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On My Father’s Shoulders

On My Father’s Shoulders

Osita Chidoka
I stood on daddy’s shoulders and grew tall enough to see distances unimagined, to scan the horizon and enjoy vistas of a world he dreamt about. My father carried me on a shoulder broad enough to hold me aloft and strong enough to keep me steady on the journey to growing up.
The first day I wrote an article that was published by the Guardian Newspaper in 1992, he cut it out and filed it as a memento to his vision of my future. My father Ogbueshi Ben Ejikeme Chidoka is a lover of education and a keen follower of politics. The son of Thomas Chidoka, my grandfather, one of the early Christians in Obosi who attended Primary school, finished with a distinction and was employed by the church as a teacher and a Cathecist. His mother, Juliana Chidoka a woman of comely features through who we inherited our light skinned complexion, was the quintessential home keeper through who many early Christian young ladies learnt home keeping.

“Osi have you finished memorising the quote? You must recite it before you sleep” I went back to reading the very long quote from Josiah Gilbert Holland asking “God to give us men a time like this demands, Strong minds, great hearts, …men who the spoils of office cannot buy…”. After many attempts I went back and recited it successfully to the joy of my father. He then repeated his oft repeated line “you cannot be a good politician or speaker like Zik if you cannot recite quotes from memory”.

When many wonder how I joined the senior debating team at Union Secondary school from Form Three it was me standing on the shoulders of my father. At age 10 he made sure I read the newspaper Daily Star every day and Sunday times during the weekend. As a senior secondary school student, part of my weekly upkeep included the cost of Newswatch Magazine. I remember my teacher, Mr Buster Ogbuagu and others regularly read my copy of Newswatch. I loved reading Newswatch I dreamt of becoming a Dele Giwa or sometimes Dan Agbese whenever he wrote the Preface to the cover. I still have the special edition of Newswatch titled Awo published during the burial of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. When Dele Giwa was killed my father drove me past Talabi Street to show me the house of the murdered journalist. But I digress.

When I won the neatest student prize in secondary school, many including me, believed I was walking in the footsteps of my father. Daddy insist that gentlemen wear white shirts and polishing my sandals daily was the mark of good grooming. He taught me how to wash, starch and iron my clothes as those who know him can attest, he loves to iron his clothes personally. As he taught me how to knot a tie and I felt that no need to untie the knot he made for me he was alarmed. “A gentleman knots his tie every time he dresses up” Daddy said, noting the horror he expressed I made amends quickly.

Many also wonder how I know so much about the history of Nigeria. It was me standing on the shoulders of my father. When General Madiebo wrote The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War I was nine years old in 1980.  Daddy bought it, read it and kept it for me by 1982 I had read it and also the later books by Col Ben Gbulie, Major Adegboyega, Ben Odogwu, and others published about the same time. When Obasanjo wrote Nzeogwu: An Intimate Portrait of Major Kaduna Nzeogwu in 1987, my father took me to Choice Bookshop where Gen. Obasanjo had a book signing ceremony and bought me a copy.

From 1985 when we moved to Lagos, Daddy got a vendor who brought Vanguard Newspaper everyday whenever I was on holiday. My newspaper reading habit also got a boost from our neighbour Mr Agbeshola who was a civil servant and came home every day with the Guardian Newspaper, which I went over to his house to read religiously. That was my introduction to the Guardian. On one occasion, after a long trip to the United Kingdom my father came back with two big bags, which he had paid excess baggage for, to the anger of my mother. The bags contained all the newspapers and magazines he read while in London! My interest in international affairs spiked from the task of reading two Ghana must go bags of British newspapers.

In 1989 fresh from secondary school and waiting for admission to University my father tasked me to read the Bible. I read the New Testament from the book of Matthew to Revelation. My very pleased father rewarded me with a prize. He brought out from his travel box a copy of Salman Rushdie’s controversial book Satanic Verses. My father had stood on a queue at a London Bookstore from 4am till about 10am to buy a copy of the book for me. Reading the book at age 18, I was more confused than enlightened at the furore the book had caused but had to carry on as if I understood it.

During my university days my room was the place to read The Guardian daily and international Newsweek or Times depending on the headline weekly. Again I stood on my father’s shoulders who provided me with upkeep allowance that included cost of buying newspapers and foreign magazines. The vendor, who sometimes allowed me to buy papers on credit pending when my allowance came, is still there at WTC junction Enugu and I still stop to buy newspapers whenever I am in Enugu.

During ASUU strike in 1992, I boldly went to The Guardian and sought a job as a reporter which the then Managing Director obliged me, the full story was that my parents dropped me off at Rutam House and came back to pick me. I guess they indulged me knowing my interest in writing and current affairs. The job of course came without a salary but a weekly reimbursement of transport cost. My father happily bore the cost of my dream of becoming another Dele Giwa.

As my friends and sometimes detractors wonder where I got my wide, varied, unorthodox and sometimes rebellious views from, I refer them to my father. I stood on his shoulders when I caught the bug of reading communist literature and he indulged me by buying the booklets of various Marxist-Leninist writings. When I felt the burden of the oppressed and dreamt of fighting for the freedom of all oppressed people of the world, my father always listened patiently and advised quietly against violence. When I decided I will only mark my birthday, which coincided with Nelson Mandela’s birthday, at freedom shows organised by the anti-apartheid groups in Nigeria, my father indulged me. When Fela became my idol he allowed me paste his and Mandela’s posters in my bedroom and allowed me to attend his daytime shows at National Arts Theatre.

My father carried me on his shoulders and showed me infinite possibilities. He wanted me to be a lawyer and a public servant. I achieved the public service beyond his imagination. I have now gone back to school to become a lawyer in line with his dreams and vision. That I consider my pay back for his enormous investment and single minded dream of making me a public servant in the spirit of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, his political idol. As he marks 90, I only ask that he will be around and strong to see me on graduation day and the other day he dreamt about.

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