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I can’t buy a house for any child even if I’ve the money — Oni

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A former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Management Services) of the University of Lagos, Prof. Duro Oni, shares what fatherhood has taught him with OLUSHOLA RICKETTS

How did you meet your wife?

We met during the preparations for FESTAC 77. She was schooling at the University of Calabar and they came to Lagos to take part in the celebration. Since about 20 students, including my wife, were in my care, I was responsible for taking them around. We became friends afterwards and got married seven years later.

Did you find it hard wooing her?

I was already a ‘big boy.’ I drove a Peugeot 504 and I had a flat to myself. Though my wife is from Cross River State and I am from Osun State, we have been married for 34 years now.

How has the journey of fatherhood been for you?

Fatherhood comes with lots of responsibilities. As a father, you want the best for your wife and kids. I have four kids –two boys and two girls. My first and last children are girls.

Did you wish your first child was a boy?

No, I didn’t wish so. In fact, if I had given birth to only girls, it wouldn’t have worried me as they are less stressful to manage. Boys can be troublesome, but I have been lucky because all my children have behaved well since their tender ages. They all graduated from the University of Lagos.

Though none of my kids is into my profession, I am happy for them. My wife and I read theatre arts. My first daughter studied psychology and she is now a chartered accountant. My second child read physical and health education and he is into international trade. My third child studied estate management and he works in a bank as a financial analyst and the last child, who also studied psychology, is into digital and online marketing.

Would you say you married early?

I married at the appropriate time. I got married on July 28, 1984. I think I was mature enough for marriage. I did not consider it too late, though the marriage could have come earlier. We started making family immediately, which made us have our kids on time.

How do you feel that none of your children is following in your career path?

I don’t dictate to my children because I believe they are responsible for their own choices. When I wanted to study theatre arts, I had an uncle who felt it was not a good profession for me. He felt I was too intelligent for the profession but I insisted it was what I wanted to do. My mother gave me her support and I think I have done well for myself.

My children are doing well; they don’t come to ask me for money. Of course, when they have a project, I try to support them in the areas I have the capacity. Also, three of my children are married.

Did you witness your wife give birth to any of your children?

The Onis

I am not sure it is a pleasant thing for any man to experience. I cannot remember which of my kid, but my wife gave birth once inside a car. When she told me the water had broken, I didn’t understand her. Being on a university campus, we had a medical doctor near us. In the middle of the night, I drove her to the doctor’s place. Before I returned with the doctor, she had given birth. My neighbour, who was a nurse, helped her. We later went to the medical centre and she received further treatment.

My kids were born in a maternity clinic at Yaba, Lagos. I don’t believe in the idea of taking one’s wife to a private hospital. They only charge you a lot of money and put a television set in your room. It doesn’t mean we don’t have private hospitals that render quality service.

Were you scared of starting a family?

No, I was not scared. I had left the university years ago before marriage. I even had a master’s degree before marriage and I was already a lecturer at the UNILAG. There was nothing to be afraid of as I was well prepared for the challenges ahead. I knew that there were certain things that would come with starting a family, but I had already taken care of the basic things like food, shelter and others. Those days, we used to pay N25 for a three-bedroom flat on campus.

How did you manage your career as a teacher and a father?

Essentially, one has to be devoted to many things. While you are devoted to your job and you do it very well, you must prioritise your family because they have needs and you must meet them. There was a symbiotic relationship between my job and the family because both complement each other.

I like taking my kids on vacations. We could all travel to Abuja or outside the country, but there was no time we went on the same aircraft. For me, it made sense to avoid any mishap. I would travel with the boys and my wife would travel with the girls.

How did you create time for your children?

Those days, they came with me to Ikoyi Club, which I joined in 1990. They loved going to the club and we visited a lot as a family. Two of my children have advanced from junior to senior members. This means, for membership, they paid like 50 per cent of the fee.

Did you discuss issues of opposite sex with your daughters?

For the boys, we talked and shared drinks together. But for my daughters, my wife took care of them. She talked to them about life, sex and other necessary things they needed to know while growing up. When you have a good family, responsibilities are shared. But my kids are very close to me.

How did your father raise you?

I am from a polygamous family. When we were growing up, my father had three wives but he was a wealthy man. We were born in Minna, Niger State.

The polygamous home succeeds when the man has the capacity to take care of his family; so, there were no issues. But all the women were enterprising. Before my mother, who was the second wife, passed on, she built two houses in Minna. She ran a chain of restaurants at the railway station and did some catering services too.

What values did you inherit from your dad which have helped you as a father?

My father didn’t like us to go hungry. Regardless of anything, they had to be enough food for everyone in the house. My father was known then as Sabokudi, which means new money. When we were growing up, he only spent new money. I had taken after him because I like to spend new money.

