On 27 November 2000, Nigerians and the entire world woke up to the shocking news of the brutal stabbing to death of a teenage Nigerian student in London while walking home from a public library. The horrific images of Damilola Taylor, the ten year old Nigerian boy was caught on CCTV camera, covered in the pool of his own blood as he fled from his attackers who left him for dead on a disused staircase.
Damilola Taylor who was living with his mother at the time of his death highlighted the danger inherent in putting adolescents in schools in Europe where increasing xenophobia, youth violence, knife crimes and vices like drug addition threaten their lives and well-being. The death also drew the attention of the British public to the menace of street gangs, knife crimes and youth violence that cut short the lives of many young Nigerian students studying in the United Kingdom.
But the foiled suicide attack on Christmas Day 2009 on a US North West airliner in Detroit by Umar Farouk Abdumutallab a 23 year old Nigerian has left us asking questions on the rationale for enrolling kids in schools abroad at an age when parental affection and guidance are critical to their educational, emotional and physical development.
Sending young people barely old enough to tie their shoe laces away from home to an alien culture and strange environment where they are opened to all forms of associations and manipulations can have deadly consequences as can be seen in the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. A situation that would have been prevented if the affected children were under the watchful eyes of their parents at home and attend a Nigerian public school that is well-funded and properly run like the public schools being patronized abroad.
It is a cruel and unfortunate irony that the generation of Nigerian ruling elite past and present who were the products of our once quality public school system could so brazenly neglect and bastardize them and turn around to send their children to public schools abroad. What a shame? Where is our sense of outrage?
Thus these children become canon folder, lured and manipulated into accepting deadly vices ranging from drug addiction, sexual indiscretions, loss of cultural values and now as suicide bomber as we have seen in the case of Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab, an unguarded youth whose inglorious action has shamed us all.
From all reports since the Detroit foiled bombing, Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab was a victim of this social menace that has gripped the elite in our country. Farouk Umar Abdulmuttalab was sent to an expensive international school in Togo from the age of twelve and from there began a series of events that has now thrust his family and Nigeria into the path of infamy.
The question is would Farouk Umar have fallen prey to being indoctrinated if he had schooled in Nigeria? Here was a boy that left secondary school in Togo at a very young age only for him to be admitted to University College London where he lived alone in a high end part of the city.
How many years of childhood did Umar spend with his parents at home? From the facts on ground regarding the childhood odyssey of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, we can deduce that the boy effectively spent the first six years at home under the watch of an ever busy banker parents. And it wasn’t long that he headed to England where he was enrolled at the University College London.
How many times did the elder Abdulmutallab see his son in all of the years he was away from home schooling in Togo and England? How did they communicate? How many times did the boy visit home? Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was left to live his fantasies and no wonder he became a ready tool in the hand of Al Qaeda.
How can the parents explain a situation where a boy barely eighteen years old travels at will and without control visiting various countries and attending unregulated religious gatherings? It will be interesting to see the types of books he reads and the friends he associated with. But isn’t these obvious? A boy with Abdulmutallab profile who lacked parental affection (not material offerings) can not be blamed for idolizing the Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.
When a father figure is missing in a child’s life, then he cannot be blamed for indulging his fantasies no matter how vile they are. The new generation of Nigerian parents are substituting pampering a child and with parental care. One cannot take the place of the other. But the reverse is the case in most homes.
This embarrassing incident to the Abdumutallab family and our country is a clear case of poor parenting that cuts across the various strata of our society with the elite as the major culprit. There are many unreported cases of Nigerian students that have been lost to drug addiction and other vices in Western countries. More are subjected to hopelessness at home. The destruction of our public education by the ruling class has left to these exoduses of parents wanting to send their child abroad.
Everyday, the newspapers are full of advertisement of secondary schools and universities abroad scouting for Nigerian students. It is a shame that Nigerian parents send their children to schools to primary and secondary schools in North Africa, Ghana, Malaysia and Singapore. It was also recently reported that Governor Shema of Kastina State sent some students to Sudan on scholarship to study Arabic Education. What happened to all the Quaranic Schools and universities in the North? Why send students to a volatile place like Sudan?
Conversely, it will also be interesting to know the statistics of American and British students in our public primary and secondary schools! Nigerian students abroad used to be the victims. But when the news of Abdulmutallab broke, it seemed these incidents have gone full cycle. The destruction of public education in the 1980s witnessed the exodus of Nigerian adolescents to schools abroad by parents who can afford the exorbitant fees. Children at this age are not emotionally matured enough to cope with the complexities of the leaving home
As an educator, I am alarmed when parents often gloat about their plan to send their children to private primary or secondary school in places like Ghana, Morocco, India, Malaysia and the Middle East where they believe the educational system is of better quality than what is obtained in Nigeria. This is an invitation to danger because doing this exposes them to vices and now the possibility of being lured by terrorist groups into being a suicide bomber like Farouk Umar Abdulmuttallab.
The systematic failure of so many parents these days to affirm their children, where the affirmation is not about material offerings, but involves an abiding investment of the self of each parent with regard to the psychological well-being of their children. Each child has an in eliminable need for the affirmation that comes only with an abiding emotional affirmation of her or his parents. To grow up without that abiding emotional affirmation from parents is to grow up with an aching sense of emptiness and thus a profound sense of longing.
Naturally, every child makes an attempt to fulfill that emptiness and to speak to the eternal longing. Every child makes an attempt to abate the rage within as Farouk Umar has done. So we have children growing desperately lacking the deep emotional affirmation from their parents that once upon a time was commonplace. Sending children away from home when the family and cultural values should be inculcated in them exposes these children to dangerous vices.
But we also need to equip the public schools system. There was a time when our universities could compete and were ranked equally with schools like University College London and others where Farouk attended and many other Nigerian students are currently enrolled. Is it not also possible to upgrade our public primary and secondary schools across the country to the standard of the British Internati
onal School of Lome, Togo with our enormous resources?
At the root of Umar Farouk’s strange behaviour lays a clear lack of adequate parenting that would have steered him away from his extremist views that drove him to contemplate this foiled attack. Parents have to be aware that materials offerings and pampering cannot take the place of discipline and care under their watchful eyes. Parents owe it a duty to their children and the society to save future generation of Nigerians.