I grew up an eighties baby in the decade known for the worst fashion fads, huge shoulder pads and drippy Jeri curls, Bata by choice, stone-wash jeans, corduroy pants and tight tee-shirts, music with lots of piano keys and blinking Technicolor disco lights, Milli Vanilli and the ‘wooden leg’ dance step (they lip synced to success way before Britney did), Alagbin paracetamol, wierd Shield deodorants ads, Sunday Rendezvous on TV after church, Tales by Moonlight the same evenings, Madam Kofo and Second Chance, 504 Peugeot cars with dodgy door handles and corny Felix Liberty ballads.
Most kids wanted to be Superman or Spiderman when they grew up. My friend wanted to be Captain America. It didn’t help that he carried a huge plastic plate around with him that looked like a shield itself. Some even looked up to action man Benbella of the popular Ikebe Super comics group; I know a chap that idolized Birdman, that wacky superhero who depended on solar energy or electricity for his powers. I know Birdman would not have thrived in today’s PHCN riddled times.
Me, I thought Sean Connery was the best James Bond actor. I loved watching Voltron on Wednesday evenings at 4pm and would coerce the driver into reckless speeds to get home on time after “lesson” to watch the always seemingly bemused robot tackle bully robeasts. I also loved Big Bite, the vanilla ice-cream on a stick with a thick chocolate coating. After watching and falling in love with the movie Grease, I wanted to be John Travolta when I grew up. I thought that his character in the movie “Danny Zuko” was the coolest person ever. I even used to sport a comb like he did for periodic combing of my greasy hair. Pomade did the trick.
I lived in Surulere, which I believed was the centre of the universe. It had the popular eateries where kids would drag their parents to for treats: Chicken George on Adeniran Ogunsanya (until it was savaged by rioters), UTC shopping complex, Leventis, Little Chef in Aguda. We were a short bridge trip away from Apapa Amusement Park where my favourite rides were the horror ghost rides and the jam cars. There was also a 50 foot ride which many people declined to enter. Make NEPA no go take light when you dey for up there.
For cultural stimulation, I visited the National Museum Onikan which was just a bridge away from Surulere, and I recall seeing Nok terra-culture, Igbo Ukwu earthenware and Benin bronze works. On a school escortion to the Museum, one of my classmates from primary school swore he could still see blood on the red seats of the bullet riddled presidential limousine in which Murtala Mohammed was slain. Mind, this same chap falsely claimed that the school garden had a chameleon which no one else but he was able to see. He said that the chameleon changed its colour to blend with the walls of the stall in which it was kept. I hear he is now on the run from EFCC after being exposed as a fake pastor.
The National Theatre also promoted cultural dances and plays. I remember watching “Halima Must Not Die” acted with Shakespearean perfection, what with heroes and tragic flaws.
So I grew pretty well-rounded. I had uncles that boxed my ears when I behaved badly, I had enough cultural stimulation, and I could recite the 12-times table as well as the words to our National Anthem. I knew all the songs and characters on Sesame Street as well as I knew the ones on Uncle Jimi Solanke’s Storyland.
I still preferred Tales by Moonlight to Canterbury Tales though.
And I could never understand why Oliver Twist got banged on the head with a spoon by the chef for asking for more. At children’s parties, I was a regular culprit for asking waiters for second helpings, though out of earshot of my disciplinarian mum.
When I look at the world today, especially Nigeria and I see the way children are brought up and the influences they are exposed to, my heart weeps. Not to be a doomsday monger – I mean Nigeria is one the last cultural bastions of child discipline and infantile nurturing. Back in the 80s, there was a hit program on TV where the key word was “Shokolokobangoshe”; there was an Uncle on the program, I can’t remember his name, who asked the kids quiz questions on random subjects, and if they answered correctly they had the chance to play a shooting game with a toy gun with rubber bullets aimed at a dart-board. If they aimed and shot properly, they got a commendation from Uncle and a pack of Yum Yum potato chips, the coolest snack ever. That was childhood defined in 80s Nigeria in a sense – a strong, moralistic nurturing uncle or adult, snacks or treats to reward resourcefulness or good behavior, and a lesson to be learned at the end of every interaction.
Now children sit in front of the TV, watching a huge pot-bellied purple dinosaur jump about excitedly like bad eko. I was at a Genesis cinema at Shoprite some time back, and some parents brought their kids to watch the movie “Zohan”. Are you kidding me? A movie about an Israeli freedom fighter with gay cut-off jeans shorts who had a happy sex appetite and enjoyed romps with over 60 something year old women? And some parents gnash their teeth and weep, as they run from pastor to pastor, when they realize that their son now prefers playing with Barbies and plaiting his hair with pink ribbons.
Well it could have been worse, Hancock was also showing around that time, and the name of the movie alone would have gotten a viewing ban in my house when I was a kid. I mean, my dad refused to allow me watch “I Spit On Your Grave” and “Last American Virgin” just because of the names alone; he did pop in “Swallows and Amazons” for the umpteenth time, as I and my siblings sighed with resignation.
I mean, back in the days, you called your father or an elder male figure in the house to put on the movie for you. Granted there was a carton of VHS or Betamax video cassettes stacked up somewhere, but some of the buttons on some video players could hurt a child because they were so stiff and were made of strong metal.
We have to be careful how we bring up our children especially in Nigeria, because there are already so many negative influences in the country; corruption, get rich quick schemes, cultism, fetishes, retrogression, negative forces, cabals, physical wickedness in high government places, squalor and extravagance of the highest order.
Nigerians also have a track record of copying any foreign or outside influence and taking it to the adverse extreme. We have overtaken Mexico City and Columbia in the kidnapping stakes with people being kidnapped to settle cheap political scores or in the same simple manner a person might walk to an ATM to withdraw money. We may even start exporting our kidnapping know-how to guerilla warfare ridden 3rd world jurisdictions.
