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End of session valedictory speech: From station to station – Part 1

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Amir, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaát Nigeria, Dr. Mashhud Adenrele Fashola (left); Naib Amir, Northern Region, Dr. Yeqeen Habeeb; and Naib Amir, South West, Dr Abdul Azeez Alatoye, during post-Ramadan dinner held in Lagos

Amir, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaát Nigeria, Dr. Mashhud Adenrele Fashola (left); Naib Amir, Northern Region, Dr. Yeqeen Habeeb; and Naib Amir, South West, Dr Abdul Azeez Alatoye, during post-Ramadan dinner held in Lagos

In the name of the Almighty, the Beneficent the Merciful

“Know that the life of the world is only play, and idle talk, and pageantry, and boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children; as the likeness of vegetation after rain, whereof the growth is pleasing to the husbandman, but afterward it drieth up and thou seest it turning yellow, then it becometh straw. And in the Hereafter there is grievous punishment, and (also) forgiveness from the Almighty Allah and His good pleasure.” (Q57: 20)

Brethren, it was meant to be one of those community services. As an intellectual whose main vocation is the production of knowledge and the illumination of spaces of ignorance, I accepted the invitation to give a talk in the college’s end of year valedictory service. The college is reputable in the city; it is one which provides opportunities for the high and the low, the powerful and the powerless. In the college, children of those in the middle of the social ladder in our society equally find space. The college images our world today – you can choose your friend but in most times you cannot choose your neighbour.

But I have since discovered that end of session celebrations is fast becoming one way by which currents in our society could be gauged. The occasion has ceased being for the children – young boys and girls who are transiting from one station of life to another; it has become occasions during which parents get a sense of how ‘successful’ they have been in life.

Thus days before the d-day, the city centre was held by in the jugular by shopping parents and their children. Yes. They had to shop for that particular fabric, for that particular colour combination. “Mummy’’, the girl pleaded, “I want the very best no matter what the cost is”. ‘Of course’, her mother responded with glee and happiness. Thus on that day, the girl came to the school with materials, clothes and shoes worth over fifty thousand Naira. When her friends assessed the quality of the product on her, they discovered that what her other classmate wore and which cost far less than her own was actually better and of higher quality. Money can build a house, but it cannot buy peace and sleep.

What about the big boy? His suit material was imported from Netherlands, his shoe was imported from Italy while his wrist-watch was bought from Germany. Days before the celebration, he had told his father that he wanted the latest Samsung tablet as gift on the occasion of his successful completion of her secondary school. I told my boy: “the problem I have with this ostentatious life is that they do not endure. Show me a cloth that you would put on and you would not have to remove at night then I would buy it for you no matter what it cost. No matter how beautiful the material is it is foreign to your real being and essence.” Brethren, if parents now celebrate the completion of secondary education this way, what are they going to do when these kids complete their university education?

Eventually, I found myself in the school. I was also a parent like others. I wore the best of my clothes. I put on the best shoes I could afford to buy from my paltry salary. Shortly after the speech of the Chair of the Governing Council of the School, I was given the microphone. I looked left and right. I contemplated the faces and the images all around me. Then I began my speech as follows: Ladies and gentlemen! I thought we can begin with a simple question: why are we all here? I thought we are here to celebrate the end; the end of session. But is this the end? No. Then we must be here for something greater than the end; something more profound. I thought we are here to celebrate the beginning not the end; the beginning of another journey in the life of these children. Today’s occasion is instructive of the fact that life is nothing but series of beginnings, not endings; our graduations are not terminations, but commencements; all procreations are about creations; all creations are about procreations.

I took a deep breath then continued: “Ladies and gentlemen, yet another question: for whom are we here? In whose glory is today? This beautiful day is for whom? Is it for these boys and girls; for the babies of yesterday who have become big boys and girls of today? Or is today’s occasion for you, dear parents, not these kids? Yes. It is for us. That today is for us is the reason we put on some of our best clothes this morning. Yes. Today is for you not for them. Today is for you sir simply because you have been privileged to be parents of boys and girls who have come to be in one of the best colleges in United States of Nigeria. Today is for you – today is for you because of the many babies who came to the world the day you bore these girls and boys, your own boy and girl are not only alive, they are actually living; they are not only living they appear to be on the right course for greater tomorrow.

But ladies and gentlemen, on greater contemplation, I discovered that today is neither for you, for us, nor for this college. Today belongs to the Almighty. It is He who has brought us all here. He brought us here from the hospital – from the labour room to the labour ‘house’; the “house of labour” – of wet beds and sleepless nights; of weeping babies and cuddling fathers. Ladies and gentlemen, the journey that started 15, 16 or 17 years ago has remained fresh; the seed was planted; it was watered; it needed sunlight; it received one in abundance; it needed trimming; it received trimming with style; no cane; no pain; it needed clothing; it got one. Like the special one, we have all enjoyed special favours.

On the road where accidents have occurred we have been saved, rescued and preserved; in seasons of anomie when people are killed for fun, we have been protected; at a time the healthy ends up in the morgue, ours has been that of wealth and health. Since the day we bore them, He, the Almighty, has preserved them for us. We have since got girls and boys who have been calling us ‘father’ and ‘Mother’. We have remained the canopy under which these beautiful children have found comfort. Yours and mine have remained at the centre-piece of existence. Of which favours of your Lord can we deny? Ladies and gentlemen! This day is not for you; this day is not for them. It is to Him and for Him alone, the Almighty!!!

Now it is from the above that I hinge my speech this morning. During the past six years, we have striven to be the best of parents to our children. But who are we? – Children of former poor parents. Who are we? – Children of farmers and Gari-sellers in villages which lacked water and electricity. Who are we? We are Professors, Ph.D holders, engineers, lawyers and accountants.

In other words, most parents here today were once children of men and women who were unknown in the cities. We read our books on our own; we had to do that because we had parents who could not read. We obtained WAEC and GCE forms by ourselves; we had parents who did not know what these acronyms meant. We had nobody to tell us to read our books. Nobody told me to obtain the JAMB form let alone to prepare well for it. We went to school with tattered clothes, worn-out shoes and in emaciated tummies.

My wife would not eat unless and until she went to the bush, fetch firewood, sell same in the market before procuring her meal at night. We were like Jesus Christ with no father; we were like Muhammad who was born posthumously. Jesus Christ had nobody to call my ‘daddy’; yet he achieved his destiny on earth; Prophet Muhammad lost his father and mother very early in life, yet he became the best of men. We were like them. We were ophans of time and destiny; we were destined for greater today. And here is today.


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