‘’He who spends time regretting the past loses the present and risks the future.’’ – Quevedo
I love telling stories to my children and grandchildren about my country, Nigeria. Stories that go back 75 years and more about the Nigeria that gave me so much and that I love very much. I told them how, early in life, I fished in a village called Anam, by the River Niger.
I would tell them how I accompanied Uncle Francis Jibunoh, on many hunting expeditions that he carried out from dusk to dawn, traversing big forests in the process. Uncle Francis taught me how to conquer fear.
Then I would also tell them stories of my engineering career, travelling through the North-East of Nigeria, building bridges in Mubi and fishing in Lake Chad in my leisure periods. I have told them stories about living in Akpomu Road, Okemesi, Ijebu Igbo in Western Nigeria, building bridges.
They heard from me stories about my life in and around Sapele and Warri in the then Bendel State, building sub-structures for seven bridges. I had driven and lived through almost every part of Nigeria with no fear of anything, literally. I truly did not exist as a fool-hardy young man that was stone-cold fearless, I just knew how to conquer my fears, and the communities were largely safe and welcoming. In the process, I was able to assimilate all cultures of my host communities.
I spent some time sleeping on roads and camping in school compounds, mainly because I found those safer and healthier than braving the squalid hotel rooms available when you could find one.
In between these episodes as a ‘nomadic’ engineer, I took a break from all these wonderful adventures for a five-year study in the UK in the early 60s, but could not wait to return to my wonderful country that had so much to offer. The big questions from my children were always, what happened to the country that I once loved? Will there ever be a return to that Nigeria that gave so much?
To find the answers to these questions was very challenging for me. I saw them as challenging questions because, in a way, they were indicting me and my generation for letting everyone down. They were giving me the polite version of “You failed the country, Dad.”
Recently, I have developed the habit of referring those able to read to my most recent book, “How Little We Are: A Collection of Thoughts.”
The book was dedicated to the younger generation who have the immense responsibility of repairing the damage caused by my generation and in the acknowledgment I wrote: “Growing up in the village, the appearance of the full moon always led to one of the most exciting gatherings of children because of the storytelling from explorers, hunters and fishermen.
“As children, we were told stories about the rivers, forests, and even things created by nature that the ordinary eyes could not see. Their exploits shaped my early life and though I no longer remember their names, their stories remain with me. As I put together this collection of thoughts, I remain eternally grateful to them.”
Now, to the Nigeria of today. We must explain to our children how we got it all wrong, and discuss with them how to begin the process of repairing the damage caused by the present generation and mine.
Many of the questions that were asked by my children are still being asked by Millennials and Generation-X. Luckily enough, my 16 years as chairman of a publicly-quoted company, taking questions from shareholders on a yearly basis, sometimes unexpected questions, prepared me for the answers that I gave without confusing and misleading them.
From that experience, I will plead with all parents particularly those in my age bracket 75 to 85, to encourage questions from children. That will go a long way towards preparing them for a very difficult Nigeria before it can get better.
It may be getting a bit late for the present generation to start the process without being fully equipped and prepared. So, the answers we give will help the process.
It is important that the answers we give to the questions must be verifiable and factual, no matter how difficult and self-indicting they may be. As a case in point, one of my sons, now in his 40s, asked how was it that I was able to build my first house before I turned 40 and before I married his mother. He asked to know the cost of the bungalow building at that time and the salary I earned then.
Since I knew where he was coming from and where he was taking me to with his questions, I explained to him that most public and private organisations in Nigeria at that time would extend bicycle advance, motorcycle advance, car advance and housing advance or subsidies to their staff. The level of grant or assistance depended on your career grade, credit history and your ability to pay back.
Most of us, especially those of us that were regarded as essential users, took advantage of such facilities. Life was made a lot easier for everybody and as such there was no need to jump the queue, manipulate the system, or defraud the organisation. I took time to explain my answers because, at his age, similar to where I was then, he was having difficulties finishing his own house and paying school fees at the same time for my grandchildren.
I have always believed that there is nothing wrong in letting your children know or see your own balance sheet. Most of them are not only looking up to us but trying to emulate us and, in their own ways, do better than us. We must, therefore, leave them big enough footprints from our shoes to see clearly because they have been better educated and more exposed.
Down the road of life’s travails, they too will have similar engagements with their own children, and it is only by doing so that we can now have the Nigeria of our dreams, our children’s dreams and those of our grandchildren.