The holidays were here again! And there we were at the motor park, me, my brother and my dad waiting to be dispatched by dad to the village for the holidays. Oh how I hated those trips to the village! It had become a grueling ritual to be dispatched to the village at the end of every academic term.
My hatred for those trips was for varied reasons. To begin with, the roads leading to my village was deplorable to say the least. It made the journey, a one hell of a bumpy ride, and unnecessarily long too. Furthermore, staying in the village during those periods almost bored me to death, despite how young I was. I always wondered why dad had to do this to us every holiday. Why not just let us spend the holidays in Abakaliki where we lived then, so I could play soccer with my friends, I would wonder in exasperation. Folks in our neighborhood only travelled to their villages for holidays during Christmas periods but nay, our case was obviously different. Different perhaps, because of unfortunate circumstances we found ourselves, though was never created by us. Circumstances that surely made the task of taking care of two young, impressionable and hyperactive boys a terribly herculean task for dad he had to always ship us to our grandma’s every holiday, having separated from mum.
My grandparents were still alive, and lived in the village. Grandma was very illiterate, while Grandpa was well-educated, well-travelled, and exposed. He married six women and grandma was his second wife. He was a successful politician, having served as a legislator and a former federal minister in the first republic. An exceptionally brilliant man who understood what public service was. He had the privilege of being a member of Nigeria’s pioneer Federal Executive Council. The education ministry was his portfolio and he utilized it well to serve his country. I once came across a visiting elderly professor who taught us engineering drawing during my university days. When he saw my name and enquired who I was, he said to me with near teary eyes, “your grandfather gave me the opportunity to become who I am today. I was a beneficiary of his scholarship as a Minister”. It is interesting to note that this professor was from the south-western part of Nigeria. My grandpa was from the south-east. This was before tribalism and nepotism became a part of our politics. This was when merit, excellence, competence and character determined what one got or benefitted from this country. This was when public officials saw themselves as truly representing Nigerians and not just a community or ethnic group. A time when leadership was propelled by vision and not greed. Shehu Shagari, the first executive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria once said of grandpa, “ Ajanwachuku was a man who went into politics clean and came out cleaner”. They were colleagues in parliament. Little wonder Shagari as President, wasted no time in conferring him with the national honor of Commander of Federal Republic, CFR.
I had the privilege of interacting with this same great man, who happened to be my grandpa as a young lad. Whenever we arrived the village for the holidays, I would rush off to his study. He was old and retired at this time. However, among the several lessons he taught me, two had stuck with me over the years.
The first one is an admonition he always gave me after asking some default questions;
“Nda!” He would ask.
“Odunma Sir”, I would respond
Grandma always reminded me to always add ‘Sir’ when responding to grandpa’s enquiries.
“Unu emechiwo” (Have you vacated from school?)
“Yes Sir”, I would respond again.
Then he would ask the ‘killer’ question.
“Igbara onye one” (What was your position in class, in your last exams?)
I always came third or fourth during my primary school days. Never succeeded in my quest to be first in class, no matter how hard I tried then. Uzoma, Eucharia and John wouldn’t let me. We were rivals and somewhat friends at the same time.
“Never associate with people who are less intelligent than you are”. Grandpa would bellow in his characteristic husky voice. That was usually the first lesson.