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Chrisland, parenting and our new society by Reuben Abati

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The Lagos State government, following reports of an alleged “rape incident”  involving an 11-year old female student of Chrisland Schools Lagos, and male pupils of the school, during a trip to the World School Games in Dubai (March 10 -13), promptly shut down the school, to investigate exactly what happened. A video was put into circulation showing the girl in a sex position, with one of the students watching and recording the bedroom scene. The public was shocked. Raw sex in a primary school, photographed and videoed and put into circulation! Matters got worse when the mother of the girl involved raised an alarm and made statements to the effect that the school, Chrisland, had failed in its duty to take care of her daughter while on a trip to Dubai, under its auspices; that on the return of the students, her daughter was taken for a pregnancy test without her consent, and that when the video became public, every attempt to engage with the school failed, and that the school had told her daughter not to say a word to anybody about her experience. Her daughter, she claimed, went to Dubai as a virgin, and returned in a sex video, traumatised, afraid to return to school.

I followed the story closely. The Lagos State government having shut down the school and its various branches warned the public to desist from sharing the video. Long before the state government reminded everyone that the circulation of pornography would attract a penalty of 14 years imprisonment, the video was already in circulation in any case, and many social media sites used it as click-bait. But what would any parent gain from a group of minors exploring adult experience? Many must have been motivated by sheer curiousity and the native belief that seeing is believing. The Lagos State government has now re-opened the Chrisland Schools, and the students are on their way back to the classroom in all the locations where the school has branches: Victoria Garden City where the incident occurred, Idimu, Ikeja, Festac, Lekki and elsewhere.

Chrisland is one of those well-appointed schools with a strong reputation and record of achievements, dating back to 40 years. The Awosikas, owners of the school, have through their educational system produced generations of students who have become established in many fields of human endeavour at home and abroad. In the absence of a functional public system, many parents patronise schools like Chrisland, which aspire to and maintain higher standards of instruction. Nigeria is a country where education is still valued in terms of the acquisition of certificates, observing the routine and the process to the letter. Even if a child is still going to end up as an internet fraudster or as a Boko Haram soldier, parents believe that a starting point is to give their children good education. This is more the case among the troubled Nigerian middle class, especially in the Southern parts of the country. Elsewhere, in other parts, the story is different. The North, for example, has the largest collection of out-of-school children. In parts of the East, the enrolment of the boy-child in trade apprenticeship schemes, by the way a global business model, continues to compete with enrolment in the formal school system.

This then makes it all the more surprising when it is reported, one case after another, that there are serious issues with the same schools that middle class parents and their wannabe colleagues patronise  In the same Chrisland School in question, there was a report around 2019 about a male teacher who was said to have defiled a two-year-old. The man was convicted. In Abuja, there was also the case of a victim of sexual abuse, 14-year old Keren-Happuch Akpagher who died in one of the elite secondary schools – Premiere Academy, Lugbe. Before the latest incident in Chrisland, there was also the matter of Dowen College in Lekki, Lagos, in which 12-year old Sylvester Oromoni died. The Dowen College matter, still unresolved, with the family still protesting an attempt to sweep the matter under the carpet, was a big scandal. These are three of the reported cases of similar incidents in schools across Nigeria and in Lagos State. Many more of such incidents would go unreported, given the culture of silence that governs the Nigerian cultural and social space. Now, after the temporary closure of Chrisland Schools and police investigations, Chrisland has now been reopened by the Lagos authorities. The Police and the Lagos State government probably acted swiftly in order to prevent the ugliness of the Dowen College affair from re-occurring. To start with, I think, a review is necessary. In this country, we forget too soon, too easily. Things happen at such a frenetic pace, that we hardly have the time to reflect on what may have happened, before we move on to the next incident. Our present-mindedness, that is temporocentrism, is the biggest affliction that holds this country down.

