All animals, the God’s creatures bereft of common sense, do bequeath something valuable to their young ones. The land squirrel, for instance, teaches its young one how to dig the ground and make a far distant hole inside the ground where it can inhabit; after the death of its parents, to get farm produce such as groundnut, cassava etc. for food is not a cumbersome effort for the land squirrel: the knowledge of how to do this has been injected into its vein. Nobody tutors a camel how to carry loads, and it carries swear packed things with ease! Due to this, is that carrying loads is a genetic chore for camels. From the infancy, chicks learn how to till the ground ̶ shaking the floor; in order to get the god of the throat. The spirit of hunting, if I am right, is descended from dogs to their progeny. Cats, as well, teach their young ones the skill to kill rats at home and in the nearby bush area. As small as the rats are, the church rats popularly known for their abject living, they have something worthy willed to their babies. Confessedly, no one teaches the rats how to pick the petty things inside and around the house, for food; or can anybody claim to have been the one charged with this duty among humans?
No matter how rich a Fulani is; their infants will surely know how to tame cattle to where they will graze, because rearing cattle is the Fulani’s notable vocation. Nobody makes the child of an Aso Òkè weaver becomes puzzled in the process of weaving. The child of a blacksmith, after the transition of his father from the body to the soil, is left with the necessary skill handy in the art of forging irons. How penurious a person will be that they will not will any possession to their children? This is an absolutely inconceivable thing: no human can be convinced by this. An ordinary shabby cloth left by the dead to their children; nothing to be called but a will!
I was born into a family whose occupation was, one and only, farming. I was nurtured in this business; in fact, my father started carrying me to farm as early as four years of age. In those days, as for me, no room for recreations with peers in the morning, afternoon and evening, as toddlers do have in order to feel the essence of life among one another. There was no comfortableness for me at these epochs: during the harmattan periods, during the raining seasons, during the sunny days; as early as 6 O’clock in the morning, a knock on the door that led to my mother’s room accompanied by a very loud voice saying, to my mother, “wake him up and wear cloth for him, we are going to the farm”. Who is this person knocking the door as early as this time? Still dozing, I did have this thought ̶ this question in the bottom of my dear mind. As soon as the door has been opened, the only person I did set my eyes on, as usual, was my father; coming to pick me for farming tour. He did place me in front of his rusty bicycle which was taller in height than any other kinds of bicycles ridden during the time. I grew up in these unpleasant experiences; sometimes, I censured myself for coming into such a family where I, as young as I was, was wholly denied of the felicity of childhood. But each time I had this in thought and in utterance, I concluded within myself that, that was the family God has preordained for me. After all, no person can control his or her destiny except GOD!
Grew worse was my experiences when I almost clocked the age of half a score. That was the period that I got to the stage that I could grip the farm tools such as cutlasses and hoes to perform farming magic on the farm and in the wilderness. I didn’t know that my father was following an aphorism which says that “Right from the infancy, Muslims teach their children the ordinances of their religion”. Of the preliminary stage I was before ̶ the stage of explorations, observations and understanding. From the time I began holding farm tools myself to work on the farm, I could then discern between the gravity of unpleasing experiences I had when I did go to farm; staying lonely inside the hut, companioned by lizards and mice, or playing on the farm while my elder brothers would be working industriously with hot sweat, and when I myself involved in the toil. Life was not like before for me at that stage ̶ any single mistake summoned an infinite torture on the farm, in the abode, the next day, and in continuity. There was a day I was seriously tired, so I stood on the portion he assigned to me; just to relax and free myself from the boredom that arrested my bones and muscles. He threw a bunch of soil into my eyes that day. I could not see well for two days as the particles of the soil entered my eyes. One thing he would not do was to deprive us of food whenever we upset him on the farm or at home. But can one have appetite after one has been extremely abashed in public? To be frank! Will the food not be like faeces before the person?
At that stage of my life when I was still busy combating with weeds, trees and soil on the farm, my yawn for formal education has aroused to a peak. But what could I do to make that come to reality when I was still under the control of my father who neither had feeling for education nor knew what it meant to give a sound formal education to a child? Of course, “Seen is belief” as they used to say. My three brothers I was looking at as models; one dropped out from school when he was in primary three as a result of my father’s ignorance to the value of education, the second one endured it to the secondary school level before his ardour for education finally became iced, and the third of them insisted on having higher academic qualifications; still with his decision and determination, affliction and stress, his companions in the course of actualising his dreams in the field of education. To become great in life; is education not needed? To be known in one’s community and all over the globe; is it not essential? To be part of the professionals; is it not a prerequisite thing? My father would never ruminate over all these. All he knew, and was after was farming! Meeting the children of his age and others that were younger than him on the way to school called him not to the need for him to cater for his children’s education. He remained deaf to the requests of my brothers: what would aid their learning in school my father did not want to listen to. All to him was about farming!
