Dear Nigerian child, today the nation will pause to ponder the issues that concern you. The news would be agog with all manner of socio analyses and statistics flying left right and centre over you. I have learnt so much from working with you for close to two decades. I love your zeal for knowledge. I admire your passion for life, your inquisitive innocence; I am inspired by your ability to dream and amazed at your idealistic ideas about life, particularly when it has to do with Nigeria.
I was young when I entered in for a national essay competition organised by MOBIL Oil in 1982. We had to write on the topic What Can I Do For My Country? The only girl amongst the winners, I emerged second runner up. The punch in my point was that as a young person I could make a change in my country. I would later come across these words of John F. Kennedy, America’s 35th President, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.
As you grow up in a Nigeria of failed institutions, unsafe neighbourhoods, virtually non-existent welfare, economic hardship, corruption, lawlessness, warped values, chaos, mediocrity, etc. it may sound ludicrous to be expected to ask what you can do for a country that does not seem to have done much for you.
Today, Children’s Day, is as good a time as any to ask yourself what your response as a Nigerian child should be to the society in which you are growing up. I want to suggest that there are two options open to you: you can do nothing or you can choose to counter the prevailing culture (where it is not productive that is)!
If you want to be an agent of change, here are some tips:
- EXAM MALPRACTICE
I begin here because Nigerians do not joke with education. This is, paradoxically, the reason exam malpractice is so rife in our society. Invigilators, who are supposed to ensure the integrity of the exams, actually facilitate cheating. Some of you hire people to sit exams for you or some bright ones amongst you sit exams for others for a fee. Refuse to participate in such practices, refuse to be used and above all, work hard to earn your grades. If you do, in tomorrow’s Nigeria you will be able to shun short cuts and earn your success.
- DRUGS AND ALCOHOL
Many brilliant and promising children have derailed because they got involved in the use of illicit drugs and in alcohol consumption. Some of you in secondary and even primary schools are practising these dangerous habits. If you are in, you need to quit because this lifestyle will distort your future (or could very well destroy it). If you are not in, don’t just stay out, take on a crusade to highlight its harmful effects and make your peers realise that using drugs and alcohol is not cool! If you do, in tomorrow’s Nigeria you will be able to keep sober and make sensible judgments.
Once only encountered in universities, cultism now has a growing followership amongst even younger people. You may have been sold the idea of such affiliations as a pathway to power when you leave school. What you may not know is that it also comes with a life of fear and clandestine activities that may even result in death. Stay away from such groups to save yourselves from this destructive path. Look for a positive cause to promote and take practical steps in this direction. If you do, in tomorrow’s Nigeria you will be a real change agent.
This may not be an area you are paying much attention to. But, what you wear does matter. The way you dress creates an impression about you. When you dress take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself: ‘what message is my dressing passing to others?’ If it is a message that would bring you respect and honour then step out. But if your dressing would bring you anything less, then ‘change’. Don’t just stop there, sensitize others to this truth. If you do, in tomorrow’s Nigeria you will be able to promote a positive image.
Statistics point to a disturbing growth in the level of sexual activity amongst young people. And one of the major causes is exposure to pornography. Sex is meant to be practiced within the confines of marriage between a man and a woman. Marriage protects sex and love. The far reaching consequences of free and casual sex include Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD), unwanted pregnancies, sexual promiscuity and sexual perversion, dysfunctional individuals, broken homes, broken hearts, lack of trust, insecurity and identity crises. Avoid pornography, flee fornication, warn your friends. If you do, in tomorrow’s Nigeria you will be able to practice restrain and delayed gratification.
Bullying has become a source of concern for many of you and even your parents because of its dire consequences on the victim and the bully alike. If you have been a victim then you know the fear of meeting the bully in the neighbourhood, school, etc. If you are the one doing the bullying you actually need help. Resist the urge to bully anyone and if you have been the victim shirk off the cloak of the prey and stand up to the bully, whom you soon find out is actually a coward. If you do, in tomorrow’s Nigeria you will be able to relate to others with confidence and respect.
- PEER PRESSURE
Peer pressure can be a good thing but sadly, it is associated with more harm than good because the activities into which you are often pressured are harmful. As young people there is the tendency to give into vices just to belong. Beyond resisting the urge to conform, you must go a step further by countering negative pressure with positive, affirmative action. If you do, in tomorrow’s Nigeria you will be content with what you have, and able to resist the temptation to follow the crowd or to keep up with the Joneses.
- SOCIAL MEDIA & SATELLITE TV
Literarily at your fingertips is access to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. At the click of a mouse (or the press of a button) you are exposed to a world luring you in every direction imaginable. Like almost anything in life, the information that comes your way via social media or satellite TV can be used to build or to destroy. Apply common sense when deciding what to do with what you see or hear. Do not allow these platforms and media enslave or ensnare you. Shun unwholesome networking and news and feed your mind with whatsoever is true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report. If you do, in tomorrow’s Nigeria you will be able to resist distraction and focus on what is important.
- ROLE MODELLING
Don’t just look up to or follow a person or people because they are rich, successful or popular. You need to draw back and ask yourself what a person stands for and therefore where they are headed in life. Pay attention to not just the noise being made around them but their value system. Many rich, successful and popular people lack true and lasting peace, joy or fulfilment. The grass at their end is not necessarily green. Riches, fame and success without good character is not worth emulating. If you choose worthy role models, you will build a good value system and in tomorrow’s Nigeria you will be a positive example for others to follow.
I know you are growing up in a tough world. The demons you have to fight are fiercer and more resistant than the ones we fought as children. Though you may not be able to control what comes at you, you can decide how you respond. Deep in all of us is that still small voice that cautions us before we do the wrong thing. We can either ignore or obey the voice. But we must bear in mind that there are consequences to our choices. If you are able to make sensible and good choices, in tomorrow’s Nigeria you will be a good leader.
You may have heard the popular story of a man who walked along the bank of a river, throwing back into the water fish that had been washed ashore. A little boy had been observing the man who, to him, had embarked on a futile task. He asked the old man ‘sir, there are so many fish on the shore and they are dying off fast. What difference would your action make to the whole?’ The man answered ‘son, my action may not seem to make a difference to the whole but it would make a difference to the one fish that gets thrown back.’
Each one of us can actually make a difference to the whole. Be the change Nigeria needs today. COUNTERCULTURE says ‘Change begins with me’.