THE OLYMPICS: OUR KIDS, OUR YOUTH, OUR FUTURE (1)

BY CHRIS GYANG

The idea of writing this piece began swirling in my mind when China’s Yang Qian won the first gold medal of the on-going 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in the women’s 10-meter air rifle final on July 24, 2021. The 21-year old would later win a second gold in the mixed 10-meter air rifle event alongside Yang Haoran on July 27.

And as it has turned out, this work has been generously tinged with three coincidences that are tied to the Tokyo Games which have themselves not been spared the vicissitudes of coincidences – most of which have not been favourable.

It must be said that, but for the dogged determination of the Japanese, the COVID-19 pandemic would have completely scuttled the Games. The fact that the Olympics are being held at all – one year behind schedule – with athletes and sportsmen and women from all over the world enthusiastically competing for honours, in spite of the pandemic, is a glowing testament to the resilience of the human spirit and man’s determination to survive and thrive, even under the harshest conditions.

Thus, the theme of the Games, ‘Moving Forward: United by Emotion’ could not have captured the very essence and historicity of the current moment and times in a more succinct and appropriate fashion.

THREE COINCIDENCES, A CRUEL REALITY

Now, the first coincidence: On July 26, 2021, the 13-year old Japanese skateboarder, Momoji Nishiya, won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. On that same day, the news broke about the previous day’s release of 28 out of the 115 school children who had been forcibly seized on July 5 by armed bandits from the Bethel Baptist High School, Damishi, in Southern Kaduna, Nigeria. Apparently, their poor, distraught, parents had been able to pay a cash ransom to the kidnappers.

The winners of the silver and bronze medals in that Olympics skateboarding event were all 17-year olds. Therefore, as those teenagers celebrated their gold, silver and bronze medals in Tokyo, parents of the 28 school children in Nigeria were also celebrating their reunion with their children. But the remaining 87 children are still in bondage, likewise hundreds of others in Nigeria’s extremely restive Northern region. Among these are the more than 100 students of the Salihu Tanko Islamiya School in Tegina, Niger State, who were abducted in May.

DAILY SUN newspaper (July 26) captured the mixed moods of the parents of the Baptist students this way: “It was a tale of sadness and joy for parents of kidnapped students of Bethel Baptist High School, Damishi, yesterday. While those [parents] of the 28 released students heaved a sigh of relief, families of the 87 others still in kidnappers’ den wept; one of them slumped.”

At the time of writing this, 13-year old Momoji was the youngest gold medalist in the Tokyo Olympics. She would have been the youngest in Olympics history but the American diver, Marjorie Gestring, holds that record. She won gold in the springboard event during the 1936 Olympics when she was about two months younger than Momoji when she won hers.

When you consider the exploits of these teenagers, whom we are wont to dismiss as ‘children’ in African tradition, you begin to wonder about the prospects 13-year olds today in Nigeria, especially in the core north where death is never far away. Unfortunately, here 13-year old girls are routinely coerced into marrying men old enough to be their grand-fathers or are abducted from school and turned into slaves by sex-starved Islamist terrorists, devilish predators, who exploit extremist religious ideologies to satisfy their beastly lusts.

Here, those that are 21 years old just like China’s Yang would most likely be found in Internally Displaced Peoples’ camps taking shelter along with their parents, having fled from Fulani terrorists or jihadists who had forcibly dispossessed them of their ancestral lands. In our country, girls within the same 17-year old bracket with those proud winners of silver and bronze in the Tokyo Olympics skateboarding event could also be found abandoned by their families in rehabilitation centres for Vessico Vaginal Fistula patients, uncontrollably leaking putrid urine. Their innocence had been brutally plucked when their physiological make-up was still that of mere kids.

Here in Nigeria, the mates of those teenagers that are making waves at the Olympics and attracting accolades and adulation from the whole world are almajirai roaming the nooks and crannies of northern Nigeria begging, scrounging for a daily living, in the name of seeking religious education. These huge armies of drifting, traumatised children and broken youth are ready conscripts for Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorist, gangs of armed bandits, the assorted criminal elements that now freely prowl the core north and foot soldiers for their self-serving political and religious elite. It is these rudderless youth and children that are used to swell and manipulate election figures in the core north in order to perpetuate its mythical superiority at the polls. 

The second coincidence: When the ebullient Bishop Hassan Kukah made the valid assertion, on July 28, 2021 (PUNCH, July 29), that it was now apparent that Nigeria had become a country “consuming its own children and [is] faced with the prospects of an uncertain future,” it seamlessly dovetailed with all the views and opinions in my head which had been triggered by Momoji’s Olympics exploit, the release of the Damishi school children and the agonies of hundreds of others still languishing in the captivity of gun men and Islamist jihadists all over the much troubled Northern Nigeria. We shall return to the irrepressible Bishop Kukah later.

