My kids don’t lie, it’s natural attribute they learnt from me –Shittu, ex-communications minister

Shittu

A former Minister of Communications takes FATTEH HAMID through his journey to parenthood

Would you say you became a father too early, late, or at the right time?

This is an interesting question. I became a father at 27. Some may consider it too early, but there are so many other things I did early. For instance, I became a member of the Oyo State House of Assembly at 26. I also became a lawyer at 26, and my first child was born in 1980 when I was 27, so I wouldn’t know if that will amount to being too early, but I think I’m one person who has had the good fortune of doing too many things at the same time. So, there are no regrets.

How long did it take you to consider starting a family?

Well, I think what made it fast was because I was going to the House of Assembly; I became a politician from school at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), and I was planning to go to the House of Assembly and I felt like anybody who wanted to become a member of the House should be seen to be responsible and you know in Nigeria, the yardstick for responsibility is that you are married; so, I went ahead to contract marriage about the time I was planning to go to the House of Assembly; so, everything came at the same time.

Was finance a factor you considered?

Well, finance was not a very big issue then in the 1970s and 1980s. For somebody who was going to the House of Assembly, I didn’t have money and I didn’t have a bankroller; I relied essentially on my political activism and when I eventually got into the House, the issue of finance was no more a big issue in the sense that as a member of the House, I was one of the highest paid public servants in Nigeria. At that time, the salary was N1,000, and with N1,000, I mean despite the seemingly small amount now, it was enough to take care of my family; it was enough to take care of hangers-on and it was enough to take care of so many other issues in four years. Later, when I became a commissioner, my salary increased to I think N1,200. Again, that was something one could rely on. So, my finances were not an issue. Of course, today, a minister earns almost a million naira, but I can assure you that N1m is a big problem now, because taking care of your family and political hangers-on becomes a challenging issue.

What was the most important thing you considered before becoming a dad?

I considered my ambition and my evolving status as a member of the House, who must be seen to be responsible, and the responsibility that comes with it was the major consideration.

What comes to your mind when people talk about fatherhood?

Well, fatherhood to me is one’s preparedness to assume responsibility for not just oneself, but for a wife and children who come through marriage. Certainly, once you’re married, all the responsibility of your wife becomes your own. It doesn’t matter if your wife earns more than you by way of income or salary, the responsibility is still your own. So, you are responsible for her to eat, have decent accommodation, be properly clothed, and all of that. After that comes the children, the medical requirements of the children, feeding requirements of the children, clothing requirements, and all other essentials, which make bringing up children to be comfortable or, at least, convenient.

How did you receive the news of your first child?

The child didn’t come almost immediately; it took more than a year before my wife got pregnant. There were challenges. You know a child doesn’t come in a day; a child would have come over a period of nine months and when it comes, it becomes a relief to you. So, of course, I was happy my being responsible was becoming consolidated.

How did you feel when you saw your first child?

When he came, I carried him and did what Islam required me to do by saying the call to prayer to the two ears of the child, and then the obligation of care steps in; the child and mother would have to eat as well as their medical responsibilities; there’s no how you’ll give birth to a child and the child will not require medical attention. I took things in my stride; I didn’t have any problem coping with the demands of both the mother and the child.

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Some men are extremely emotional when they carry their first child, did you cry?

I didn’t have to cry because it was a thing of joy and we used to pray that God would never put us in a situation where we have to cry. So, I didn’t need to cry. I was happy and thankful to God and then prayed that the child would enjoy a long life and we would also have long lives and prosperity to take adequate care of the child.

Being Yoruba, is your culture particular about having male children?

Well, two-thirds of my children are female and I have no regrets about it, because from experience, female children are more caring of their parents. The male child, on the other hand, is already looking forward to becoming the head of a family and he’s also trying to look for other people’s daughters. But for the female child, the love is so much established between the father and the daughters. As a matter of fact, whenever I attend marriage ceremonies and clerics pray for the wife to bear more male children than females, I always challenge them. There are a lot of things your mind doesn’t like but which are good for you.

From my experience, my female children are more caring and they are more attached psychologically to the father; so, I always tell people it’s a wrong prayer; just pray that God gives you children who’ll be responsible, godly, and who’ll grow to become very good parents in the future. I don’t subscribe to this reactionary thinking that a child has to be male because a male child might get out of hand and from experience, I’ve seen that.

Do you miss bachelorhood?

Nothing has been missed from all that I have enjoyed in the past, because I have always tried to live as a responsible Muslim. I think that’s what is important. Islam already gave guidelines as to what type of life you live, whether you’re married or not, and to the best of one’s ability, you have to live by them. So, for me, I have not missed anything. Instead, I have enjoyed the responsibilities entrusted to me by marriage, and seeing promising children all around me makes me feel very happy. So, there’s nothing to miss about bachelorhood.

The insecurity in Nigeria is alarming. Do you feel concerned as a father?

Of course, I do. Every human being should be concerned. I met a friend, who was kidnapped and stayed in the kidnappers’ den for 35 days; it was a story of woes, a story of horror, inconvenience, and the risk of losing one’s life at any moment, because anybody can be gunned down. One definitely feels very concerned. It’s unfortunate and I’ve always said that the trauma we are facing today and the consequences of kidnapping and insecurity were not caused today but 40 to 50 years ago as a result of carelessness on the part of societal leadership, either political or traditional.

In the North, most of the fault came from northern traditional rulers, who over the years, had been oppressing the ordinary Hausa and Fulani herdsmen, oppressing them, taking away their animals, putting them in dungeons on trumped-up charges, extorting money from them, and therefore, what is happening now is a rebellion. On the other hand, part of the fault which can be ascribed to the political class is the fact that while our leaders in the South-West, like the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, were providing free and compulsory education, most of our leaders in the North didn’t see the need for it and it is said that an untrained child is the devil’s workshop; you know an uneducated person is the devil’s workshop.

