Nigerian children: the looters of tomorrow – Ebuka Obi-Uchendu

Here’s another write up by Ebuka Obi-Uchendu describing the future of Nigerian youths. Enjoy

‘…when you have children believing that leadership is a place where money is meant to be made and riches acquired or a place where appointments are not based on merit but on who you know, is our tomorrow not already doomed?’

It was the Christmas of 1995 and I was at my Uncle’s in Lagos on holiday from Abuja. I can’t remember the exact TV station that was on at the time, but one of those Christmas/Santa Claus/TV request shows where children take turns to send greetings to their families right after they must have received a gift from Santa (sorry, Father Christmas), was on air.

I was watching on this fateful day when some kid who obviously wasn’t even a teenager yet, appeared on my TV and wished his parents and everyone at his school and street, a Merry Christmas. Then he went on; ‘When I grow up, I want to be the President of Nigeria.” At this point, anyone listening believed he was a regular kid with dreams, which of course is a good thing. Then he continued; “So that I can have plenty money and buy many things for my mummy and daddy.”

Fast-forward 17 years later. I was sitting at the lobby of a hotel in Abuja this past week when this middle aged man walked in with three little boys whom I assumed were his sons. They wanted to use the hotel’s swimming pool and wanted to make enquiries. While they waited to get instructions on what to do, attention shifted to the television.

NTA International was on and they showed a school that had just been rehabilitated with school children milling around. The middle-aged man then said; “Look at ministers and senators.” One of the three boys who looked about 7 years old, said; “Where?” Then his father explained the whole leaders of tomorrow thing and how one of these children on TV right now could become a Minister or Senator in the future. Then the little boy said; “But me, I will be their President so that I can sack them and make you and mummy and (some other name I can’t remember now) ministers and we will enjoy ourselves.”

I don’t know when last I had such an obvious dejavu that was actual reality. I immediately remembered that Lagos incident, which always stuck with me over the years, and everything just got me instantly depressed. I was letting it all sink in as I watched the little boy run off towards the pool area while his father paid their fare without the slightest of reactions to what his son had just said. It became obvious to me that this cycle of corruption and nepotism, may just never end seeing how entrenched they have become even with ‘innocent’ children.

There is the cliché that continues to ring everywhere that children are the leaders of tomorrow, since the hope has always been that the younger generation would eventually rescue the nation from the rot the elders have left behind. But when you have children believing that leadership is a place where money is meant to be made and riches acquired or a place where appointments are not based on merit but on who you know, is our tomorrow not already doomed?

What happened to wanting to be president so that one could build good roads and schools and help the sick? Aren’t those the regular claims that children make? Like I mentioned to a friend, the truth is that many more kids today are like the kid from television, than 17 years ago. The more the years go by, the more entrenched the systemic corruption becomes.

The truth is that, we cannot necessarily teach morals in school. The family has a big part to play in shaping how a child thinks and sees the world. But then, there’s peer pressure, which even for adults, is tough to fight off. You can only do so much at home while leaving your child at the mercy of society once they make friends. Most importantly is government still. When a child sits beside his father every day and watches the news and all he sees are stories of ex governors stealing and appointing their sons as Personal Assistants, of course it becomes the norm for the child and doing good isn’t an option anymore.

We need to do better. It is bad enough that government has failed us. What is worse is the fact that they have slowly made sure that tomorrow’s leaders are even better prepared than they were to do bad. As with everything in life, we all need to play our part and try to make sure our children are better equipped to actually change things around. As much as a fruit does not fall far from its tree, it is also true that not all fruits that fall from a tree have fallen because they got rotten. It is never too late to turn things around. At least, I believe so…

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