In our days as youngsters, we spent our free time helping out our folks at home and in their shops and businesses. We attended extra-mural classes in the evenings, and also during long vacations. We read Enid Blyton, James Hadley Chase, Pacesetters and African Writers Series (AWS) novels, from whence we grasped and attained an appreciable understanding of the English language which enabled us to communicate with our pen pals from other parts of the world. We took part in school plays and debates and kicked football with bare feet in the front yard.
We played games such as Monopoly, Chess, Scrabble, Ayo, Ludo and Whot. There were also other fun games – we flew kites made with old newspapers and broom sticks glued together with leftovers from the previous night’s meal of garri and okro soup, innocently our wishes and messages sent to the heavens were carried through the black cotton thread used in piloting the kites. There were also other games – swell, double-dutch, seed games from udara and other trees. We danced and sang by the moonlight, wove and knitted for the school handwork examinations; there was nothing that we didn’t do in our youth.
On Sunday we decked out in our Sunday best and respectfully and dutifully followed our parents to church. As our reward, we get to enjoy extra balls of akara (fried bean cake) with the Sunday pap breakfast meal. For lunch there was the Sunday rice and stew, the chicken leg, neck and head. Delicacies shared, enjoyed and very much appreciated.
These were all things we looked forward to and enjoyed, the games were an opportunity to make new friends, play sport and enjoy our days of youth.
There were summer youth camps, Red Cross and Boy Scout activities. Back then some kids enjoyed the luxury of Chopper Raleigh bicycles bought by their parents as play things, those that lived on paved streets enjoyed the extra luxury of roller skates but for the others that didn’t, there were still other things to keep their hands and minds busy and creatively engaged. There were opportunities to try out your hands in making things, home-made toys and devices that other children of your generation took pride in making from the many disused materials thrown away at home i.e. bottle corks (used as wheels for home made toy cars), card box papers, glue and candle used to construct candle powered television sets (used to ‘broadcast’ John Wayne and Spy Force characters). There was also the legendary ‘Boress’, a push-cart configuration consisting of a flat wooden surface resting on 3-wheels made out of disused wheels, and piloted by a crossed-metal ring.
Sometimes we were rewarded with a trip to the village, to go and hang out with grand dad and grand mum in their farms. We climbed cashew, mango, pear and guava trees. We hunted bush meats, trapped birds, caught and roasted crickets and joined the age grades and masquerade societies, final signs of coming of age.
We fetched water from nearby streams and carried the buckets of water happily on our heads back home and told each other stories on the way, we did this repeatedly until grannies’ earthenware pots were all filled up.
In our days, there were rewards for compliance and also punishment for deviance. We knew to obey and never to cross the line, when we did, though they disciplined us by smacking us, it was all for our own good we reasoned.
Those were the days, and now? Times have changed.
You can’t help but wonder what the problem is with this generation of youngsters. What’s eating and robbing them of their innocence and childhood, what has happened to their sense of youth?
Who or what should take the blame? Should we knock on the doors of globalization, absentee parents, technology, and the devil or are these kids being just plain stupid?
Some have suggested that boredom should be blamed for the monsters some kids of this generation have become, but I refuse to accept such feeble excuse. Boredom from what? Boredom from all the emerging opportunities surrounding them which they should be taking advantage of, or is it boredom from enjoying the good fortunes that their parents and other members of the older generation have worked so hard to bestow on them?
Drawing my frustrations with today’s youngsters closer home, I was shocked over the murder-she-wrote story of Kemi Adeyoola, the 17 year old daughter of multi-millionaire parents from Nigeriawho recently received a 20-year minimum sentence for stabbing 84-year-old Anne Mendel 14 times during a burglary in March 2005 at her home in Golders Green, north-west London. So shocking and senseless was her crime that her property millionaire father, Bola Adeyoola denounced her as “evil”, “I don’t even like her” he was also quoted to have said. At her sentencing, Judge Richard Hone could not hide his disgust for Kemi, his words for her were “I think you wanted to experience what it felt like to kill someone in cold blood – possibly so you could do it again…You are a remorseless and cold-blooded killer who is a danger to the public…”
How frustrated the Adeyoola family must be, knowing that from Nigeria where they migrated from, teenagers don’t go about robbing and killing people, especially privileged ones that should be thanking God for their good fortune and silver-spoon life, considering that there are millions of other teenagers that are not so blessed..
A close family friend recently told me a most shocking story concerning his nephew Chuka Okoli who murdered his own mother in cold blood; the story was later reported widely in the Nigerian media. Allegedly, the 27 year-old Chuka had shot his mother at close range inside her bedroom at the family’s imposing and palatial home in Awka – Anambra state. The late Mrs. Uzor Obi Okoli was a former Commissioner for Women Affairs in Anambra State, and was married to Chief Okoli, the multi-millionaire owner of BILANTE Construction Company Ltd.
After the act, Chuka disappeared with her mother’s Mercedes 500 SEL car which he later abandoned in Benin City before escaping by other means to Lagos. He was later arrested and told the police during his interrogation that the reason why he killed his mother was because she kept reminding him of his past distasteful deeds. Apparently he has catalogues of such. Media reports say that Chuka was reportedly a spoilt and over-pampered child, and that despite having a case of alleged rape hanging on his neck, his parents sent him to the USA to complete secondary education.
His American exile couldn’t also rehabilitate him, as he was subsequently jailed for four years in Atlanta for robbery and sundry theft/vices. The sentence ended in 2005 after which he was summarily deported.
What do these youngsters think? Despite the privileged circumstances, wealth and opportunities they have been born into, to think that they would still be conceiving such wickedly and evil thoughts and even go ahead to execute such acts is unfathomable.
This is indeed a tragedy, not only for these youngsters and their lost souls but also for their families and the society as a whole. Surely the rich also cry.
Chief Obi’s situation is more tragic because not only has he lost his wife, but he may also lose his son, as the ultimate penalty for murder in Nigeria is death by hanging. What else could he have done, has he not worked hard as a man to p
rovide for his family?
Questions are being asked by friends of the family and other concerned well wishers as to what would make a privileged young man like him, with bright prospects to shoot his own mother at point blank range. I will never be able to understand youngsters like him, who go through life with a big chip on their shoulders acting as if the whole world owes them something. What do we owe them? We don’t owe them anything. I happen to know Chuka’s older brothers and remember spending time with them in Nigeria few years ago. I really sympathise with them and my friend Obi Nwankwo over this family tragedy.
Why don’t these youngsters shudder at the sight of guns, knives and other weapons? Some may also blame Nigerian university cults and fraternities as the breeding ground for such life of violence but many of us also went through the same social system and were also members of some of these societies in our days but we didn’t go about shooting, killing and maiming each other. There was Human Race at the UNN (Enugu campus), GQ at the University of Port Harcourt and in other universities. Even the so-called campus cults such as the Pyrates Confraternity, The Black Axe, The Eiye Fraternity, The Buccaneers, The Vikings Fraternity, The Mafia, Mgba Mgba Brothers, The Black Berets and the other campus fraternities existed in our days.
Of course there were rivalries and occasional skirmishes but at the end of it all, we remained friends with each as we attended the same lectures, ate in the same canteens, slept in the same hostels and attended the same parties. In our days, these were just social groups formed by the boys and girls to have a bit of fun. They were not the monsters that they have become today which terrorise parents, lecturers, fellow students and the entire society.
The bigger tragedy for this generation is the Columbine route they have chosen, an over reliance on weapons as a first resort preferring it to dialogue, and their unashamed resolves to take life at will.
I sure don’t blame those that sometimes wish that the good old days should be brought back.