Robbing our children of their childhood, By Adedamola Adetayo

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I live in Abeokuta. I love the peace here, na money remain.

When I first moved into my current apartment the place in December 2020, I tried to practice my old school, village upbringing.

My current accomodation is a three-bedroom flat in a block of four flats.

I took my wife and children and went KNOCKING on my neighbours doors to announce to them that we were their new neighbours.

I did introductions and asked for their phone numbers. We gave them ours.

It wasn’t long, less than a week before I was cured of my busybody tendencies and “bushness” spirit.

I quickly found out that it was a STRICTLY MIND-YOUR-OWN-BUSINESS setting.

All men to their flats!

All children locked up inside your flat.

No room for old school “shobolation”

The only point of contact was the GATE OF THE HOUSE and that is when one car has blocked another car or when someone has been locked outside in the late evenings and had cause to knock.

So our children were forever indoors

This is the third year and I keep telling myself that something is wrong.

Mercifully, the landlady who also lives there in the house is from the old school. She is a retired person and grandma and will excitedly and very often tell you of her own childhood in Obalende, Lagos.

You can imagine the poor old Urhobo woman living in this kind of setting when all her children were abroad and old man isn’t around.

Boredom must be her middle name. She has disappeared to the abroad for nearly a year now, flat locked up.

She has gone to be with her children. Eni eléni, ìyá onìyá

Just this morning, on school runs, out of curiosity, I asked Yorisola my 8-year old son very casually ” Did you see our neighbours’ children this morning?”

He answered me: “Which neighbours’ children?”

I fired back, I was actually getting irritated:

“Dont you you know our neighbours…ehn ehn, their children?”.

I wanted to call out their names to Yorisola but it suddenly struck me that I didn’t really know the names of those children!!!

My son told me he didn’t know either.

Wonderful.

It was a shocking realization for me.

It’s so unusual of me. I will normally want to know the names of EVERYBODY I lived with, even neighbours in other houses on the street!

That is the way of common sense.

My boy in OAU is always very RESTLESS. Without an Android phone + Data in his hands he becomes a near wreck. Just last week, I called him and had to ask him ” don’t you have friends? Don’t you guys visit one another???”

“Don’t you guys hang out or go out somewhere together?”

I often jokingly asked him if he didn’t have a girlfriend ni?

I don’t think I have seen or heard of anybody visiting my son and he hardly tells me he was visiting anybody.

Very often my younger children will complain of boredom to me.

It is a constant battle for me and their mothers to help the kids fill their time.

I will bring out lessons notes. The mother will force them to chores. DSTV subscription had to be valid at all times. You must break your neck most times to ensure there was fuel in the generator to use DSTV. You want to provide games in the house. Sometimes, when your tommy is full, you want to take them out to eateries to have fun.

At the eateries the children will be behaving as though they have just been released from cages.

What is going on here?????

There is a problem

Haven’t we robbed these children of a critical part of their childhood?

When you got to this stage you have no choice but for your mind to wander again to the past.

It’s always a nostalgia for me.

The early part of my childhood was on Olonode Street in Yaba. I spent the first 8-years of my life there. Childhood was fun in those days. As children, even at that age, we could move together [ unescorted ] from Olonode to our school – Ladi-lak Primary – on Akinwunmi street on the other side of Herbert Macaulay, to Ilé kéwú around Borno way for the Arabic lessons and to then to wakeman street to PLAY.

Very regularly someone will bring a large tray full of rice, meat and tantalizing stew and we children will be called upon to comman eat Sàárà.

It was a feast. We will eat and then pray for the one who provided it, perhaps she was praying and looking into God for children of her own.

It was a simple thing, no one thought anything of it.

Those memories have never left me till this day.

When we moved into the Amuwo-Odofin [ Festac Extension] Estate in 1978, there were only the Sixty (60) blocks of flats of that estate in the whole of what is called Amuwo-Odofin today.

Alhaji Jakande hadnt started his Low-Cost Estate and there were no developments on Amuwo-Odofin GRA or Ago-Palace way road.

After over 20years that I left that estate, even off hand as I write I can remember exactly the layout of the entire estate

we had a total 60 BLOCKS

26 Blocks of 16 nos flats. = 416 flats
12 Blocks of 32 nos flats. = 384 flats
22 Blocks of 8 nos flats. = 176 flats

There were 976 flats in that estate.

