Development is a synonym of progress, which different people define differently. In one of his regular Monday columns on the back page of Daily Trust newspaper, my senior colleague and ace columnist, Malam Mahmud Jega, deflated the general idea among young Nigerians that the country has not appreciably developed since it achieved independence. To refute their claim, Malam Jega explained that long-distant journeys by road that hitherto lasted days in early post independence period now take less than a day (albeit this assertion is currently being threatened by the failed state of many roads in the country). He recalled how long it took them in early post independence Nigeria to travel with their father on the then rough, untarred and dusty road from Ilorin to Jega.
It is obvious that most young Nigerians are today disconnected from their indigenous values and traditions; with many of them morally deficient even though they naively tend to see their cultural eccentricity as a reflection of societal progress. The unrestricted exposure of young Nigerians to alien cultures coupled with the collapse of the family social system must have separately but significantly contributed to the process that brought us into the hopeless state we all find ourselves today. Certainly, many young readers of this opinion are likely to differ. They may even consider the views expressed by this writer as conservative.
When I received my first salary as a Grade II teacher in August 1979, I took the one hundred and five naira (N105.00) to my step-mother who directed me to take it to our father so that he could bless it. I approached her because I grew up under her care and was thus closer to her than my biological mother. Owing to the special way she cared for me, I never knew she was not my real mother until I was old enough to go to secondary school. Like a hen’s teeth, this wholehearted relationship is today rare especially among elitist women in many polygamous families. My step-mother had no child.
The salary was paid to us in cash around 4pm. Nothing like alert or e-payment existed then. When I went to our father, he asked me to drop the money which was in new N20 notes, the then highest denomination of naira. N105.00 was a lot of money at that time. I anxiously expected that our father would call me within 10 minutes to come and collect the money after he must have blessed it. He didn’t call me. When it was close to sunset, I approached my step-mother to collect the money for me but she advised me to be patient until he returned from the mosque.
I went back to my step-mother after the late evening (Isha’i) prayer. She asked me to come and collect the money from her at about 10pm when she would have collected it from our father. When I returned at 11pm, she had gone to bed. Meanwhile, I had good time with my friends who already had access to their first pay. I joined them to eat roasted meat (suya in Hausa) ‘supported’ with sliced-bread and yogurt. I promised my friends that it would be my turn in the morning to serve them tea, fried egg and bread, not the usual guinea-corn oats and kuli-kuli, as breakfast.
When I went to greet my step-mother in the morning and to collect the money, she told me that our father had taken a decision on my salary before she got to him last night. “What decision?” I asked. She started by reminding me that children are supposed to abide by every decision taken by their parents as long as it is not in disobedience of Allah’s injunctions and Prophet Muhammad (Salla-llahu Alayhi Wa Salam)’s teachings. I couldn’t understand what she was saying. So, I asked “Nna (as I used to call my step-mother), why is my money?” Empathetically looking at me, she said “You know, it is the tradition in Nupe land that part of the first salary earned by a worker is shared among family members and relations in order to seek their blessings and prayers for a successful working career”.
When I asked of how much was coming to me, Nna told me that after our father returned from the early morning (Subhi) prayer, he gave his nephew N100 and a list of beneficiaries; adding that she was given the remaining N5. While I sat speechless in front of Nna, my father’s nephew retuned and announced in my presence that he had shared the money as indicated on the list and everyone was happy as they wished me a successful teaching career. Nna then gave me the N5 that went to her, which was the only money I enjoyed from my first salary. I think Allah answered the prayers of all those who received a part of my first salary because, 41 years later, I’m still a teacher and optimistically working hard to ‘make it’.
When I grew older, I came to realize and appreciate our father’s action for sharing my first salary. Besides signifying the position of relations in an extended family system, such creates strong family bonds. The episode reveals how our mothers supported our fathers in all their wise decisions. It also confirms that our mothers neither joined us nor encouraged us to disobey our fathers; an attitude that is characteristic of many of today’s mothers.
Children will earn their parents’ blessings not by abandoning them but by prioritizing their parents and their wishes over themselves. It is not progress when children see their parents as liabilities. The trend in which children avoid parents after receiving salary or think that parents, siblings or relations are important only when they need them is also not progress. Indeed, progress at the expense of values isn’t one. Disobedience to parents, disregard for their decisions, and the grinding down of ethical values are some plausible reasons to explain why many present-day young men and women acquire knowledge but remain uneducated; get ‘rich’ without blessed wealth; claim to be religious but remain ungodly. How can they be educated when some parents assault their children’s teachers?
As children, we dutifully and happily served our parents. Regrettably, today’s generation of children want us (their parents) to again serve them. Some parents, too, prepare the background for children’s frivolities. Parents are responsible for inculcating the right values that will make children grow as reasonable adults. May Allah guide this generation to measure progress by ethics, not by egotism or silly behaviours, amin.