By SAM OTTI –
May 27 is a special day to celebrate our children, who are evidently our most treasured gifts. On this day, I am delighted to walk back memory lane and share my recollections as a child.
When I read the popular masterpiece by the late frontline rights advocate Tai Solarin, “May Your Road be Rough”, I took the message with a pinch of salt. I invested all my faith in Nigeria and believed in a future filled with hope. In fact, I carried all my eggs in one basket. I thought that all the good things I dreamt about as a child would be mine if I worked really hard, and served Nigeria with all my strength. Sadly, I grew up to see things falling apart.
Chinua Achebe, quoting WB Yeats — “The falcon cannot hear the falconer/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” — was right after all.
I remember with nostalgia my early days as a child attending a rural public school. May 27 came with so much expectations and excitement. I believed in Nigeria as the land of my dream. I walked several miles to the ceremonial arena for the ritual of march-past associated with Children’s Day. It was an exercise that strained us to the limits but we offered our sweat as sacrifice for a better Nigeria.
The march-past was quite spectacular. We defied the scorching sun and counted the rain as a blessing. Marching like a ragtag army before our political leaders, who stood sentry on wooden benches to take the salute, gave us so much joy. It took weeks of intense rehearsal to select pupils for the marching parade. My fellow pupils and I would be rewarded with biscuits after the hectic day. The exercise brought us to a close distance with political officeholders, who would flash their smiles benevolently as we chorused greetings like a disorganized choir.
Looking at their beautiful cars and neatly dressed children guarded on both sides by armed policemen filled our innocent hearts with covetousness. Presenting a bouquet of flowers to these leaders or shaking their soft hands was an act of privilege. They lived a world apart from us. They basked in affluence, while the communities they swore to serve slid into poverty. Their children enjoyed being chauffeur-driven to school, while their counterparts who were disadvantaged children of the poor dropped out of school for lack of funds.
Much to my chagrin, I grew up to discover that those I had venerated as patriots and wanted to kiss their feet were the ones that destroyed our locality. They stole our future to become rich. I was shocked to find out how they dug their hands into our treasury and plunged our impoverished communities into hellholes. While we clapped for them at public events, they expanded their empire with stolen funds. Funds meant for the development of our rural communities surreptitiously found a way into their private accounts. Politicians got richer, while the electorate became poorer. They rode on our backs and built monuments with the tears of the poor.
Pockets of rebellion were quenched with fury. Restive youths with the effrontery to confront the looters had their hungry palms stuffed with miserable gifts. Public schools died. Public hospitals and maternity became gravesites. Teachers groaned in pain and became truant workers, coming to work only on pay days. Many children left the distressed schools in unquiet desperation. The prison gates opened. Crime surged. Urchins ruled the streets and spread the language of violence. “Rob everyone by violence” became a new law in the streets. After all, “Man must survive”.
Most youths driven by the inordinate ambition to get rich at all cost promulgated a new rule of work: Make money fast or die trying. Several people mortgaged their conscience, took the laws into their own hands and became the devil’s advocates. They kept the cities awake by plying their evil trade. They broke the gates of the rich and took their sons and daughters hostage.
Nigeria now wakes up daily to find the lifeless bodies of her youths littering the streets – the best fruits of our land wasted in their prime. Another hope betrayed!
Let me not spoil your celebration with hurtful jeremiad. My mission today is to assure you that beyond the gloomy and frowning cloud is the smiling face of providence. Heaven smiles at the children of Africa because you are the trustees of posterity. You have what it takes to rescue Nigeria from the doldrums. You can make our tomorrow better than today.
Don’t let anyone define your world on negative terms. Don’t let challenges set opposing boundaries for you. You must not allow anyone to ride your back, mis-educate or misuse you as a ready tool to prosecute ethnic, political or religious wars. I urge you, my beloved children, to ignore those who spread fear by threatening to spell our names in blood. I bet you, Nigeria will outlive their mischief.
The journey to the future might not be so rosy. Ask former President Olusegun Obasanjo and he would tell you that he cut his teeth on the edge. Like many of us, he wasn’t born with a silver spoon. He grew up in an illiterate community and faced the challenge of poverty we suffer today. In his book, My Watch, Obj recalls how he had a tin of garri to drink for the midday meal at school. It was from ground zero that he rose to the peak. You, too, shall arise.
I share the pains of dejected children. I feel the pinch of frustrations suffered by jobless graduates bearing placards in loud protestation for a job. I mourn with the orphans and less privileged children sinking in poverty, suffocating in the pillory of silence. I share the guilt of disconsolate and helpless Nigerian parents, who cover their heads in shame as their daughters migrate to Europe to sell cheap sex to support their families.
In spite of all these cheerless situations, I charge all children struggling out there never to allow their dream be submerged in the storm of life. Don’t let your faith fail. Dry bones will rise. Hold tenaciously onto your dream. Live for tomorrow.
Let us stand with Fr Paulinus Ike Ogara in his book, Nigeria Must Survive. For surely, the storms shall pass away and tomorrow shall be yours.
- Otti, a journalist, writes from Lagos