What would you do if your little child asked: “Dad, what is sex?”
That was the awkward situation a couple found themselves when their six-year-old boy dropped the question during dinner. Startled, and heaving a sigh of “well, the time has finally come”, the parents started mumbling the metaphor and euphemism of “the birds and the bees” — how bees carry and deposit pollen into flowers and how female birds lay eggs and all that. After over 10 minutes of the storytelling, the bemused boy retorted: “So how do I squeeze all this information into this little box?” He pulled out a form given to him at school where he was required to fill his sex in either of the tiny boxes marked “M” and “F”.
I read this joke several decades ago, long before I became a parent. My initial reaction was that even if he was not talking about gender, there was no way a six-year-old could understand sex and there was no need trying to explain it. I was raised by my grandparents in a very conservative setting. We could not discuss sex, not even while I was in secondary school. I recall adults saying proverbs that contained lewd expressions right in front of us, but we dare not repeat them. We would be considered rotten. We were seen as kids who should not touch such topics. Even if they suspected that some of us might have become sexually active, the topic was still a taboo. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
Most of what we knew about sex came from older siblings and uncles who discussed their escapades to our hearing. There was no internet, much less Google. I first saw a pornographic video while at the university. Some naughty students were playing it in the Common Room when I walked in. I was not religious or anything but I was so shocked and embarrassed I quickly retreated. And I am not relating events of the 17th century but as recent as the 1980s and early 1990s. Today, the story is different. While new-generation parents are less conservative with their children, the internet is now everywhere. Pornography — and all its perversion — is now at everyone’s fingertips.
So much so we learnt that an 11-year-old student of Chrisland High School, whom I will refer to as “Girl X”, was engaged in a full sexual act with her agemates while on a trip to Dubai last month. There were many things about the scandal that I find disturbing. One, she reportedly sneaked into the boys’ room for a sex-themed game. Two, there were four boys in the room. Three, the sexual act was reportedly filmed. Four, the video was posted online. Ordinarily, sex was never meant to be a spectator sport. All these are products of the dark side of the world wide web which is turning our world upside down. Only God knows how widespread these things are among our young people.
Chrisland has come under scrutiny over the duty of care, which I think may be alien to the Nigerian society. We copy a lot of things from the West, but mostly the bad ones. Under duty of care, you have a moral and legal obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of others, particularly those under your care or in your employment. The school said it kept the boys and girls on separate floors — seven floors apart. That was quite an effort, but it is not the distance that is now in question. It is the security. If Girl X could leave the fourth floor for the 11th floor unnoticed and unchallenged, she could as well have been kidnapped. She could have absconded. Where was the duty of care?
Quite logically, attention has also been on her parents. If it is true that Girl X had a TikTok account with an explicit name and had been positing suggestive videos, then people are bound to ask questions of her parents. Could it be that they are not social media-savvy and did not get a hint all along — assuming the reports are true? Could it be that they were so trusting they did not bother to monitor her activities? Could it be that of all the vices they expect from a child, this one blindsided them? Girl X needs counselling and rehabilitation. All the boys involved should also undergo therapy. Their parents need to be supported as well. This sort of scandal can damage some of them for life.
There are suggestions that the parents should be held solely responsible for her conduct. I would not go to that extent. Yes, I would say a child’s upbringing is the responsibility of the parents. They cannot outsource parenting to schools and government. Yes, the parents should have seen some flashes of the red flag if they cared enough. Something about Girl X’s dressing and make-up should have aroused their curiosity. It could be argued that maybe they dropped the ball at some stage. Still, there is a limit to how intensely you can police your child. We would be lying to ourselves to say we know our children 100 percent. An African adage says it takes a village to raise a child.
I am very uncomfortable with suggestions and comments in certain quarters that tend to treat the girl as mature enough to take decisions by herself. The argument is that nobody should be held liable because she allegedly walked with her own legs to the boys’ room. There is no country in the world where an 11-year-old who performs a sexual act is treated as “mature”. A kid is a kid. That she has got things twisted doesn’t give her the status of an adult. The only redeeming feature is that she apparently willingly had sex with fellow minors, so a case of rape or statutory rape cannot be established. But it is ill logic to say an 11-year-old is responsible enough to take such a decision.
Blames have been well shared — to the school authorities, the parents and the regulators — and I do not intend to go on and on with that. My take is that we have a big problem and all of us should use this opportunity to reflect and see how we can start doing things differently. My first call would be to the government to improve its monitoring of schools. Our public schools are not up to scratch and well-to-do parents are sending their children to private schools to get quality education. But how much of inspection, supervision and assessment is going on? I would like to know the rules and regulations and how they are enforced. It appears government pays little or no attention to this.
Shutting some branches of Chrisland School — as the Lagos state government did — may be good for the optics but the rot in the wider system is what we really need to address. How do we make sure the regulatory system is strong enough to enforce the duty of care? The tragic case of 12-year-old Sylvester Oromoni, who appeared to have been bullied and tortured by fellow students before losing his life last year, generated public interest, but we need to take care of the core issues through a regulatory framework that actually regulates. Nigeria is generally lawless: government agencies seem interested more in revenue collection and extortion than enforcing standards.
