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« Nigeria’s Prestige Project – UN Security Council Seat | Main | Buhari’s Right Moves »

June 23, 2005

Respect the Dignity of Labor as Mothers and Fathers are the only Heroes left to Emulate

by Farouk Martins, Omo Aresa --- African fathers and mothers are not necessarily the ones that gave birth to you. They are the ones you look up to and turn to in time of need, trouble, gratitude and joy. Most of them are not teachers in the classrooms, accountants, administrators, lawyers or doctors. Yet, they are our guides, keeper of our culture and the pillars of our communities, the heroes the children look up to. The debate made popular in American political circle about that African ideology is a case in point – It takes a village to raise a child.

Sometimes African children ask their parents – how many small and big daddies or mummies do I have? That does not include uncles and aunties. It takes a great deal to qualify for this bestowed honor, especially on far relatives. A millionaire, excuse me, a billionaire that has squandered his family’s honor does not qualify, a president that has abused his people does not qualify, and neither does a sport legend that has disgraced his country. There are cases where some people have changed their names so that they would not be associated with those who have been disgraced.

It is very sad when the President of Nigeria asked for reinterpretation of Supreme Court judgment against his Government, got tuned down, he seized on a single word “inchoate” as his own interpretation to continue denying Lagos State of it allocation. The same allocation sharing, that has been breaking us further apart at every conference. It is shameful and embarrassing that an attorney, Ephraim Duru angrily accused the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Muhammadu Lawal Uwais of corruption in an open court. NIGERIA, OUR CHILDREN ARE WATCHING. There are procedures and ways of resolving our differences. Our forbearers were more civilized than the outside world. This talk about young democracy is demeaning, as if we did not exist at a point in the past.

In spite of 419, prostitutes, kleptomanias, and vagabonds, majority of the people are honest and very hard working. As we know, they never made the news. The notorious ones did. I was deeply hurt the first time I red a memorandum circulating that majority of Nigerians are crooks. Not only was it false, it was intentionally done to exclude some people from well paying jobs. I realized how the Italians felt when they label them Mafia, or the Jews or Arabs with derogatory labels.

When I told someone that I do not know any of those crooks, he laughed. He told me I do not want to know them. These days, when you report them to their parents back home, the mother would ask you “if na your money he steal?” He cautioned. It used to be “not my son”. We are making progress though; Ribadu is prosecuting people in high places, the South African Vice President has been fired for implication in fraud. In Nigeria, we are still waiting to bring former military/politicians to book. They are too busy gunning for a comeback. One of them, Buhari has called for the exposure of the owners of $170bn foreign accounts, another good place to start. The fish rot from the head, as they say. The lion share of that money belongs to a well known few at the head tables.

Remember my definition of mothers and fathers as the heroes of our time. They are your fathers and mothers that only you and your relatives know. They are the same ones who made sacrifices so that their children and relatives could go to school. Some of them leave home for three months or more; working in the coal, gold, diamond mines or outside home before coming back. Sometimes denying themselves the same benefit they provide others. Unfortunately, they do not have glamorous jobs, and we do not respect the dignity of their labor. Teachers are now asking for reward on earth not in heaven – what took them so long?

I still know some friends who are highly educated but can not take regular jobs because they spend six months in Nigeria and six or three months outside. They are in Nigeria during the winter months, of course. Whenever, they are outside, anything they can lay their hands on, is what they do – leasing cabs, as security guards, overnight staff or sleep over etc. Yes, some are old enough but with responsibilities in Nigeria. The only job those ones would do is sleep over or kissed the job good bye!

Africans have many sayings about the dignity of labor. InYoruba, Iwe kiko layi si oko ati ada. Koi pe o…” Education without the ability and tools to farm is incomplete.

These heroes would shun recognition if shoved in their face. They are too busy thinking about making ends meet, how to care for relatives and anyone that touched them. They preached what they practice and are usually frugal. Never waste anything and would teach you how to do better than they did. Their prayer was that you would do better in life than they did (direct African translation).

Some of their stories were about doing what you could and expecting nothing in return. If they had to count on or wait on brothers and sisters who had turned their backs after getting help, no one would pass on the good deeds.

The heroes were the ones that helped their parents and sometimes helped bring up their siblings. We have heard stories of those who denied themselves further education so that they could work to help the family. Some of these heroes, after taking care of their old parents, finished the task of raising their own children, are now raising grandchildren. Well, well, well. Oh well!

