Saturday, 30 March 2013

Article: Who Is My Dad? Another Moral Issue




By Rufus Kayode Oteniya

Daddy, where do you get this money?  What is the source of your wealth? Do you take bribe? Do you embezzle?  Do you inflate contracts? These are some of the questions I managed to mutter to express my deep concerns since my conscience could no longer hold it. I had to surmount the initial fear that has enveloped me.

Looking back just a month after, I realized it wasn’t the most tactical way to talk to a loving dad I have held in the highest esteem but I am happy I did at the time. My action has at least brought a desired result.

Since I came back home for the semester break, I have been a different person. It would not take much effort for anyone to notice that a lot have changed in me. I have been a far cry from the ever-charming lad, full of life that they have all known me to be. I have been nowhere near being outgoing either. Rather, I have been very calm and reflective.

Two weeks in the house alone without a single outing or even receiving a friend is crazy by any standard. I have difficulties believing that myself. Since I turned off my phones, my friend must have assumed that I have travelled out of the country but if they had cared enough they would have recollected that I only travel in summer. I hate cold!

I am a 21 year-old final year student in one of the faith-based university on the outskirt of Lagos. As the second child of my parents, custom would have suggested that I study abroad but as the only son, they have cited that they prefer me to study at home. My elder sister is currently studying for a Master's in the US after having earned a first degree in the UK. My 19 year-old younger twin sisters are also both in the university in Nottingham, UK, a city my dad loves to jokingly call Somethingham because many people at home think the city is called Nothingham.

If you had thought my dad is a big businessman in town, you must have got it wrong. He is a civil servant, a grade level 14 officer.

Like most average families, my family had struggled to cope with the challenges of life until about ten years ago when my daddy's fortune changed. He was moved to a different Ministry within the Federal Civil Service. It wasn't really a promotion but a mere transfer.

The news didn’t come as a shock to the family because dad had always lamented about the ‘dryness’ of his department and was even looking for another job at the time. Nevertheless, he had a bittersweet reception for the news. Sweet that he would be going to a preferred department in the government's service and bitter that he would be moving to Abuja leaving behind, at least, temporarily, his family in Lagos - a city he had lived all his life -until he got things sorted out in the Federal Capital Territory when the family could join him. This never happened until six years later. Rather dad used come to Lagos every month, spending the last week of the month with us and as we all moved to the boarding schools, mum started diving her time between Lagos and Abuja, spending more time in Abuja as time goes on.

As an 11 year-old then, I had been looking forward to getting to the public secondary school adjacent to our street in Agege where my elder sister was already a student but just four months after my dad's transfer, the first sign of his wealth was going to be eloquent. I was rather hastily enrolled in a private school. At the end of the second term, my sister also joined me in the same school. My two younger sisters were also moved to a private primary school. As if the progressions were not enough, within two years, we were all in top of the range private schools.

Within a year of dad's transfer, mum also resigned from her teaching job. The next two years, she would try her hands on a few businesses including travelling to Dubai to buy jewelleries for sale in Lagos and Abuja but it was only going to take a while for her to realise that the she was not cut out for business. With daddy being more than capable of paying the bills, it was not hard for her to make a choice and she has chose to be a full time mum or housewife, if you prefer to say so.

When I was 13, we left our rented 2 bedroom flat to move to our own modest house in Alagbado, an area in Ogun state on the border of Lagos state. Dad had bought the plot of land many years earlier and it was taking eternity to develop it but with his new found wealth, it was completed in no time. Three years later, in 2008, we moved to our present expansive Lagos house in Magodo, an area near the dismantled toll gate at the Lagos end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

As the only son, dad has not hidden his assets from me. In 10 years, he has acquired five other houses (3 in Lagos and 2 in Abuja), a plot of land in Abuja under development and substantial shares in the Stock market. By any standard, these are too much acquisition for a civil servant who pays significant schools fees for 4 children in Nigeria and abroad. Not even the Abubakar Atiku's miracle of N31,000 will make any sense in this sense.

