Francis Ewherido is a columnist of more than 6 years in Vanguard newspaper. He is also a chartered insurance broker, media consultant, marriage counsellor and youth coach. His book, “Life lessons from MUDIPAPA” will be launched soon. In this interview with the Arts Editor, OSA MBONU-AMADI, Ewherido talks about his life, passions, marriage, and his new book:
Maybe we should start with this book you wrote; what is it about?
The question most people ask is: Is this a novel or a book? It is a book on marriage, not a novel, even though it is a story. But it goes beyond marriage. It is about life generally. It is about a life of a fictional character; his struggles as a bachelor, marriage, work, bringing up his children, career – everything.
Are you that fictional character?
No, it’s a story of probably over a hundred people put together. The story of many people I’ve come across is in the book.
Apart from what you write in the newspaper, do people come to you for counselling?
Regularly. I counsel married people. I work with a lot of youths. I do a lot of mentorships. In fact I do more of mentoring than counselling these days; it’s basically looking at your life, life of your peers, where you went wrong, things you have done right, and putting everything together to see that people coming behind you are better human beings, and that’s something I am passionate about.
I don’t believe that you have to wait for the government before you do things. Somehow we can make a little impact within our little environment. I look at youths. Sometimes I invite them. If I see that your life is floundering and you don’t know what to do, I call you, sit you down, and talk to you.
What environment gives you the opportunity to encounter the people you counsel or mentor; is it the church, school…?
Across – in the church, workplace – anywhere I come across young people or people who are younger in marriage. I have been married now for twenty years. So when I see younger people in marriage, making mistakes in little things which I have overcome in the past, or things I never even overcome, I call them and help straighten their lives out. And at the end of the day mountains will become molehills for some of them.
Your background is mass communication, insurance, and you write a column for Vanguard; why did you choose to be dealing with the problems of marriage and relationship instead of your country’s business environment which is nothing to write home about?
I also write on insurance. I have a weekly column on insurance on Business A.M. it’s a relatively new paper published by Philip Isakpa who worked in Vanguard before going to BusinessDay newspaper. Before I started writing the weekly column, since 2004, I have been part of the team preparing people for marriage in the church.
That was how I took more interest in marriage. And over time I was giving talks in the church. They invite me sometimes outside the church, and I find out it made a lot of impact over time and I asked myself: why don’t you do it on a larger scale? But I kept dilly-dallying until 2013 when my brother, Senator Pius Ewherido, died. It was a terrible experience. It left a lot of void and pains. (So the question became) how does one keep busy so as to lock out these pains?
It was in the course of it that I wrote a few articles and sent them to Vanguard. Chioma Gabriel was Saturday Editor then. By November 16, 2013, they started publishing the articles. I didn’t even know. They just called me and informed me that my column has started. That was how we started.
As I said, I also write on insurance. For someone who has a regular job that starts from 8.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. daily, to keep two columns is tough. It’s just a passion for writing that is driving one. I’ve had that passion for writing for about 35 years now. My first articles appeared in 1985 as a letter to the Guardian. Since then I have been writing regularly.
When your name is mentioned today, the first place one’s mind would go is marriage and relationship; as such it won’t be wrong to say you are an expert in that field…
I am scared of that title, ‘expert’. We jokingly tell people that marriage is a school where no one graduates. So we are all students. It’s just that some of us are PhD students while some are in their first degrees, secondary schools, and primary schools. Some of our marriages have worked and therefore we have good stories to tell. Don’t forget too that my first degree is in mass communication.
Have you ever taken up a job as a regular journalist?
Yes, I started with journalism. From there I moved to Public Relations, and then to advertising. It was through PR that I got involved in insurance in 1994 when I was employed as head of the department of corporate affair of IGI. One day, we were in a meeting considering a policy draft. One of my bosses, Bola Osunsanya, looked at me and found out that I was lost. So he asked, “Is the presence of Francis really necessary in this meeting?” and another said, “Me too, I wonder o.” So they asked me to excuse them. I found the experience very, very humiliating. That was the day I vowed that I was going to get chartered in insurance, even it would mean putting the certificate under my pillow.
So after a few years, I started studying insurance. As I studied I fell in love with it. It was not something I planned.
And today you have accomplished all that, and even risen to be the MD of an insurance company. Let’s go back to marriage and relationship: leave all that the Bible says about the marriage institution being ordained by God; do you think that marriage is compatible with the true nature of man?
What is the true nature of man?
Look at the animals in the forests, they don’t get married but they live just fine without problems with the opposite sex. Is marriage not something society invented believing it will solve some problems they have observed in society?
