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How many people have you led across the road?

By Muyiwa Adetiba

The routine is fairly the same. Early in the week, every week, I try to sit or lie still for a while and allow my mind to dwell on things I had witnessed, observed or read during the week. Sometimes my mind is crowded, in which case I silently pray for divine help in choosing a topic. Sometimes, on very rare occasions I must admit, the topic chooses itself with such clarity and force that I can’t wait to get to the computer. On some other occasions, it is the other way round. I am blank. I lie or sit there sometimes for a stretch, pondering what to write on.

Old Ozoro/Oleh Road

This week, my head had almost zeroed in on the alarming cache of arms found at the ports. To whom was it intended and for what purposes? Were some politicians preparing for 2019 already or could it be something more sinister like the battle, a literal battle this time, for the soul of the country? The country of origin of the arms’ cache had been identified. What about the destination?

Was it heading east to actualise some people’s dream of an independent country or disappearing into the bowels of Lagos, the country’s commercial capital where criminals await? Could the ever restive Niger-Delta be its preferred destination? Was it meant for the herdsmen who these days are herding hatred and destruction along with their cattle?

Could the ‘Turkish diplomat’ seen with the IPOB chief campaigner Nnamdi Kanu have anything to do with it given that the country of origin of the arms is Turkey or is he a decoy? Are the people now in police custody responsible for the subsequent two or three batches of seized arms or only the one they are plea bargaining for? Are they the real McCoy or are they fronts? Are we looking for one person or a group of people rich enough and desperate enough to want to cause mayhem in the country? And for what purpose? Questions, questions, questions.

I was still trying to wrap my head around the questions and the likely answers when a WhatsApp message popped up. WhatsApp messages can be a dozen a minute and are often more of irritants than help; especially when you are trying, vainly, to shut out the world. But in my abstract state of mind, I fiddled with the phone. The message was from a dear old friend who hardly uses that medium to communicate.

And because of that, I was curious enough to download the video. The video instantly changed my topic for the week because it speaks to us, you and I. It was about a Black American celebrity who was raised in a tough neighbourhood by a drunk, abusive father and an unskilled mother who showed her love the only way she could—by taking him to church every Sunday. There in the church, his mother who was in the choir, would become transformed. Her voice would ring out as she sang and danced.

He wanted to know more about the Person who could bring so much happiness, so much light into the darkened world of his mother. This led him into Christianity. He called it a point of light. He was to enumerate about three or four points of light of his childhood years. The neighbour who bought him his first pair of shoes which he could still describe vividly; the one who treated him as a person and not some irritant; the assertive aunt who made him believe in himself enough to stand up for his rights…. These were the right turns he made that later made him a writer and motivational speaker who would use his life experiences to turn people away from depression and suicidal tendencies.

But the one story that touched me most in his ‘points of light’ stories was that of an old, blind man whom he encountered on his way to school. The old man was dressed in a suit with a cane in one hand and a package in the other. He needed to cross the street—all six lanes of it. ‘Who will help me cross the street?’ he asked everyone and no one. But no one heard and if they did, pretended not to.

They were all in a hurry; they were all engaged with their private demons. Isn’t that familiar? How many times have we passed by someone who clearly needs our help to cross a six-lane, or even a two-lane street without so much as a glance? I am not necessarily being literal here. It could be something as life changing as school fees which is less than what we spend at our social clubs, or a medical bill which means nothing to us but could save a life. It could be something as simple as a note or a phone call.

Many times we don’t have to go out of our way. It is the same street we have to cross in our journey of life. Yet we are reluctant to reach out and offer a hand, or a shoulder. ‘I will help you cross’ said this then 13 year- old boy. ‘Then bring your shoulder but please don’t play tricks on me,’ said the old man. The old man knew that in the real, tough world, he could be treated as sport and dumbed in the middle of the street by the boy. How many times have we made promises to people only to renege at the last minute after they might have placed all hopes on us? How many times have we left someone in the lurch after the person has started a project based on our initial help?

An old classmate once said to me during a discussion some years ago. ‘It is not about you. It is about using your talents and skills to help the society.’ If we take that to heart, then we will endeavour to help as many people as we can to cross the street of life. Unfortunately, in this part of the world, it is all about us. It is about what we can get without thinking of giving back.

This is why our National Assembly members many of whom are multi-millionaires, can give themselves housing and clothing allowances when the people who are really homeless and poorly clad are uncared for. It is a society where a young man and his friends can spend a million naira every weekend at their favourite nightclubs while half of the people earn less than five hundred naira a day. Our selfish, wanton lifestyle is one of the things holding us down as a nation.

Every minute, everywhere, people need someone to help them to cross the street. Let ours be that shoulder someone can lean on.’ As Unilag’s former VC, Professor Oye Ibidapo-Obe said in his ‘life lessons’ interview ‘a timely move can mould a destiny.’



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