My dad is easygoing, generous to a fault and looks like someone who is unable to hurt an ant. He is also a darling of his pastors in both Lagos and Abuja. He has contributed significantly to projects in both places and just recently, before he was made a Church elder in Abuja, he had donated a brand new 16 seater Toyota Hiace van to the Church and he was planning to replicate same to the ChurcH in Lagos. In the family front, mum seems a good companion and perfectly complement him, being an outspoken strict disciplinarian. Together, they have brought us up with Christian values without lacking in materiality.

Over the years, in unthinking ways, I have enjoyed the benefits and comforts of my dad's unexplained wealth. And even thoughtlessly, I have flaunted it to the envy of friends and college mates. I guess most young men in my shoes wouldn't have been different.

Now at 21 that I'm fully a man, I have started to give thoughts to a lot of things. And also with attention to what is happening in the polity, I am troubled for my dad and the source of his wealth.

Lately, I have seen the EFCC, ICPC and the judiciary prosecute public servants for stealing, embezzlement, bribery, misappropriation, inflation of contracts and other financial crimes and I felt that it's a little miracle that my dad's is yet to be investigated. Though he might not have stolen as much as those who are being tried but he is far from being a saint.

What if he's caught? What if he's sacked? And what if he's jailed? Would the family be able to bear the ignominy that comes with my dad being classed in the category of the newly pardoned Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, James Ibori, Tafa Balogun, Bode George and the lesser known looters like Mr. John Yakubu Yusuf, the pension director who was recently fined N750,000 for stealing N33 billion pension funds. And what if he is not caught but he dies like any other mortal, what will happen to his soul? What shall it profit my dad if he has this much material gains and loses his soul? These are the thoughts running riot in my Cerebrum.

My dad is a well-known Church personality. Can the Church bear the scandal? It would be one more scandal too many for the Pentecostal Church that has only recently had one of its leaders rocked by jetgate. 'Any if GOD does not waive bribery and corruption, how many compatriot will be in HIS kingdom'

Growing up, my dad told me his dad would never stop telling him to preserve the family's only asset - the family name and now ageing, I, his son have to step up to remind him the same. What a role reversal! We were brought up to say 'yes daddy' but now, I must be man enough to say no! No to corruption.

I am no more comfortable being part of his illegal wealth that has denied legal benefits to the populace. I feel guilty! I shouldn't be the only one who feels so. My mum should have asked her husband. My sisters should have asked their father. Our pastors should have asked their congregant and elder.

Just if the pastors were discerning enough, they would have spotted his contentious testimonies and his ‘holy tithes’ from unholy sources which he 'faithfully' brings to the temple? Just if my mum - an educationist, a strict disciplinarian and a self-confessing spirit-filled Christian - was conscientious enough, she would have persuaded her husband to beat, rather than joining the bandwagon of looters in his office or at least, she could have abstained from being an accomplice? If anyone optimally enjoyed the loots, it was my mum.

Now that I care, I know that every pound of flesh my dad and his likes steal is a stone my generation is denied, every pence misappropriated is a pound my unborn children's generation is robbed. Every kobo embezzled today is a naira we'll all pay tomorrow.

Children are the future of a nation. We are the ones to make or mar tomorrow. If everyone cares enough, tomorrow will certainly be a better place. I wish other children would ask the sources of their parents’ wealth.

My dad is one man but sadly in many men and women. My dad is in the Oga at the top, Oga in the middle and Oga at the bottom. He is in the officers at the Federal, State and Local government levels. Dad is in the legislative, executive and the judicial officers. And he is equally in those in the private sector.

My dad lives in everyone whose lifestyle is not commensurable with their legal means of sustenance; he lives in those who constantly live above their legitimate means of livelihood; he lives in all those who cannot genuinely explain the sources of their income and wealth; he lives in you if you if your conscience tells you so.

I don’t intend my dad to be the biblical Zacchaeus who publicly repented of acts of corruption and vowed to make restitution for them in fourfold but I want him to put an end to this shameful and sinful act.

Are you my dad?

(Oteniya can be reached on: oteniyark@hotmail.com)

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