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Olusegun Adeniyi: The Lessons Beyond The Tears

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“Something interesting happened on my way to Oshodi this morning. At the motor park, this rough mean-looking conductor was screaming for passengers, his vernacular oscillating between Yoruba and Pidgin English. “Oshodi! Oshodi!” he shouted angrily as I, along with some other passengers, struggled for seats. There was this beautiful young lady who couldn’t throw caution and decorum to the wind but waited patiently until the bus was almost filled. Then she pleaded to sit by the conductor until somebody came down, when she would have a proper seat.

“The bus conductor didn’t even look at her pretty face; he hissed and shouted at the driver to move, while asking the girl why she didn’t rush like the other passengers. The girl started pleading in Yoruba interspersed with English before saying, “I know you are a good man, never mind the fact that you have been shouting”, (that elicited laughter). “Let me sit by your side, please”, she added.

“Finally, with much frowning of face the conductor relented and she sat beside him. It was a tight squeeze but she didn’t complain. Instead, she started praising the conductor who in turn started teasing her, speaking (and sometimes spitting by mistake) into her face but the girl never looked away as she kept smiling. He asked her where she worked and she replied that she was a student at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) studying accounting. The conductor teased her in Yoruba about why her boyfriend didn’t drop her at her destination but the young lady laughed it off and continued to gist with the guy in Yoruba.
“When she reached her destination, the conductor alighted from the bus for her to come down. She did and paid her transport fare. Then the conductor told her to give him a peck on the cheek for being so ‘gentlemanly’, although he was really not serious about it. Then it happened! The lady jumped forward and gave him a peck on the cheek! She then waved bye and ran down to her street.
“The driver and other people began to hail the conductor who started joking, saying he knew he was irresistible etc and others were taunting him. But not long after, the conductor put his head down and became uncharacteristically quiet. The driver soon asked the guy why he wasn’t calling out bus-stops anymore, wondering whether the pretty girl had cast a spell on him. At that point, the conductor said something in Yoruba that I didn’t quite understand and then his voice became emotional and believe it or not, he started to cry. Others were now consoling him in Yoruba.

“When I asked what the problem was, the lady beside me explained that the conductor said he just realised he would never be able to get a girl like that in his life because he is an uneducated bus conductor and she was going to be a graduate. He was weeping because he knew no girl of her class might ever do to him what that girl just did, to touch a dirty person like himself; that the girl is nice and well brought-up and that if he had money he would have chased after her. So the passengers were consoling him in Yoruba that he would go higher in life and be able to marry a girl like that and that he should not cry because it was not the end of the road for him.

“That really touched me. For a moment in that conductor’s life, his facade of a street thug fell away and he was a vulnerable emotional aspiring young man, just like everybody else.”

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Although I have taken the liberty to edit the foregoing story which has been on the internet since last week, I have not in any way added anything to the content or distorted the message. While it was published on November 19 on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) News website without any attribution and the station is being credited for it, a Google search reveals that it was actually written and published on another website a day earlier by a Mr Roy Ofili. I hope the relevant authorities at the NTA will set the record straight and give credit to whom it is due.

However, what I find rather interesting is that all the people who have commented on the story cannot see beyond the tout who fell in love with a pretty girl (the proverbial beauty and the beast) and the fact that even roughnecks have their moments of introspection and sanity. But what made the story of particular significance for me is that I received it at a period the Redeemed Christian Church of God, which I attend, was going through its family week with activities lined up on the role of parents and the responsibilities of children.

I have therefore reflected a lot on it in the past one week but before I go ahead, let me apologise to my disappointed readers who must have lined up some topics they consider important for me to address on this page today. One issue I know some people would want my view on is the invasion of the All Progressives Congress (APC) office in Lagos by the Directorate of State Security (DSS). I don’t know what anybody would want me to say when the DSS deputy director, Information, Marilyn Ogar has already explained that the agency carried out the operation to investigate the allegation contained in a petition that the opposition party was cloning voters’ cards, before she added: “We are being proactive on account of the security situation in the country, you know that the Boko Haram has been targeting Lagos and so, we cannot afford the petition lying low.”

Even when you may wonder how Boko Haram came into the allegation of cloning voters’ cards in Lagos, I suppose it is the same “proactive” stance that made the Police to invade the National Assembly premises in Abuja though to be fair, it is “hoodlums” they said they were looking for. What is worrying for some people, however, is that at a time the law enforcers were flexing muscles at the lawmakers, throwing canisters of teargas at them, the real hoodlums they should be chasing were busy annexing territories, deploying young girls on suicide missions to commit mass murder and beheading scores of Nigerian fishermen in Borno State!

I am sure there are also readers out there who feel concerned that at a time we need our politicians to tell us how they would reposition the economy that is going into a tailspin with both oil prices and the value of Naira in a freefall, they are either jumping fences like banana-seeking monkeys or threatening to crush their opponents “like cockroaches”.