I would hate to see a tragedy of the Virginia Tech or Columbine shootings scale here. Thankfully in Nigeria, everyone has a cowardly aversion to death. Nigerians would rather suffer and smile than be martyred for the cause. We continually hope for the best and rely on others to take up our struggles. There are Ikoyi terrace houses to be bought, BMW X-6 SUVs to be cruised around it, political offices to aspire to and accumulate illicit wealth. It is like that Western movie “Last Man Standing” starring Bruce Willis where the “boss” in the movie kept saying “I don’t wanna die in Texas. Chicago maybe, but not Texas.”
No Nigerian wants to die for a cause. That is our own Texas. So happily, we can strike off the ugly and sad incidents of Columbine or Virginia Tech occurring in our dear country. There would be no Trench coat mafias, thank heaven.
We need to watch our kids, infants, siblings, nephews, nieces, little cousins and make sure they are getting exposed to the right cultural stimuli. Mentorship, guidance, direction, leadership by example, positive counseling and role modeling are required. We have got to watch what we say around them.
Sadly, it is hard to say how much bad parenting and the falling level of societal values have impacted children in this country due to poor social services, unreliable childcare statistics and a propensity to sweep events under the carpet to avert the stigma associated with irresponsible children.
Kids are watching, and they pick up what they see - Nigerian kids are like sponges.
I know I did as a kid.
I still have Seal like scars from a childhood incident. Trying to impersonate Superman, I tied my Grandma’s ankara wrapper around my neck like a cape, and leapt from our dining table as I shouted the words “To infinity and beyond!” Sad to say, I had not reckoned with Isaac Newton’s law of physics and came crashing down with wounds for my troubles and weeks of pain. Lesson learned – your granny’s wrapper would not turn you into a superhero, though it may keep you warm at night.
My cousin Noel, then 8 years old, did not fare better. He tried to act out some of the scenes he had just seen in the then hit movie “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” by crashing through a sliding door in their living room, feet first. He required extensive surgery, and still sports a stanky leg for his troubles.
Thankfully Nightrider, the series about the talking super sports car was a hit TV series in the 80s, so due to the generational difference, there is no chance of today’s kids trying driving stunts seen on the series with daddy’s car on 3rd Mainland Bridge.
Do kids have it tougher now than in my day? It is hard to argue for and against with strict authority.
I remember that I was brought down to earth early on, when I came to the crushing realization that Father Christmas (Santa Claus to you lot) was not real. It was at our primary school children’s party, when I was in primary three or four thar the cheeky nursery school kids recognized Santa’s watch and a birthmark on his face as their teacher’s and started shouting his real name “Mr. Ogunmesa! Mr. Ogunmesa!!” It was difficult for him to keep up the act, and he doled out double portions of Éclairs sweets to the nursery kids to bribe them to shut up. It was like inviting ants to a picnic. Me? I was deflated beyond words. So, what about Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer? Don’t tell me he is really a nwampi billy goat.
I knew the tooth-fairy was a myth quite early enough. If one of my pre-molars came loose, and I put it under my pillow expecting 10 kobo the next day, I was disappointed. My sister who was slightly older than me was likely to nick whatever coin I gained, and replace it with the empty wrapper of the malt toffee she had spent it on.
How much of an impact does physical fighting between parents have on a Nigerian child? Do couples who air their dirty bedroom linen in public risk alienating their kids forever. Do kids who have watched Tyson versus Bash Ali scenes between their folks repeatedly become violent and prone to acts of domestic violence?
My colleague once told me about this couple who were had deep marital problems, and argued incessantly in the presence of their 5 year old son. The husband got fed up and decided he wanted a separation and threatened that he was going evict his spouse from the house and raise the boy as a single parent. The girl’s friends and relatives decided to come over for a meeting with the husband to try and reconcile the couple. They all settled down, while each person spoke one after the other. The couple’s son sat in a corner of the room listening as he chewed playfully on a plastic straw.
The husband spoke last, and when he did, he poured vitriol on his spouse “I am not interested in this marriage anymore. This woman is rude and callous. She is a stupid woman…”
At this point, they were interrupted by the 5 year old boy who dropped his toy straw and ran up to his father, confronting him and waving his hands menacingly “My mummy is not toopid (stupid)! It is you that is toopid! You are toopid! Stop saying my mummy is toopid!!!”
The whole room was shocked at the boy’s boldness and effrontery at facing his dad, a person at least 4 times his size.
One of the elderly men present advised “This boy will grow up and be beating the hell out of his father. You can see it in his behavior. He will be rascally as he has been exposed to paternal rascally behavior.”
I hope you can all remember how Marvin Gaye was killed – his father shot Marvin for physically striking him.
I have heard it all before. My cousin once had to intervene in an attempted case of patricide. He was in his apartment chilling when he heard loud shouts and the sound of glass shattering. He ran across to the flat above his, and swallowed when he entered.
He was confronted with the sight of his 62 year old neighbor Pa Ojuigo hanging from the balcony of what was a 3rd floor apartment with his son Absalom trying to force him (Pa Ojuigo) over by unlocking his fingers. Absalom claimed that his father had refused to give him money andwas spending it instead on beer and other unnecessary luxuries. If my cousin had arrived a minute later, Pa Ojuigo might have been forced over the edge plunging to his death by his own son.
Parents, hold your kids. Children are our last attempt at redeeming ourselves in life.
Spare the rod, and raise a Herod.
Right the wrongs of my father through my baby boy/
Nas (Hey Young World, 2010)
If the truth is told, the youth can grow/
Then learn to survive until they gain control/
Nobody says you have to be gangsters, whores/
Read more learn more, change the globe/
Nas (I Can, 1999)