Is it not infinitely better not to distract one’s children from pursuing their own dreams, having their own playing field to try and fail until they make it? Does inheritance not strip our children of at least some of their pride, the fighting spirit in them, some dignity too and, generally, thoroughly enjoying the thrill of the struggles of life which made their father or mother, or both, into the accomplished…people that they are/were?
Isn’t it too early in the year to start discussing death? But I am not really discussing death and I don’t intend to freak readers out. Instead, I am discussing life, and living, and trying to wrestle with the inevitabilities of life. This discussion is about what is really important in life, and how we should come to terms with these critical issues. Well, I’m no philosopher but I guess some of the all-time-greats have engaged with such subjects in time past. I think when we come to terms with the inevitability of death, we would really start living. In contemplating what we are here for, we may find out that our earlier priorities were wrong and futile. We may also double down on our pursuits. That is as far as we are concerned ourselves. As far as our children are concerned – for those who have them – I believe that our role is to sire them and give them a chance at living. If our lives have been thrilling and enjoyable, we should be honest to identify those factors which made our lives that way, and see if our children could also get their own chance to have enjoyable lives. For me, and in my very humble opinion, what we owe our children are a good name, some education, good character-moulding, and to share the experience we have as we go along. Until the day we draw our last breath, we continue to learn. But before I lose you, let me tell you a story.
There was this guy whose family migrated from Dunfermline, Scotland, to the new world (USA) in the middle of the 19th Century. His father owned a loom that was taken out by the technology of the times. His mother sewed shoes. They had fallen into penury and it was only logical to migrate. The family borrowed £20 for the journey. He was lucky to find a job at a telegraph company in Pittsburgh, and he displayed much prowess at the job, that his boss took him under his wings. By investing in stocks, he later started to build his capital, which he took into the steel production sector. His wealth grew in leaps as he consolidated his position in that sector, often by sheer dint of hard work and shrewdness, but sometimes by running the competition aground. He developed a reputation for ruthlessness and, on a few occasions, his company had serious problems with the workers’ union, leading to what is today known as the Homestead Massacre. His steel company was however instrumental to the construction of many of the early skyscrapers in New York and Chicago. But by 1901, he sold off the company to John Pierpoint Morgan II for a tidy sum of $480 million (an equivalent of $15 billion today), thereby becoming the richest man in America. At the peak, this man’s wealth was 2 per cent of the entire GDP of the USA. The man then devoted the rest of his life to giving away his wealth, especially by investing in libraries. Today, about 3,000 libraries are strewn around the world in his name. This is perhaps in compensation for dropping out of school at an early age.
This richest American wrote in an essay in 1889:
Men who leave vast sums in this way may fairly be thought men who would not have left it at all, had they been able to take it with them… The man who dies leaving behind him millions of available wealth which was his to administer during life, will pass away unwept, unhonoured and unsung, no matter to what uses he leaves the dross which he cannot take with him. Of such as these the public verdict will then be: The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.”
He believed that the wealthy should repay their debts to society and supported 100 per cent inheritance tax. He also wrote that the worst form of idolatry is the worship of money. His name was Andrew Carnegie, a phenomenon of a man. He died in 1919 at the age of 83.
Carnegie hoped to retire at age 35, even though that did not materialise. He made infinitely a lot more money after that age. But by 1901, at age 65, he had conquered the world and seen the folly of it all. He had just one daughter, Margaret, but together with his immediate family, they decided to give everything he had worked for away. The balance of $30 million upon his death was equally given away to charities, pensioners and other such needy demographic, with a certain amount used to set up a foundation in his honour.
I look around Nigeria and with a few exceptions, children who inherited great wealth from their parents have either wrecked such legacies, wrecked themselves or are running around aimlessly. Large, thriving companies have been liquidated in just one generation upon being inherited, while some parents who focused on amassing wealth forgot to find time to train their children. Truth be told, many people who say they are amassing wealth, building houses and so forth for their children are not very honest.