I was struck by three major reactions to the pre-teenage sex scandal of the Chrisland students. Tonto Dikeh, the star actress, was the first to raise the alarm. Having watched the video, she said she did not think this was a case of rape or sexual violence, and that this was not the child’s first sexual encounter. She actually surmised that the girl must have had sex at least five times and that there must be an adult somewhere who exposed her quite early. I am tempted to believe Tonto Dikeh. She is a mature, experienced woman of multiple talents. I am therefore not in a position to doubt her ability to read this sort of situation and put a date and a stamp to it. But her more cogent point is that parents need to pay more attention to their children. The second reaction came from Shola Ogudu, the mother of Ayo Balogun’s first son, Boluwatife. Ayo Balogun is the superstar musician known popularly known as “Whizkid or Star Boy.” Ms Ogudu, in a statement, disclosed that her son attends the school in question and that she accompanied him to Dubai for the World School Games. There were 76 students from Chrisland and, incidentally, the school won about 34 medals which no one has bothered to talk about!

Ms Ogudu indicated that there was no way she could have allowed her son to travel alone to a foreign country, in the midst of 76 children and others! She advised parents to be more attentive, and devote more time to their children. Unlike the aggrieved mother in the story, Ms Ogudu was full of praise and support for Chrisland Schools. The third reaction that caught my attention was the statement by more than one psychologist that both the girl in the video and her parents need psychological counseling. And I ask: How about the boys too? What kind of 11-year old male child starts having sex so early? What kind of homes are these characters from? I have heard some people arguing that parents do not have time. Schools and teachers are expected to act in loco-parentis. This is where the problem lies.

In our time, growing up, our parents were hands-on guardians, coaches and advisers. They drummed values into our ears at every turn. Each time you tried to venture out of the house, to attend an event or return to school, you would be told: “Remember the child of whom you are.” This had nothing to do with money but everything about values, character, dignity and integrity. But in the new society in which we have found ourselves, many parents have abdicated their responsibilities. They claim that they are busy looking for money to meet everyone’s needs. In the course of that pursuit, a child is handed over straight from the maternity ward to a retinue of nannies, home assistants and aides. In our new society, we throw money at everything including our children. Daddy has no time. Mummy is too busy trying to compete with the Joneses. The children are given all the toys that they want – from TV, to Play station to 24-hour electricity supply. These uptown babies of the new society do not cry. As Max Romeo and the Upsetters put it: “They don’t know what hungry is like/Uptown babies don’t cry/They don’t know what suffering is like/They have Mummy and Daddy/Lots of toys to play with/Nanny and Granny/Lot of friends to stay with…”

As soon as they are old enough to press numbers, they get a sleek, smart phone – usually the costliest in the market, with unrestricted access to social media. Some parents even open instagram and TikTok accounts for their children as soon they start crawling. This Gen Z group is soon introduced to all the negative stuff that social media can offer. Even outside that space, they are exposed to the dissolute lives of their parents: twerking moms; violent, 12 o’clock dads; and a community of sick uncles and aunties who set very bad examples. There are many households out there in which parents and their children are strangers to one another. When the children then fail in school, morally and academically, the same parents blame the teachers. They claim that they have paid so much money so that their children can get the best training possible. The truth of the matter is that money cannot buy everything. There are just certain things money can’t buy. Many parents themselves are in need of parenting! What do you make, for example, of those overgrown babies who wake up in the morning, eat spaghetti and spend the rest of the day playing games in front of the TV. They don’t have to work: their own parents have made enough money to feed the next five generations of idle sons and daughters! These idlers father children and the cycle continues.

It seems to me that all cases of reported misdemeanour in our schools should trigger introspection in every right-thinking, concerned stakeholder. The problem is not that of Chrisland Schools. It is an indication of the deepening moral turpitude in our land. Everything that can go wrong is wrong with the younger generation: juvenile delinquency, drug abuse, value system collapse, cultism, the kind of music they listen to – there is even a Naira Marley Gang – you don’t want me to describe the sociology of that. Adolescent sexuality is on the rise, with promiscuity now the order of the day. Aristotle told us that “a child learns by imitation”. Nigeria has taught its children bad imitation, and that is why the children replicate the bad behaviour of their parents. It is beyond the schools. After all, one Christian university in this same country once decided that it would conduct compulsory virginity tests on its new female students. Many of us complained at the time that this was discriminatory and gender insensitive. The school authorities stood their ground. After two sessions, they didn’t need to be persuaded to abandon the practice without any argument, when they discovered that among the teenage female university entrants, a virginity test was no more than a futile search for a virgin in a maternity ward!

