By Dele Sobowale
“There are only five things to give to children: good education, good nutrition, good health service, good manners and good examples.”
The seventh of my seven children – all girls – finished university last month and is now waiting for National Youth Service call up. She is also the seventh graduate and she had completed for me a long term programme which started in May 1970, at Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, USA, when my first child and daughter was delivered by one Dr Macovitch. Like most selfish young men, especially Africans, a boy was my choice; but a girl was what God had decreed.
However, months before the baby was born, I had attended classes with my wife about child care for six months. That was my choice. I was going to leave nothing to chance about the upbringing of my kids – irrespective of how many God gave me. By May 1970, from readings and lectures, documentaries and films, I had reduced my “battle plan” for bringing up kids to those five “goods” written above.
So, when the first girl came, I had to do more reading on the issue of the girl-child in particular. I had taken a course in demographics as part of my electives as an undergraduate reading Economics, but there was nothing in it about the girl-child. Then a lady friend working for the United Nations brought to my attention some publications of the UN about the education of the girl-child and the return on investment to societies which invest in the girls’ education. That did it. I made up my mind that all my children will receive the best education that I could afford to give them irrespective of gender. It was easy to do because there was only one girl and I still hoped that the boy(s) will come. But, they never did. Still, I had made a pledge which would guide my life till the end.
The trying years were 1975 to 1983 when five girls arrived. Like Clive Lewis, 1898-1963, I cried out when number six arrived: “Girls, girls, girls. And now one more. Is there no end to it? Is there a plague of girls in heaven that the gods send me the flood of them?” (VBQ p 75). But, there was still a promise to keep. Each of them must have all those “goods” listed above. As it turned out, it took twelve years after number six for number seven to arrive. Stubbornly, I decided to try again – my last card. In November 1995, girl number seven arrived angelic like all the rest and impossible not to love.
By then the programme was well underway. God helping me, I wanted to give Nigeria six graduates, all girls, whatever it would cost me. The first, in the USA was already in the university.In Lagos the first three attended Adrao International Nursery and Primary even though I was not rich. Later all three went to Queens College. At one stage I had all six in school at once – five in university and the “baby” in private nursery/primary. Although I was well-paid, I soon discovered that the UNESCO guideline asking for nation to allocate twenty six per cent to education did not apply to me; close to fifty to sixty per cent of my salary was going into my girls-education project. I had no interest in expensive clothes, cars and vacations abroad even though I made enough money to have them.
Today, as “baby” is waiting for call-up I must add another “good” to the list – good luck. In all those years, none of them gave me any problems – except looking for money for their upkeep. Fortunately, they were very intelligent and passed all their examinations on their own. It was made clear that each would succeed on her own efforts but the best results were expected without any corrupt practices. From the beginning to the end I never met any lecturer of professor to plead for anything. As for money, they had the first charge on whatever is available and I was “paid” last.
Today, I thank God for the result. And, now there is no regret about not having a son when I have Film Producer (Hollywood, USA) Computer graduate (MSc), Medical Doctor, Civil/Petroleum Engineer, Lawyer, Accountant, and International Relations all under my roof – thanks to my girls.
All the millions spent have been worth it and I know because each of my grandchildren has an educated mother. With thirteen of them in school, I can proudly state that “Nigeria expects every father to do his duty to his daughters. Thank God, I have done mine.”
The story ordinarily should have ended there. But there is another story occurring simultaneously with that one – regarding education. I was the Chief Operating Officer, COO, of a Rice Mill in Sokoto when our head of family died and I became the head of family at 46 in 1990. I relocated to Lagos to take care of the family. I moved to Lagos Island for what was to be a temporary stay while negotiating for suitable accommodation at Ikeja, Surulere, Festac Town etc. Then, I saw the horrors of poverty in one of the barrios of Lagos State. Within weeks, I was helping to pay school fees, helping to prepare kids for JAMB and WAEC and encouraging kids to aspire for higher education.
I am still at Lagos Island, although I have house at Ibadan in a secluded area. Since 1990, nothing less than seven Poly or university graduates had emerged from the area. Even the so-called Area Boys have been touched, so much so, I am one of the few who can walk safely on the streets any time of day or night. Today at Massey Morning Daily Praying Band, where we worship every morning, every kid is in school and provided with books.
When my girls started leaving universities, except the baby, they released to me funds which could be deployed to other purposes. Then, it occurred to me that the privileged kids like mine are in the minority. They will spend their lives living with the disadvantaged who are in the majority. So, why not try and bring up as many of the other kids as possible? Now, unless “baby” wants to undertake Post Graduate studies, the funds she will release will help train more girls. Here again, the results are beginning to show. When the kids get enrolled in school and start coming home to speak English and sing nursery rhymes, some of the young mothers who attended no school are now forced to start learning basic alphabets as a prelude to attending adult education classes. Those girls, who dropped out of school halfway, meet educated mothers when picking up their kids and now want to improve on their comprehension of English. The multiplier effect of one kid in school in a household is difficult to quantify but, it is becoming significant even in the barrio. One of the challenges we are facing is funding to enable us provide tutorials free f charge for those taking WAEC and JAMB. The rich and middle class take care of their own. The poor kids are left to devise ways of cheating or failing woefully. Yet, some are inherently intelligent. As in all matters affecting the young, the girls are more often the victims of the problems faced by all. And, the poorer they are the more likely they will not finish school – no matter how brilliant.
Nigeria expects all the fathers to do their duty by their daughters….