WEEKEND ARENA

The worst time to be a Nigerian child…

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The Nigerian society as it is today, no doubt, has a lot of ‘avoidable’ challenges for everyone. But the most vulnerable group, if you ask me, is the younger generation of Nigerians. So many ugly and injurious things are unfolding before them. Their generation is inundated with a lot of gloomy details: defilement, child trafficking, unsafe schools, hunger etc.  And the ‘briefcase’, ‘naira-printing economy’ has further deprived most of them of adequate parental care, as many parents are more concerned with their economic fortunes. Many parents work their butts off to be able to keep them in very exorbitant private schools, due to the failure of government to provide viable alternatives, and very little attention is given to them in terms of mentoring and filial attachment. The downside of this can be seen in two major headlines that rocked the country this week.

It took the arrest of Rhoda Agboje, a third year undergraduate and her boyfriend, Ifeanyi for the nation to wake up to the reality that cookies, ordinary cookies are now being laced with addictive narcotic substances which are sold to school children. Reports put the cost of the cookies at N1,500 for a pack of three, and it is likely that many parents may not have a wind of this and would not mind working harder to provide money for these magic-cookies. What NDLEA has unfolded is the one in cookies; who knows how many of such substances are being infused in doughnuts and buns sold to the less-privileged children who cannot afford Rhoda’s Cookies?

May be the issue of the drug-laden cookies is not as disturbing as the viral video which had a group of teenagers from a public secondary school, smoking (abi piping?) shisha. My wife drew my attention to the viral video and my first instinct was to dismiss it as a scene in a movie probably made in Congo, because Nollywood’s picture quality has advanced beyond that. I did not imagine it was real until the news reports that the girls were actually from a public secondary school in Ikorodu, Lagos! The shock was palpable due to their ages and gender. It’s good that the very responsive Lagos State Government has not only identified them, but also initiated a rehabilitation programme for them. But that is what the world is turning to and pretty reminds one of those days when popular NTA news anchor, Frank Olize, would begin his popular show, Newsline with the unique question: Where is your child?

‘Where is your child?’ in this instance may not be referring to how much one is paying as school fees but to how closely or loosely parents are monitoring their children. In reality, some parents quantify parental care with the amount of money being expended as tuition, but it sure goes beyond that. In fact if there is a time in the life of a nation when parents ought to worry about the kind of exposure their children are confronted with, it should be now. The digital nature of the times has made their level of exposure much more fast-paced than what was obtainable 30 years ago. For sheer lack of it, children 35 years ago did not see any controversial images to watch apart from those from NTA; and for some of us who grew up in the South East, it was NTA Channel 6 Aba, that would open for broadcast at 5.00pm with the National anthem and close five hours later at 9.30pm after the network news. Now they are not just exposed to 24-7 television but to the internet, where YouTube and Google will explain whatever they want to know, no matter how evil. The sight of dead bodies then was frightening but I doubt if such images still send shocks down their spines with all the stories of killings around them today. For parents who show class by buying great smartphones for their kids, they should also go the extra mile to monitor what they do online, because that is where children could pick information about what shisha does to the body.

The social networking sites are a major culprit but the developers of the apps have done their bit by placing consent policy barriers which everyone must agree with before joining. There is no way Mark Zuckerberg will come to PH to know the actual ages of everyone on Facebook. It is left for the parents!

My encounter on Facebook lately is worrying for me as an adult and I can’t help imagining how a naïve child, under 13 would be able to handle such pressures. In the past one month or so, I noticed that I was getting an unusually high volume of friendship requests. I guess they altered their algorithm which has been exposing my profile to people and all manners of people have been sending requests and many of those I manage to scrutinize and accept, usually rush into my inbox with all manners of undue pleasantries like ‘how was your night?’ during the hot afternoon hours.  Sometimes I would open my Messenger to notice 200 messages! And I manage to scan them so I don’t miss the important ones. The other day, I noticed this guy, Connex  Matemba, who claimed to be a Malawian living in South Africa, telling me how handsome I looked. I gave him a thumbs-up and the next thing, he was asking if I was ‘top’ or ‘bottom’. Haa! Intuition told me what he was up to, so I played along. I told him, ‘bottom’. He was so excited and the next thing, he flooded my inbox with his naked photos, including those of his manhood! Then, he asked for my photos. I guess he was expecting photos of my bum since I declared ‘bottom’, but I shocked him. I told him that I was an investigative reporter working on a story on gay activities on Facebook and that I was going to publish his naked photos to back up my story. He melted and has been begging for two days. Now imagine what such sinister souls are showing younger vulnerable ones online.