While I concede that all those issues are indeed important, the love story of the bus conductor contains some embedded lessons that also speak to the Nigerian condition though it is appropriate that we first deal with the existential issues surrounding it. At the conclusion of the family week in our Church last Sunday, our Pastor’s wife, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Azodoh, assistant director for Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and Resource Mobilization at the Federal Ministry of Health, summed up the failings of parents before she reminded children of their own responsibilities. From the interactions in the course of the service during which our pastor, Dr Eva Azodoh threw very weighty questions (prepared by children) at the audience to answer, I took away some lessons which may compel us to interrogate, for instance, how that love-struck conductor ended up in the motor park in the first place.

The first assumption is that he was probably brought up by parents who were not only poor financially but also poor in spirit hence did not consider the education of their child important enough to make the necessary sacrifices as some of our equally deprived parents did. Not only can I speak for myself in that regard, it is also evident that those who could not buy shoes for their son yet ensured he had early education (rather than allow him to become another fisherman!) must have made enormous sacrifices that have paid off today. Unfortunately, our society is today replete with irresponsible parents, especially among the menfolk. Many of them are no better than sperm donors who father children they don’t care for, leaving the women to bear the burden. It is therefore little surprise that many of such children end up as motor-park touts.

The second assumption is that the society failed the boy. In this context, we can also look at the role of government, especially at the level of the local government where the responsibility for primary education lies. On Tuesday, the 2014 World Population report was launched in Lagos. It is an annual publication of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which focuses on emerging demographic changes in population and how they impact on development. Titled “The Power of 1.8 billion: Adolescents, Youth and the Transformation of the future,” the report draws attention to the fact that nine out of ten young people (between the ages of 10 and 24) live in less developed countries (including Nigeria) despite limited access to education and growing poverty. The question therefore is: How many of the several millions of such young people that populate our society today would end up at the motor parks or similar stations in life due to no fault of theirs?
Finally, since the conductor cried and lamented, we can assume that he probably had the opportunity to go to school but wasted it. So, we can argue that the fault was not with his parents, in which case he was just another wayward child and we have many of them in our society. Last Sunday, Mrs Azodoh said children of today come with a culture of entitlement and the crisis of such inordinate expectations has led to the ruins of many. That then explains why the conductor was shedding what must have been tears of regret. He knew that having a decent and pretty girl like the one he encountered in the bus as a wife required some years of preparations and enormous sacrifices. But there was no way to rewrite the past.

Yes, those who were consoling the conductor that all was not lost also knew what they were saying; afterall, the boy could join politics, start as a thug and graduate into anything, including perhaps becoming a godfather of sorts with support from the motor park–a financially rewarding endeavour given the career of some politicians whose memories we should preserve. The conductor could even end up in the House of Representatives where his dexterity at throwing punches at policemen or jumping fences could become handy! But if we will be honest, those passengers must know, like the conductor himself knew, that it would take the special grace of God for him to disembark from what was easily a bus-ride to a purposeless life.

Today, there are also many of our yesterday’s men who are living in regrets of what might have been because of the opportunities they squandered when they held positions of authority in our land at practically all levels. The roads they didn’t build, the hospitals they neglected, the schools that collapsed on their heads and the several compromises they made in the course of seeking or retaining power, which may include the mismanagement of their succession process. Unfortunately, it is not them alone that are bearing the consequences of those choices; it is millions of our people that have seen a nation with so much promise unravelling before their very eyes. It is within that context that I would want us to look at why it is always better to do the right thing at the right time so that we would not end up, like the conductor, with tears of regret that could easily have been tears of joy, given a different scenario.

However, for those who believe in the power of redemption, we can also assume that the story of that hapless conductor did not end at the motor parks. Having realised the mistakes he made, he could probably decide to take responsibility for the past and make efforts for a better future that was still within his reach; after all, it is never late to embrace a more productive approach to life. And as it is with individuals, so it is with nations. There is no doubt that Nigeria has squandered its riches and mismanaged several opportunities and potentials but as late in the day as it may seem, our country is not a lost cause if only we can embrace a more productive approach to public issues.

Finally, as I apologise once again to my readers who may feel let down about my choice of topic for today, let us come back to that beautiful girl who did not see a conductor but rather another human being. The girl in the story represents the ideal leader: the one who would not relate with people on the basis of status, ethnicity or religion; one who would give everyone his/her due; one who believes that even a conductor deserves to be treated with respect and dignity and one who would fire the imagination of the seemingly hopeless (in this instance, with a simple peck), that could mark a turn-around in the fortunes of such people.

Whichever way we look at it, what is not in dispute is that our society is in dire need of politicians and public officials with the integrity of that “Danfo girl”, especially as we move towards the crucial 2015 general elections.

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The Verdict Written By Olusegun Adeniyi and Culled from Thisday; olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

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