What type of children are we parents producing these days? Do we take responsibility for what they become and what they do in the society? If they turn out to be saints or demons, do we say it is due to our handling? These questions have run riot in my mind for a long time. They began to flit through my consciousness and, indeed, task my conscience, ever since Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab, the promising young man from a respected family, was said to have tried to bomb an airliner over Detroit, USA, last December. The questions then were: why should he? What did he want in life? They said he was working for Al-Qaida.
The biggest tug on my conscience occurred on Wednesday when the media reported of yet another young man admitting that he was responsible for the chilling murder, five days ago in Kano, of his mother, father, two younger sisters and his younger brother. The murder on Sunday morning had at once inspired this write-up, whose initial peg was the rising cycle of violence in the country. The man murdered in Kano, together with all the members of his immediate family except two, was an officer of the State Security Service. Alhaji Garba Bello and the others were butchered with a kitchen knife in their own home. Blood was all over the place.
One's immediate reaction was immeasurable shock at the barbarity of the act. How did the man offend someone so much that he and his family had to be wiped out at one fell swoop in such a brutal manner? Who was so heartless as to even contemplate such a gory revenge? The killers must be found by whoever is receiving pay and perquisite in the name of maintaining peace and security in this country, I fumed. No stone should be left unturned, in the parlance of the police, in the search for the cold-blooded murderers. But my shock was infinitesimal compared to the revelation that came the following day: Bello, the eldest son of the deceased, was responsible for the killings! According to Kano State police commissioner Mohammed J. Gana, Bello (a.k.a. Baba because he bears the name of his grandfather) committed the atrocity because he believed that life would become unbearable for the family if his father, who was ill, eventually died. The suspect, who was paraded before newsmen, has admitted that he was responsible for the act.
This revelation was more shocking than the first because it questioned the very basis of our claim to being human beings: rational, self-respecting and predestined. The questions being asked nationwide included: what could have motivated a child to take the life of his own mother, father and three siblings? How incurably insane was he at the time? The dastardly act was the most shocking spectacle in Kano since 2006 when another young man murdered Sa'adatu Rimi, his step-mother and the wife of a former governor of the state.
These latest killings were the most unthinkable thing. It all sounded unreal, so foreign. One used to hear about such mass murders happening only in western countries where value systems have been distorted by materialism, individualism and corrosion of religious belief. Here in Nigeria, patricides, matricides and suicides occur once in a long while and they often come as stuff out of fairy tales, cooked from hell and stuffed down the throat of our startled society by the weirdest of beasts camouflaged as persons.
Bello's explanation for the killings was implausible, the mumblings of someone who can only be brain-damaged. Having been expelled from university, he should know that life for him would not end at that point; there are many like him, or even worse, and they pick up the threads of their life from some disadvantaged point and fare well in different fields of endeavour. He was also not basically responsible for the condition of his family's existence. Erasing them from the face of the earth was a warped estimation about an impending life of penury and degradation.
On Thursday, however, a relation of the accused alleged that the killings were not committed by Bello, but by some unknown brigands. He accused the security agencies of forcing a confession out of the young man. That's a twist in the tale which the courts should decide upon. The fact that the young man made the confession in front of the cameras, however, was a challenge to our conscience that should force us to look inwards at our souls and rethink our handling of the younger generation. It is quite possible for this kind of atrocity to happen in our communities; in fact, it has been happening at a lower scale: children sending one of their parents to the great beyond over the smallest disagreement. It happened recently in Katsina State, where a young man killed his father, using a knife. We have always looked the other way, burying our shame, like the ostrich, in the comforting thought that it is happening to someone else, not us. But to others, it happened to their family or neighbours, and the pain could be inexorable. Murders are happening all over the country as the cycle of violence worsens. Already, there are cases of armed robbery and sectarian violence which consume many lives. Politics is also taking lives as thugs, mostly youths, are hired by disgruntled elements to assassinate their opponents. Sometimes the targets are government officials such as the EFCC officer killed by unknown gunmen in Kaduna on Monday. At other times it was journalists such as Bayo Ohu of The Guardian.
We must begin to find solutions quickly. Parents should take the first step by inculcating moral values in their children during their formative years. A Hausa proverb says you can only bend a twig when it is young and fresh. These days, many parents - especially the men - are too busy pursuing food and lucre to bother about enforcing discipline on the home front. Next, the government should stop shirking its primary responsibility of providing functional education and jobs. The school system has collapsed for years, unable to fulfil the yearnings of the society, and those that manage to acquire passable education are eventually left without work. Without skills or jobs, the youths are unemployable, thus becoming ready fodder for any recruiter with dark intentions.
Today, our youths are finding escape in all sorts of vocations, including drugs and pornography. And because they also must survive, they soon veer into crime and prostitution. We don't care about what they read in certain books, magazines or the internet, what they watch in some movies, or what they listen to in certain songs. Meanwhile, our leaders are busy cleaning the treasury dry. Poverty increases as corruption consumes the commonweal. The potential for violence keeps increasing. The result is manifested in all the ugly things we do not want to see or hear. Worse, we don't want to be blamed for our resounding failures. The truth, however, stares us in the face eventually and it is neither beautiful nor presentable.
LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, Saturday, 18 September 2010