Our heroes made their money the old fashion way, they earned it with sweat on their brow. Some of them learned from their parents’ trade. After school, they helped their parents buy and sell. When the Italians were mostly in construction, building cities, their children helped and learned the trade but became architects, engineers and doctors. When the Chinese and later the Koreans opened restaurants and corner stores, their children helped after school and on weekends. They generated enough money to send the children to professional schools. When the Jews, with their culture intact and with economic success, could not get into country clubs, they built better country clubs. They also built their own hospitals and those who denied them access, begged to apply. That is how heroes are created - by adhering to the better part of our culture which spread goodwill and respect within the African village.

There is nothing wrong with being a farmer if you own the farm. There is nothing wrong with being a cab driver if you strife to own yours. It was Dr. Azikiwe who was sent to the President or boss of an American University to deliver a letter. He saw a gardener cutting grass at the gate and insisted that the letter was for the President or master. He was shocked to see the master cutting grass. He owned the house.

We have a way of disrespecting hard working men and women in Nigeria. In the days when buses used to run between Gbaja market and Yaba in Lagos, we saw this man shoveling dirt out of the cutter. The ladies turned in dismay. I asked them how they would react if he had pointed a gun at them in the middle of the night asking for their money. Now, gutters do not get that luxury service anymore except on environmental day. The next day, it goes back right where it came from, the gutter. The laborers are our parents trying to provide food and shelter for their families. That should not disqualify them as heroes of our time.

There was a friend of mine who went for postgraduate training in pathology outside Nigeria. He told us about a party he attended. He was taken by the beautiful house. So he wanted to know what the owner did for a living. When he found out that the owner was a factory worker, he was disgusted. He would not live in such a beautiful house if he had that type of job. That was the wrong mentality. He did not realize that middle class neighborhoods have people in different professions. Laborers could not enjoy classy cars, a beautiful house with the family after a hard laborious day at work?

I must confess that I was shocked that the same “laborers”, construction workers made a lot of money in America. When the minimum wage was about a dollar fifty, they were making three dollars or more! That was big money in those days. I actually made more money in those days as a member of United Auto Worker than I did when I left University. If everyone had a taste of manual labor at some point in life, might be, our attitude to labor could have been different. It might even help keep children in school, after getting a taste of what might be waiting for them.

There was a graduate student in Abuja who did odd jobs at construction sites with the hope of saving enough money to start his own business when he got out of school. In the (ungrateful to Nkrumah) days of Ghana must go, there was also this beautiful girl from Ghana who was a full time helper with my sister but also a student at University of Lagos. My sister encouraged her with the time she needed for her studies.

If you never thought of them as heroes, do not blame yourself, when did this writer start respecting laborer, if not after learning some hard lessons in America. It was in Canada that I realized that those high school graduates I. K Dairo was singing about as laborers at Ikeja could have been me. I was a court clerk in Lagos in suit everyday, so when I got to Canada, I wore suit looking for my first job. The lady at Manpower was kind enough to give me a shovel in deep snow to start digging!

My friend had a different experience. He wanted a job in construction where the money was. On his first day, he was asked if he could use the digging machine. Of course, he used it many times before, he lied. He got to use it for a couple of hours before they took it away from him. When he got home, he complained that his body parts kept vibrating like the machine he operated and would not stop. He was lucky. A friend who also lied that he could operate a buffing machine got thrown away by the force of the machine when he started it!

These laborers who made honest living were the real heroes because of what they taught and provided for their children. Some of them are Okada riders, cart pushers and load carriers. Those who made minimum wage worked two or three jobs or long hours on the same job. Children who have been ashamed of the jobs their parents did were surprised to see how the children of the mighty turned out as loafers. One thing about Africa is that the profession of the parents did not determine the profession of the children.

There was a young man who got a Peugeot 504 car as a present from his Dad after leaving University. He was furious. He claimed his father was stingy because his friend got a Mercedes Benz. Some of us were glad we bought ours with our own money. A child who does not realize that discipline and character are more important than any inheritance, will loose it all. “Easy come, easy go.”

I had followed my friend to visit his sister I had not seen for a long time. When we got there, we met another friend with his sister who used to hang around us as a kid. My friend was annoyed and embarrassed. Well, the guy we met pulled himself out of poverty and became a bank manager. So his sister was lucky, I thought.