Government should develop a robust safeguarding policy for schools. The policy should offer concrete measures to keep students safe from harm, abuse and neglect. There should be a whistle-blowing mechanism by which fellow students can report suspicious activities, including sexual harassment and grooming by teachers. But it is not just about sex. It should also cover bullying, drugs and cultism. Young people are exposed to too much these days and they need protection. It is not enough to throw them into the classroom and pretend not to know that they are already seeing and experiencing things, especially in this age of smart phones. Development comes with challenges.
We are in the social media age. Rather than run away from the challenges or play the ostrich, we have to confront and deal with the issues to the best of our ability. A lot of age-inappropriate and potentially damaging things are being picked up on social media, as evident in the conception and actualisation of the sexual act to the recording and sharing it. What can be done by parents, guardians, content producers, government and the larger society to protect minors? This should be a major assignment for all concerned. One pastor said we shouldn’t buy phones for young people, but this tends to suggest, wrongly, that this is the only way they access inappropriate materials.
While I commend the Lagos state government for taking these issues seriously — at least by having laws in place and taking prompt actions when they get to the media — I am saddened that this is not the same attitude across Nigeria. Some states do not just care about sex crimes and violence against women and children. In 2018, we took up the case of a 10-year-old girl who was being sexually molested by a neighbour in Mowe, Ogun state. We got the pervert arrested. After much noise (I had to tweet about it), he was charged to court. The last I heard was that he had managed to set himself free without trial. We had to relocate the victim and her family to elsewhere to deal with the stigma.
Back to the case of Girl X. Beyond judging the parents or passing blames around, we need to take a broader look at the issues. The first school for all of us is home. We must let go of the traditional inhibitions and start discussing sex with our children before they go and learn it the wrong way from predators and depraved people outside. Gone are the days when we mystify the topic and create a taboo around it. I prefer women talking to the girls and men talking to the boys to start with, and at some point, fathers will have to talk to their daughters and mothers to their sons. Girl X was clearly tutored by the wrong people and she started experimenting with the extremes at this tender age.
The title of this article is from a 1992 hit song by Salt-N-Pepa, an American hip-hop group. They advocated discussing sex because it “keeps coming up anyhow/Now we talk about sex on the radio and video shows”. Let’s be honest: no parents want to know that their children are already having sex. We would rather not broach the topic. But whether or not they have become sexually active, sexuality should be part of the curriculum of home training. At all times, we should put ourselves in a position to win the confidence of our children so that they can feel free enough to open up and have a meaningful and edifying conversation with us. Sex education, like charity, must begin at home.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
THE N100M QUESTION
Many Nigerians have been fuming over the N100 million price tag on APC’s presidential nomination and expression of interest forms. It is scandalous. PDP’s N40 million tag now looks like a bargain. By some credible calculations, no serious candidate will spend less than N2 billion in a presidential run — and this is on campaign logistics, publicity and payments to agents. It does not include under-the-table expenditure which on its own will be far in excess of another N2 billion. The extortionate N100 million pales into chump change. I am happy more Nigerians are beginning to pay attention to these details. We analyse grand problems but the little details are even more damning. Outrageous.
Don’t you just love Zamfara state? When meningitis killed 215 residents in 2017, the then governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, blamed it on fornication. That was one of the most profound scientific-cum-religious findings in human history. His successor, Alhaji Bello Matawalle, recently distributed 360 cars to traditional rulers in a state where poverty and banditry have combined to make life a living hell for residents. To shame his critics, Matawalle has now sponsored 72 clerics to Saudi Arabia to go and wage spiritual war against banditry in the state. Actually, these things happen when you have more money than sense, but at least Zamfara state is now the comedy capital of Nigeria. Shame.
MORE THAN MONEY
President Muhammadu Buhari believes his government has invested “more resources” to tackle insecurity than past administrations. “We have acquired advanced equipment for our armed forces and the police to strengthen their capacity to confront terrorism and banditry. We have made adequate budgetary allocations for security,” he told traditional rulers at an Iftar event on Thursday. Since the heavy investment has not curtailed insecurity and is even now more widespread, this may support the argument that the problem is more than spending money. We need to spend, sure, but some things are still missing. Architecture? Strategy? Personnel? Equipment? Accountability? Think.
Sterling Bank Plc did an Easter advert that was quite distasteful, likening the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the rise of Agege bread (artificially enhanced with yeast). When I saw the advert, I flinched. Amid the backlash, the bank asked whoever had never sinned to cast the first stone — trying to adopt a biblical injunction. It was a poor attempt at humour and the MD, Mr Abubukar Suleiman, had to issue a proper apology. That settles it? Not so fast. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) will never let go of any opportunity to play politics and has asked that the MD be sacked. I won’t be surprised if the advert is now treated as part of the “Fulanisation and Islamisation agenda”. Politics.