Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Failed children, failed parents

EVEN if it had existed before then, the expression 'failed banks' came into our consciousness in the era of certain financial institutions crashing with deposits of customers which their executives mismanaged because they wanted to live bogus and flashy lifestyles. They simply became failed banks, failed this failed that. We all have the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) to thank that some customers had at least part of their funds recovered for them. Many did not recover one kobo to date.

Sometime this week, at one of our editorial meetings, our editor-in-chief and managing director made reference to a family he happened to know which was forced to have a 'national conference' in the home at the instance of the children. The objective was clear to the children as they mooted the idea: they needed to get the parents to reconsider their wellbeing and improve their entitlements. In other words, they wanted improved standard of living by right as children. They approached the mother with a request: "We want to have a talk with you and your husband...," the story goes. The understanding parents acceded to the request. At the 'national conference', the father carefully and logically punctured all their allegations of divided loyalty to their welfare as presented by the spokesperson. Just as they dismissed with words of reassurance from the parents, a little argument followed in the children's room as the spokesperson accused his siblings of lack of support for him with more convincing details as the debate went on. We all had a fill with laughter, but on a deeper reflection, one thing I think was established is the fact that the two parties got talking and they were able to understand themselves better - for the good of the family.

Two parallels are being drawn today - one from far away villages in and around the old coal-mining town of Bridgend in Wales, the United Kingdom (and a few other places) where cult-like suicide deaths among teenagers are the order of the day, the other from Abia and Enugu states in Nigeria where baby factories are run for commercial purpose. Indeed, these are really trying times for parents and children alike.

According to the March 10 edition of Newsweek international magazine, in barely 13 months beginning with the death of one Dale Crole, 18, who hanged himself at an abandoned warehouse on January 5, last year, 17 such horrific incidents were recorded in a corner of a county with a population of just 130,000 people. The report said Dale's friend who took the police to the scene died the same way the next month. Month after month, one young person after another travelled the suicide route, each new suicide inspiring another. At first the deaths attracted little notice but when, in four days alone, three kids hanged themselves to bring the toll to 17, it became a global phenomenon. Social networking among the kids on the Internet was fingered for the inexplicable behaviour of the children who obviously didn't lack parental care or material things at home. It just became a fad among the young to link up on the Internet and bid themselves good bye although the police insisted there was no evidence of a suicide pact or even of Internet connections. Parents could only wonder why their love failed to save the precious lives and why other young ones seem to open the same tragic pages as their friends.

The Bridgend kids are not alone. Other incidents have been reported, the last in May of a 13-year old girl and only child of her parents in the 60-year bracket who would just not understand why their lovely child would hang herself. All they could recollect after the horror was that the girl had been asking some funny questions about life in the weeks preceding her death.

Some Brazilian kids might provide a little insight into the psychology of the desperate teenagers who for the fun of it make the sun set for parents at noon. They belong to some cult-like groups who are identified by the term 'emos' derived from emotional. They are always in black T-shirts of whatever make or design. And the group is attracting more followers. Please tell me how do we classify the children and the parents. Who is failing between the two groups? What could have driven teenagers who are yet to take up any employment opportunity or to raise families to take to suicide?

Let us come nearer home where some failed parents are running baby factories in the eastern part of Nigeria. We can recall that a similar scenario had played out in Lagos in recent memory somewhere in Okota area where the lady running the home obviously with some spiritual powers had to be dislodged by men of the Oodua Peoples Congress who came in to assist the Lagos State Government officials. Typical of the Nigerian situation, that was the last we heard of the arrested woman. (By the way, where is Clifford Orji the notorious cannibal who was believed to enjoy the patronage of faceless buyers of human parts under his hideout along Airport road?). Is this a failed state?

This 80-year-old failed parent - she has her own children- in Abia State, was even paraded in Abuja by the Police Inspector General Mike Okiro for running a baby factory. She was nabbed with 11 pregnant girls, young girls. Her excuse is that girls run to her for cover when they are put in the family way by boyfriends who abandon them. She then feeds them for between six and nine months when they deliver and she takes the babies from them as compensation! Rubbish. So an eighty-year-old can also lie? Do her own children know what their shameless mother does for a living? It is simply trafficking in human beings. I hope the Inspector General will not turn this to another file gathering dust on the table over time.

Just about a week after the parade, men of the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps, on a tip-off, stormed a maternity/social home in Uwani, Enugu to rescue 22 under-aged pregnant girls from one Dr. Kenneth Akume on a day a lucky day-old baby who had allegedly been sold to a woman from Lagos for N340,000 by the clinic was also rescued. Akume's excuse was not any different from the old woman in Abia. Twenty-two pregnant girls under a man's roof and he claims he was only assisting them? Assistance my foot, without the knowledge of their parents! He has so much milk of human kindness in him to be feeding all of them and handling pre and post-natal care, free of charge for that number? Add 11 and 22, we already have 33 of such failed children in the society. These are the ones we even know. What we hear is that some jobless guys are recruited to impregnate the girls for a fee. After delivery, the girls get paid between N25,000 and N30,000 for a job well done. Thereafter, they prepare for another pregnancy. The idiots see it as a lucrative business for them.

Imagine for a minute babies who are separated from their biological mothers from between one day and two months at the most without breastfeeding. There is no emotional attachment between a mother and child if the baby lives to be told her true parentage. If a baby must be adopted there are proper ways to do that from the government department or home legally empowered to give out in adoption, not the Akume style. A more worrisome dimension is the possible use of the babies for rituals. The government must stamp out this practice. It is a battle that must be fought to a logical conclusion. Akume and his counterpart in crime in Abia must be prosecuted immediately. The evidences are there for the police already. The police investigations should also unravel the failed parents of these girls and ask on behalf of the public what they did when they noticed their wards got missing from school or the home. I wont be surprised if some parents aren't the ones who encouraged the girls to do it for money. They do it for prostitution we know. This cannot be divorced from the general poverty level in the land.

Ironically, worship places have grown in leaps and bounds in this country in the last decade or so. So, who are we worshipping? The other day, a newspaper survey listed 12 big-time churches on the former Oregun Road alone in Lagos. On almost every street now, you don't find less than five or six of such worship places, including shops, in a distance of about 300 metres. Everybody wants to manage a church or whatever now to perform signs and wonders before a gullible people who cannot discern between right and wrong or rather between truth and deceit.

There is a pressing need for moral regeneration and re-ordering of core family values. But who will help the failing parents who ought to help the failing children?