By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
I loitered with some youths in my village and listened to their hopelessness. I don’t envy them. They all want to elope. They want to relocate to Malaysia and South Africa. They are not keen on learning a trade or becoming artisans like their forebears.
They don’t want to sit around trying to get into a polytechnic or college of education. Those seem to them blind alleys. Society has foisted on them ambitions which they have neither skills nor patience to birth. They must take the shortcut. And unfortunately, taboos have died. They are untrammeled, floundering.
Many of them have tried their hands at hoodwinking lovesick women in Brazil and Vietnam in the dating scams they see as game hunting rather than a crime. Farming is almost outdated. They know good from evil, but society has blurred the boundaries of morality. They are hardworking youths born in times without culture when the law’s arms are too weak to mold and forge.
I don’t envy them. In my days, we simply went to school. Then society didn’t expect anything much from anyone until he had completed university education or a trade apprenticeship and started a show march towards self-sustainability. Those days, elders warned us not to keep bad company, not to smoke, not to gamble, to dread women. Those elders who played pool but warned us about ill-gotten money and its consequences.
These days, parents simply watch. Some encourage their children to try Bet Naija. Hard-working youths sweat away an entire day for two thousand naira at construction sites only to fling half of the money at a betting company in a vain attempt to jump into their dreams. They told me they felt less hopeless when they took those forlorn aims at a shortcut to riches and sudden fame.
Around the village square, Indian hemp has become a staple. Perhaps now more abundant than the kola nut whose trees I no longer see. Many other trees have disappeared. Alligator pepper, Pepper fruit, the once-ubiquitous pawpaw trees. They have all thinned out too.
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Since many youths are now preoccupied with dating scams, I tried to find out about their real love lives. That was when I ran into something else. A red light district now exists in my little village beside the market. The boys told me about the brothels. They counted fifteen. They knew the names. They pointed out a house where cocaine was sold.
The village was once sedate and rural. It’s innocence is now vanishing. The local delicacies are giving way to indomie noodles hawked by women at construction sites. In the days gone by, roasted yam, akidi, ugba, Ugboguru, roasted bush meat, and palm wine gave the village its seducing flavor. I looked for someone to build a mud house for me. The search spanned days. Many things left with our grandparents. Many more things are leaving. But the flight of youths away from the village, away from the country, is the most frightening.
I don’t envy the youths. They told me they would rather be in a warehouse in Mozambique trying yahoo-yahoo than loitering the village without dignity. They know many have left the village with great hopes and ended in squalor camps in Zimbabwe. But they will instead pitch their faith with the faith of those who emigrated into some fortune in Malaysia.
I tried in vain to tell them to shun ill-gotten wealth. I knew I couldn’t tell them it would tarnish their names. When ill-gotten wealth tarnished names had passed. I don’t envy the youths. Society says one thing and does another. Many of those around them who are venerated rose to glory through vice. Some of those who have become messiahs and life-saving and village-uplifting philanthropists have well-known criminal careers. I pity the youths. They begged me to finance their escape. They called it “real empowerment.”
We must stop both drifts. The drift to servitude and vice in foreign lands must be discouraged. But it is the moral drift that will cause the shipwreck. The moral fabric of our society is in tatters.