I recently stumbled across a website for Nigerian youth which offered forums for ideas, questions and opinions. Nothing new, I guess, but what caught my eye was a recently posted thread that asked: Should Nigeria emphasize abstinence or use of protection in its fight against HIV/AIDS? Abstinence? In the world we currently live in?
The fact that this is even an issue being discussed says a lot about the state of affairs in Nigeria and it does say one good thing. It says that Nigeria as a country and as a collective, still believes in purity and innocence. Maybe I have become more than a little jaded, if so, please forgive me, but I live in a world where premarital, teenaged and even pre-teenaged sex is greeted with nothing but a nod and quiet acceptance. I know a seventeen year old with two children, by two different men and a pregnant fourteen year old. And in all honesty, I am more than a bit surprised that preaching abstinence is being considered by anyone to be a viable option. To think that Nigeria as a whole is still operating under that the idea that abstinence in both young and old is not only achievable, but still practiced, makes me feel that there is still some sense of innocence left in a country that otherwise is quickly becoming jaded.
That being said, are we as a nation still naïve enough to believe that our teenagers and even adults will abstain from sex because their teachers tell them to, because of a few ads on T.V., or in the magazines, because it is the sensible thing to do? In the world that we all want to live in… Yes. In the world that we all want to live in, poverty would be a strange and foreign world that holds no meaning for any one. Beauty would be in the eye of more than just the beholder and HIV/AIDS would mean the same thing as poverty does, it would be simply a strange collection of alphabets, it would mean nothing. Unfortunately, we are stuck in a world that where beauty is mostly in the eye of the beholder and AIDS means more than just Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It means almost certainly, a drawn out, painful death.
In the harsh reality that surrounds us, the rate of new HIV infections, the rate of death from the virus and virus related illnesses are higher in Africa than they are anywhere else in the world. As of July 2004, in a joint report by UNAIDS, UNICEF and USAIDS, there were 15 million AIDS orphans in the world and approximately 12 million of them resided in sub-Saharan Africa. In Nigeria, while the occurrences are not as prevalent as the epidemic that ravaged South Africa, the numbers are still fearfully staggering. As of 2005, an estimated 2.9 million people are currently living with HIV in Nigeria, with millions more living with full-blown AIDS. The rate of infection in Nigeria in 2005 was 3.9% a rise from 2% in 1993. That means that at that rate, 3 or 4 out of every 10 people were exposed to the HIV virus as of 2005. That increase is too much high, considering the drastic consequences and the precaution easily and readily available at hospitals and stores around the country.
Perhaps the single greatest factor that makes us all vulnerable to exposure of this deadly enemy, is a belief in our own immortality. They say only the young laugh in the face of death, maybe so, but in this one instance, both young and old, fell invincible to the Virus. We refuse to believe that we will ever become just another statistic, just another one, added to the growing number written in bold highlighted red ink. I doubt it is out right pride. I believe that it is a natural and inbred belief in our own invincibility. HIV/AIDS is something that happens to the ill-educated, the impoverished and the promiscuous or as a divinely ordained punishment for the outright evil. It is something that we hear about in the news, that exists far away from us and from the person with whom we are about to exchange bodily fluids.
Nigeria is a country of contradictions. I heard that said once. It is a country of immense wealth and stark poverty, Oxford graduates and primary school dropouts. In Nigeria, western ideas and advancement mingle harmoniously with ancient traditional values. We do our best to give the next generation the absolute best that the West has to offer, we teach them the Queen’s English and show them the word, America, Europe, England, Japan. We want them to be westernized and at the same time, to cling to the old traditional values of cultural and familial responsibility, which are in direct conflict with the West’s ideas of personal responsibility. Somehow, it works, if only in our minds. We want our girls to remain chaste and virginal for marriage, despite the fact that our men now refuse to even ask out a girl who refuses to “put out” –to use a purely America terminology. We speak of and claim aspirations to sexual equality, yet not even an eyebrow is raised in question to a man beating up his wife. It is all a part of the culture which we strive to maintain. We expect and believe that our girls will remain virgins, while encouraging our boys to be bold and forward, to take it, if they want it. We, in essence, build an inviting swimming pool in our backyard and do not teach our children to swim, because it is in their best interest to simply stay away from the pool.
Nigeria is also a country of religious people, Christians, Muslims and even traditionalists practice their faith with utter devotion. In our everyday life, we consult with Pastors, Priests, Imams and even witch doctors for advice and help. As a Christian myself, I believe that the world would be an ideal and happy place, if we would all heed the divine commandments, including the difficult ones like not committing adultery and fornication. Seriously, when it comes to temptation, not killing someone is the easy part. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve screwed up and got us all evicted from paradise, ensuring that we do not live in an ideal world. That being what it is, despite our beliefs, we all have to accept the reality that not everyone shares our beliefs and that even the ones that do share them , may not practice them, either by choice or by circumstance. I mean, what do you say to the Christian girl who just lost her entire family and now has only herself to take care of her, when she feels like she has no option but prostitution. How about the well brought up Muslim girl who is heads over heels in love and is pressured to feel that the only way she can show her love is through sex? These are unfortunately the reality of who the new HIV infections are.
Abstinence is the ideal precaution and if Eve hadn’t eaten the apple, we would all currently reside in paradise comfortable in our skin and abstaining from sex until we are well and truly married. Sadly, she succumbed to temptation, so we have all inherited an earth where money equals sex, love equals sex and power equals even more sex. We can not protect our children and family from sudden plane crashes, falling buildings, civil unrest or any of those other things that already make life uncomfortable, but in this fight against HIV/AIDS, we can do something. Teach them the same values that we have learned, educate and expose them to the world, instill in them the traditional values that were drummed into us, but since the pool has already been built, we also need to teach them to swim, instead of letting them drown in their own devices.
HIV/AIDS is real, ignoring it is no longer an option. Advise on abstinence, but emphasize PROTECTION, every time, all the time, because all it takes is once.