By Dr. Okpeh Alleh Okpeh
Those of us that had the rare opportunity of growing up in the village at a time when life was still sweet, there was an African norm of regulating family feeding in the moonlight when the family gathers to eat a meal. When the food appears not to be enough, the head of the house directs when a member stops eating. He follows the age in descending order. Here, the eldest of the siblings in succession is closed off from further eating and in that order down to the youngest. This is to ensure that the youngest has the best share of the meal at every particular time. Now, times have changed and modernism has taken better half of us such that when there is anything to eat, the elders consider themselves first and chase away the participants from the meal in the ascending order. In fact the elders take the entire meal and leave the children as scavengers.
The trend tends to be the norm in contemporary times across several parts of Africa and so, when the deal was too hard to bear in Tunisia, a young unemployed graduate street seller, Mohamed Bouaziz, who was selling orange in a cart, and whose ware was destroyed by a police officer, set himself ablaze. This brought about what later became the Arab Spring. The first victim was Ben Ali, the Tunisian leader who had ruled for 23 years, it led to the tragedy of Libya and many other consequences in the Arab world. Up till date, Syria is still battling it out.
In Nigeria, through particularly the 80s, the 90s and till now, the elders enjoy all the booties of the nation with reckless abandon as if there is no tomorrow. In most other races of the world, the Caucasians, the Arabs, the Asians and the then Africans, no one eats without thinking about the children and tomorrow. Currently, what you find across the African continent is where people conscript every available resource to themselves without thinking about the children and so it was until about 2002. At the unset of the current political dispensation, the elders considered the children as good for just one thing except their own children: political thugs, assassins, personal guards, and the children took the challenge with the best of loyalty, taking on political opponents, killing dissenting voices, destroying what even belongs to them and totally surrenders their tomorrow and privileges for the crumbs that fall from the kings table. In all of these days, we had out of school children in the North, the al -majiris and we were very glad because they were assets to use for those focused on climbing the ladder of power. Then the crisis began to sprout with the agitation of the ‘urchids’ in 2002 when Yusuf’s foot soldiers felt betrayed in Sherriff’s Bornu State and which gave birth to what we now know as Boko Haram. We use the children for the odd jobs, but when there is space at NNPC, CBN, FIRS, and all that we regard as lofty jobs, we call in our children who are not in this assignment that gave us the ladder we use to the top.
We thought we were very intelligent by sending our children overseas to train and train well away from the dusty classrooms that litter everywhere and where they are available at all. An average Nigerian forgets that what you sow is what you reap and what goes on comes over often. Thus so many or most of these children we sent oversea as special breeds come back on drugs and miscreants because they were sent on looted sums from what belongs to other children and fed on stolen funds. If you are a farmer and you are breeding layers, you feed it on layers feeds, so when you breed your children on stolen funds, they can only be thieves. I am not a Bishop, but that is one way the Nigerian elders have entrapped the children. The revenge is that the children fight back by becoming burden not only to the society but also to the family. Only little number of Nigerian affluent families leaves legacies.
From all fronts, the young people in Nigeria are at war with the fatherly generation that had made them dust bins of all loads. This is the generation that was fed by the country with gold spoon on all fronts from schooling to jobs. This generation collects transport allowances as students according to mileage, scholarship that you can hardly exhaust, employment by companies for jobs they did not have to apply, complete with a car, a house and almost a wife.
Then in a most wicked way of fatherhood, this generation eats not only their dues but what belongs to the children and made them scavengers in their father’s land. Tactically, however, the fathers are blaming everybody as if we are not the culprits. To be admitted into any school today, the children are made to write WAEC, NECO, NABTEB, JAMB, PRE JAMB, POST JAMB and if s/ he is lucky to scale through any or all of these, s/he must pay in kind or cash to our fathers who went to school in most cases with only two passes and two credits, though a lot of us today’s fathers were extremely brilliant and hardworking. There is no doubt about that. This admission cost between a hundred thousand Naira to as much as two million Naira. Those who cannot afford this will scout around for four five six years except you have a peculiar contact that is natural.
In the school, our teachers that are supposed to be our fathers/mothers and mentors become our tormentors. You have to have an attachment to a lecturer to scale through. You have to pay for all assignments, examinations, tests and be a good boy or a girl to have it smooth. To an average employee of a higher institution, the place is market rather than being a place of knowledge and research. In some instances, students are not allowed to chose or write their project topics, you ‘understand’ and the teacher chooses and produces one for you. If you prove to be intelligent, you write and supervise your own project and mark same. The student then goes on to face the non teaching staff for clearance, another hefty task.
