Of God and godfathers – Fola Ojo

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Tito was a tiny, scrawny Italian young man with scraggly beard and resolute spirit.  I met him in Providence, Rhode Island where we both toiled and sweated trying to make a living as labourers in an automobile battery factory. That was 30 years ago when, as one of Nigeria’s many young men and women seeking respite abroad, I just escaped the muggy weather and hurly-burly of Lagos to try out the blistering winter of the US East Coast. Tito taught me a bit.

What I now know about Italian doggedness, tenaciousness, and no-nonsense postures came from his academy. Tito once told this little Italian joke-cum-folklore: “The world is so hard; a man must have two fathers to look after him, and that’s why they have godfather.” I learnt from Tito that Italians always get what they want through the power of cooperative collaboration.

A man’s gifts and talents may not see the light of day until he begins to ride on other people’s shoulders. These people become mentors and facilitators. The good one sows into your life without an expectation of harvest. The mean one I call ‘Pharaoh’ only needs you to make bricks for him and without straws. A man who finds himself leaning on the shrill shoulders of mean men will have his life roil up in turbid turmoil. But the shoulders of merciful men are swathed up with honey that brings about good treasures. 12th century French neo-Platonist philosopher, Bernard Chartres, said: “…we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.” All men need other men to become great men.

I tore through the veil of journalism profession for the first time in 1984 at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism. Shortly after the ‘baptism’, I discovered the percolating influence of godfathers in the trade. I yearned for mentors I didn’t have. I only saw godfathers I didn’t need. On the field, I ran into men I had read their beautifully crafted stories on the pages of newspapers. They were names I adored, and personalities I respected, believed, and beloved. On the beat, I found out that professional skills of some of them didn’t match the beautiful reports carrying their ‘by-lines’. They didn’t have a grasp of what it took for the assignments on hand. But, for years they kept their jobs, rose through the ranks, and got the juiciest assignments. They were made big only because they had godfathers in the newsroom who helped rejig their reports with flowery languages that didn’t represent the levels of their linguistic or reportorial skills. They were pushed up the ladder of recognition by godfathers that some of us didn’t have. God eventually came through without a godfather. It hurts when you know the gifts of God you carry, but there are no men or platforms to exercise the skills and achieve your dreams. It is piercingly painful.

There are men who will never beg anyone for positions, lobby men to achieve a dream, or push for preferential treatments over others. I live in that world. They wait until God brings into manifestation what He has in plans for them. Into His loving hands they commit all desires until their chances come to move up. They got sound education and tintinabulating tutoring in their professions hoping to break through the glass ceiling with their acquired skills. Yet, these men with applaudable aplomb never rode to stardom because they have no godfather. Men who hate godfatherism, and who will not surrender to tinkling toadyism always have it tough surviving a terrain ruled by godfatherism. Shouldn’t the skills of men make way for them? Unfortunately, in a milieu like Nigeria, your good works may not always get you the good job. Your degree or pedigree may not open great and effectual doors of opportunities for you. If you live or do business in my country, you must acquiesce to the goading of godfathers to survive. Everywhere the soles of your feet touch, you have to ‘know’ somebody. Every contract you seek, you have to play by ugly and satanic rules. Every employment you desire, you must dance the blues with a godfather. Married women sleep with their bosses to keep jobs they got through the funnel of fornication and adultery. Unmarried young girls are tossed around as sex-objects because they are scared to die in hunger and homelessness. Even with a sterling qualification, the world may still not hear your voice in great places without a godfather speaking on your behalf. Without godfathers, you are farther from many good things. In Nigeria, life without a godfather is irritatingly frustrating. But where I am privileged to speak; I often remind people these words: “If you were made by men, you will one day be unmade by the same. But if you were made by God, you cannot be unmade”.

My friend David in Texas rose from a humble background. His parents struggled to put him through the university studying Accounting. But he never had any hope of securing a good accounting job after graduation. Top-notch accounting firms recruited only children of members of the country club of the affluent. David’s stellar academic transcripts got into the hands of a man he did not know. He got an urgent message to see the big boss. He told me that at that time in Nigeria, the dream of any accounting graduate was to be accepted by either Peat Marwick, Arthur Anderson or two other first tier accounting firms. Those were days when KPMG Nigeria was the premier accounting firm in Africa. Despite an excellent result, David had no chance of getting into KPMG. God intervened. Within a few minutes, and after taking the requisite test, David was asked when he would resume work. A man he did not know gave him the first break in life as an accounting professional in October 1986. Without a godfather; God the Father showed up for David. Today, David owns one of the most thriving Accounting firms in the state of Texas.

Arfi Lamba is an Indian actor with a story to tell. He went through tough times in the showbusiness industry because he had no godfather. “As I look back and connect the dots, all I want to do is go back and hug my scared young self…So many nights of disappointment where I would have just gone ahead and quit it all…I have learnt to tackle disappointments, especially since I have no godfather in the industry”. But Lamba became a success story without a godfather.

I have had moments I could have succumbed to godfathers in business and ministry, but I never did, and never will. A godfather is man, not God. A godfather can change his mind about you for the flimsiest reasons. He can lie and can die. He can be replaced by another godfather who does not know you. A godfather doesn’t want you to live your life; you are in the relationship to live his. You can never be generous enough; he is like a grave who wants more. You don’t need a godfather; you need God who will cause you to meet one man; and the meeting gives you access to more men who are willing to fund your dreams to fruition and reality. With mentors, you may become great; but with godfathers you may end up in a grave. Who is a godfather? He is a person who gives you stringent conditions that are hard to meet before lending a helping hand. Who said you need a godfather to break through? I didn’t say so. We all need God.

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