By Femi Kusa
Dr Ayo Ojo, my school father at Olivet Baptist High School, Oyo, reunited on the phone last week, more than 15 years after he left a thriving hospital chain in Lagos to become a royal father in his home town, Ilara Mokin, in Ondo State. He was his old self, buoyant, boyish at well over 70,passionate about whatever he believed in or did, receptive to the opinions of other people, including mine on Alternative Medicine and, like all senior citizens, noticed that the generational shift had overtaken him.
I will mention Dr Ojo a little more because our first conversation in more than one dacade gave me the idea for this column.
A younger brother of Chief Ade Ojo (a.k.a Elizade), Dr Ojo ran in Lagos an hospital group of about four branches, including the one in which I took refuge, disguised before the staff as his personal patient, when Gen Sanni Abacha marched on THE GUARDIAN newspaper, of which I then was editor-in-chief/ director of publications. A social critic and activist, even within the Lagos branch of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr Ojo knew how far Abacha could go if he missed his prey. He rushed to my residence and evacuated my family to safety. And for the first time in my life in Lagos, I set foot in a place called OWORONSHOKI where he lived and ran an hospital.
Gen Abacha wanted THE GUARDIAN to be his friend. But the newspaper could not. Key editors and editorial helmsmen were not blood spillers and blood suckers like him.They included Lade Bonuola(managing director), Dr Tunji Dare (editorial page editor and editorial Board Chairman, Dr Eddy Madunagu and Mr Sully Abu, editoral board members. Bonuola and Kusa stayed behind after they all quit, to retrieve The Guardian from underneath the jackboot. What brought The Guardian under the jackboot was a proprietary plant on the cover of a Sunday edition hiding from the Editor- in-chief with no professional justification for a newspaper walking on a tight rope with a government of hoodlums. Titled: INSIDE ASO ROCK, it attempted to say that discord was tearing apart Abacha’s cabinet. To say the least, this was encouragement for forces which aimed to tear the cabinet apart or to topple the government to smite it. For a ruthless soldier who had been involved in all of Nigeria’s military coups,who knew such stories were invitation to coup makers that the coast was clear,what was he expected to do? Fold his arms? To worsen the case of The Guardian,there appeared a photograph beside the cover story which was equally offensive to Abacha, although, in defence of the editor, it was an unrelated event published only to brighten what would otherwise have been a sea of gray print. It was the photograph of two cocks squaring up or spoiling for a fight. Had this photograph been boxed off the cover story with a thin line, to show it was not a part of it, as was the professional practice, the storm may have been mitigateable. But, alas, it was not. When I saw the publication that Sunday morning, I drafted a query for the editor in self-protection, because the copy was not cleared with me for publication. I would later drive to the editor’s residence to inform him that The Guardian was shut in the night between that Sunday and Monday morning, only to learn that he, too, had heard about it and gone into hiding.
Dr Ojo and I discussed these events and more, including my exit and Bonuola’s from The Guardian, the emergence of The Comet newspaper in which he invested and became a director. We also discussed the generational shift beneath our feet. In this shift, atomisation of community life had progressed beyond the assault of modernisation on extended family life to break down of the nuclear family. Siblings no longer looked after siblings and children abandon their aging parents to rot or to wither in desolation that old age may bring along with health discomfeitures. That is not to mention how easily today’s society remembers those people who of the old order who handed over the batton to the upcoming generation. Who, for example, among the generation beneath us know about Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the Southwest? What this means is that every new generation defines itself, its language, its ways and means e.t.c and pushes away almost everything about the older generation which, in shock, screams to no avail. The discussion led me to the cases of some abandoned old people I had been privileged to mediate, and to a”trending” post on Whatsapp shared with me by Mr Pat Enilama, one of my classmates at the University of Nigeria(UNN), between 1974 and 1977.
One of the wives of a former Nigerian military Head of State complained that her children who were abroad were no longer initiating telephone conversations with her. When she got tired and annoyed with one sidedness of their relationship, she complained but the children had no answer. Always, they had no time was their response. She gave up on them and continued to live a solitary life.
A prominent figure in Lagos State government a few years ago is prostrate somewhere on Adeniji Jones Avenue in Lagos. His wife left him to live permanently with their children abroad. When he got tired of solitary life, which may be lonely life for anyone who cannot upgrade loneliness to solitude and work miracles in it, he found a young woman from the back street, did her up, married her and even sent her four siblings to the university. When the last of them graduated,the young wife took them and her children, and off to America they went. Mr Hycinth Uzur, former natural sales manager of Nigeria Breweries Limited, who is conversant with the story of this former super permanent secretary, says the gentle man planned to sell his house set on sprawling grounds and gardens and move to an ant hole property which would be warmer and friendlier than a castle.
A former general manager of a well known Nigerian bank is wheel chair ridden. His five children had no time or kind words for him. If they went on a visit, it was to see their mother.Tired of their 80 something years old father, they bundled him to the village one day, to have full stream access to their mother. They also told him, he said to me, to give out all his property away,that they needed nothing from him and would not attend his funeral. He always asked me what crime he had committed? His wife had psychiatric issues and told their children he was getting on her nerves. Prior to this time, she spoke to him in parables he could not decode… “When two persons fetch fire wood in the bush all day, it is when they arrive at home in the evening that it would be known who had the bigger stock,” he did not realise then that firewood referred to their children and evening to old age. I told him to take the advice of his children seriously, that it was possible he maltreated them or other people in a previous earth life, if he did not, or he was wrongly perceived to have offended them and their mother this earth life, or he was paying off a karmaic debt. If he was guiltless, the children and their mother were probably sowing seeds the harvest of which their own children may bring to them.The reality he must face is that his children have shifted from him.
A gentle man close to 80 has refused to accept apologies from his children who live abroad with their mother. She led them to abandon him. Now, they have awakened from slumber to tell their left hands from the right and are pleading for forgiveness. Every year, I join them in their pleas. But their father continues to turn his back on them for following their mother.
There are more stories than I can tell here. They all led me to think that the time has probably come for Nigerian government to consider expansion of the concept of the old PEOPLES HOME bequeathed to us by the British to an old peoples village of which I will speak later. Meanwhile, a post shared by Mr Enilama, published below, shows us all senior citizens that the ground is shifting beneath our feet,that we probably moved to old age unprepared for it, that we can make some amends if we still can or live in peace with our reality.
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