Port Harcourt — The songs of despair, of hopelessness and of doubt conceived by different composers and sung in different tongues across the Nigerian landscape produce the same sad tunes that convey the narrative of life lived below acceptable human indices. Mothers, grandmothers, aunties and older sisters sing songs soothing and sorrowful to the little infants they love desperately; the songs are squeezed out of hearts frustrated by incapacitation, lips trembling with insecurity but from hearts filled with love and hope for a better future. These women of different generations may never have experienced affluence and succour but their humanity is revolted by the abjectness of their lot. Their family’s privations, the shared trauma of hunger and the hopelessness of nothingness join them in a sorority without ethnic, religious and geographical barriers.
In a mud-walled compound somewhere in the Sahel Savannah, on the flat plains of Tivland, in the cool shades of a cocoa plantation in Ogbomosho, upon the loamy footpath of an Okigwe farm, in a canoe gliding across the Ibom River and in the mudflats of Ogoloma, Nigeria’s neglected toddlers, abandoned by state and an uncaring society, contribute their labour to the family’s pool, oblivious to the regrets of Amalgamation, the fierce contest for ethnic supremacy, the materialism of greedy politicians, the urgency of materialism, the incompetence of government, the politics of settlement and the lethargy of a weak, docile and complicit society. With innocent brown eyes, impossibly white teeth and chocolate brown gums, these beautiful little citizens, victims of human vices of generations before their birth stir hearts to compassion and inspire the compassionate to revolt with their unquestioned acceptance of their roles as alternate sources of labour for their families, their ability to enjoy play with themselves and with objects unfit to be toys or playthings and their innocent acceptance of privileged children as “friends.”
The lot of Nigeria’s poor and neglected children is no better than the living conditions of the John Does and Richard Roes that dot the landscape, denied of labour, basic infrastructure and human dignity but unlike the adults, the children are helpless. While both are victims of a society that lacks planning and careful resource management, the children, impressionable and vulnerable are capable of taking the wrong roads, imbibing anti-social values and adopting criminal lifestyles, thereby deepening the crises of a society torn asunder by ethnic hatred, greed and incompetence. Although some argue that criminality is sometimes foisted on young adults, I hold the view, with humility that it is a choice which every young adult has to make. Because criminality is mostly adopted to attain a status of affluence as against survival and because even rich young adults have taken to crime it cannot therefore be an inevitable path to follow, no matter the desperate conditions of one’s childhood. However, society and government authorities have a huge responsibility to aid young adults make decent choices when faced with the options of life.
In almost all the capitalist democracies of the world welfare programmes like free education for all children up to secondary school level, free and subsidised housing for the indigent and free health care for the unemployed are now basic amenities to breach social inequities. It is no concern of the children in Nigeria that government officials earn millions for giving little value, that few politicians steal and mismanage the commonwealth, that they have a government more interested in settling cattle than children, that we spend stupendous sums electing grossly incompetent politicians or that the masses are too numb to act in the face of daunting adversity. We cannot continue on this path to nowhere, without plans, strategies and programmes to make our societies truly human. And we definitely cannot continue to avert the steady and probing looks in the eyes of our children for the fear that all we see in them are pools of hopelessness!