A former Vice-Chancellor, University of Uyo, and the Director-General, West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management, Prof. Akpan Ekpo, tells ARUKAINO UMUKORO about his experiences as a father
How would you describe fatherhood?
Fatherhood is an interesting and exciting experience with some challenges. But it is rewarding and fulfilling.
What are the most important lessons you have learnt about fatherhood?
As a father, I have learnt to be caring towards my wife and children as well as doing my best to provide for their needs. It is important to be there for them. In addition, I am lucky to see my children from the cradle to adolescent age, see them marry and play with my grandchildren. In addition, I tried to discipline them right. I also made them realise that their mum (my wife) was right in disciplining them, while at the same time ensuring she was not too hard on them. It was often a balancing act, which varied as the children grew.
What were some of the challenges you faced as a father?
We had the children abroad, so it was not easy combining fatherhood with postgraduate studies. I remember one of my professors asked me, “You mean you are married with children and studying for the PhD?” Fortunately, my wife was wonderful in playing not just her role as a mother, but always reminding me not to forget that I am also a father. I was always glued to my studies during my postgraduate days. Another challenge was that of having the resources to raise the children, especially when the family returned from the United States. Then, I was a youth corp member and also a lecturer at the University of Calabar; not only was the salary inadequate, but it was also irregular. Hence, financial resource was a challenge at various times. But we survived. In terms of education, I’m grateful for the quality of the university’s staff school at that time and the instalment payment system.
You have served in several key positions, including as a former Vice- Chancellor, University of Uyo, and now as DG, WAIFEM. In what ways have you been able to balance being a successful DG and a responsible father?
Again my wife, in spite of her working schedule, made sure the home front was intact. As vice-chancellor, there were times my kids would come see me in the office complaining that they had not seen me for a long time. Even before I became a VC and in most of my assignments, I would have left the house before the kids left for school and returned when they were asleep. Most of my friends describe me as a work horse. As DG, my kids are now adults, so we communicate on the phone and see each other once a while; though they are always around, whether I am in the house or not. Most times, they would wait and vow to see me in person no matter how long the waiting period was.
Considering your busy schedule, did you do school runs?
I did school runs in the early stages of my career in the University of Calabar and as a visiting professor at the University of Zimbabwe, Harare. My wife did most of the school runs and we hired a private driver thereafter to assist.
What is one of the most important gifts your wife or children have given you in appreciation of being a good father?
My wife has raised the kids to be humble, well-behaved and, above all to have the fear of God – a very precious gift. For my children, it is the gift of being responsible. We all now debate issues and live as a happy family. My wife made the children to know God from their childhood even before she got the calling to serve God; she is a pastor after retiring voluntarily from the University of Uyo as a deputy registrar. Furthermore, my children understand the society in which they live; they are against exploitation and oppression and wonder why things are not working well in the country. One of my children once utilised her entire National Youth Service Corp allowance to cement the floor of a primary school located in one of the slums in Lagos. She came home crying about the state of the school where she was serving. For me, their understanding of the contending social forces that shape society is a gift I cherish. Their socio-economic and political consciousness is another gift.
How much did your father influence your views on fatherhood and how have you applied them in raising your kids?
Definitely, my late father had a lot of influence on me and on how I have been a father to my kids. My dad was a disciplinarian but he never used the rod on me. But the way he talked and scolded one, one would wish he used the cane. He was transparent with all his children. I came from a very humble background – not rich, but we never starved. My dad would let you know what he could afford and what he could not provide and why. He was passionate about education. I remember him selling his new shirt and an accordion he enjoyed playing to pay the school fees of his children. When he sold his new shirt, he told me, “Take this money and buy the book (Kraken Wakes) you need so that your life can be better than mine.” He did his best, with the full support of my mum, to ensure all his children had a solid foundation in education. I have always told my children that I would go any length to give them education if they so desire. When I am around I always request that my children eat with me. My dad did the same with me. Sharing of meals cements the bond between father and child. As a devout Christian of the Qua Iboe Church of Nigeria, my dad insisted on following the ways of God. I have put my children on the same path, though they now attend Pentecostal churches.
Can you share any funny experience of fatherhood?
It is difficult to remember. But I know that when we had twins, I would place them in different rooms and was amazed how they cried at the same time, changed positions simultaneously, get sick at the same time, cough at the same time, and so on. As they grew, they played similar pranks. It was a delight watching them grow.
What is your advice to children who did not grow up with their fathers or a father figure in their lives?
In the African context, it is rather difficult not to have a father figure if one loses his dad. However, children without a father or a father figure can still have impeccable character, be well-behaved and become good citizens. In a case like this, the mother would have to fill the gap though it could be challenging. There is always a solution.
What role does fatherhood play in shaping leadership and building good citizenship in a country like Nigeria?
The aggregation of a good and happy family would form a good community which would translate into building good citizenship for a country like Nigeria. Leadership emanates from the home before it manifests itself in schools and beyond. In the home, the content and character of a child is shaped. Leadership qualities start in the home, then school, community and then country.
At what age did you become a father and how was your first experience of fatherhood?
I became a father at the age of 24 and it was an experience of joy, excitement and wonder, especially as I physically observed the birth of our first child who is now married with children.
What is your advice to potential fathers?
Be caring and do your utmost best to instill discipline, hard work and humility in your children in order to make them responsible citizens of Nigeria and the world.
Being an economist and financial expert, what are some of the most important financial advice you have given your children?
Always save for a rainy day. Do not be wasteful. Go at your own pace. Calculate your risk; the experiences in the world are not linear, but full of ups and downs. However, with proper planning, focus and hard work, success is guaranteed.
What is the weirdest thing you did in disciplining your children?
I once made my oldest daughter, when she misbehaved, to write, “I am sorry and I will not do it again” 500 times. When she was half way, I asked her to stop. She has never forgotten.
What gives you the most fulfilment when you look at your children today?
I am happy that they have grown to become useful citizens in the society they find themselves. Also, they are very loving and caring to my wife and I.
If you were to turn back the hands of time, what would you do differently in raising your children?
I would change nothing. I would raise them same way.