“I am a serving Colonel in the Army. But as long as I live, I am determined to train my son to wait for his turn in this country. I can disgrace all these soldiers coming to help young men like him jump the queue but I don’t want to cause a scene here and I don’t want to pull ranks.”
I’m in a hotel room in Amsterdam. A ten-hour layover and I decide to enter Amsterdam, stroll around downtown a bit before getting a hotel room. Now I can process what happened at the airport in Lagos yesterday evening.
At the chaotic KLM check-in counter in Murtala Mohammed Airport, any Nigerian who felt that rules, law and order are only meant to be respected outside of Nigeria [and that is most Nigerians] was somehow trying to undermine the queue.
Every queue jumping strategy, from shunting to ojukoroju attempts to squeeze yourself and your ten suitcases [abeg wetin Nigerians dey pack? Why we dey get so much luggage?] past people to claiming that “I was here before. I just went “to ease” myself”, was on display.
Directly behind me was one exemplary man. I was on my best behaviour. I had promised myself that I would mind my airport business and resist airport sobolation. My nose refused to obey my orders and started poking itself into the affairs of the man behind me.
It was the fault of the man’s wife that I entered sobolation mode. I had only just taken a mental note of the fact that two young men in their late teens or thereabouts – looking every part of undergraduates going back to school in Europe or North America – jumped the queue with the aide of two soldiers who accompanied them.
I had only just begun to process the fact that Nigeria’s rich and indolent further spoil their already spoilt children by having soldiers accompany them to the airport to help them disobey rules and cheat other law abiding citizens, when a woman behind me began to grumble very loudly to her son: “I don’t know why your father is like this. He alone will repair Nigeria. It is always his own that is different. See what his juniors are doing and he is keeping us here in the queue.”
Now, the woman has my attention. I look back at the family. A young man of about fifteen was trying to calm his mother down. The man trying to single-handedly repair Nigeria did not pay them any heed. He remained calm and composed. His wife whined on and on and on about the time they could save if “only Daddy will not always behave like Nigeria is his father’s property.”
I stole a second glance backward. The man under accusation caught me in full sobolation mode this time and smiled. I returned the smile. Then he started a long conversation that was absolutely sweet music to my ears.
He asked me if I thought that Nigeria was being ruined by the leaders or the people. I said I believed that leaders and followers were equal opportunity spoilers of Nigeria. He agreed with me but claimed that the people were worse culprits than the leaders.
“Look at what has been going on here on this queue”, he said, barely able to hide his contempt for the law-breaking, rule-disobeying Nigerian humanity around us, “What has any of this got to do with the leaders? What has adults who can’t wait patiently for their turn in a queue got to do with leaders?”
I replied that it is all intertwined because many of them have never seen a leader or a Nigerian big man who waited for his turn in their entire adult lives. I told him that the previous day, I had witnessed the convoy of a Deputy Governor jump the queue at the toll gate leading to the airport in Abuja.
Worse, they did not pay the toll! Why should Nigerian public officials, who practically get everything for free, not pay toll fees?
Again the man agreed with me but insisted on apportioning greater blame to the people. Then he added this: “I am sure you have heard my wife who has been complaining. I am a serving Colonel in the Army. But as long as I live, I am determined to train my son to wait for his turn in this country. I can disgrace all these soldiers coming to help young men like him jump the queue but I don’t want to cause a scene here and I don’t want to pull ranks.”
By now, the man has earned more than my attention. He has earned my admiration. He continued on the significance of values. Of the need to raise his son’s generation properly if Nigeria is to stand any chance.
It was obvious he had already written off any generation of Nigerians twenty-years-old and above. It was obvious he believed that Nigeria’s only chance was with 15-year-olds and younger – like his son.
Those are the ones who might still be rescued from corruption and indiscipline if only the parents raising them would insist on doing right by their kids and not send soldiers to help them break the law.
By now, we had exchanged complimentary cards and promised to keep in touch. More gists! By now we had become friends. The Colonel kept complaining bitterly about how, we the people, are the ones ruining Nigeria and how he would not allow his son to acquire the wrong values.
“It is already bad enough that we have to send him to school abroad because we must be honest with ourselves and accept that the school system here is beyond hopeless.”
My mind was going to stray into the part where it should start to be amazed that even serving Nigerian soldiers on a military salary can now afford to send their kids to school abroad.
I decided to rebuke my mind by warning it not to try any nonsense by trying to ruin my excellent impression of the soldier trying to do right by his son.
After all, if the Chief of Army Staff breeds snakes and successfully uses his savings on snakes to buy Dubai mansions, with which mouth is one to query his officers if they breed crocodiles and use the proceeds to send their children to school abroad?
“Park well!”, I ordered my mind.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada.