Thoughts Personal But Social

5 mins read

In the past few months, I have travelled back and forth to Ilorin. This is related to my mother’s health which has been a source of worry as she advances in age; she is seventy-two years old this year, and in one of my recent trips, I had commented that it was amazing to note that she was already that old, she then added that she had in fact lived in our house, my father’s house, for nearly half a century!


My mother’s failing health, and the reality that I was also advancing in age (I celebrated my forty-sixth birthday on September 5th), have got me thinking about the social context of our existence on earth, the personal moments of reflection about life, the pains, hopes and disappointments that we carry along as baggage of our lived experience and those social imprimaturs that existence bum on our persona, forging us like steel in a furnace to be the individuals that we grow to become. At the age of about seven and a half years, I was farmed out by my mother to live with my mother’s uncle. The experience was a mixed one, but as a young boy, I remembered the more bitter sides to the story, made several attempts to return to our house but on each occasion, I was taken back to my great uncle ’s house. The psychological effects of those events have been longlasting. In the first place, I never understood why my mother persisted in her efforts to return me to a place where I felt I was not properly treated; besides,  I missed the boisterousness that was the hallmark of existence in our homestead.


The main effect was that in my sub-conscious, I directly related the negative experience of living with my mother’s people to her, and for a very long time, I felt that my mother did not really like me very much. That reinforced my feelings of love for my father’s side of my family, and the fact that my father used to buy for me those meaningful childhood snacks and toys, shoes and dresses during Sallah further entrenched the feelings. So for a very long time, I endeavoured to provide for my mother whatever she needed, especially for her material survival, but I was always rather emotionally detached from her.


The other aspect of that childhood experience was that from about the age of eight, I learnt to somehow depend on myself, making my decisions and somewhat developing capacities for an independent existence in life. Of course, that single-minded independence has served me well over the years, but I have no doubt in my mind that it has also been responsible for a lot of the mistakes and miscalculations that I have made in the process of growing into an adolescent, a young man and an adult. The fact that I went to work at the age of sixteen years and four months was directly related to that part of my life, because I was determined to have an independent source of income and this is why and how I have worked, taken time out to study in universities and other institutions, and also continued to combine study with work over the past twenty nine years and eight months of my forty-six years on earth!


When I stroll on the shores of hindsight now, I find it amazing just how much we are affected by our early formative experiences; up till today, I feel the pains whenever a child is scolded, beaten or mistreated, or if I see a house-help in distress. It touches me very deeply, recalling for me what I went through as a child. Similarly, I have always been very reluctant to allow my children to go to live or even pay short visits with other people, because I am always reminded of what I experienced as a boy of about eight years.


But it was not all doom and gloom. Living with my cousins, who had been brought up in England, and who needed my knowledge of the local neighbourhood to find their way through those years, also helped to sharpen my language skills, my ability to relate with people from different backgrounds without a feeling of inferiority, and I think that living with them helped tremendously to deepen my love for books and reading. They went to the only private boarding nursery/primary school in Kwara State, the Adeola Model School at Offa, while I attended the public United School in Ilorin. During holidays, I made a conscious effort to hold my own in debates, comparative studies and reading sessions, which would redound to my benefit in the future.


As a kid, one issue that always confused me was poverty in society. I saw a lot of people who seemed to be totally destitute in a world where there was not much wealth, but where there was a basic level of sympathy that everybody could tap into somehow. My father used to literally give out ever) the little that he had to all kinds of people who somehow were part of a constant entourage around him: almajirai, some distressed cousin and friends and so many others that I never really knew about. His explanations about the roots of the poverty that obviously distressed him so much, and which made him give out his possessions so constantly, was rooted in a religious worldview; I accepted them, but my curiosity was not totally satisfied and neither was my sadness lessened nor my sensitivity assuaged. It took years of study of the history of societies, the evolution of class inequalities in human development and the Marxist method for me to find the adequate framework to appreciate the world within which I had grown into adulthood.


But there were so many other currents that helped me along the way to navigating life, and for those I always remember my father’s patient explanations about Islamic history, the historical importance of the Jihad of Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodio, which he never failed to underline as the reason why we left our homestead in the Sokoto region to end up in Ilorin. Then there were those talks about the Sardauna, the nationalist heroes of the African peoples and how much my father loved Patrice Lumumba! He talked about his heroism and the tragic manner he met his death. How all those different strands of the historical process were supposed to make sense to a child was a mystery to me. But eventually, they did!


There were events that I thought were absolutely bizarre as a kid, but when I look back now, were the foundation stones of the social being that I became. One of those early events of history that I recollect so vividly was the killing of the Sardauna in January, 1966.1 think it was during the month of Ramadan, but what struck me even then and has remained with me, was the sight of my uncles, fathers and mothers huddling together in groups, some openly crying, others looking very, very sad and as a kid, I felt that something terrible must have happened.The weight of the event was brought home when our uncle, Ahmadu, who was also our very stem Quranic malam, stopped a group of kids who wanted to kick around their football ‘Don’t you know that Sardauna has been killed?! ’ he shouted at them. Who on earth was this Sardauna whose death was so significant that children would no], be allowed to play football?


Much later in life, I got to hear so many stories about this larger-than-life personality and the incredible emotional bonds that members of my family have with the Sardauna, the Jihad of Shehu Dan Fodio and that pride in the historical process of being descendants of a long tradition of Islamic scholarship.


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