The family is the smallest unit of human interaction and nurturing. It is the most intimate and consequential setting in which children can be raised in love, taught enduring values, and shaped by principles that promote fairness, respect, equality, and commonality of humanity. Family time- either for prayers, eating, chatting, or for other things, was a great time for members to learn new things and share experiences.
The family dining table - real table, cobbled benches, plastic ensemble, or space in the middle of cycle formed by family members, had real foods and soul-nourishing moral nutrients. It was in this setting that the values and principles that shaped me were ingrained in my core.
I was taught by my parents to fear God, respect others, obey authority, be kind to strangers, help the needy, support the weak; do not steal, tell lies, bear false witness, gossip about other people, and don’t hate others because of their religion or tribe or looks.
They taught me to see every human being as God’s creation deserving love, honour, respect and care. My grandparent told me folklores that captured and contained lessons about patience, love, kindness, containment, selflessness, and many other virtues.
They used the trickery of the Tortoise, the weight and strength of the Elephant, the fierceness of the lion, and the height of the giraffe to drive home the lessons and teach wisdom and connected them to events that taught me real-life lessons.
They told me a story about a Tortoise that had challenged a lion to a race. The lion thinking he had a natural advantage asked the tortoise to start two days ahead of him. The tortoise left as agreed but did more: he detailed another tortoise to wait at the finishing line. The lion left two days after and speed past a tortoise on the way, thinking he had won the race, but he met the tortoise waiting at the end.
The lesson they told me is: never underestimate the other person because you don’t know what they are capable of doing.
This was the situation in most homes.
Our schools and religious organizations were moral complementary and reinforcing institutions - reemphasizing the same values and principles taught by parents in families. Teachers were at liberty to discipline and punish students without interference from parents. Things were looking great. We had a country that was striving for progress and greatness.
Then the dam broke.
The economy went into a tailspin in the early ’80s. Families began to struggle to make ends meet. The focus became putting food on the table, paying school fees, and keeping a roof over the head. At the same, the quality of public schools went south because the government couldn’t afford to fund them.
The best teaching hands left to join private schools that were just exploding in number across the country.
The military incursion into government worsened things. Political divisions were magnified and groups began to seek advantages over one another. Family time became a time of lamentations and toxicity. Parents openly blamed others for economic and political woes, thereby inadvertently planting in their children hate for others who don’t look like them, talk like them, practice their religions, and don’t come from their tribes or ethnic groups. Today, different groups hate others because of what they had been told by their parents and grandparents, and what they are handing down to their own children.
In 2018, I travelled to the United States of America to attend my daughter’s graduation. I met other parents from Nigeria whose children were also graduating. We came together to host our kids and we got talking about the country and how the president was trying to turn things around.
One of the parents, a top civil servant from a state in the south-south, started cursing and calling the president names I will not repeat here. He said the North is useless and contribute nothing to the country. My wife immediately nudged and winked at me, indicating that I shouldn’t say anything. I got the message and kept quiet. Others nodded their heads in agreement. I took his number and promised to call him, I never did.
The other time, my 15-year-old daughter came back from school and said ”Daddy my friend told me that President Buhari is brain dead…she said that her dad told her”. The other story happened in Abuja. The father of a 10-year-old boy told him that people from a certain part of the country are cannibals-eaters of human flesh.
The boy told his classmate what his parents told him and he went home crying to his parents. They reported the incident to the school, and the father denied saying such a ‘horrible thing’ but the young boy stood his ground.
This is how we are destroying our country.
Growing up as a child, I operated by a strict code of conduct.
I was not to be seen with anything my parents didn’t give me or that I couldn’t explain how I got it. My mum was always available to confirm or verify things or claims.
Recall the story I told about buying my first car in 1996 and how my mum refused to join others to rejoice because she wasn’t sure about how I got the money to buy the car? I told you that I had to convince her about the source of the money before she rejoiced with me.
This does not happen in most homes today. Money is the name of the game.
Most parents don’t care today what their children do to make money, they just want the money. University students are buying cars and building houses for their parents; unemployed young people are cruising around in expensive automobiles and spending monies they couldn’t have earned legitimately, but the parents don’t care.
These things are described as blessings or hard work.
The end justifies the means.
Our politics has assumed a frightening dimension. Hate and division have become seminal campaign issues. Corruption is now an official policy of state finding justification in large swaths of the country. We have become disrespectful and intolerant of one another, and ready to inflict damages and injuries to others to gain an advantage.
All over the country, we are confronted with centrifugal activities tearing at the fabric of the country. We are like enemies forced to live in a space. The spirit of oneness and togetherness has been replaced by the spirit of self. The country is at a terrible place-being ravaged by industrial-scale insurgency — Boko Haram and Bandits — and other criminal activities like kidnapping, ritual killings, and economic sabotage.
But we can turn things around by going back to the basics — reclaiming the role of the family in nation-building.
Family is the place to practice the art of government in the small sphere within reach. Andrew Cuomo, the former Governor of New York, said in his 1984 address to the Democratic Convention that the nation’s moral purpose could be found in ”the idea of a family” which meant sharing benefits and burdens for the good of all.
We have to believe we are the family of Nigeria, recognizing that at the heart of the matter we are bound one to another and that the problem of a retired school teacher whose pension has been unpaid is our problems. That the future of a child in Benue who is out of school is our future. That the struggle of the poor in Sokoto is our collective struggle. The hunger of the poor in Ekiti is our hunger. We are bound together by almost everything. Winston Churchill said, ”The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see”. If we can look back far enough to see where things began to fall apart, we will be able to travel farther than where we are as a people and nation toward a more perfect union. Government is not and cannot be a replacement for the family.
Go back to the Family.
What roles are you playing currently to ensure you set the right tone in nation-building starting from your family? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.