Away from
the treacherous waters of political economy today. Last week, yours sincerely
was quite busy at the home-front. Nothing naughty. Certainly not in the risqué
sense you might be tempted to expect of a very energetic young man with, God
willing, many years of active service still ahead. Far from seeking to break
the new Olympic records set by the terrific Yunusa Dahiru who
“disappeared” little innocent Ese Oruru from Yenagoa and the next
moment they both reappeared in Kano she had already been put in family way.

 Earlier in February, one had been put on notice
by the kids to attend two school programmes at different locations namely an
inter-house sports and the more crucial common entrance exam to secondary
school. Since my outing in Edo in recent past almost rendered me an absentee
dad, now fully back in Lagos, I could not imagine a better opportunity to
commence atonement.
Louis Odion
So, when
Josh turned up at dawn of penultimate Wednesday by my bedside to hug and wish
daddy good morning fully kitted in his new sports outfit still smelling of oil
dye, I realized the first payday had finally come. In fact, it started the
previous day when we had to make available two cartons of fruit drinks for Josh
and his elder brother in response to their school’s request for voluntary
donations to make the day more exciting for all the kids.
Moments
later, I joined scores of other parents, who would have cancelled work and
other appointments for the day, to watch and cheer the children from Primary 3
to 6 display their sporting skills and talents on the field after weeks of
intense practice and rehearsals.
 
Josh is
in Primary 3 and Ese (not Oruru o!) is in Primary 6.
Big fun,
it turned out. The assembly of parents/guardians was another spectacle, if not
entirely a sartorial fiasco. It was as if the old-school were out to outshine
one another ironically at an occasion meant for the new-school. From the
Afro-haired dads prancing about in bogus shorts inadvertently exposing
broomstick-thin limbs (like jute bag hanging on stilt); to psychedelic mums
obviously overdressed for the occasion with their gaudily over-painted faces.
Not wanting to take chances, yours sincerely simply settled for jeans pants and
plain T-Shirt, deliberately hiding his big head in a fez cap pulled to the eyebrows.
 The competing houses on the school field included Red House
(Nnamdi Azikwe), Green (Margaret Ekpo), Yellow (Queen Amina) and Blue (Obafemi
Awolowo). Hmmm – federal character on display.
Once the
game-master’s whistle formally opened the day, parents – especially mothers –
became the cheer-leaders, crowding the sidelines, running behind their wards on
the pitch, shouting, praise-singing, cajoling their kids to push harder to win.
It became a Tower of Babel. First was the heat (prelim), then the knock-out
stage and the finals. You could see many parents quickly activating the video
fixture in their I-Pad to capture all the thrills and frills.
Honestly,
not until the session entered “Keep It Up” that I fully realized how
far I had been left behind by the new school. Or put differently, the wide gulf
between the school that produced my generation and the one today’s kids attend.
As the name suggests, “Keep It Up” involved a tag team of two pitted
against other couples in a brisk walk with the ball delicately wedged between
their heads. The ball must not fall. Otherwise, the errant team starts afresh,
in case the referee rules they could still catch up with those already ahead.
 But, beyond the finish line, it was quite easy to appreciate the
game’s own philosophical underpinning. To nurture the spirit of partnership in
the kids.
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Then,
there was “cheer-leading”. It is choreographed dance in which the
kids waltzed in colourful costumes to popular hip-hop songs, from local to
international, blaring from a mobile disco-tech. From Lil Kesh/Davido’s
“Shoki” to Olamide’s “Shakiti Bobo” to Rihanna’s “Oh
na na, what’s my name!”. Well, parents will never agree on the suitability
or otherwise of some of the songs rendered during the “cheer leading”
in view of their sometimes explicit lyrics.
 
Then,
there was also swimming competition. It was particularly thrilling watching the
kids splash waters around as they ploughed their nimble arms in the azure-blue
pool in rapid rhyme, aping the mermaid, fishing for gold, seeking silver and
baying for bronze.
In our
own days in the primary school over three decades ago, inter-house competition
of this nature hardly transcended march past, sack race, high jump, athletics
and maybe soccer. But the world is changing and so are the games. So emboldened
also is the average kid of nowadays as he/she never hesitates to pester his/her
parents with the sorts of questions that would be most unthinkable in our own
days. Not with the cold stare of the cane or “koboko” from the
lamp-post.
 
