Okene, Nigeria: The Balance in Nigerian Parenting

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Okene, Nigeria: The Balance in Nigerian Parenting

When I see children in Hollywood films, I laugh – they are usually slim, cute and rude. The average child in the movie speaks her mind and tells her parents to shut up. Growing up in Okene, Nigeria was the exact opposite – I still cannot imagine telling my Dad, or anyone older, to shut up.

In Okene parenting is a shared responsibility. Everyone watched out for you as a child and anyone could punish you for doing the wrong thing. In fact we have a saying, “one person gives birth, but the whole community trains the child.” However, there is also another Proverb, which is the theme of this story:

“‘Help me beat my child’ does not come from the heart of the parent – Bami na omo mi ko denu olomo.” – Yoruba Proverb

I truly understood the balance in Nigerian parenting at a young age because of a particular incident that occurred when I was in primary school.

In Okene, Kogi State, we had a teacher called Mr. Ade; a radical teacher whose favourite saying was “spare the rod and spoil the child.” In his case, he destroyed the rod every time.

At the sound of the morning assembly bell, Mr. Ade would place himself at a strategic location to catch latecomers. Each tardy student would join his or her colleagues kneeling as Mr. Ade waited for the assembly to start. On cue Mr. Ade would flog each child with his long cane that never broke, the type called pankere. Some days it was three strokes each, some days five, but he never got tired. Daily he took it upon himself to instill discipline.

Now you do not want to see a Nigerian Mom angry, it is hilarious and scary at the same time. Instantly English flew out of the window and mom started speaking Efik. It was all “Abasi” this or “Abasi” that. I just laughed in my head and knew that Mr. Ade had flogged his last pupil in Okene.


The real trouble started when Mr. Ade became my class teacher in primary six. He would flog us every day, correct us constantly and threaten us with punishment at every turn. We could no longer chat or play in class for fear of him.

After coping with the punishment for a term, my friends and I decided to start sneaking out of class.

It started with Jumoke going to him: “Excuse me, Sir – I want to poo poo.”

“Go, but don’t stay long,” he would reply.

Our school had only one toilet and that was reserved for our headmaster. Therefore, anyone who needed to use the toilet was compelled to go to the bushes.

After 15 minutes it would be Rosemary’s turn. She would ask permission to visit the sickbay.

Once Rosemary left, I would walk to the assistant class teacher and ask her if I could answer nature’s call.

We converged inside the bushes to talk about several issues. Our daily bush visit quickly became part of our lives. We graduated from spending two hours in the bush to spending the whole day. In fact, we would go straight to the bushes from the assembly ground.

Sometimes we talked about sex; Jumoke had an elder brother who enjoyed watching pornography with her. We didn’t know that it was a form of child abuse and would listen as she explained the whole concept of sex – how all it involved was humping, humping and humping.

Sometimes she would say, “Lola, that thing is easy, you just push your bum bum up and down shouting faster, faster.”

Other times, we talked about Rosemary’s guardians, who had a lousy cat. Rosemary’s cat had so many peculiar things about it, and she had never seen it poo or wee. We also suspected the cat of witchcraft after watching Helen Ukpabio’s film, the End of the Wicked. That was where I came in.

My mom had a love for Nigerian movies and while she banned me from seeing them, I always found a way. Hence, we formed a tradition. The day would start with Jumoke telling us the secrets of adult life, then Rosemary “gisting” us about the cat and witches, and I would end the discussions “saying” a recently watched film. In saying a film, I would narrate a movie from start to finish, telling the story for my friends so they could picture the movie as it happened.

Like play, like play”, karma caught up with us one fateful day. Unknown to us, Mr. Ade had noticed we were absent from class for over a month. He just never caught us red handed. On this fateful Monday, we had congregated at our hideout and started setting up. Like a thief, Mr. Ade snuck up behind me with his long “pankere” and started flogging me.

okene, nigeria

Set of Pankeres. PIC: OA

I still remember how the strokes felt on my back; it was raw pain. As Mr. Ade descended on me, my partners in crime took to their heels. I tried to run, but the man held my hand tightly and flogged the living daylights out of me. After whipping me to his content, Mr. Ade dragged me back to class while pulling and twisting my ear. It was a long and painful walk; he continued scolding me all the way.

“Lola you are in a very hot pot of soup. I will tell your mommy; in fact I will bring you out on assembly and flog you publicly.”

All I could do was cry.

On getting to class, I bent my head, wiped my tears and walked shamefully to my seat; Jumoke and Rosemary were nowhere to be found. I assumed they had gone home; after all, their houses were near the school.

I was doomed; my greatest fear was my mom finding out. My mom was very strict and parents were allowed to beat the hell out of a child in Okene. I could not concentrate; I was just checking the mechanical clock in my mind. At the sound of the closing bell, I dashed out of class and rushed to where my mom usually parked her 1991 Toyota 4×4 Wagon. Luckily for me, she came early. I greeted her and entered the back seat. I was lucky again, she had a meeting and had to rush away from school. She did not see Mr. Ade.

The next day, my mom walked into my room while I prepared for school. She was shocked by the marks on my back and demanded an explanation. Without blinking, I told her Mr. Ade had beat me for playing with my friends.

Now you do not want to see a Nigerian Mom angry, it is hilarious and scary at the same time. Instantly English flew out of the window and mom started speaking Efik. It was all “Abasi” this or “Abasi” that. I just laughed in my head and knew that Mr. Ade had flogged his last pupil in Okene. The journey to school was silent on my part, but filled with different calls to God in Efik from Mom.

Once I got to school, Mom followed me to class. She then called Mr. Ade to come see her outside. I could only imagine what transpired because his smile had turned upside down by the time he returned to class, and his face looked so heavy. It was beautiful to watch. He then started telling the assistant teacher that parents in Okene were confusing.

“You see Mrs Eze, the mother said I could discipline her o. I should only beat her small.”

Consequently, Rosemary and Jumoke were off the hook. Mr Ade calmed down after the incident. I guess, he realised that the permission to discipline a child must never be abused.

What I discovered from the event was that Nigerian parents can be the strictest in the world – they will flog you and punish you for wrongdoing – nonetheless, they always have your back. They will support you and truly give you tough love.

For more articles on Nigeria, check out Living In Lagos.

Note: Mr. Ade’s name has been changed for privacy reasons.

Omolola Akinyele

Omolola Akinyele

My mother was a storyteller and an avid reader - and I am a storyteller and an avid reader. Like my mother, I enjoy recounting my experiences. I have lived in six states in Nigeria and traveled around fifteen. While I write creative stories as a freelancer, I am also a Director for Media City Communication Services, a digital agency in the heart of Ibadan. I blog at www.omololaakinyele.ml


  • Erika

    Thank you for sharing this great story!

    May 29, 2017 at 10:11 pm
  • Wemimo

    Wow!. It felt like I experienced every bit of it through reading. You are a born-writer.

    May 30, 2017 at 6:27 am