March 23, 2024

Okuama Community tragedy, by Francis Ewherido

Francis ewherido

Charity must begin at home. I am from Ewhu Kingdom, Delta State. Okuama Community in Ewhu Kingdom has been in the news for the wrong reasons. I commiserate with Nigerian Army and families of the 16 officers and soldiers who lost their lives. I used to join other children to line the streets of Ughelli waving the Nigerian flag in the early 70s to receive top military officers like the late Major General David Ejoor and Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia. I have always been interested in military affairs. So, the death of these officers and soldiers very saddening.

I also sympathise with my Okuama people who lost loved ones and properties. Okuama remains inaccessible, so we do not even know the number of dead indigenes and level of destruction. The Nigerian constitution presumes all Nigerians innocent until proven guilty. Okuama indigenes are Nigerians and that benefit of the doubt should be extended to them. The media trials and propaganda are nauseating.

The federal and state governments should get to the root of the matter and prosecute the perpetrators, whoever they are. The Delta State government should also resolve this land dispute once and for all. Too many land disputes have lingered in Delta State for too long, some for over 60 years. They are dormant volcanoes. We should avoid more explosions. The state government needs to be fair, just, proactive and decisive in resolving them. We cannot continue to live like this.

The Inheritors

My wife and I had a very good laugh recently. We were watching a skit where a young man was asked what he does for a living. He said “I am a next of kin. I inherit properties.” Sadly, that is the reality in some parts of Nigeria in varying degrees. 

Some inheritors or next of kin to whom properties or other assets are going to be bequeathed to are just waiting for the theirs father, mother or whoever bequeathed the assets to them to die so that they can take over. Some have simply refused to develop themselves. Some are school dropouts, drug addicts, layabouts, and jobless people who perambulate the town from morning till night. They do absolutely nothing. Some are now in their 50s and 60s and are still waiting. If God blesses your father, mother or benefactor with longevity, what can you do about that? Kill him or her so that you can take over? No way. You will go and rot in jail. 

It is very saddening to see people whose parents got their university degrees 40, 50 or 60 years ago, but are school dropouts and layabouts. They might inherit the properties when the benefactors are gone, but where are the skills, requisite knowledge and training to sustain and protect these assets. Your parents or benefactors created, sustained and protected these assets. If you lack the requisite skills to create, you should at least know how to sustain and protect the assets and wealth you inherited. If not, you will start disposing them off gradually either to keep body and soul together or sustain your addictions: drug addiction, life of debauchery, gambling, etc. Anybody with these addictions who is not earning continuous income usually ends up in the streets hungry and/or homeless. It is just a matter of time. We have many of these cases all around us. There are many inheritors who frittered away their inheritance. 

But some cultures are most notorious. I consider their inheritance culture very weird. The first son inherits everything. He can decide to give his siblings part of the inheritance or keep everything to himself. One young man relocated from Nigeria many years ago. The father was stupendously rich. I did not see the need because I felt there was enough for everyone. That was until someone told me that everything would go to his eldest brother upon the father’s demise. Since his relationship with his eldest brother was frosty, hanging around became meaningless to him.

This culture has refused to evolve. I learnt that the people who should abrogate this unjust and obnoxious culture are the prime beneficiaries. They are in their 20s to 80s and are not interested in abrogating it. “No one presides over his own liquidation,” they would probably say to themselves. So the obnoxious and unjust culture is likely to linger for long. But some fathers who probably were short-changed by their eldest siblings have found a way around it so that thunder does not strike in the same place twice. Some share their assets while they are still alive. Some write iron-cast wills that are difficult to contest in court. To die intestate in such cultures automatically wills everything to the eldest son.

In many parts of Nigeria, there used to be a culture where the daughters inherited nothing from the parents. It was assumed that since they are now married, they should share whatever their husbands inherited with them. As a result of landmark cases, deliberate acts by some parents and evolution, daughters now get a share of their father’s estate. 

What is the lesson for the upcoming generation to learn? What is your greatest assets? Assets come in form in the people, buildings, shares, cash, etc. But the greatest of them all are your children or other inheritors. We must learn to invest both time and resources to raise responsible children. If not every other asset you spent time acquiring might pass on to other people when you are gone. One trainer/life coach was talking to his audience in 1994.

He told them that “I hope you are aware that there is no more land in Ikoyi.” He paused to allow it sink in. “But some of you will become landlords in Ikoyi because the owners or their children will sell to their houses to you.” Thirty years later, it has and it is still coming to pass big time. Children of farmers, teachers, civil servants and nobodies 30 years ago have become landlords in Ikoyi. This does not apply to Ikoyi only.

If you go to the older parts of Lagos like Surulere and Yaba, you will be shocked at the speed with which the old houses are giving way to new houses. Who are the people rebuilding on these spaces? A few are the inheritors who are upgrading what they inherited, but majority are new owners. In all fairness, some of the inheritors simply sold their inheritance and relocated to the US, Europe and of recent, Canada and Australia. But those not equipped for life after their parents’ departure are in various state of “disrepair.”

But I also know some rich people in the 70s, 80s and 90s who knew that their greatest assets are their children. They invested time and resources in them. Like their fathers, some remain big players in corporate Nigeria and other aspects of life. They have taken what they inherited from their fathers to heights their fathers could not have imagined. There is nothing wrong with acquisition of physical assets, but your greatest assets are your children and family. Prioritise and invest money, time and energy in them.