Last Sunday, I heard a Catholic priest once again mention the Twitter-trending name “Iniobong Umoren” during consecration at mass. We Catholics are taught to believe that the consecration of host and wine is probably the most solemn moment at mass. Thus, any prayer offered by supplicants at this time is assumed to have instantly reached the Throne of Grace. As I heard the name, it occurred to me that a quiet decision may have been taken by the Church in Nigeria to use what happened in Akwa Ibom State to ask for God’s special intervention on the Nigerian youth, using late Iniobong as a point of contact.
I was deep in thought as I left church last Sunday. Unfortunately, the product of my reflection and conclusions, which I share here, are not pretty at all.
I am no longer a young man. Therefore, I cannot say in all honesty that I feel or know exactly what most of our young people are going through at this time. This, however, is not to suggest that many of us adults, from the outside looking in, cannot see. Those with conscience who take the trouble to look must feel sorry because what the youths are going through reflect the way we are, in the way they live, the way they are treated, or rather maltreated, by us. My conclusion was that the way our youths live today reflects who we are, what we are. By ‘we,’ I refer to us adults and the system we superintend, and what these have done to them in the process of nurture and growth.
Look at it this way. In Nigeria, over two million youths are currently studying in our tertiary institutions, with females constituting a slight majority. We know, from the stories we hear and witness that among these youths are geniuses and diligent students who shine in school despite and in spite of the rot they find themselves surrounded with. We also know that there are lazybones and the poorly nurtured among them who are routinely “helped out” by their parents to emerge from the system as graduates.
Nigeria churns out about half a million geniuses, diligent students, lazybones and the ill-nurtured from the school system each year. All of them waste a little time waiting for call-up letters to perform mandatory national service. The national service has become a fruitless exercise for, as soon as it is over, the majority join the long and growing unemployment queue. My after-church reflection showed me clearly that, in their search for post-school occupation, our youths break out into at least seven survival bands.
Ironically, the first group of survivalists are the lazybones and the ill-nurtured who are children of “helpful parents.” They won’t struggle to find jobs, particularly public service jobs, thanks to their parents’ money, connections or influence. Among the second group, made up of geniuses, the brilliant and the diligent, a tiny few will end up as entrepreneurs. If the school system has been fair to them with their results, they will get good private sector jobs. This is where the run of luck ends. The third group, representing the desperate and bold who recognize that they face a bleak and cheerless future, will make a run for it. They will scramble to leave the country as economic migrants, not minding that some will die in the ensuing desert and sea adventures. The fourth group of youths will join party politics as praise-singers, from where they hope to land public service jobs that they will use to rape the system. A fifth group will turn to crime, from soft crimes (419, wire fraud, baby factories), violent crimes (armed robbery, kidnapping, highway banditry), to new crimes (organ harvesting, ritual killings). The sixth group will continue to dutifully update their resumes as they tramp from office to office in a desperate search for non-existent jobs. The seventh and last group will lapse into menial jobs, including resorting to subsistence farming with ancient hoes and machetes. The frightening reality of life in Africa today is that a few of this same “helpful parents” will lay in ambush to further humiliate the third to seventh groups of school leavers.
In school, they are the satanic teachers who unwittingly destroy the future of diligent students. Students are routinely harassed and downgraded either because they could not buy outdated hand-outs or because their teachers suddenly developed the hots for them. In cities, deserts and open seas, they are the organ harvesters employing other youths to lay in wait as their colleagues escape from harsh economic climate back home.
In politics, “helpful parents” are the party bosses who subject youths to menial or dirty jobs, including asking them to kidnap, maim or kill political opponents. In factories and offices, they are fake and real employers who dangle job offers to lure, rape or to kill hapless youths as they show up for real or fake interviews. In government offices, “helpful parents” steal resources and grants that would have supported the youths to save Nigeria from a sustained emerging economic crisis. In all of this, their desperation to sustain their affluence and influence has helped to shape and consolidate what we may rightly call youth-on-youth violence.
We have seen youth-on-youth violence not only from the rape and murder of Iniobong Umoren but also in new crimes and criminalities that have become “jobs” that “helpful parents” routinely contract out to deviant youth. They range from armed robbery, banditry and insurgency, kidnapping, baby factories, organ harvesting, “419” (obtaining by false pretenses), wire fraud, and contract killings. And yes, they also reflect in such little things like enforcement of outdated hand-out purchases done in class, pimping for randy lecturers and politicians, and acting as agents for foreign prostitution rings. All of this block the collective future and progress of our youth and they are organized and sponsored by a few of us, the “helpful parents,” who wield authority, influence and affluence. There could be any number of factors that have led our country to this sorry pass. But I found most concerning among them the issue of dangerous parenting sustained by a flawed educational system.
Simply put, the journey to this state of affairs begin with parents who do not think that they have responsibility beyond throwing money into the process of nurture and growth of their children. They serially bribe primary and secondary school teachers either to pass their children or to enable them win unearned prizes. They use their connections and affluence to wangle admissions for lazybones and the ill-nurtured.
In the past, some parents have paid to breach JAMB data systems to boost their children’s scores. Today, most simply submit their children’s names to the nearest top government or vice-chancellor offices to be admitted using the so-called “discretionary lists” option, while brilliant and diligent students are denied. In their various schools, “helpful parents” fund their children’s effort to “sort out” unscrupulous teachers in order to complete the school journey in record time and with a “gentleman result.” Thus, it does not matter that the children joined violent cult movements, prostitution rings and political murder squads, or played away their time; they will graduate and on time.
And they will be first in line to get jobs.
This dangerous nurturing by “helpful parents” is sustained and will endure in schools for as long as we have willing or economically challenged teachers with low morals. It never occurs to the low life teachers that they cock a gun and fire at their feet each time they collaborate with these parents. Quite often, teachers’ children belong to the same class of diligent students whose mates come from economically challenged families. They are not aware that that the ill-nurtured that they help to push up will block their children at the very point that their sufferings have seemingly come to an end.
Unlike the past when merit ruled, dangerous parents will get their poorly qualified or ill-trained children into the available civil service positions. In the nearest future, they will be making public policy choices that will make or deny Nigeria the chance to become an achieving nation. Meanwhile, the geniuses and the diligent, including children of teachers, are left behind. If they are lucky, like Emmanuel Nworie, the first-class mathematics graduate found wielding an ancient hoe at an Ebonyi State farmland, the journey of life can continue and end in glory. If they are not, like Iniobong Umoren, the desperate search for a job, any job, may end up in rape and murder.
My final thoughts: The violent death that visited Iniobong Umoren is the culmination of everything that all of us adults, and the system over which we superintend, have brought on to our country. And it is not pretty at all. When I got home from church, I was confronted by news of the Akwa Ibom murderer and what looked like an amateurish attempt at cover-up by the state police command. And I just let out a loud laugher of pain.
Whether it is the university system or the public service system, “helpful parents” in authority positions are always to be counted upon to spring to a subtle and effective defense of deviant behaviour whenever the system cries out for justice that will enable the country to breathe again. Our country is being held hostage by dangerous parenting.
We were absent from this column last week. Without giving excuses, we sincerely apologize to those who bought The Sun expecting to see us. This won’t happen again. And thank you for looking in today.