2 September 2016
Degenerated family structure and moral ethos are the bane of the evolution of a sane society, former Minister of Information and National Orientation, Frank Nweke II, said in Lagos on Thursday.
Delivering the 13th in the annual series of the Bishop Mike Okonkwo birthday lectures, Nweke II said since the family was the nucleus of a community and consequently the society and the nation, a country would not become great if it was populated by degenerated families.
His lecture, entitled: “The State of the Nation: Redefining Our Values’’ was delivered as part of activities marking Okonkwo’s 71st birthday.
Mike Okonkwo is the Presiding Bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM)
Drawing personal inferences, the ex-minister detailed how his family influenced the man hehad become.
An excerpt of the transcript of his speech reads:
First, we must establish the linkage between values and culture. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz refers to “culture as the entire way of life of a society: Its values, practices, symbols, institutions, and human relationships”.
However, in the foreword of the book Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, Samuel Huntington describes the words of Daniel Patrick Monynihan to the effect that “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself” as one of the wisest words on the place of culture in human affairs.
If we were to further deconstruct Daniel Monynihan’s position, it means that values, attitudes, beliefs, orientations, and underlying assumptions prevalent amongst people in a society are subsets of culture.
From the foregoing, it can be extrapolated that it is the aggregated and sustained practice of a society’s values, attitudes beliefs and orientations that become their norms and traditions, both important components of their culture.
My entire life and whatever I have made of it, till now, has largely been shaped by the influence of my immediate and extended family. It was for this reason, for instance, that my father’s passage in 2012 had a deep emotional effect on me as can be seen from the following excerpt from my tribute at his funeral.
“……Our life together, as father and son, has played through my mind a million times. I put off writing this tribute several times because I seemed unable to find the words, the right words. In the end, I chose to simply remember my Dad. This is to you and in a way, to all those who didn’t really know you.
I remember primary school….. you took pains to take me to school every day;
I remember the pride you felt when I excelled;
I remember the prizes you bought to encourage my sister and I to compete;
I remember the books you bought and the many summaries my sister and I had to present on them;
I remember the news listening sessions and our efforts to recall what was said afterwards;
I remember those early days …you made us memorize the mathematical times table;
I remember the family meetings and the words of wisdom;
I remember the seemingly endless early morning dialogue sessions;
I remember the grooming sessions…when you constantly reminded me of the importance of making a first impression;
I remember September of 1977, when you handed me over to Mr. John Arthur Garrod at the gate of Federal Government College in Maiduguri; I remember your letters to me while I was in boarding house, even though you worked in the same city in which I schooled;
I remember your visits to my teachers to enquire about my behavior and performance;
I remember my University days……you were probably the only parent who visited his son in the University, to my grief…how my friends and mates would make fun of me…;
I remember a hardworking man who did all he could to provide for his family;
I remember a man of truth and candor;
I remember a man of integrity who never broke an agreement, whose word was his bond;
I remember a man of peace who never raised his voice;
I remember a fair-minded man… who never passed judgment unless he had heard the two sides;
I remember a man who would not start a fight, but did not run away from one;
I remember a man who showed gratitude and loyalty to all those who helped him through life;
I remember a man of profound wisdom and intuition, often making the right call at critical moments in his life;
I remember a kind man, who was deeply concerned about the needy throughout his life;
I remember a man who valued his reputation and good name, as the only true legacy that will live after him;
I remember a man, probably the only one, who wrote his son during his years as a Cabinet Minister, constantly reminding him not to forget the stock of his heritage;
I remember the happy times and the humor we shared;
I remember the banters we exchanged…a few times I had to remind you, you were addressing a Federal Minister;
I remember your retort…reminding me that I was addressing the father of a Federal Minister;
I remember the dignity with which you carried yourself all through your life, your illness, even to the very end….”
So, from my father I learned honesty and integrity. I learned empathy and compassion. I learned courage and fortitude. I learned kindness and humor. I learned about the importance of a good reputation and honor. I learned gratitude for the simplest things. I learned about friendship and loyalty. I learned the value of hard work and the enjoyment of its reward. I learned about fatherhood and responsibility. I learned about family. I learned about self-control and dignity. I learned about respect for self and people. I learned about respect for children, in particular. I learned discipline and focus. I learned grooming from my father. Above all else, I learned about God as the source of all things. My father was a devout Christian.
My mother played a very crucial part in my upbringing of course and she was officially the resident ‘terrorist’. Oh my! God help you if she ever got a hold of you. As a younger woman, she was very agile and nimble on her feet. She could out pace you on any day and she had a strong and vise-like grip which ensured you couldn’t move until she was done with you….usually with a combination of rapid slaps or a special type of cane, long, flexible and unbreakable called angha in my native tongue; it delivered its stings with a whistling sound while it wrapped around your body. It wasn’t fun at all.
In between, she was cursing that that she would kill you first before you killed her. Her specialty though was what I may now describe as a ‘slam-dunk’ on your back, a huge full palm slap, in the event that her cane was not handy. She was truly vicious in our view at the time, but today we realize it was tough love and are immensely grateful for a good up bringing. And doesn’t the bible say “those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them” in Proverbs 13: 24.
In contrast, my father never used the ‘rod’. He believed that a parent should try to get into the mind of children to understand what informs their behavior at any time. And so, he will wake you up in the wee hours of the morning to discuss an act of mischief, which more often than not, you had forgotten about. He wore you out by never accepting that you had no reason for your mischief and the dialogue dragged on for hours and days.
It was mentally draining. At the end he reminded you that you would have yourself to blame if you failed to prepare for later life. As we got older, we came to prefer mother’s style of instant justice because the love of a mother often manifested, ultimately. Your cry and tears eventually got the better of her and she would pacify and probably offer you your favorite snack, as a palliative and peace offering. Meanwhile, the sound of her whip is still ringing in your ears even as you consumed your snack, and you will be unlikely to repeat the mischief that earned you the thrashing in the near future.