Due to how busy you are when you were in public office and now, how do you bond with your children?

I already bonded with them. They are always around me and we always communicate through the phone when they are in school; there’s a synergy psychologically, socially and in the Islamic way. You see, God is the moulder of human lives. The father or the parents must lead an exemplary life, but from the journey of each parent, you have attributes inbuilt in the children. For instance, I can tell you that none of my children will tell a lie; if anybody comes to report any of them and say they told a lie, I will tell that person confidently that none of my children will lie, because being their real father, they take a lot of attributes from me naturally. I thank God for this and I’m happy and I thank God for all of them. They’re doing very well.

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Do you seek the advice of your children despite them being young?

We relate very well, that’s what is important. We never have cause to be confused about any issue. When they need advice, they ask me and things have been moving well. When issues arise, we discuss and see who has the more logical position to take on issues. Many of them are still in school and they rely on me for advice. But for those who are independent like my first son, who’s a senior economist with the African Development Bank, on business issues, I seek his advice and I always have it handy. I also have a daughter, who is a medical doctor. I have an engineer and others in the corporate world.

What is your opinion on discipline?

It is when children misbehave that you consider whether to spare the rod or spoil the child. But when you don’t have complaints, everything seems to be going on well, and everybody seems to be guided by God correctly. So, the issue has rarely ever arisen.

Do you counsel your children on affairs and relationships?

Yes, when they ask for it. You see, I didn’t have anybody to rely on by way of seeking advice. I was just growing and things were falling in place. So, when you’re in that kind of situation and you have the good fortune of your children being divinely guided, you have fewer challenges of guiding. I’ve always had cause to thank God, because all of my children are growing up without any special guidance from me; so, I have fewer jobs to do for them other than provide the basics such as tuition, maintenance, and all of that. In terms of academic studies, they’re all doing well, as well as in religion and human behaviour. So, I don’t have any cause to feel challenged.

What is the most important lesson fatherhood has taught you?

It’s not about lessons, it’s about meeting up with challenges and you know that when you have just one child, you cannot foretell how much you’ll need to spend on the child in a year. It’s not possible, not to talk of having so many children, who must eat, be clothed, be educated, engage in travelling here and there, and so on. These keep one on his toes to continue to be in consultation and absolute reliance on Almighty Allah for sustenance.

You’re a lawyer and a politician, are any of your kids toeing the same paths?

Well, three of my children have Law degrees but decided to get post-graduate certification in business, and I have another one, who’s in her final year as a Law student. I’m sure she’s more interested in alternative dispute resolution and all of that. Everyone is free to choose a path. I hope that the younger ones will be lawyers too. As for politics, interestingly, none of my children is interested in politics, and some of my wives think going into politics is wasting one’s time because Nigerian politics has no place for honest people. Nigerian politics has no place for righteousness. Nigerian politics is a haven for cutting corners, being dishonest and being fraudulent, so they see it as a place not meant for me. But I have not had any regrets because of politics. I have had the right exposure and, in my way, made contributions toward societal growth.

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Will you assume that Islamic knowledge is restricting your children from being politicians?

Well, God knows the interest that people have. When I was going into politics, it was just coincidental. While in school, I had been reading a lot about the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and sometime in 1977, I was in my penultimate year in the university and I got information during the holiday that he was coming to Saki, Oyo State. It was at the time the military was lifting the ban on politics and I decided that I must find a means of going to see him, to listen to what he was coming to Saki for. When the time came, I sneaked into the venue of the meeting, and in the course of the discussion, he made a statement that I perceived as if he was directing it to me.

He said, ‘My Saki people, a new era of politics is coming. If you have educated children, who are interested in politics, please, assist them’. I later learnt that he made that statement because, in the First Republic, there were no sufficiently educated Saki persons who could contest elections; so, by his coming, he was encouraging them to encourage their children so that they wouldn’t have to import candidates from Abeokuta, which was the practice in Action Group then. So, I took up the challenge. As for my children, I wouldn’t say what it is, but then for me, that was it.

Many young men today are finding it difficult to get married due to economic challenges. What’s your advice for them?

I think the responsibility must be on the You see, governors in the North, particularly in Kano and some other states, have been taking on the challenge of assisting young men and women to get married by providing financial succour and support. It must be of national importance, because if you allow young men and women, who are ripe for marriage and don’t encourage them to do things properly, you end up encouraging them unwittingly to do things wrongly. It is part of human nature that people must get married. I think also fundamentally, society must find jobs for young men and women, and that is primarily the job of the

The must remodel our educational system such that people won’t just come out of universities and polytechnics with ordinary paper qualifications without skills that they can fall back on. Today, I know that five million graduates are jobless and roaming the streets. As a minister, I know how many people came to me for assistance, and even outside the office, people still come thinking that I can work miracles. The way to go is entrepreneurship through skills acquisition. The entire federal civil service (workforce) is not more than two million and if you look at the number of graduates Nigeria institutions produce every year – I know Nigeria’s tertiary institutions produce more than 500,000 graduates – the can’t employ all of these people.

There’s hardly any service that you’ll provide through skills acquisition that will not turn out that customers are waiting for you. Even in the agricultural realm, there’s nothing in Nigeria that you produce that you will not have customers for. But the appears not to be doing enough in that regard, because most of the people in don’t have ideas. Those people in are going into politics because of self-aggrandisement, what they can put in their pockets and the ego of being a minister, among others. People are rarely prepared to go into political offices and yet they scramble with all kinds of desperation to get in there and when they get in there, they are unable to make positive impacts. The challenges are providing jobs and encouraging the youth to get married.

 

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