When incidents such as the one under review occur, processes are important. I hope that the Lagos State government and the Police would make their findings public. By deciding to re-open Chrisland Schools, both authorities must have made some findings and reached a conclusion that the school has no case to answer. Many parents are relieved. But the public has a right to know more. Parents in particular, need to know. There are also lessons to be learnt from how Chrisland Schools management has controlled the crisis and managed the communication process. They have done much better than the managers of Dowen College who practically slept off in the face of a crisis until things went out of hand. The team of crisis managers at Chrisland stayed on the matter and bombarded the public with their own version of the story before the alternative could gain ground. They had the support of other stakeholders who helped to intensify other aspects of the narrative, including detailed revelations about how the girl in question is an indulgent, over-pampered child with a reputation for sexual displays on social media and a wayward, bad-girl-attitude for which she is reportedly unapologetic!

Chrisland School has done a good job of rescuing and protecting its brand all through the storm. In a statement signed on behalf of the school by Akin Fadeyi, a member of the school’s Advisory Board, the school has in place a strong child protection mechanism. Going forward, the school must see the need to invest more in that mechanism, and constantly engage with parents to provide the best possible arrangements for students. Besides, Mrs Winifred Awosika needs to take a second look at the Victoria Garden City (VGC) branch of the School. It was in this same school three years ago, that a teacher was eventually sentenced to a prison term of 60 years for sexually abusing a two-year old. Is there something amiss in that school that needs to be addressed? Could it be the celebrity environment on the Island? Lagos State has more than 20 thousand schools – public and private, from the primary to the tertiary level. The government should strengthen the Inspectorate Division of its Ministry of Education to make it more efficient, vigilant, and productive for the good of all. To parents, a simple message: wake up!

Reuben Abati is a former presidential spokesperson, writes from Lagos.

Strictly Personal

When the lenders come calling, govt will do worse than Nalule by Joachim Buwembo

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When the now 40-year-old Gertrude Nalule lost her husband in a car crash a couple of years back, a bleak future stared at her with her seven children, five of them biological. But her good neighbours in the Kampala suburb of Namungona came to her rescue and contributed to having a modest house built for her, though not to perfect completion. An apparently good neighbour offered her a small loan of Ush3 million shillings (less than $1,000) to boost her groceries business.

But soon after contracting the debt, Covid-19 struck and the business collapsed. The neighbour demanded his money and amidst painful toiling, Nalule kept paying bits amounting to what she had borrowed. But she hadn’t reckoned with what is now called a mbaata (duck) agreement in Kampalaspeak, agreement moneylenders now prefer, were like a sitting duck, the borrower is made to sign a document declaring that they have sold their property to the lender at a sum much higher than that disbursed.

Nalule had signed a mbaata agreement to the effect that she had sold her home for Ush10 million (about $3,000) and the neighbour wanted “his” house and plot since she had defaulted on the loan. He tried to make her accept a couple of millions to complete the “sale” and she refused to take it. He went to court, which ruled in his favour, and Nalule was sentenced to prison for six months for defaulting. After serving two months in jail, her story ran on NTV, catching the attention of the indefatigable Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, who stormed the country’s main prison of Luzira.

Rotting in prison

Nabbanja discovered to her horror that besides Nalule, about 650 other women are also rotting in prison after signing mbaata agreements. Nabbanja swiftly paid off some Ush2.5 million, which the money lender said Nalule still owed in interest, and secured her release.

