their village! The mother-in-law, in anger, had sent a message to her son to reconsider his marriage with the witch, a lady, who had the effrontery to ‘drive away’, as she put it, his own blood brothers from his house. My Yoruba friends would have exclaimed, ‘wahala wa o!’, while Ndigbo would say, ‘nsogbu dikwa’. The meaning of both is that there is trouble.
The Amukoko story is just a tip of the iceberg. We practise to the extreme the slogan, “Be your brother’s keeper”. In some cases, the gesture favours neither the benefactor nor the beneficiary. Rendering help to one’s relations entails a lot of self-denial, which can also affect the giver’s family. I heard a housewife nagging, “Since five years my husband started paying his younger sister’s school fees, he has not bought a single wrapper for me. We are just managing things”. On the other hand, some of the beneficiaries, unfortunately, may pass through life leaning only on props instead of striving to live an independent life.
In some families, after a girl is married, her parents will compel her to take one of her younger sisters, who will be helping her in the domestic chores. The couple may not, at that time, afford the salary of a nanny. They are required to send her to school, though they may not afford it. Problem arises where the husband is the randy type and he will start defiling his sister-in-law, not minding her age! Paedophiles and incestuous guys are on the prowl today. The distraught wives are in shock, seeing such men getting away with it!
The burden of a large family is more pronounced in polygamous homes. The first son in a certain family, who was fairly educated, became the Chairman of his Local Government Area. A little bit rich, he sponsored two out of his many siblings in school, married four wives and had 23 children. He lived a flamboyant and profligate lifestyle. He drummed into the ears of his children that he trained all his siblings. His story, though false, got into their heads and many of them did not aspire in higher education.
Retiring from work and with dwindled fortune, and unable to meet his family needs, he was directing his children to his siblings for help, people he had lied that he trained. They too, were still in the struggling class and had nothing to give. His children labelled them selfish, ungrateful and wicked. It led to enmity between them and their uncles.
When your nephew or a close family member arrives at your house with a ‘Ghana-must-go’ bag, do not assume that it is a brief visit, though he says so. Prepare your mind that it may be a stay of many years.
During the period, you will be responsible for his feeding and welfare. He may tell you the next morning that he has come to look for employment. If, fortunately, he gets one after a year, he may still be living with you for another year and half before going to live with one of his friends or he may rent an apartment grudgingly.
He may be parsimonious and selfish. During his many years stay with you, he may not bring home a loaf of bread, muchless, contribute for the upkeep of the family. When he is departing, he may give you only a few hours notice and may not accept to live with any person, no matter the relationship.
It is not advisable to employ your relation where you are the boss. I was a victim. I was the Branch Manager of a bank in Aba, Abia State, in 1984. My close relation made me to employ a friend of his, a youth from our village. He was good behind the wheels. My residence was behind the bank and for security reasons, nobody was allowed to live in the same compound. By 6:30 one morning, I wanted to bath but found out there was no soap in the bathroom. I came out to take one from my bedroom but to my amazement, the door had been bolted from behind. As I tried to force it open, someone was pushing against it. I raised the alarm and two of the security men in the bank came and forced the door open. Alas, there was my driver with bloodshot eyes, and reeking of alcohol! It was unusual for him to be all that punctual. He lied that he had come to collect the car key so that he would wash the car thoroughly for the day’s work.
When he was asked if that gave him the right to intrude into my bedroom and bolt the door, the rascal, who was only six months old in the bank, retorted with fire-blazing eyes, “This is my brother. Don’t I have the right to come to his house or even enter his bedroom? What is the crime in that?” When later, his elder relations came to plead on his behalf, he shouted them down, “The Manager is my brother. Let nobody annoy me because I entered his bedroom”.
It is good to be helpful to your needy relations but wisdom demands that you have to keep them at bay, otherwise, sooner or later, they will find fault with you and even with your entire family. Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt.
[By Chimezie Agwu – 0708 288 2568]