We heard stories about those who have “made it” in Europe and America going back home to marry princes and princesses they would not even “eye” when they were home. On the other hand, there was the girl who got an abortion after realizing that the guy came home without a degree. Another professional girl committed suicide after realizing she had followed a loafer outside Nigeria. Many of those guys got stranded in Europe and America after foreign exchange from Nigeria dried up. Instead of working and going to school like the rest of us, they refused to respect the dignity of labor.

When I was in high school, one of my teachers told me the truth about Europe and America. He said you would have the television, the stereo and the beautiful apartment. But you would work so hard that by the time you get home and get to relax on your comfortable couch, the burning food you left on the stove would wake you up. He said one of his friend cried that his father was a chief in Nigeria. He told him to shut up. His own father was a minister in then Western House. I never forgot that story. People in Nigeria believe whatever they want to hear.

My Principal in high school happened to know my Dad. We had him for English Literature one day. He stared at me with his bold and scary eyes quoting – the glory of our blood and state are shadows not substantial things. I wondered who he was talking to, then. Later on, I realized the point he was making. But my father never said he had money. He had never given me more than half of what I asked for.

There were other heroes, our peers after high school. We use to make fifteen pounds per month. Out of that money, they would send five pounds to their villages, five pounds for their rent and the rest of the five pounds for food, transport and clothes. I could not understand how they did it. Little did I realize that they were preparing me for days beyond Nigeria. They were industrious and in a special class.

How did I spend my money then? It is time to point fingers at myself again. I neither pay rent nor pay for food. My friends and I knew how to give money and take it back. We would give our mothers about five pounds for save keeping. By the end of the month, we would borrow all back plus whatever we could get. Of course, we never missed Sunday Jump at Kakadu, Friday night at Maharani, Saturday night at Caban Baboo. But my tolerance for alcohol has always been very low, so I never drank more than a bottle of star. I would then brag to my friends that no matter how much I had, I never got drunk. It could be worse.

As we started getting paid biweekly, a friend of mine would blow most of his salary in one night. All you had to do was hail him at the bar, he would shout – give him a star!
One of our judicious friends who came from outside Lagos tried to talk senses into his head one day by telling him to stop asking them for bus fare to get to work. This particular one was making less money than him. He answered that if he was making more money, and the guy kept giving him money, it meant that the guy had not learned anything since coming to Lagos. We all laughed - what an ingrate!

The heroes are the bus drivers and the conductors who took money home for the benefit of their families in order that their children could eat and go to school. So when looking for those to praise, do not look too far from home. Africans do not wait until Fathers’ or Mothers’ Day either. Labor Day has a deep meaning, that is for another day. Those with big and ostentatious titles have disappointed us. “Man pass man, position pass power.”

If there is no dignity of labor, all countries would grind to a halt. Where labor is cheap as in many developing countries, we hire others to do everything for us. In countries where labor is expensive, most people learn how to do things themselves. Indeed, a whole industry is geared towards “Do It Yourselfers”. As one gets older or busier, one has to decide which would be cheaper. Collapse under your car repairing it or let a mechanic.

It got to a stage, when I tried to repair anything, the children would call each other – he would mess it up again. I did not get credit for the ones I fixed right. I tried to fix my car one day and messed up the timing. The mechanic told me he had to spend extra time to fix it and charged me dearly. As I was working on my car one time, this lady asked me if I could fix hers. I told her, if I messed up my car, fine. If I messed up her car, both of us would be sorry. She left me alone. It was not just a hobby; the fact was that I was trying to save myself some money. Yes, call me what you want.

Fortunately, Nigeria has continued promoting competition among high school students to show their skill in Art and Science. We are reading about interesting achievements by these young men and women in high schools. It has always been recognized but has never been given this much publicity by the press. Since some of us have disappointed the younger generation of Africans, this is the least we can do for them. The recognition encouragement, and promotion of their ideas will create a new generation of African heroes that all of us can be proud of.

Peer pressure is a very important factor in the life of children. I have seen many wonderful performances by our youths in Nigeria and outside. Some of the students got themselves together into an organization, raised money in United States and Canada and went to a few places including Abuja to start summer camps for their brothers and sisters. They are the heroes and I told them - when I grow up, I want to be like them!

Good moral characters, hard work and those who practice what they preach are not too far from your home. These are your parents and your heroes.

Posted by Administrator at June 23, 2005 05:12 PM


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