Even the children have given our lofty Yakubu Gowon programme’ NYSC’ another name ‘NOW YOUR SUFFERING CONTINUES’ as a harder life experience awaits her/him in the employment field. Looking for employment is more than looking for bush baby’s hair in Nigeria. If a lady, the first is to be sexually exploited. then financially extorted and at the worst, killed by those too desperate as to fall into the hands of criminals. On the average, a place in the civil service employment today cost between a million to as much as five million Naira, depending on the place of employment. The unfortunate thing is that it is only the President that is not guilty of this. Even ministers, Senators, House Members, Permanent Secretaries, Vice chancellors, Directors down to messengers are all culprits and we take this as normal because everybody knows it is so. No wonder, no one is demanding patriotism from the young generation. That generation would not know anything called patriotism because they have not been shown what it might mean. Textbooks may exist on it but have they been taught in a manner to ‘read’ texts?
The common thing in our places of study is examination malpractice by students. As bad as it appears and really is, there is the need to take a look at what we regard as examination malpractice. In the field of law, it is generally believed that the essence of law is to reform and not to kill. While majority of the generation of Nigeria that are now driving the Nigerian vehicle slept single or two persons per room in the hostel, the children are today sleeping ten to twenty students in a hostel room and takes turn to sleep. While our generation choose what to eat in school, our children experiment surviving on a feeding formula of 0-0-1; 0-1-0; 1-1-0 or 0-1-1. Arising from structural deficiencies, students in many circumstances take two to three examinations in one day. There are universities post COVID that are writing their entire examinations in two weeks. They close the semester so that new sets of admissions can be done and more school fees. No one cares if there are regulators. That is if the watchdogs of our universities have not even given up and yet we say the young people are so dull and unemployable as if we gave to them what we want from them. for these young students who bear the brunt, the content is no longer important. They are made to pay for all examinations, assignments, tests. Teachers that are supposed to teach for about ten to fifteen times in a semester to cover a syllabus go to the class not more than four times and it is all over, or produce a collection of papers which he calls a textbook and make it compulsory for every student desiring to pass his or her course unit. No one considers these challenges except to push all the burdens and blames on the student who would want to crawl through these hurdles.
Laws are never made to kill but to reform and so when schools insist on sending away indicted students, I insist it is wrong. What needs to be done is rusticating students for periods and allow them to return to be re-oriented or rehabilitated after the time and such students or young persons can make their life useful again. Not all examination misfeasance are intentional. There are human angles to a lot of it. I have seen students sent away from school for mistakenly being found with handsets in examination halls even when they are off. When you send young people away from school, they leave holding that the society as their enemy to be paid back will in its own coins as soon as such an opportunity is available or can be created. Every student sent away in improperly investigated claims of examination malpractice is a potential armed robber, kidnapper, bandit, abductor and harlot. Such students are more vulnerable to losing empathy for others, especially elders and the elites whom they regard as their traducers and that is why in the current insecurity, there is no scarcity of recruits.
Thus for decades, Nigerian leaders took the development of young people for granted and the pay day is now here. The formula for handling the current challenges is not just military. In fact military is just 10% of the formulae. Our older generation need to call a forum where it will apologize to the young people and ask for about tens years within which it will honestly reverse the negative treatments meted on them. We will then begin the process of building a new generation of positive minds that will take over the head of the ship. Educationists taught us that the mind of a young person is ‘tabula rasa’ a clean slate and that what you write there is what you get. Young Nigerians today are made to believe that there is no honest or diligent way to make a living. This is because, we show them that the only way to make a living is by being inhuman, corrupt, dishonest, loot and destroy. For being all of these, the older generations have no justification to blame our young people. We made them thugs, cultists, prostitutes, and every known vice that we can name today so that we could survive into and in power. Today, the hen has come home to roost and many of us will, by divine cause, pay in our own coins because what you sow is what you reap. The old generation sowed stealing, killing, looting, corruption, cultism, thuggery as the way of life and so shall we reap from those fields.
To reverse these trends, we have to bring back primary, secondary and tertiary institutions that will produce human beings as it was in our time, build infrastructures and provide enabling environment where jobs can be found or created as in our time, begin to show empathy and humanity to young people and breed same in their minds and treat them as children rather than using them as political assets. We have sent our children to Harvard and Oxford so they will be served by our miscreants but today, they cannot return home and we cannot even use our loot. Anybody blaming our young people is being marginal with the truth and until there is genuine discussion with the young generation to re-insert their humanity into nation building, there will be no peace.
The author, a Barrister-at-Law, wrote from Abuja