My extended Umuohajioke family and our annual meeting comprised my father, uncles, cousins and all the male children. The meeting has taken place on December 31 every year for nearly forty years. The agenda often revolved on the general welfare and well being of family members. Its most important highlight for teenagers was the agenda item on discipline.
It was at this point that fathers and guardians had the chance to inform the meeting about any errant or deviant child in the family. Such a child went on summary trial, with punishment administered instantly. I wish to confess that we didn’t look forward to it as children.
And so a few months to Christmas, we would generally try to review our actions from the beginning of the year to see if there was anything we had done to earn a trial during the family meeting. If we identified anything that might place us in jeopardy, we worked extra hard to become better behaved in between praying that our father would have forgotten that misdemeanor by Christmas.
The import of this narrative is to deliberately emphasize the role of parental responsibility, family and community in the sustenance of values and the overall culture in any society. Presidential candidate of the Democratic National Convention of the United States, Hillary Clinton said as much in her 1996 book titled, ‘It Takes a Village: And other Lessons Children Teach Us’ “in which she focused on the impact that individuals and groups outside the family have, for better or worse, on a child’s well being….”.
Hillary Clinton’s book underscores the fact of our common humanity, and a universal and collective predisposition and preference for strong values. It further shows that no society has been spared the epidemic of deteriorating human values, globally.
My entire experience with my father and mother and extended family as a child, largely constitute my personal manual for fatherhood and parenting, today. It is what I was taught that I now teach my children in the context of the 21st century. Like my father before me, I work hard to impart the values of hard work, honesty, respect, responsibility, fortitude, perseverance and integrity to them.
I once had a friend whom my father did not particularly like. All efforts to separate me from the gentleman who was older at the time, failed. Eventually, I didn’t need my father to counsel me further after I almost got shot at the toll-gate on the international airport road, Lagos in 1990 while riding in my friend’s car. It was only when the would be assassins leveled up beside the car with guns pulled that they realized that my friend, one Mazi, wasn’t in the car, they asked after him and then drove off angrily warning that they will get him.
Naïvety, almost killed me. When my father heard what happened, he wrote me one of his many letters and one quote has remained etched in my memory was: My dear son, “you cannot afford to live in a world where people are pointing accusing fingers at you”. I have also passed down this admonition to my older son, Munachiso, who has received several letters from me on a variety of subjects and issues. My young second son, Somtonna, the ‘genius’ as I call him, who is in this audience has received two from me, so far.
Once, I asked my father why he wrote so many letters to us, including my uncles and his wards. Everyone had a file in which carbon copies and later photocopies, of his letters to you were filed away. He replied that the written word does not lie. He kept them as alibi. If you claimed in the future that you didn’t know and that you were not warned, my father would pull out his letter from his filing cabinet for others to see how much he had tried. In his lifetime, I witnessed how he shamed friends and relatives who often tried to distort the facts of their relationship or dealings. The ‘famous’ filing cabinet in which he kept those records remains today, with its treasures as a constant reminder of what he believed and stood for in his lifetime.
It is for the same reason that I write my children regularly. It is intended to help them remember what I tell them and serve as a guide as they move along in life. In the same way that my father handed me over to the teachers when it was time to go to high school, I have handed over each of mine at the right time as an enduring demonstration of the lessons I learned from my father and a conscious effort to show my children what fatherhood, parenting and responsibility mean in practical terms.
After this lecture, I will be handing over Somtonna, an adult and father of tomorrow, to the teachers at Greensprings School, here in Lagos. My hope and prayer is that like I have done with the lessons from my father, the children will do the same because I am training them up in the way they should go and believe that in their old age they will not depart from it. May God help them to be much better parents than we are.
This prayer is already manifest. Somtonna, my second son loves to read. He literally feeds on books and would regularly request money to shop for new titles at a book-fair that takes place in his primary school from time to time. I returned from a trip sometime ago and he came over to my room and said, I have a gift for you, Dad. And I replied, really? Then he brought me something that was wrapped. When I unwrapped it, I found a book by Miles Munroe, titled ‘Principles of Fatherhood’.
I must confess, it aroused mixed feelings in me. He was just nine years old. Was the young lad telling me something? Why this title? When I asked him why he chose this particular title, he replied that he liked the foreword. And then he wouldn’t stop asking me for days on end if I liked the book. Of course, I liked the book. It was a very thoughtful gift from my son, moreover it was a well written book on the biblical foundation of fatherhood.
The moral of this gift story is the fact that my nine year old already understands that fatherhood is an institution. There are things that are expected of fathers and fathers must do these things for the preservation of society’s values.
Many argue that times have changed. Yes, but it is my contention that these values are both universal and eternal. They will never go out of fashion. I remind my children about this all the time.
Before, I move away from the role of parents, I would like to acknowledge that, responsible parenting can only go so far, in the preservation of personal and family values. What happens for instance when the children come of age and now lead their own lives? If they were to pervert the important values that their parents had labored so hard to instill in them, would it be fair to suggest that the parents of these children were not good parents?
My answer is, No! And, this is where the issue of personal responsibility comes in. I was fortunate to have a father who lived to a fairly old age of 82 years before he passed and had the privilege of his counsel even as a member of Nigeria’s Federal Cabinet. He often reminded me that he would not hesitate to address a press conference to disown me if I were to ‘soil’ his name. Knowing my father, he would not have hesitated to carry out that threat if was ever necessary.
He regularly turned away people who visited to show gratitude for some perceived favour from his son. Such people often returned to say, ‘now we understand’.