By Francis Ewherido
Frank Olize, a former NTA anchor of Newsline, used to commence the programme by saying it is 9pm and asking parents where their children are. These days, 9pm is too far; many parents cannot account for the where abouts of their pre-teen and teenage children at any time of the day.
The parental responsibility of some fathers ended the day they slept with and got the children’s mothers pregnant, and that of some mothers, when they weaned the baby.
Destitute children are all over in major cities and towns in Nigeria. They are also there in villages; children who share the same house with their parent(s), yet the parents are clueless as to how they eat and live their lives. It is no surprise that BBC undercover reporters blew the lid on a potentially devastating phenomenon on the future of Nigeria: drug abuse by youngsters. Long before the BBC report, I have been seeing youngsters inhaling glue under bridges and seedy street corners in Lagos.
About three weeks ago, a relative also narrated how many youngsters are hooked on drugs on the Warri/Effurun/Ekpan axis of Delta State. The problem is also there in many villages in Delta State. It is a national problem, but the scale in Delta State, for instance, pales into insignificance when compared to the level of abuse in states like Kano and Jigawa.
Predictably, the government has received many well deserved knocks since the BBC blew the lid. Proactiveness is not the strongest point among governments in this part of the world. Last year, Nigerian newspapers reported that the Nigerian Senate raised an alarm over the devastating effects of drug abuse by youths in the 19 Northern States. The Senate specifically stated that Kano and Jigawa states alone consumed over three million bottles of codeine syrup daily, yet nothing happened. BBC squeals and the government bans importation of codeine. And the government is saying the ban is not consequent upon, but only coincided with, the BBC report. Why did the ban not coincide with the Senate uproar last October? I dey vex, make anybody no add to my anger! Government is guilty as charged; it should apologise or keep quiet and not exacerbate the matter. These excuses are getting irritating.
But government is not my primary concern today. Many of these addicts are pre- and teenagers and I ask where are their parents? How did they get to this point without their knowledge or intervention? If a pre-teen or teenager is on drugs, I hold the parents substantially culpable. Parenting is a full time occupation. Any observant parent should notice the signs of addiction at an early stage of the child’s addiction. If you dig into the background of some of these addicts, you will find out that they are either from large families, uncaring parents, busy parents or broken homes, where parental care is either poor or nonexistent. Why will they not derail?
Religion and culture, especially, have always inhibited efforts to legislate on family size and will continue to be obstacles. But we cannot continue to live in a society where rascally breeding of some people create community and national problems. Let us take the campaign and advocacy of family planning to the mosques, churches and traditional institutions where we can reach target many of these rascally breeders. People should give birth to only the number of children they can adequately cater for. This goes beyond financial responsibilities. Bringing up children responsibly is time consuming also. The more children you beget, the more time consuming it is and the longer the years you spend parenting.
Unfortunately, time and money are inversely related a lot of the time. Many people who have time do not have money and those who have money do not have time. The few people, I know, who have both time and money are rich retirees. But there are also many others who are very busy, but have no money to show for their efforts. The point I am trying to make is that for both parents to be engaged in economic pursuit to meet the family’s financial needs and also have time for their children, the family size really needs to be small. That is why many young couples are going for two or three children these days. Anything from four children requires extra efforts and sacrifice. I know that for a fact.
Our value orientation as a people is terrible. Did you listen to the pharmaceutical company’s representative in the BBC video boasting that he can dispose of one million cartons of codeine cough syrup in a week? He is probably a parent presiding over the ruin of thousands, if not millions, of other people’s children. It does not matter to him. Profit, commission and promotion at work are all that count. If I pray for him that “may all your children end up as drug addicts, even as you are making other people’s children addicts,” will he respond “amen”?
This problem of drug abuse needs a multipronged approach. Apart from codeine cough syrup, we have glue, tramadol, rohypnol, lizard dung, especially the whitish part and fumes from soak away pits/pit latrines as sources of addictions essentially for kids from poor backgrounds. We have cocaine and heroin for children from rich background. I was in excruciating pains sometime ago and had to be put on tramadol. I was so disoriented; my doctor stopped the treatment by the second day. That is what some teenagers are taking for fun.
Painfully, Nigeria is a jungle. There is a saying that “no paddy (friend) for jungle.” So parents and families with children on drugs are on their own. They should sit up and tackle the problem head on. Blaming government and institutional failure will not solve your problem.
I will modify Frank Olize’s question: Parents, where are your pre-teen and teenage children? Who do they hang out with? How many of their friends do you know? Do you know the family backgrounds of their friends? What are the aspirations of their friends? Do their friends visit them at home? And if they do, do you interact with them. If they are in the boarding house, do you scrutinise them for negative changes when they are on holidays? Do you raid their rooms in their absence when in doubt? Parenting is a 24/7 job, no dulling. You better sit up and do your work.