I have been thinking about this story for some time now, trying to understand the logic of it all, and I believe I now get it. You see, the chase is the joy of life. What we live for is often to go out there and struggle daily, to make money, and fame, and other assets, and to make a name for ourselves, and provide for our family. This is even more apt for the vast number of Nigerians who engage in entrepreneurship. But the final conclusion of this essay also applies to those who hold down jobs too. The chase, the struggle, the challenges that present themselves to us and are conquered, the hunter-gathering, the hustle, is what keeps us alive. Without these, life will mostly lose meaning. And most successful people are running away from something in their past – either to prove to the world that they too can make it, or to escape their previous experience of biting poverty and humiliating want. Of course, there are people who were born or grew into wealth and then took things to another level, but in comparison to those who struggled to become great achievers, they are few in number. Indeed, for those ones, it takes a whole lot more to find a reason to excel, as the bar is already set way too high. So, it may be a great idea to find a way of giving out everything you have while still alive, so that your children may find their own struggles and make their own names, and so that you may travel light on your journey out. Of course, this does not mean that one should be irresponsible to one’s children, but one will need wisdom to know where care and provision is adequate. It is often the case that overpampered children turn out to be disasters in life – even while their parents are alive.
I look around Nigeria and with a few exceptions, children who inherited great wealth from their parents have either wrecked such legacies, wrecked themselves or are running around aimlessly. Large, thriving companies have been liquidated in just one generation upon being inherited, while some parents who focused on amassing wealth forgot to find time to train their children. Truth be told, many people who say they are amassing wealth, building houses and so forth for their children are not very honest. All of us have seen just how uninterested many of those children are. Today’s magnificent mansion is tomorrow’s bogus monstrosity. Our GRAs are replete with such houses, painfully abandoned to maiguards and illegal squatters, or just left to decay in the thicket, while those for whom the houses were built are abroad struggling to make ends meet. Having seen this experience with the first generation of ‘successful’ Nigerians who excelled in the modern economy since our independence, it looks like subsequent generations are merely repeating the same mistake – for cultural and egotistical reasons? So, when you are building those houses, and acquiring those monies, admit that you are doing those things for yourself – whether to prove to the world that you can achieve great things (and that is valid), or you just don’t know where your limit should be (for those corrupt folk who steal the country blind).
If you are lucky to be in a position where you can build great wealth, it is also good to quickly find an anchor for your activities – maybe like Carnegie did. Because indeed in society, some people must be bold enough to make loads of money, either out of luck or prowess, and impact society through making such money. Without those people who make large amounts of money, there will be no skyscrapers or industries, and society will lose ambition in the comity of nations. Therefore, it is preferable if those people create tangibles and get patronised in turn by happy customers, thereby creating legacies and growing even larger. But here, most people produce nothing and want to be as rich as the Carnegies of this world. This is the abnormality with our society and economy.
I decided to write on this because of several incidences in our society. The other day, Mr Fred Ajudua, once famous for a different reason but rich, blurted out on social media, that the son he was building houses for is grown and totally uninterested in the monstrosities. There is another story I heard from the East, of this big man who took his children to the houses he owns, and at each location, he mentioned which among his children owned the house. In fact, they could take it over now if they wanted, he offered. But when they returned home, they all gathered to tell him that they weren’t in need of houses, whether in the cities or the villages of Nigeria. They are all based abroad. Heartbreaking, right? In most cases, those houses will add to the growing statistics of dead capital in Nigeria – made up of abandoned real estate not earning or adding any value. Andrew Nevin of PricewaterhouseCoopers said dead capital in Nigeria was anything like N90 trillion. Look at the U.K. economy, as old as it is, and they don’t have anything near the number of abandoned buildings we have here; products of sentiments, culture, tradition, ego, pride. So, is there a point at which one should set a limit? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about the long-term commercial viability of those assets? It is more than evident that we aren’t doing these things for our children. We should be very worried if we have children who are interested in inheriting stuff from us. I was never interested in inheriting anything from my dad, even as a teenager. I couldn’t wait to go out there and make my way and I knew nothing would ever bring me to loggerheads with anyone over inheritance.
