By NBF News
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I started youth activism quite early in life in the good old days in Aba. This should be about the mid sixties. Life then was quite exciting and rewarding. As children, we cherished those things that stimulated our endless quest for fantasy and adventure. Aba was the hub of commercial activities in those days and even now. In the neighbourhood where we lived, I was one of the boys that their parents and other admirers looked up to as going to make it in life. According to them, they saw flashes of brilliance and ingenuity in us because of the unique way we comported ourselves. We were very respectful, honest, hardworking and resilient. To us, all that mattered was what should be done not to offend our parents or our seniors. This made us always be at the alert.

Going to school was fun, even though we engaged in other pastimes on the way back home. Our parents were into business but they still showed more than a passing interest in our spiritual and cognitive development. They made sure we were regular at school and church. They inspected our uniforms and fingernails each day before leaving home for school and when we returned. Weekends were a very special period for us to embark on general hygiene. We cleaned the house, the compound and surroundings with the studiousness of a martinet.

Our leisure time depended on how well we performed our chores for the day. The reward we received after a serious Saturday work was to allow us to watch television. The favourite programmes included COMBAT (a war film) and Ukonu's Club (a variety show). These two programmes were the favourites of almost every family in Aba, if not the entire eastern Nigeria where the television signals were received. We would gather at a central place within the compound to watch TV. You would hardly know the difference between members of the individual families that lived in one compound. This was why those who could not afford a television set would be accommodated by those who had. The virtue of brotherhood was promoted and entrenched. It was almost a way of life.

On Sundays, we would go to church. I worshipped at St. Michael's, Aba, and later served mass as an altar boy. We were trained to lead a pious life and distance ourselves from sin. It was a pleasant experience. Back from mass, we would wait, with eager expectation, for the usual Sunday rice. To qualify for this special treat, we must appear before our father to receive a tablet each of 'Sunday-Sunday' medicine. This was a special tablet formulated for the prevention of malaria. It was a very potent drug used by many families to fight malaria, and it served the purpose effectively. For the benefit of those who did not know Aba too well then, mosquitoes posed a serious menace to the residents of the city. The swampy nature of the city made the spread of the harmful insects very easy. The gutters provided a sanctuary for these harmless-looking but killer insects that carry the plasmodium parasite that causes malaria.

If you did not know: Aba mosquitoes were from another world. They had no modicum of mercy for their victims. They bit us with such mercilessness that we would prefer to withstand the heat of the night rather than be bitten by mosquitoes. What about cockroaches and rats? Aba was a safe haven for them to increase and multiply. That was why the fear of rats, mosquitoes, and cockroaches was the beginning of wisdom at that time. Let me, however, point out here that the menace of these rodents and insects did not mean that nothing was done to contain them. The sanitary inspectors were very efficient. They were dreaded by the residents of the city. Their major responsibility was to ensure general cleanliness; and defaulters were made to face the full weight of the law. There were some persons that sold powdery and liquid insecticides to kill rats, mosquitoes and cockroaches. Famous among them were Omega, who once lived at 99, School Road and hawked his ware in a bus around the city; Omeire who is now a traditional ruler of a community in Imo State.

Unbelievably, there were no serious incidents of robbery in the city. What was common then were the activities of pickpockets and other small thieves that didn't pose too much risk to the people. Aba was relatively safe and peaceful. People went about their business without any fear of molestation. The same situation obtained throughout the country, safe for a few parts that experienced unsettling political violence, caused by the mindless electoral manipulation that took place in the west.

The training I received from my parents and the sound and strict environment under which I grew up are accountable for whatever success I have achieved today. This does not detract from the fact that God has always been at the centre of my life. What would I have done without His mercy and grace? He has seen me through the obvious difficulties that have confronted me in every way that I have trodden.

I have reminisced on my early days in life, as was typical of any other person who grew up as a child in the period under reference, to draw attention to the pitiful dilemma of our present-day youths. I must confess that I am alarmed by the rate at which they engage in anti-social activities that tend to obscure their vision and threaten their existence.

You can then imagine the pain in my heart as I watch our present generation of youth destroy their future and potentialities through acts of omission or commission. There is no evil in our society today that is not associated with the youth. Name them: armed robbery, murder, forgery, theft, burglary, murder, hired assassination, restiveness, prostitution, examination malpractice, arson, licentiousness, drug and human trafficking, smuggling, corruption, graft, ritual for money, terrorism, etc. The list is a litany. In all of these, the youth have remained defenceless, vulnerable and susceptible to manipulation by questionable characters in the society.

What then are the causes of the involvement of the youth in crimes?

The causes are multiple as they are diverse. But the prominent ones include peer group influence, unemployment, poverty, early orphanage, greed, poor parental upbringing, craze for ostentation and inordinate ambition to get rich quick, etc. It will be necessary at this juncture to dwell briefly on some of these causes in order to properly locate their anatomy and what needs to be done to check the drift into anomie.