Once, Josh
looked me straight in the eyes and asked a rather knotty question: “Dad,
Ese and I like football. Why is it that it’s boxing you like?”
Though
momentarily thrown off balance by the audacity of the question, I calmly chose
to come clean: “Well, I was very tough as a kid and because there were
some bullies around those days, I preferred boxing. So, any naughty boy who
tried to mess up with me on the street, I beat him up. But later, I realized
good boys don’t fight. So, I stopped boxing, though I still like watching it on
television today”…
Mercifully,
just before the scalding sun became too unbearable, the inter-house competition
finally drew to a close.
  From the aggregate points posted on the
makeshift scoreboard, Ese’s Red House had clearly emerged the overall winner of
the inter-house sports, followed by Josh’s Green. Since the trophies would be
presented at a later date, we decided to call it a day.
As we
drove home, the car was filled with the smell of sweat the kids’ T-shirts and
shorts had absorbed. Though disheveled in appearance, the glint in Josh and
Ese’s eyes nonetheless conveyed what they obviously felt deep in their hearts:
joy that dad found time this time to come watch them compete on the school
field.
Three
days later (last Saturday), it was only Ese’s turn. Couple of weeks back, he
had written entrance exam to another college. When the results were released
and he passed, with a wry smile on his face, Ese asked: “Daddy, with this
good result, don’t you think I deserve a treat?”
Patting him
on the shoulders, I replied smiling: “Don’t worry, you’ll qualify for a
treat if you also passed the second common entrance.”
It rained
heavily
 this Saturday morning. So, we had to huddle
under the same umbrella as we waded through a sea of cars to reach the gate of
the school where the entrance exam was taking place. Along the way, I had to
give Ese last-minute pep talk. He has passion for soccer. So, I had to tell him
to abstain from playing rough or rough tackle in case they were going to test
him in football in the Physical Education (P.E.) segment of the evaluation:
“Always
remember to be a good boy. The coach is not looking for how fast you can score
or the number of people you can tackle down or dribble. He only wants to see
how often you pass ball to your team mates and how easy it is for you to
convert a pass into a goal. Ese, that is the only thing the coach will be
looking out for.”
He
nodded.
 
At the
crowded lobby where parents parted company with the kids, we bumped into Mrs.
Clem Agba, looking so graceful and motherly as always. She is wife of Prince
Clem Agba, Edo Commissioner of Environment, one of the decent human beings one
had encountered in Benin among the hordes and hordes of swines, serpents and
rats. Her son was also writing the exam. To paraphrase an African saying, truly
we all are like rain water, little droplets flowing from everywhere into the
ocean of humanity.
Once the
three-subject written test commenced, the school principal, a white guy, took
parents on a tour of the school’s evolution inside their high-ceilinged
auditorium: from its humble beginning to its present status with a massive
well-landscaped premises with gigantic buildings made of burnt red bricks. His
narrative was inter-spiced with funny anecdotes of pranks students play at
school. Parents could not help laughing raucously from time to time.
At the
end, I realized there was still sufficient time for me to dash home (which is
not too far away) to fetch my I-Pad with a view to video-recording the P.E
session. As I had anticipated, on arriving home, Josh and her sister, Ewan,
pleaded they join me to see what the secondary school Ese is applying to looks
like. (Kids, this minute they are all over each other; the next moment they’re
at each other’s throat, leaving you to counsel them on the virtue of peaceful
co-existence.)
Ewan’s
own reason was funnily instructive: “Let me check if the school looks
nicer or bigger than my own school.” She is presently a JSS student.
Sibling rivalry for you. (Hmmm, they are looking at the building’s size; daddy
is thinking of the size of school fees.)
Of
course, since they assured me it was not a trap that would result in buying
ice-cream for them on the way, their request was granted. Luckily, we arrived
the school just before the commencement of the field test. Perhaps due to the
earlier heavy downpour, the school decided to narrow it down to only a
100-meter dash, no soccer as earlier hinted. Trust Josh, within a moment, he
was able to pick out Ese from the multitude out there on the field resplendent
in their sporting outfits and trainers.
 
A set of
twelve pupils competed at each turn. When Ese’s group finally hit the turf, we
moved closer to the finish line. On sighting Josh and Ewan, he smiled broadly
from afar, making a hi-5 sign. Once the starting gun was fired, beyond our
expectation, Ese shot into early lead and, looking in our direction with teeth
clenched in extreme exertion, kept that wide lead till he breasted the tape.
Yeah! that’s my boy!
Looking
back, it is too obvious that our presence, more than anything else, was what
triggered the steely determination in Ese last Saturday to run his fastest ever
since he was born.
 
On our
way home, I could not think of a better reward for him than open a conversation
on a subject always dear to him:
“So,
which team is Chelsea playing today?”
“We
(just imagine!) are playing Stokes this evening, daddy.”
He is
Chelsea fan and, not wanting another chance slip without showing club loyalty,
chose to wear their trademark blue jersey to the 100-meter dash.
What a day!

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