But even as Nalule cried in relief calling Nabbanja “mother” and “saviour” as she was driven in an official car to go a reunite with her children, she and the prime minister were in for a rude shock. The money lender insisted the home was his and demanded that Nalule’s wretched family (the eldest girl of 17 had missed her O’level final exams while the middle one had missed her primary leaving exams as a result of the mother’s imprisonment) quit immediately. Nabbanja caused a session with the magistrate who had the jailed Nabbanja and yes, he insisted that Nalule surrenders the house, that the law is the law. The prime minister with the victim were left with the mbaata sitting on their chest.

The prime minister’s woes were not about to end. Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo was furious with her tampering with the independence of the judiciary. A statement was immediately issued assuring the judicial officers of his support both in private and public. A couple of days later, the chief justice used the occasion of a judiciary conference to put the prime minister in her place. He explicitly told her to use her zeal in more useful endeavours like supervising the Executive’s non-performing projects including a power dam that closed two months after commissioning. And so on the Nabbanja bashing continued.

‘Duck’ agreements

But as the learned brothers and sisters continue bashing the down-to-earth Nabbanja, they seem not bothered that the country is in the same position as the 650 Ugandan women jailed in their country after signing “duck” agreements and losing their property as well. Yes, the country borrows from foreign money lenders who behave no better than local shylocks who take advantage of widows. We borrow for projects and only a tiny fraction of the loan ever comes to the country. Heaven knows how many billions on our debt account are for granite and road-building materials dug from our soil, most of the rest going to consultancy services paid abroad. The government’s contribution to the project does most of the funding anyway. One lender demanded for the government’s contribution upfront and took it away to earn interest in deposits. A vigilant parliament committee forced them to return the money. Another lender took the country’s contribution to first build a road, and guess where? In wealthy Kuwait. As our judiciary pours scorn on “duck” women victims, someone should tell them the whole country is treated like a duck by foreign lenders.

 

 

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Strictly Personal

‘He’s one of our own’ is a crippling mindset for nation by Tee Ngugi

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Recently, a new senator listed on his Twitter account the number of tribesmen and women he was able — through his influence — to get appointed to various high government positions. The post made no reference to their competency or integrity. What it was celebrating was the ethnic character of the appointees.

The post, innocent on the surface, indicates that Kenya, and Africa by extension, has never really moved away from a virulent and crippling mindset. This mindset gauges an ethnic community’s progress by the number of tribesmen appointed as Cabinet ministers, principal secretaries, and heads of parastatals. In the logic of this retrogressive mentality, it does not matter whether the tribesmen run down a ministry through incompetence, or bankrupt a parastatal through thievery. That is beside the point. The point is that the person running the ministry or department is “one of our own”.

Here is the problem with this mentality. When a person runs down a ministry or bankrupts a parastatal, everyone, including the community from which the managers belong, suffers. When a public hospital no longer functions due to mismanagement, the fallout does not spare the communities from which the health PS and minister hail. When one celebrates the award of a road tender to a tribesman who is not qualified, the resulting shoddy work affects all those who use that road.

Forget easily

The problem with Kenyans is that we forget so easily. We have forgotten that Kanu-era mismanagement and thievery hurt everyone. When Kenya was under Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi, their communities did not have the freedom, denied to others, to criticise their regimes. All who dared to do so ended up in jail, or worse, irrespective of their ethnic nationality. By contrast, when the economy improved under Mwai Kibaki, it did not only improve for his community but for everyone.

So the lesson we should have learnt from history and experience is that an ethnic community’s progress is best served by competent and qualified persons, irrespective of their ethnic background. From this viewpoint, it is possible to have your entire community in government and yet have dilapidated schools and hospitals. It is also possible to have no one from your community in government and enjoy a growing economy and quality services.

There are two competing ideas that will determine whether we remain a backward nation characterised by poverty and dysfunction. One proposes that competence and integrity be the drivers of the development process while the other situates ethnic kinship at the centre of the development project. What if the senator had boasted about the number of women, youth, IT specialists, and progressive thinkers he was able to bring into government irrespective of the tribe?

Tragically, we still have a long way to go before we make that mental shift.

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