“One generation plants the trees; another gets the shade.” (Chinese Proverb)
For the past few days I have been struggling with the title of this piece. The two words and the order in which they should appear have been the problem. Should it be “Our future is our Children?” or should it be “Our Children is our future?” This simplistic question of logic, perhaps cause and effect epitomizes the complex yet logical relationship between these two words. Eventually, I decided to just use the words as it is for the theme of this piece. In simple terms, our children and our future are closely inter twined, and for apparently cultural reasons as Africans first and Nigerians second, the role our children play in our future is paramount to our development and our survival as a people.
No doubt, this holiday season has been a moment of reflection for me. With very little to do but to wait for the American period of jamboree (buying and selling) to be over; Indeed, due to the over commercialization of the festive season I have only been immersed in my thoughts during the in-between ‘lay-low’ period from the hustle and bustle of Houston life. It has also been helpful that I have very little to do within the house: good thing that my parents are spending the early parts of the month with me, so mum has been of great help in that department. Certainly, that brings home to me the issue of our children (in this instance myself in direct relationship to the future of my family lineage).
The thoughts of how important children are to the future of the world did not even strike home until I escorted my parents’ couple of days ago on their journey back to Nigeria. There I saw two very proud people: not proud of what they necessarily have achieved, but very proud of my siblings and I. Going through the check in counter at the airport, one of the attendants made that silly mistake of asking my dad what he came to do in Houston and why he is headed out so early: simple answer – My Children! But believe me; the answer was not as simple as that- for my dad. Oh yes, he was around to be with me at an important milestone in my life, but forever in love with his two daughters back home in Nigeria he had to make room to be with them for Christmas too! In my mind, I knew someday I will be doing the same visit like my grand dad did when he visited my father back in his days at Annunciation School, Ikere-Ekiti. Ikere must have seemed like America, to a subsistent farmer back in the 1950s from Ikole-Ekiti.
My parents taught me early in life that beyond and above all things, my siblings and I were the reasons they toiled, they worked or even bothered to wake up every day of their lives. The philosophical concept of children hits home in our society in the absence of social security and other government buffers for ageing. But beyond this long term economic benefits of taking care of family business, the glow in my father’s eyes when he talks about us or the sparkle in my mother’s eyes when she displays our graduation pictures or show off the gifts we send home is for real. After toiling many years, the ultimate prayer of every parent is to reap the fruits of their labor- some in kind, but ultimately it is emotional.
This emotional benefit was on display when I took my parents to visit the George Bush Library at College Station, Texas. In the majesty of this great Presidential Library the elder Bush found occasion to put on display the wealth of this great political dynasty. Right at the sign post of entry was a very powerful portrait of statement: the picture of Bush 41 and Bush 43. Wait a minute, if you don’t get it. This is Bush 41 library not Bush 43. We watched the video introduction, and all the elder President talked about was Bush the President number 43 and Bush the Governor of Florida. You can tell that he and Barbara were extremely proud parents! They saw their greatest achievement as breeding a great future for the Bush family, and carrying on a tradition that was begun by the elder Bush’s father, the now Late Senator of Connecticut – Prescott Bush who is also the patriarch of the Bush political family. Much as I have never fancied the politics of either the present President or his father, I was extremely touched by the pride of this family in its achievement and I understood the pride of my parents.
It is for this reason I quiver when I see our country mortgage the future of the next generation. Or better put, when I see us mortgage our future. The Nigeria child is the most battered, most beaten and the most cheated individual in the broad lines of Nigerian politics. From birth, he was under cut by substandard health care that makes the likelihood of him/her dying at birth extremely high: even higher than war ravaged Ethiopia, Rwanda or even Congo! More so, the Nigerian child has been denied quality education for all levels, and is left to hang out dry if he survives up to the university level with no job or constructible future- for how long can we continue like this? Not enjoying the benefit of a school feeding program or a school busing system or even a good library like his/her counterparts in the developed world the Nigerian child is left with no sense of ownership or duty to the government to which he/she is left in charge. So what are we left with? We are left with children like Governor Dariye or Alamieyeseigha that loot our treasury dry, after all what do they owe Nigeria?
Conclusively, as one foreign observer that visited Nigeria recently succinctly noted: “In Nigeria, the police beat the men. The men beat the women. The women beat the Children. And it is a whole vicious cycle”. Before the “police” if I may add, the government beat the police, and the government is the children. Now, I am sure you my dear readers can connect the dots in this cycle. The work of the Nigerian state will not be complete until the SHE (Safety, Health and Education) of our children is fully guaranteed; so that we might have a more abundant future and Nigeria become a better place.
“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.”J
acqueline Kennedy Onassis(Former us first lady)