By Obadiah Mailafia
THE upcoming generation of young people may turn out to be the most dangerous we have in Nigeria. We are breeding a brood of vipers and we are the last to know about it. Some of my readers may have come across the story in social media.
A fortnight ago a welcome party was held for freshmen students of the University of Abuja at a rather upmarket hotel in town. Four friends turned up at the soiree, all of them within the age range of 17 and 18. One of them was 17- year-old Emmanuel Balogun. He came from a rather affluent family. Out of his generosity of spirit he offered to underwrite the gate fees and refreshments for his friends.
After catching fun they decided to cap it all with a plunge into the swimming pool at the wee hours of 3.30 am. It suddenly transpired that young Emmanuel was having difficulty remaining atop the water. The details of what actually happened were revealed by the CCTV clip that the hotel authorities have made available to parents of the young man and the police. As the young man was struggling for life, one of the friends suggested they raise an alarm for help. But the others discouraged him. They grumbled that Emmanuel was always bragging because his family are well-off. They also complained that all the girls were drooling for him.
The little devils cold-bloodedly watched their friend die. They didn’t stop there. When they were sure he’d given up the ghost, one of them searched his pockets and made away with his money. The other tried on his shoes and they fitted. He walked away in them. They were so clinical in their barbarous heartlessness. They went back to the campus without alerting anyone.
It was during the subsequent week that one of Emmanuel’s female friends noticed that he was not attending classes and was not in his hostel room either. She called the family to let them know that their son was missing and that she feared something might grievously be wrong. Their search led to the hotel which then informed them that there had been an incidence of drowning involving a young man. With the help of the police they were able to identify his remains at a mortuary. We understand that the three friends and the hotel management are helping the policy with their inquest.
Emmanuel Aigbokhalode Balogun (2002-2019) was clearly a very promising young man. The photo we have of him is that of a strikingly handsome young man with bright eyes, a high forehead and the intelligent looks of Denzel Washington. His greatest undoing was that he mistook his enemies for true friends. In offering to pay for the gate fees and entertainment he thought he was just being kind to his friends. On the contrary, they saw it as arrogance. It is a fearful thing to live with people who are smiling with you, but who, in their heart of hearts, wish you dead. It is a fearful thing for those of us who have read too much philosophy and who believe in virtue ethics.
The grim reality of our epoch is that we are creating a generation that are strangers to both love and humanity. When some of us were growing up our school friendships were deep, innocent and pure. There was literally nothing you would not do for a friend. The idea that you could watch a friend die and do nothing about it was unthinkable. And the thought that you could take some of his belongings at the moment of his passing is a satanic abomination.
If these were agberos from Ajegunle, a slum in Lagos or wretched almajiris from Dutse in Jigawa, perhaps one would have understood. But they were middle-class undergraduates of a respected university. The irony is that no almajiri in the North or an agbero in the slums of Lagos would do that to their friend. I have discovered that those we despise as unwashed illiterate masses often operate by a higher moral code than some of our so-called “educated elites.” I have discovered, if truth be told, that Muslim youths often show a higher level of compassion than so-called “Christians”.
This tragedy has raised serious ethical-moral as well as legal-jurisprudential challenges.
It is a law of universal ethics that if you find your neighbour in mortal difficulty you have a morally-bounden duty to help if you are in a position so to do. That was the first thing we were taught as Boy Scouts in elementary school. “A scout must be kind to animals”. This also means that you must show the highest charity to human beings.
I know that the case of a drowning man is a rather tricky one. The best swimmers would urge you to try rescuing a drowning man only if you are sure of yourself. But then even if these young men were in no position to rescue their friend, surely they could have raised an alarm. By deliberately refusing to help they showed how grossly immoral they are.
They also showed a deep level of spiritual wickedness by gloating as their friend was perishing and descending on his belongings like a pack of jackals. Even if they manage to escape the long arms of the law, such people have no place in a university. A university is not only a citadel of learning, it is a moral sanctum for moulding character and virtue.
Secondly, there is the legal-jurisprudential issue. Emmanuel’s “frenemies” not only allowed him to die; they stole his belongings. They are, ipso facto, criminals. There is also the jurisprudential problem of watching a fellow-citizen die while you callously stand by and gloat over it. The law varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some countries standing by and watching a fellow citizen die without offering any kind of help is a crime; in others it is not.
The common law in Britain and the Commonwealth does not criminalise failure to rescue. That legal norm falls within the purview of tort law, where, for example, you have a legal duty to rescue people in danger, especially if there is a contractual or morally-binding relationship. In the US, states such as California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Florida have instituted new legislation to make the duty of rescue legally binding.
Continental jurisprudence is apparently stricter on these matters. In France the Napoleonic Code criminalises deliberate failure to rescue when one is in a position to do so. The Province of Quebec in Canada underlines the duty of rescue in its new Charter of Rights: “Every human being whose life is in peril has a right to assistance…Every person must come to the aid of anyone whose life is in peril, either personally or calling for aid, by giving him the necessary and immediate physical assistance, unless it involves danger to himself or a third person, or he has another valid reason.” Similar codes are in existence in Germany, Spain, Greece, Russia and Israel.
The duty to rescue derives from three principles: first, the universal Golden Rule that obliges us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us; second, the logic of utilitarianism, which argues that those actions are right which advance the happiness of society while reducing suffering; and third, the rules of Humanity, which demand that preserving human life and demonstrating compassion and sympathy are part of the essence of our common humanity. We must foster a moral rearmament among our youths; encouraging the culture of generosity and compassion for neighbours as the first law of citizenship. Leaving these vipers to grow up the way they are will turn ours into a land of savages.