After too much pressure on him from peers and relations, my father and the committee within him, at last, approved my education entreaty at (exactly) the age of a dozen set of three hundred and sixty-five days! He took me to school on one momentous Monday for the commencement of elementary education. I was greatly happy that day that I did not even remember to eat before leaving home, as it was a day that my dream of attending school finally came true. One amazing thing when I started schooling was that my father never, as from the day he took me to the school, visited that school again. Either to be informed of my wellbeing or to ask of my academic performances; none of the two, his interest! Except God and my mother, I was the keeper of myself in the school: no hello there by my father, no adequate provisions in terms of textbooks, money for food and other necessary materials needed in the school. He always referred me to the head teacher of the school whenever I wanted to collect money from him for tuition fees and other charges. “Go and collect the money from your head teacher, my father did not send me to school”, he said this often in his native language. All what he cared for was the weekend that I would meet him in the village to work on the farm. He did not care about my life in school neither was he cared about what I ought to become with the outcome of my education. His priority was farming in lieu of my success in education, which he would benefit from when he became young and could not work again. Without any doubt, “When a dog becomes old, it sucks the breast of its baby”. My father never realised this in his action to my education. All to him was about farming!
While the children of the rich and those who understood the value of education stayed in the boarding school and at home respectively to study on weekend; as for me, I did go to my village to work on the farm. On my arrival to the village every weekend, going to the river in the evening and early in the morning to fetch water before going to farm was a separate laborious activity to me. This was because I had to leg the journey throughout the weekend; in fact, my journey was always like moving from the beginning of the sea to the end of it: from the river back to the residence at the centre; from there, to another residence leading to our farm; from that place to other farm in the afternoon and other times; and finally, back to the town on Sunday with fatigues all over my body. That was how I journeyed my life on every weekend. As children of the rich stayed comfortably in boarding school on weekend to study and relax themselves, mine was boarding farm where I had to spend all my study and leisure times incurring agonies in my heart and on my body! He hardly gave me money for food, or made any provision; no matter how little it was, on my way back home on Sunday. He did not allow me to attend church services on Sundays to worship the ONE who was mighty enough to help me out of my situation. As a matter of fact, it is said that “Deity, if you cannot support or favour me, leaves me the way you met me”. My father was not concerned about this. All because of farming! He must not hear of any public holiday in the middle of the week. That meant I had a bonus of legging journey that week which normally made me weak at the end of the week. Adverse experiences had I every day of my life then; I did not feel free to mingle with my peers as our views and exposures were quite different. He would never pay attention to one’s need and grief. All to him was about farming!
Instead of my father to be engrossed in the state of my academic performances in school, he focused only on his farming carrier, farming carrier only! You can imagine that! A dull pupil as I was, neglected by his father; in what way do you think he could improve his performances in school when there was no external motivations that could encourage him to perform more outstandingly among his mates? I can still remember vividly that I did have ‘excellent grades’ in all the subjects we studied or did in school then; if I would have mixed grades, it would be one, two or three ‘very good grades’ in a term with the rest of the subjects EXCELLENT! “Why is this not creating pain and concern in my father’s mind? Of course he was the one that took me to school. Why can’t he look after my wellbeing in school so that he will be rewarded for the little he spent on me after my education has brought positive outcomes? Why can’t he stir up the unique learning engine within me for me to become an exceptional and special among my peers? Why can’t he perfect his fatherly roles over me?” All these I pondered. But my father stayed a very far distance to these; we were not on the same page: Incongruity there, in our thoughts, aspirations and world views, so to straighten the two totally curved dried tree between us became difficult for me. On several occasions, I intended to quit my education as there were no provisions made separately for it. When I got to primary two, I decided to be a barbing apprentice. I later changed my choice of vocational job from barbing to being a motor mechanic when I was about to finish the class. “Even if I leave school for vocational job, is it not money I will use to start the apprentice? Is it not money I will always use to buy food? Of course being an apprentice means leaving one’s home from morning till evening which is quite different from the time scheduled for schooling. Is it not money I will use to buy things needed for my freedom? Is it not money I will pay for the issuance of certificate? And is it not money I will use to buy (working) tools after the freedom?” Hence, my dream of becoming an apprentice of either of them finally went to an abrupt end! I began my education again when the alternatives before me seemed to be more difficult to accomplish than the earlier dream I had. With too much struggles, I eventually finished my primary school education.