I am one of those people who believe that marriage was instituted by God. We are higher animals; we are not like the other animals in the forest. We are different. Those other animals don’t have the kind of responsibilities that humans have. And even within the animal kingdom, there are some species of animals whose partnership are for life, though there is no formal declaration of them as husband and wife.
We need the family for an orderly society. One of the problems we have in Nigeria today is the breaking down of family and family values; whether it’s youths who are into drugs, or adults misbehaving and all that. When people who were brought up in good families with good values go out into the society you will see it. Take your time to read the crime pages of Vanguard, for instance, you will find that many of those criminals are people from broken homes.
I believe we need to go back to the family to repair society. We need to go back to stable marriages. We may talk about the economic situation as fuelling crimes and all that. But we should ask ourselves: why are many children from poor but good families not involved in those crimes? Break down of family values is responsible for a larger part of the problems we have in society today.
But sometimes too you see some children from good homes involved in crimes and other delinquent behaviours; how would you explain that?
Every human being is a product of nature and nurture. Those who have more than one child will notice that children have some natural traits they grow up with. There is nothing you can do about them. It is what you tell some of them not to do that they will do.
No two upbringing should be the same. You have to study the character of every child and attend to that child according to the character. The problem we have is that many parents use the generic approach in bringing up children. In some other cases, the parents are too busy to even pay attention to the children. Parenting is tasking. It requires enormous sacrifices, and that is what we are talking about in this book, MUDIPAPA.
Some children start stealing at the age of 2. When you see such tendencies, don’t say he is too young, he will outgrow it. Whenever you notice anything negative, start correcting it, even though at very early stages children don’t understand everything you try to impart into them, but it registers in their sub-consciousness. As they grow up those things you say will begin to make meaning to them. But you must say them. Just be pilling them up in their sub-consciousness. One day they must understand. That has been my experience.
Some children from good and wealthy homes go to boarding houses in schools and start stealing, what is the problem?
Not all children should be taken to the boarding house, for instance. You don’t just take a child and dump that child in the boarding house. If you have a sickly child, for instance, keep him at home. If you have a child who bed-wets and is very sensitive, keep him at home. You destroy him when you take him to the boarding house. If you have a child who steals, keep him at home until he is out of it.
Why do we have many broken homes and marriages today than before?
It does not mean that marriages before were better. What happened is that before, in the home, there was only one voice – that of the man. Now, there are two voices.
The woman has gone to school. Some men have not come to terms with that. Times have gone when the man takes a decision unilaterally. Many women in those days simply suffered in silence. Another problem is upbringing. The day you start parenting is the day you start preparing your children for marriage. Many people going into marriage today are not prepared for marriage. Some women cannot cook (or run the home) and some men are not responsible. Courtship is also a factor. It is a period of time when you assess somebody, do a feasibility study and ask yourself some fundamental questions: is this what I want? Can I spend all my life with this person? These days, sex is all they are interested in. the problem with putting sex on the front burner is that it blurs your vision; you will no longer notice things you are supposed to notice. People also get into marriages with different expectations without sitting down to discuss those things. The questions should be: What do you want from this marriage? What is marriage to you?
Marriage basically is for companionship. God said it is not good for man to be alone. And he gave him a companion. If one marries for companionship, then the issue of childlessness cannot be a reason for a breakup. First, it is for companionship, then for procreation, and then for bringing up the children properly. But when you put procreation before companionship, there may be a problem. You must also have core values. If your core value is Anglican for instance, marry an Anglican. First, decide what you can live with and what you cannot live it.
Let’s talk about this book you’ve written which is about to be launched; what’s the meaning of this title, MUDIPAPA?
MUDIPAPA is a nickname (of the protagonist). His real name is Mudiaga Orien. His granddaughter could not pronounce Mudiaga. The child asked the grandfather his name. The grandfather said ‘Mudiaga’ while the mother told her it is ‘Papa’. “You say your name is Mudiii…but mummy says you are papa. It means your name is Mudi-papa. So the name got stuck.
Mudipapa, as a child, wanted to be a Catholic priest. But to be a priest meant he was not going to get married. From the domestic animals in his home, he saw how the males fought amongst themselves over mating rights. So Mudipapa told himself that there must be good in this thing these animals were fighting over. He looked forward to experiencing whatever it may be. Upon discovery that the priesthood will be an obstacle to his experiencing what those animals were fighting over, he decided to abandon his ambition of becoming a priest. Instead, he opted to have a happy marriage.
But Mudipapa initially had courtship problems. Although he solved the courtship problem and got married, he was to discover that happy marriage is like roses – sweet-smelling but has thorns that will occasionally prickle you as you touch the roses.