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Of princes, paupers and the terrible danger of overshadowing one’s children (I)

There are three themes here:

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 1. A normal person’s joy should be to see his/her children do a lot better in everything that he/she does in a lifetime.

2. However as we struggle through life, never looking back, and uprooting any barrier to our success, we sometimes ‘make it’ because we are daring, or because we know the price of failure having experienced poverty, such that our children live forever in our shadows – as mediocres – having never grown some spine or enough mental muscle. Some people also love it that way, and that is plain wicked.

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3. The quest to measure up – at least in terms of fame – and to also make it big, quick and easy is driving children of the rich and accomplished into professions in entertainment, fraught with a lot of instability, and at the risks of lives unhinged.

I am compelled to write this by recent events.  Of note is the trouble around David Adeleke, the self-acclaimed “Omo Baba Olowo” (rich man’s son), whose song is 100% about money, sex, fame, fortune, enjoyment and acquisition of earthly things. This is a boy who has carved a niche from himself, from the fabric of controversy and he does have a solid following among many Southern Nigerian boys. He is the one who wanted to smuggle his child out of Nigeria until he was stopped by Mr Dele Momodu, whom he later disgraced by calling him ‘my boy’ in an open concert where Dele was present. He is the one whose mobile police escorts shoot happily into the air when he was collected from Lagos airport. He is the one who mocked Paul Okoye about his house in 1004 Estates. He is there in every controversy. 

Anyway, three of Davido’s friends and hangers on died within 5 days of each other. All of them were tragic cases. The first, Tagbo, died on his 35th birthday. The other two died together in a car in the basement of an estate in Nigeria’s most expensive neighbourhood – Banana Island. Police have said that Tagbo died of Asphyxiation while items suspected to be hard drugs were found in the car with the other two dead young boys, one of which is the first son of another billionaire oil magnate; Dapo Abiodun, CEO of Heyden Oil.  Looking at Gbenga Abiodun’s picture, he looked like a gentle boy, not a druggie, but all of these boys lived in the fast lane, hopping from club to club, and hugging the night life big time, because that is what their ‘jobs’ demanded.  It is also a matter of time before one’s friends influence one negatively.  Gbenga was one of Davido’s Deejays, even though I learnt he had a car armouring business and was on the verge of opening a filling station and carwash. 

 One of my favourite sayings is one that goes; “Every prince descends from a pauper, and every pauper, from a prince”. Let us consider the import of this saying in some greater depth. First is to say there is a likelihood if you trace everyone’s history today, that those who are rich had some very poor ancestors, while those who are poor may likely have prosperous ancestors back in history. It just means that one needs to be careful. I recall some gatemen in a house I used to live. One boasted on end about how he is the son of one of the deceased Alara of Ilaramokin in Ondo State. The other boasted often of his father’s house at Ijapo Estate GRA, an exclusive area in Akure, in the same state. The first one had a drug problem and was soon laid off. The second one is a dispatch rider at a bank today. There was another one among the gatemen, who came to Abuja from the East, precisely Ebonyi State. He never boasted of any such background, but today, he runs a depot where Nigerian Breweries supplies him drinks for the Lugbe community in Abuja. He turns over millions every month. 

The danger is that those who are raised in luxury really have no incentive to strive and may therefore not continue the trajectory of their fathers who often struggled to become what they are. That is why they say it is difficult to keep wealth in a family beyond say three generations – except you have a way of passing on this kind of knowledge.  Again, knowledgeable people – say in Europe, Japan, China and the USA – have been able to find their ways around this generational issue and to keep money long within a family. But here in black Africa, we have little clue. Some days back someone wrote on social media and asked where are the families of those long gone Yoruba big men whom musicians praised to high heavens.  I once met one of Herbert Macaulay’s grandsons who was a cabbie in London. Herbert was a big man in his time.

But there is a deeper psychology. Privileged children may have seen it all and may not be able to understand why they need to hustle like their fathers as if lives depended on it because, well, their lives don’t.  That is why parents who allow their children every possible luxury even as students – first class travel, best hotels around the world, the best designer clothes and shoes, the best cars and so on – are actually damaging the ability of the children to grow. There has to be a line drawn somewhere. Richard Branson spoke about how his children always travel Economy in the planes that he owns even if he and his wife are in First Class. That is how sensible parents raise their children. But in Nigeria, I know many people who brag about their children traveling business-class and being upgraded to First, just to resume university abroad! Others in the civil service are known to pack all their wives and children into business or first class on the bill of the country.  I think it’s a sign of being primitive. 

The story is told about the butterfly, how it struggles through the egg, lava, pupa stages of its development, and how the wriggling out of its hard shell forms its wings. Anyone that helps the butterfly to speed up the process will have a shapeless moth on his hands.  But here, the noveau riche will have none of that. We have mums who pop champagne in their children’s posh classrooms just to celebrate birthdays.  It is not enough that these children attend classes with air-conditioning and everything in between. 

We should have suspected. The private schools we send our children to, often teach them everything foreign, and disconnects them from reality. A friend’s children on their first long holiday from Grange School in Lagos, told him how she and her friends had fixed a meeting for New Jersey, USA.  He found himself scrambling for visas and tickets.  No one teaches an African child how to drum or beat the gangan. That one is for villagers. We teach our children how to play the violin, and the piano, and how to be maestros of classic music. No one knows how to play ‘opon-ayo’ or any local games that we could have developed anymore. Today, 3 years old children are keying into Golf.  It’s all about elitism and Nigeria’s new rich cannot wait to announce how they’ve arrived, and could never miss any opportunity to rub it in. More next week

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