Standing on the shoulders of my father, By Osita Chidoka

Posted by News Express | 19 November 2016 | 3,820 times

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I stood on daddy’s shoulders and grew tall enough to see distances unimagined; scan the horizon and enjoy vistas of a world he dreamt about. My father carried me on a shoulder broad enough to hold me aloft and strong enough to keep me steady on the journey to growing up. The first day I wrote an article that was published by The Guardian in 1992, he cut it out and filed it as a memento to his vision of my future. My father, Ogbueshi Ben Ejikeme Chidoka, is a lover of education and a keen follower of politics. The son of Thomas Chidoka, my grandfather, one of the early Christians in Obosi who attended primary school, finished with a distinction and was employed by the church as a teacher/catechist. His mother, Juliana Chidoka, a woman of comely features through whom we inherited our light skin, was the quintessential home-keeper, from who many early Christian young ladies learnt home-keeping.

“Osi, have you finished memorising the quote? You must recite it before you sleep.” I went back to reading the very long quote from Josiah Gilbert Holland, asking “God to give us men a time like this demands. Strong minds, great hearts…. men who the spoils of office cannot buy…” After many attempts, I went back and recited it successfully, to the joy of my father. He then recapped his oft-repeated line: “You cannot be a good politician or speaker like Zik, if you cannot recite quotes from memory.”

When many wondered how I joined the senior debating team at Union Secondary School from Form 3; little did they know it was as a result of standing on the shoulders of my father. At age 10, he made sure I read the Daily Star every day and Sunday Times during the weekend. As a senior secondary school student, part of my weekly upkeep included the cost of Newswatch Magazine. I remember my teacher, Mr Buster Ogbuagu, and others regularly read my copy of Newswatch. I loved reading Newswatch. I dreamed of becoming a Dele Giwa or, sometimes, Dan Agbese whenever he wrote the ‘preface to the cover’. I still have the special edition of Newswatch titled “Awo”, published during the burial of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. When Dele Giwa was killed, my father drove me past Talabi Street to show me the house of the murdered journalist. But I digress.

When I won the neatest student prize in secondary school, many, including my humble self, believed I was walking in the footsteps of my father. Daddy insists that gentlemen wear white shirts; and polishing my sandals daily was the mark of good grooming. He taught me how to wash, starch, and iron my clothes. Those who know him can attest, he loves to iron his clothes personally. When he taught me how to knot a tie, and I felt that no need to untie the knot he made for me, he was alarmed. “A gentleman knots his tie every time he dresses up,” Daddy would exclaim. Noting the horror he expressed, I made amends quickly.

Many also wonder how I know so much about the history of Nigeria. It was me standing on the shoulders of my father. When General Alexander Madiebo wrote The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War, in 1980, I was nine years old. Daddy bought it, read it and kept it for me; by 1982, I had read it, as well as the later books by Col Ben Gbulie, Major Wale Adegboyega, Ben Odogwu, and others, published about the same time. When Gen Olusegun Obasanjo wrote Nzeogwu: An intimate portrait of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu in 1987, my father took me to Choice Bookshop, where Gen Obasanjo had an autographing ceremony, and bought me a copy.

From 1985 when we moved to Lagos, Daddy got a vendor who brought Vanguard Newspaper everyday whenever I was on holiday. My newspaper reading habit also got a boost from our neighbor, Mr Agbeshola, who was a civil servant who came home every day with a copy of The Guardian, which I went over to his house to read religiously. That was my introduction to The Guardian Newspaper. On one occasion, after a long trip to the United Kingdom, my father came back with two big bags, which he had paid excess luggage for, to the anger of my mother. The bags contained all the newspapers and magazines he read while in London! My interest in international affairs spiked from the task of reading two Ghana-must-go bags of British newspapers.

In 1989, fresh from secondary school and waiting for admission to university, my father tasked me to read the Bible. I read the New Testament from the book of Matthew to Revelation. My very pleased father rewarded me with a prize: He brought out from his travel box a copy of Salman Rushdie’s controversial book, Satanic Verses. My father had stood on a queue at a London bookstore, from 4am till about 10am, to buy a copy of the book for me. Reading the book at age 18, I was more confused than enlightened at the furor the book had caused, but had to carry on as if I understood it.

During my university days, my room was the place to read The Guardian daily, and weekly international editions of Newsweek or Time Magazine, depending on the headline. Again, I stood on my father’s shoulders, as he provided me with upkeep allowance that included cost of buying newspapers and foreign magazines. The vendor, who sometimes allowed me to buy papers on credit pending when my allowance came, is still there at WTC junction, Enugu. I still stop there to buy newspapers whenever I am in Enugu.

During one of the ASUU strikes in 1992, I boldly went to The Guardian and sought a job as a reporter, which the then managing director obliged me. The full story was that my parents dropped me off at Rutam House, and came back to pick me. I guess they indulged me, knowing my interest in writing and current affairs. The job, of course, came without a salary but a weekly reimbursement of transport cost. My father happily bore the cost of my dream of becoming another ‘Dele Giwa’.

As my friends and, sometimes, detractors wonder where I got my wide, varied, unorthodox and sometimes rebellious views from, I refer them to my father. I stood on his shoulders when I caught the bug of reading communist literature. And he indulged me by buying the booklets of various Marxist-Leninist writings. When I felt the burden of the oppressed and dreamed of fighting for the freedom of all oppressed people of the world, my father always listened patiently, and advised quietly against violence. When I decided I will only mark my birthday, which coincided with Nelson Mandela’s, at freedom shows organised by the anti-apartheid groups in Nigeria, my father indulged me. When Fela became my idol, he allowed me paste his and Mandela’s posters in my bedroom, and allowed me to attend his day-time shows at National Arts Theatre.

My father carried me on his shoulders and showed me infinite possibilities. He wanted me to be a lawyer and a public servant. I achieved the public service beyond his imagination. I have now gone back to school to become a lawyer in line with his dreams and vision. That, I consider my pay-back for his enormous investments and single-minded dream of making me a public servant in the spirit of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, his political idol. As he marks 90, I only ask that he will be around and strong to see me on graduation day, and the other day he dreamt about.

•Chief Osita Chidoka is a former Minister of Aviation. Photo shows him watching as his father, Ogbueshi Ben Ejikeme Chidoka (lef), exchanges pleasantries with incumbent Senate President Ike Ekweremadu.

Source: News Express

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