I do not want to believe that the state of the Nigerian youth is irredeemable. Much as a serious damage has been done to the character and reputation of the Nigerian youth I still believe that our nation can do something to rescue them. This has become vital because of the central role they play in the advancement of our collective heritage. Child psychologists have opined that the character of the human person is better moulded when the child is amenable to reason and training. Failure to inculcate certain norms, values and practices in the child at the early stages of his development means that the child will become difficult to teach when he has got over puberty. It seems the inability of our government to design a functionally operative developmental package for the sound upbringing of the child is at the centre of the dislocation of the mind-frame of our youth. We should bear in mind that the youth are individually products of their respective homes. And since the home is one of the socialising agents it then implies that the people (this time the youth) that populate our society are exactly what the families churn out. If a child is given a proper and meticulous upbringing, it then means that such a child will influence his environment positively.

It can then be agreed that a majority of the youth are bad because the homes from which they emerged did not play their role sufficiently to prepare them for the challenges of adulthood. The irony of this sad reality is that many homes have broken down irretrievably. And the first victim of this conjugal failure is the child. Sadly, several homes are hit by crises, occasioned mainly by social factors such as poverty, unemployment and peer group influence. I have continued to ponder why divorce has been on the rise in recent times. Some marriages cannot last even up to a year before the couple calls it quits. In my own assessment, marriages fail for the simple reason that couples have lost the essence of marriage. Marriage, from the time of Adam and Eve, was designed by God to be for procreation, bliss and conjugality. But the advancement of modernity has brought with it cultures alien to our people. These cultures have led to negative orientation and the transmission of values antithetical to growth and development.

Naturally, children produced under such intensely troubled homes tend to constitute a serious impediment to the development of a decent society. Regrettably, a sizeable number of our youth are victims of such homes, where peace and love have taken flight into oblivion. Lack of parental love has continued to estrange children from the comfort and protection of the home. Some of them find solace in all kinds of crimes and anti-social activities, which often lead them into collision with the law. A visit to our prisons shows that 70 per cent of the inmates are youth, charged with all kinds of crimes - some as grave as murder, assassination and armed robbery, and others as simple as brawling. What tears my heart is that many of them are below the age of 20.

This makes one begin to ask: from where did they acquire and learn the use of dangerous weapons found on them at the time of arrest? More worrisome is the fact that despite the stringent punishments meted out to them to discourage others from getting involved in crime many more still find crimes highly fashionable. Prisons across the country are filled to the hilt with youthful inmates, many of whom have languished in them for upwards of 20 years without trial. Our judicial system, with all its problems, does not encourage prompt prosecution of offenders. This has worked against quick dispensation of justice and exposes the inmates to all kinds of harrowing experiences.

I was amazed by the news report I read recently, which gave the statistics of youth involvement in crimes. One of the revelations of the expose was that several of our youth that engage in crimes are influenced by their peers. There was a particularly heart rending case involving a girl of 18 years. She lost her parents at the age of five, and was brought up by her aunty. Unfortunately, her aunty had little or no time for her upbringing. By the time the girl got to Primary 5 some of her female classmates had introduced her to men. She lost her virginity at the age of 11. Because of environmental pressure and the lackadaisical attitude of her aunty towards her, she was forced to drop out of school after Primary 6, which she barely completed. Some friends worked on her emotions and convinced her to join them in Lagos. They assured her that a job was waiting for her. Willy-nilly, she left for Lagos. On getting to Lagos, she squatted with those friends for close to a month without any job in sight. She was shocked by what she saw her friends do: sleeping with men of all shades. In the end, she was literally dragged into the business of prostitution.

The good news is that this hapless girl was later rescued by a human rights group that took over her case and rehabilitated her. How many of such girls populate our cities? How many of them would be as lucky as this girl? Thousands of innocent girls find temporary shelter in the millions of brothels that dot our landscapes, warming the beds of lascivious men, at the risk of their lives. Unlucky ones among them encounter different degrees of perils, leading at times to either death or disablement. What of those that are lured abroad on the same risky business? They go through worse humanitarian conditions in the hands of their abductors.

I have asked several times why government cannot provide jobs for our teeming population of employed youth. Every year, tertiary institutions in the country churn out thousands of graduates, without available space in the labour market to accommodate them. Even the same number end up every year without university placements.

They too end up in the labour market, thereby swelling the number of youth roaming the streets. This army of unemployed youth becomes ready tools in the hands of unscrupulous elements that use them to perpetrate evil. Though there is no justification for crime, I still believe that many of these youth involve in crimes as a way out of their joblessness. It will then be right to assume that government's inability to create jobs to cater for these youth is mainly responsible for the present system decay.

In the light of this position, it may be proper to recommend to government to provide adequate jobs for these youth and see if crime rate will not drop drastically.