Let me push this further by saying I don’t even support that idea of giving your children the best education money can buy. What does that even mean? The best things in life cannot be acquired with money, such as love, friendship, time… An average, decent education is good, but your direct supervision and presence, is best. I would rather advice that you ensure your children don’t depend on you to find their ways in life.
Apart from the Ajudua case, there are three very famous cases which got me worried in Nigeria. First is that of the Williams family, in which accomplished adults born of the same mother and father are in a bitter battle, which I’m afraid may have poisoned their relationships way too far. Another recent news is that of some of Chief J. F. Odunjo’s grandchildren who sued one of their aunties (Alake of Egbas’s 80 years old wife and daughter of the great J.F. Odunjo of the Alawiye series), praying the court to send her to jail for flaunting an earlier order not to sell a property in Yaba. The Alake’s wife is the chief administrator of J. F. Odunjo’s estate and the grand old man had died testate! I was just very sad that any amount of money should split families and get them to be very bitter towards one another. A good relationship is priceless and cannot be bought with money. The third case is that of the children of a school proprietor along the Lekki axis. There could be many more who are less famous, and there could also be many cases where things have proceeded smoothly. However, it is tough to navigate that terrain, especially where substantial amounts are involved. On many occasions, unexpected rifts have occurred from unexpected angles where harmony existed. Interlopers also add fire and petrol. And when this happens, the scion of the family – who coalesced the family as a unit while alive – would have since become silent. Relationships thus break down inexorably such that if the owner of the properties should look down from heaven, he/she will be greatly agitated. Is it not better to not have one’s children have to share money or properties? Have we not seen otherwise balanced, well-to-do children come to loggerheads over these issues maybe because of ego, or if some unaccounted children show up from outside the core family? I recently listened to Kola Abiola’a interview with Dele Momodu in which he spoke of still trying to sort out his father’s many children around the properties left behind and the myriads of challenges, some even bothering on threat to life.
Is it not infinitely better not to distract one’s children from pursuing their own dreams, having their own playing field to try and fail until they make it? Does inheritance not strip our children of at least some of their pride, the fighting spirit in them, some dignity too and, generally, thoroughly enjoying the thrill of the struggles of life which made their father or mother, or both, into the accomplished, experienced, comfortable, respected people that they are/were?
As such, my message is for those people who believe they want to express love to their children by leaving properties or money to them. Get off it and stop deceiving yourself. There are deeper, non-monetary ways of showing love to your children. Try not to enjoy your own life very thoroughly, eventually triumphing to become very comfortable, and then attempt to enjoy the best part of your children’s life – that part that can give them their credible stories of how they struggled to make it. You also are setting things up – if unlucky – to ensure that their stars never shine as bright as yours; or that your star eclipses theirs. Whereas, for every great person, we know that it is a great prayer that one’s offspring should do far better than one did.
Let me push this further by saying I don’t even support that idea of giving your children the best education money can buy. What does that even mean? The best things in life cannot be acquired with money, such as love, friendship, time. In pursuing the ‘best education money can buy’, some Nigerians have thrown their children abroad from primary school. Even the Dowen College bullies got that kind of education, but they are still monsters. Many abound in the best primary, secondary and tertiary schools all around the world, who turn out to be arrogant, unbalanced monsters too. An average, decent education is good, but your direct supervision and presence, is best. I would rather advice that you ensure your children don’t depend on you to find their ways in life. Teach them integrity, modesty, delayed gratification, the joys of coming in from the ground floor, the parable of the butterfly which develops her beautiful wings in a process of struggle, and to be fair, just and kind to all men and women. Teach them, to ensure that their children find the space to be greater than them, for if you don’t you may find that that parable is true; EVERY PRINCE DESCENDS FROM A PAUPER, AND EVERY PAUPER, FROM A PRINCE. Yes, many fortunes have been wrecked by many princes and generations sent into pauperhood because of bad training. Live well, enjoy your money, train your children to be independent, touch lives, give generously, find self-transcendence, never think you are important, die broke. We came with nothing. We leave with nothing.