Still didn’t know the next step to take after my graduation until my elder brother, who insisted on using the knowledge acquired through formal education as a means of livelihood, advised me to proceed to the secondary school level. “This will be another rigorous task on me” I thought. However, I hearken to his advice, having it in mind to endure my educational pursuit to the Junior Secondary School Level when I, based on my thought then, would finally will a divorce letter to education for what it made me went through. I continued the struggles again. The school charge was more affordable at the public secondary school I was unlike the private primary school I attended. Each student had to pay a sum of two hundred and fifty naira only for P.T.A. (Parent Teacher Association) development levy. That put my mind at rest, and I had the assurance of actualizing the dream of having Junior Secondary School Certificate. My father’s nonchalance also stood on the way for this my dream! Common two hundred and fifty naira is difficult to pay? Oh! I was astonished then as you are too (now). Filled with weary and despair as a result of this, I began my one-day off and one-day on of schooling; activity of which did not help my academic being as it dropped it to the least among others in the class. That time, I hardly wrote notes in the class or listened to the explanations of every subject teacher. Just because of me at that time, in Junior Secondary School 1 and 2, the price of the red biro inflated! This is because anything flashy and shiny, my report card deserved during that time: something flashy that will prompt a downcast look. I did this to the second term, Junior Secondary School 3 when our Junior WAEC was on the way. On one memorable day, my blood brother called me for admonition and counselling toward a change of attitude to education, and the need to proceed to higher institution of learning. I could not sleep in the night of that day because I was busy weeping, regretting my present state of schooling and academic performances in school; thereby taking a stab at making a new decision that would be greatly favourable to my life and my education as well. After a lot of contemplation in that the same night, my decision to go to higher institution was consolidated the following day.
Having decided to go to the higher institution of learning after my secondary school education, I started thinking on how this decision would be workable, that is, existing in practice and not only in imagination. Quite known that the attitudes of my father could not help this decision, because someone like him that found it hard to pay ordinary two hundred and fifty naira P.T.A. levy, how easy would it be for him to pay higher institution charges? So, I discovered that if I was to achieve this, I must free myself from my father and his farming ideology that gave no room for proper education for someone like me. I became an independent farmer at the age of nineteen during my Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination. What marvelled me was that my father did not argue with me on this decision of being independent; he even bought a brand new cutlass, and also paid for the rent of the farm land I intended to clear for the plantation of cassava and maize. That was how I became an autonomous farmer. Evils I thought my father was doing to me before when I was under his auspice. Cruelty I thought he displayed toward me; believe me, none of these was his action toward me. An adage says that “Before gold becomes attractive, it has passed through fire”. I did not know that he was trying to mould my life for better. The knowledge, the training and the experiences I had through endurance and pains under his supervision helped me a lot; I was clearing land, planting successfully and harvesting plenty cash farm produce; all through the training I acquired from him. After my Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination, I continued my senior secondary school education with the money I did realise from the yields on my farm. I sat for NECO (National Examination Council) when I was in Senior Secondary School 2 and I had credit pass in all the subjects I sat for. A year after the final examination, WAEC (West African Examination Council), I enrolled for NCE (Nigeria Certificate in Education), using the money I did generate from the farming. As everyone in the college of education then was shouting for lack of money, I enjoyed myself till the end of my course in the college. After my NCE, I waited for two years to work on the farm so as to get money for my first degree at the university level. As I was working on the farm, my erudite brother advised me to apply for teaching, and I did so; the proprietress of the school even made me the head teacher of the school a month after my resumption to the school. This position did not convince me to leave the school as the salary was too low for my likeness. And also, my stay in the school was affecting the expected yields on the farm. I went back fully to my farming job. To my greatest surprise, before I started my first degree, I had bought many valuable things that my peers could not afford, which were useful to one’s living; all from the yields of the farming and the training given to me by my father. It was like a dream when I started my university education; everything was so easy for me: to pay school fees, very easy; to buy textbooks, very easy; for transport fares from my state of origin down to the far away distance of another state, for me so and very easy!
Human’s thought is very tiny and short. Such is life of all! Remarkable realisations I had after my first degree university education made me to know the fathom of my father’s love and affection to me. It was then I was really aware of the genuineness of a maxim that says, “It is better to teach a person how to fish than to give fish to the person”. Some of the children of the rich people in my town were unable to continue their education to the tertiary level after their secondary school education; either as a result of the sudden death of their parents, or their parents became insolvent unexpectedly. Even most of these children/people in boarding school, who have not graduated, were withdrawn from the school. To continue their education became impossible because to work at that age, after a lot of merriment while they were caged in school, was so hard for them. How easy it is to do what one has not learnt? Their absolute dependence on their parents from infancy to their present age then eventually pushed them into the pit of hopelessness! The end of their academic life shocked me. At that time, I equated my foolishness and narrowness of thought with that of King David in the Bible (Psalms 73:2-17) before he understood the reality about the people he envied (Psalms 73:18-27). Of the notable point to this; “the best legacy is education” as they used to say. I do not refute this fact; but what is the essence of the qualification that a person has under the domination of joblessness and unemployment? Of what value is such a qualification if the holders still have to become again the menial workers (such as gate keeper, poultry man and woman, wheelbarrow conductor, bus conductor, office messenger, pepper seller, cobbler etc.) they were before, through which they obtained the said qualification? A legacy indeed it is!
Written by Kolawole Mathew Ogundipe