At the rate of A VERY MINIMUM of four (4) persons per flat, there were AT LEAST 3,904 SOULS living in that small space.

It was a heavily cosmopolitan environment – Yorubas of different dialects, Igbos, Ibibios, Edos, Urhobos/Isokos, Ijaws, some Hausas were the predominant ethnicities in the estate.

Ofcourse the Yorubas should have been more.

Yoruba and Pidgin English were the lingua franca in the estate.

It could have qualified for a MILITARY BARRACKS.

The Estate was built for the guests ofFestac 77 but from the mindset of the SOLDIERS.

But this isn’t a.matter for today.

The koko of the story is that 3,904 People of different backgrounds, ethnicity, religion and class lived in that estate.

Believe me, EVERY SINGLE PERSON of those 3,904 was well known by somebody.

There was hardly any of those 976 flats that we didn’t have one cause or the other to enter as children.

There were uncountable reasons for you to have gone into all the 976 flats. You had your childhood friends to see and play with. Your mother or father could have sent you on errands. You may have gone to buy something in any of the flat. Your after-school lessons may be anywhere anywhere

I was there for 21years. My critical childhood was spent in that estate.

It was FUN!!!!

As children, we could move from that estate and travel far into what is now called Ago-Palace road. There was a garden in that area those days. You could get any fruits from that garden.

It was nature at its best.

The place now called Amuwo-Odofin GRA used to be our fields ofstreams . We went there to swim and PLAY.

A child could pick his ball or bicycle and run across the canal to play in FESTAC TOWN to PLAY.

A Yoruba child could confidently tell his parents that he was going to spend the night with the family of his Ijaw or Igbo friends who lived several blocks away.

As children we PLAYED!!!

As children we BONDED.

As children we visited ourselves so routinely it was natural. Boys could go into the homes of girls to visit.

GOD, WE PLAYED!!!!

And our parents never lost sleep.

And we were very disciplined. Many of us have grown to become accomplished professionals and personalities.

Yes, ofcourse there were bits of excesses of the juveniles and youth exuberance of the young adults but by and large, we were very good and those were all parts of learning anyway.

A man could prepare Eba in flat 8 of block 32, come down the stairs with or without plate in hand, walk across to Block 31, climb the stairs to flat 10 just to get soup with which to eat the Eba.

Such communal lives we lived that we soon began to see ourselves as BROTHERS AND SISTERS so much it was very uncommon to have found anyone of us childhood friend got married to another.

I know only quite a few who married themselves.

We believed and acted as though we were all relatives.

Infact at some point in the middle 1990s as we were becoming young adults, one of our mummies in the estate, an Ijaw woman called me:

” Zubirin [ Jibril ] this una sisters dem wey don dey grow, una no dey marry dem. Girls wey una don know wey wey from small, una know their papa and mama, una no dey gree marry dem. Na girls wey una no know how dem grow na hom una dey go pursue dey bring come marry. Who go dey marry this una sisters dem now?”

That was around 1996/97.

It was much later I realized the wisdom of mama in that statement!!!

There can’t be anything like marrying your childhood friend. There couldn’t be a greater love than that.

Such was our childhood.

Such was the childhood that most of the people of my age group got.

Even the people of my era who lived in places like Surulere and Ikoyi lived that life.

We BONDED and that BOND endured till this day.

It is the childhood which we now COLLECTIVELY ROB OUR CHILDREN OF.

In the past, holiday was sending your children to your relatives or the village to your parents to change environment, to learn wisdom, to see life from different perspectives and to get to know that the earth didn’t revolve around your parents alone.

That has changed.

Holiday today is a matter of packing your children inside plane and head for Dubai, Paris, London and America to blow money.

We are building HARDENED CHILDREN who are becoming less caring and heartless like the children of those people whose life we are trying to copy.

We are ROBBING CHILDREN OF THEIR CHILDHOOD and soon the psychological impact of this will begin to take effect when, as we are seeing already, some children begin to do things abnormally.

There is a problem!!!!

In my own little I try to do my best.

I allow my kids to go to the fields to play with other kids, I only maintain a strategic distance to monitor their play while being unobstructive to their activities.

We have missed road.

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