The third coincidence: On Wednesday, August 4, 12-year old Kokona Hiraki of Japan and 13-year old Sky Brown of the United Kingdom won silver and bronze medals in the park skateboarding event. That was the day the full extent of a sustained armed attack launched by Fulani herdsmen on the Irigwe community of Bassa Local Government Area (LGA) of Plateau State, which lasted for more than two days, began to unfold. Sadly, an orphanage accommodating 156 children was among the more than 250 houses burnt down, aside farmlands with soon-to-be-harvested crops and other property which were destroyed.

While addressing newsmen on August 3, 2021, before the ashes of the once boisterous Binta Orphanage Home in Jebbu-Miango, Bassa LGA, a tearful Mr. Daniel Asama, who is the Plateau State Coordinator of the Association of Orphanage and Home Operators in Nigeria (ASOHON), lamented:

“The orphanage is destroyed, the whole community is destroyed, many people lost their lives, those that survived the carnage are vulnerable and have been running for their dear lives while we have 156 children in hands struggling to survive… I can’t just understand why a human being would be this brutal and go as far taking the life of a fellow human being and destroy [the] abode of orphans.”

He disclosed that although the authorities of the institution where able to evacuate the children before the marauders executed their heinous assignment, the very act of attacking such an establishment would surely leave an indelible scar on the highly impressionable minds of the children, most of whom were orphaned when their parents were killed in similar attacks. Mr. Asama’s bitterness is thick and palpable:

“It’s a shame on humanity. I am so sad because we are now orphaning these children the second time and they are going through a lot of trauma, more so that the parents of most of them were killed in manners similar to what happened here.”

Analysts say that the Miango and Kwall massacres, in which not less than 68 locals were killed, is part of the on-going campaign of terror launched by heavily armed Fulani herdsmen and their militia against Central Nigeria’s non-Muslim Christians aimed at dispossessing them of their ancestral lands. The Buhari-led Federal Government has been accused by local and international human rights groups of doing little to curb the impunity of these herdsmen who are believed to be executing a much bigger agenda of creating a homeland for Africa’s Fulani population now scattered in much of the Sahel. The Buhari Presidency has continuously denied these claims.

When I married the results of those coincidences, they perfectly captured the very germ of my ruminations since July 24, 2021. However, when the three coincidences converged, they pointed at this stark and cruel reality which may well explain why Nigeria is caught in this vicious circle of backwardness, chiefly fueled by spiraling violence: While most nations of the world give their children and youth the well-deserved pride of place in their hearts and national policies, Nigeria treats her own children and youth with levity, even contempt, sometimes.

‘POOR OUTING’ BY TEAM NIGERIA

Now, President Buhari has never been known to be a sports enthusiast. Perhaps that is why he is so aloof, almost always withdrawn from, and impervious to, reality. A little bit of shouting his head off supporting or cheering a football or any other sports teams (on television) would have helped bring him a little bit down to earth; down to the realization of the horrific, day-to-day existential realities confronting ordinary Nigerians, especially hapless children and youth.

Had Mr. Buhari been watching the Tokyo games, he would have acknowledged with great pride the parade of Nigerian sportsmen and women during the opening ceremony on July 23. Even though, as it would later emerge, they had gone to the Olympics bugged down by potentially devastating concerns, they strode among their compatriots from other parts of the world with great dignity and respect for the fatherland – even when the fatherland did not consider it right to do as little as appropriately kit them with a uniform face mask.

Therefore, despite the hue and cry about the ‘poor outing’ by Team Nigeria, we must state that it is patently unfair to have expected anything better from them. In fact, that Blessing Oborududu and Ese Brume were able to win silver and bronze in their respective 68kg women freestyle wrestling and the women long jump events on August 3 was nothing less than phenomenal, extraordinary. That is, knowing that both of them competed with injuries which would have ordinarily forced other athletes out of the Games.

As a matter of fact, while other athletes give their physical and mental health topmost priority, their Nigerian counterparts do not have the luxury of thinking about making such excuses – even when they are forever at the mercy of the crushing stress the Nigerian system subjects its citizens generally. Team Nigeria as a whole, not only those who won medals, deserve the commendation of Nigerians for fighting all odds to even qualify for the Games in the first place. Under normal circumstances, that is, if these athletes were exposed to the kind of sustained training, support, goodwill and respect their counterparts in other parts of the world get as a matter of right, most of them would no doubt excel beyond our wildest imagination. But the reverse is the case. Let’s consider this more closely.

TO BE CONCLUDED

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