• Sunday, June 16, 2024
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The Frequent Flyer

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That my grandma was concerned when told by a prophet that her son (my father) would fly around the world, shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone. This must have been sometime in the 1930s or early 1940s. Add stark illiteracy to that and one may begin to understand her concerns when it appeared she was being told her son would be a witch or a wizard! From that point onwards, mama agba (grandma) kept a watchful eye on her son, discreetly observing his every move. The benefits of education cannot be overemphasized not just because you become better informed but because it enables you to imagine and conceptualize the impossible. It then goes further to equip you with the knowledge and discipline to make the impossible, possible.

Indeed, my father did end up flying all over the world. In addition to his sojourn to the UK as a Federal Government sponsored scholar, where he bagged his first Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and then a second Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology at Exeter University, he later traversed the world as a representative of his country. He travelled the Americas, most of Europe and even the far east, often leading Federal Government delegations either as the Divisional Head of the Economic Council or at different times, the Permanent Secretary, Internal Affairs ministry and the Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office (the office which responsibility it was, to coordinate the administration and execute cabinet policy). He served through the Gowon and Murtala Mohammed administrations and retired a year into Obasanjo’s military government. He also served on the United Nations Technical Assistance Committee from 1962 to 1964, as Nigeria’s representative. It was during one of his numerous official trips that the government of the then communist nation, Czechoslovakia, tried to recruit him as an agent; or a spy, if you will.

The benefits of education cannot be overemphasized not just because you become better informed but because it enables you to imagine and conceptualize the impossible. It then goes further to equip you with the knowledge and discipline to make the impossible, possible.

Towards the end of his career, he took a sabbatical and spent a year (1975-1976) at Oxford University’s Queen Elizabeth House, as a Visiting Fellow. So the man of God’s prophecy when daddy was still a village boy in Ipoti-Ekiti (still in Ondo State then) that he would travel the world, certainly came to pass and to mama agba’s relief, it wasn’t because he was a witch as she had feared all the while. It was a good thing she lived long enough to witness this and to recount what she had been told many decades earlier. Mother and son got the chance to have a good laugh over this. To dad’s credit, he retired honourably in 1977, having survived the Federal Civil Service purge by the General Murtala Mohammed administration, which saw the dismissal of most of his colleagues for one alleged infraction or the other.

Read also: FG unveils e-learning platforms to expand access to education

We’re still of the opinion that he never quite got the recognition he deserved for his pioneering achievements but then I guess that’s life. There must be many like him. Not given to making any noise or attracting too much attention to himself, he preferred to stay in the background and allow his work speak for him. In some other climes, this would have been considered enough.

As times change, so does lingo and sometimes, even the perception of right and wrong. I remember when my dad visited my younger brother and I during our university days in London. He could overhear my telephone conversation with a close friend and so he kept darting very bemused looks in my direction as I engaged in that hearty chat. His countenance gave it away that he couldn’t wait for me to conclude my phone call. I was right because as soon as I dropped the phone (as we only had landlines in those days) he blurted it out, “Why do you keep calling your friend wicked?” Every other word is wicked, wicked.”

For a second I was totally confused, then I remembered. I had a really hard time trying to contain the laughter which would have only have upset him more. I then proceeded as well as I could to explain to him that as a young man, I was only speaking the current lingo. “Wicked, man” actually meant “good” or “cool” and wasn’t an assessment of what one perceives to be a person’s beastly or nasty character. Dad wasn’t really getting it so I quickly found a way to change the subject. It was pointless. How was he going to accept wicked to mean anything other than wicked?

My children are fond of calling their mum and I, old school but “we no dey gree at all”. Whenever I insist that I for one, am a happening guy they just laugh and remind me that even the term “happening” is so yesterday. Chai! Further confirmation came one day when I heard them talking excitedly amongst themselves and were exclaiming that something was “sick”. I was so sure they must have meant someone and not something and with the very present fear of Coronavirus in mind, I didn’t know when I started feeling their foreheads to know if one of them was running a temperature. I recognized that look they quickly gave each other. The same mischievous look my siblings and I would give ourselves as teenagers, when we couldn’t openly laugh at our parents. I knew I must have goofed. Unlike in our time though, when we wouldn’t dare laugh over our parent’s goof in their presence, as if on cue, they all burst into fits of laughter. If only the earth would have been so kind as to open and swallow me up at that moment. I’m yet to live that one down. They soon informed me that “sick” in their lingo has nothing to do with a person’s health status but actually means “cool”.

Maybe it’s time for me to admit I’m not as hip as I once was. I’m sure they’ll say “hip” is archaic too now. There’s nothing quite like being well informed and acquiring a good understanding of things. The gravest mistakes are made when we form an opinion or take actions based on limited knowledge; when we have a 2D picture of the situation rather than a more complete 3D (3 dimensional) one.

My old man, Samuel Babafemi Akande who passed away seven years ago would have turned ninety eight this month. If only he was still around. I would have loved to compare notes and I know he would have to.

Changing the nation… one mind at a time.