Letter to Ayo Opadokun
Posted By: Olatunji Dare On: May 8, 2018
My dear Ayo:
When a gang of armed robbers staged a daring and spectacular raid on five banks and left more than 30 persons dead some two weeks in Offa, in Kwara State, I was more than a little jolted. I know the town quite well. In the late sixties, when I was teaching in a secondary school some 15 miles away, Offa was the nearest town served by a bank, and I was one of its hundreds of out-of-town patrons.
Travelling up north by train, I had the choice of boarding in Ilorin on a direct route 30 miles away or in Offa, en route which I would have to change transportation at Ajasse-Ipo, a mere six miles away from my base. But despite that inconvenience, I usually boarded at Offa. The railway station was more passenger-friendly, boarding was less stressful, and you were almost sure to get a seat.
Offa also served me as a second home for some four years during which my wife taught at local girl’s secondary school St Clare’s, and I commuted from Lagos as a visiting spouse.
A good many of my classmates in secondary school and university hail from Offa, and some among them, like your good self, whom I am proud to number as cherished family. How could the desperate bandits have settled on a town that was rarely in the news except during feuds over succession to the Oloffa stool, or boundary disputes with its neighbours, chiefly Erin-Ile, for their murderous visitation?
The last time I visited was in 1985 or so, for the burial of your mother. Also in attendance, I recall, was the late Dr Olu Onagoruwa (SAN), and your fellow attorneys in his law practice in tow. I will forever cherish having your principal, your good self, and four of your colleagues in my corner at the Lagos High Court during the hearings of my lawsuit against the Nigeria Television Authority.
These were the sentiments that welled up in my mind as I learned of the raid, and the wanton spilling of so much innocent blood.
When the police declared a young man with the surname Opadokun a suspect in the armed robbery, I became alarmed. Something told me that the young man might turn out to be a relation of yours – a cousin or nephew – most likely someone belonging in the extended Opadokun family. For, among our people, Opadokun is not a common name. And I daresay everyone who encounters it thinks immediately of you who have by your noble and unstinting endeavours on the political, social and religious planes turned it into a household name in Nigeria.
My alarm grew into panic when I learned that the young man in question had positively been identified as your 38-year-old son Kayode. I was shattered. Nothing had prepared me for this piece of distressing news.
We meet – mostly by chance these days; we meet, we reminisce, we rap, we compare notes, we promise to stay in touch, and we move on. When we talk about children, it is usually in the most perfunctory terms. “The children are doing well, we thank God,” we say reflexively. I had no reason to suspect that your only son had, to your grief, and now to mine, chosen a different, self-destructive path.
If there is anything I find even more distressing than the grief into which you have been plunged anew, it is the charge that has taken wings in the media that you had been so deeply engrossed in the political goal of building a new, more just, more caring and more equal society that you had neglected to attend to the immediate needs of your own family; that Kayode’s circumstances resulted from the failure of parenting.
The charge has a familiar ring, but that does not make it a whit less unfeeling, less presumptuous and less gratuitous. In fact, I am almost prepared to say that it is slanderous.
Parenting is one of the most demanding and trickiest tasks a person can undertake. And yet, paradoxically, it is never taught. You learn on the job as it were, guided but not always to the most salubrious degree by the examples of your own parents, by your inner lights, by your observations of other families, and by a thousand other influences.
No outcome is guaranteed. Here, the common wisdom that the apple never falls far from the tree may well be false, at least in a literal sense. A child reared in a home that sets the highest store by rectitude can grow into a wayward adult; vice versa, though this outcome is rarer, a child brought up in the most dissolute of homes can grow up into a fine, morally upright person, as shown by the example of Alyosha, the youngest of the Brothers Karamazov in Dostoyevsky’s great novel of the same name.
Peer pressure and hundreds of other factors render a particular outcome more uncertain still. So that, if a son or daughter shuns the usual vices, comes across as a person of good report and generally stays away from trouble, we should give thanks for our good fortune. Rejoice. But we must heap no blame on those parents whose children grew wayward.
Pay no heed to such people, Ayo. They are not worthy of your notice. You have no reason to blame yourself for doing things you should not have done, or for omitting to do things you should have done. Save your energies for the more urgent and much more difficult task of standing by Kayode, and standing by him unconditionally, just as you must love him unconditionally.
That is the task before you. That is what your Baptist faith and all scripture enjoin. Allow nothing to divert you from that task.
There are those who will say that, even if you are personally upstanding, there may be something in your wife’s family that contributed to Kayode’s waywardness. That mind, well entrenched in our folkways, was captured well by the songster: “If a child does well, they say he is the son of his father; if he misbehaves, they say the child takes after the mother.”
You must banish them from your company, Ayo. They do not mean well for your family, or for your peace of mind at this difficult time.
I know that despite your enormous sacrifices to make Nigeria the country of our dreams, you are a person of very modest means. You often do the grunt work, but they hardly remember you when they are sharing out the spoils.
But you must, Ayo, harness your resources to afford Kayode the best legal defence possible. In juridical terms, that may not avail much. But it will show Kayode that you care. It will show him that you love him.
It will show him that you are prepared to welcome him back into the family’s embrace; that you have forgiven his prodigality.
Now is the time for your associates, your political family, to show their support and solidarity.
At 38, Kayode is a young man, with many years ahead of him. He needs to spend those years, wherever he finds himself, knowing that he is loved and cherished. That knowledge, that realisation, may well make him turn away from his bad ways now and live a life worthy of you, his mother, his siblings, and the larger Opadokun family.
Please know, my friend and brother, that my thoughts and prayers are with you and yours. May your faith sustain you at this difficult time.
All the best in your present travail.