My father also taught me that there was no substitute for hard work. He would always say “remember the son of whom you are and where you are coming from in whatever you do.” If you did something that tarnished the family’s name, he would be the first person to disown you.

My kids know they cannot show up with money or things they are not supposed to possess. My child cannot suddenly buy, for instance, a Ferrari, and I will not question where the money comes from.

My father worked very hard; he worked for his family and he worked to protect his family. I inherited the desire to work hard from him. Sometimes, people wonder why I do late hours in the office and how I reply messages at odd hours.

What are your challenges as a father?

None comes to mind at the moment, but sometimes, the kids expect too much from me. Some of them wanted to get married and they felt I should have a lot of money to fund the wedding. But I will only do what I am capable of because no parent needs to collect loan to give a child a befitting wedding. I believe in the value of moderation. I think we had a little disagreement over that. Even though I told the child I was ready for the wedding, it didn’t mean I would sell my house for its success.

How did you attain your level of success?

Being focused is a very important thing. I enjoy what I do. I did not want to be anything else but a theatre artist. I have been working at the UNILAG for many years. We didn’t have the Department of Creative Arts in the university before; I initiated the idea. What we had before was the Centre for Cultural Studies of the University of Lagos and I was the last director between 1992 and 1997. But while I was the director, I said we could not continue as a centre. I advised we started a degree programme for the three arms of the creative arts – theatre arts, music and visual arts.  In 1999, we started the Department of Creative Arts.

You have to bring values into the system you operate in.  From being the director of the then centre, I became the Head of the Department of Creative Arts. I was also the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and deputy vice-chancellor of the UNILAG. I was even in the race to become the next VC of UNILAG during the last selection process. But once someone emerges as the VC, we have a responsibility to support the person because the system is bigger than everyone. I was in the race; I was interviewed for the job.

What challenges did you face on your way to the top?

Sometimes, people get a bit envious. I was given two appointments by the Federal Government. From 1990 to 1992, I was the special adviser to the Minister of Youths and Culture. From 2000 to 2006, I was the director general and chief executive of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation. Some certain people felt I was getting too much. For me, if anyone becomes successful, I will be the first person to congratulate him or her and also organise a little reception.

I have another four years and eight months before retirement. I pray for good health, God’s blessings to see that age and bow out of the university.

Five years is still a long time, but the last thing I want is to retire and move to a rented apartment. I have been living on campus for 38 years. I have my own house and I decided not to rent it out so that I wouldn’t have to argue with the tenant whenever I need to move in.

What do your children tease you about?

They think I spent too much time working. Whenever I am at home, my laptop is on, which means there is something I am working on. It is always an issue for them because they feel I need to rest.

The other aspect is that I travel a lot. I have been to about 61 countries of the world. I have seen the entire continents.

How did you punish your kids?

I never beat my kids. Once I gave them a look or gesture, they understood what they needed to do. But my wife spanked them a few times; they were more scared of her than me.

How did you reward them whenever they impressed you?

There were plenty ways. While they were growing up, if they wanted something or to go somewhere, they would send the last child because they felt she was my favourite and I would oblige.

They are good kids, but I don’t believe in spoiling kids. I didn’t buy my children cars while they were in school. But once they started working and they had saved a little money, I was supportive. I didn’t stop them from driving my car, however.

How would you advise children without father figures?

Being without parents doesn’t stop you from getting to where you want to get to. Though there are benefits, having parents can also be a disadvantage for some people because they get spoilt. Even when they get married and have a little fight with their wives, they will run to their parents. They are yet to grow up and I think that can be problematic.

I don’t control my kids and they are doing well. They don’t come to me complaining about their spouses. I didn’t choose a partner for anyone; so, they should ensure things work in their home.

As a teacher, what problems do you think students face that are traceable to bad parenting?

In the university, we are not happy with the level of hygiene of certain students. When you see the way they live, it is obviously an extension of their way of life in their houses.

There was a top government official who bought a Range Rover for his son in 200 level. For me, that is the height of irresponsible parenting. Once he graduates, what does he want to buy for himself? If you must buy him a car, there are smaller and cheaper ones. I believe such makes students lose concentration because it means they have enough money to live a reckless life. We have seen cases where students are involved in accidents while coming back from nightclubs because they had too much to drink and drove at a high speed.

If you want to bring up your kids well, you have to provide basic needs. Spoiling your kids can be counterproductive, which is not good for them as well as the parents.  Even if I have the money, I cannot buy a house for a kid. I want them to work for whatever they want. As an individual, you must develop your own self-esteem and self-confidence.

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