What resounded loud and clear from the podium of the National Theatre, Lagos last week Wednesday was the need for core African values to become the norm in the ethics of governance in the country. Anything short of this, it was stated, would amount to chasing after shadows in the nation's quest for stamping out corruption and for any meaningful development to take place. This was the position of Nigerian children on that auspicious day dedicated to celebrating them as future leaders.
It was at the inter-school debate the Centre for Black and African Art Civilization (CBAAC) organised last week to mark World Children's Day on May 27, 2009. Over 30 schools were in attendance in the event that probably had the largest turn out of corporate sponsorship in recent times, perhaps in recognition of the place of children in the realm of marketing, branding and consumership.
Responding to the theme Can Culture Be Employed to Address the Problem of Corruption in Nigeria?, the secondary school pupils engagingly told the audience why the neglect of such time-tested African values as honesty, hard work, contentment, trustworthiness, neighbourliness, the brotherly spirit of looking after the interests of others have caused a disjunction in the life of the nation. They insisted that there was a quick and urgent need to return to Africa's noble ethos, the absence of which has acted as manure to fertilise corruption, otherwise, the nation would remain a land of unfulfilled dreams.
Patriotism, and indeed the lack of it, was also underlined as principal reason for the continuing corruption cankerworm that has eaten deep into the marrow of the nation, for which a stunted growth has become inevitable. Like daughters teaching grandmothers how to break eggs, the children made it clear that their fathers and mothers, who were the leaders, had soiled their hands with filthy lucre, and that they needed to retrace their steps for them to have a better future. They argued that they stood very little chance of any meaningful future as those who called themselves their parents had already mortgaged it through corrupt practices.
So sobering and staggering was the children's arguments and submissions that the long hours the debate dragged on seemed like time well-spent as the audience did not show signs of fatigue. At the end, Ilogbo High School came top followed by Infant Jesus School, and Babcock School.
In a welcome address, the Director/CEO of CBAAC, Prof. Tunde Babawale, said the debate was part of a broad range of activities the centre was using to promote interest in values, ethics and norms for the benefit of society both for present and future generations.
He argued that children constituted a continuum in society, a link between "today and tomorrow", and as trustees of posterity, they deserved to be celebrated as enshrined in the United Nation's statues. CBAAC, he stated, has the responsibility for "the promotion and propagation of the vast heritage of our people", it was expedient therefore to steer the children in the right path through the inculcation of the right vales.
He told the audience, "Our interest and investment in children and youth programmes are encouraged not only by the vital continuity they provide but by the fact that (unlike adult folks) children are malleable agents of change for a better future...We can check our continuing drift into social, political and economic anomie by imbuing in our children values that can guarantee prosperous and peaceful future for not only the individual but the society at large.
"Corruption is the bane of our quest for socio-political and economic growth and development. It is also responsible for the high crime rates being witnessed in our society today. Our preference for this topic was borne out of the centre's concern for the deleterious impact of corruption on our society today especially as it affects children...We are optimistic that this debate would offer the much desired sober reflection on those African values that could be employed to address the hydra-headed monster of corruption. This forum would provide the platform for the children to articulate their concerns and for transmitting their intellectual contributions as leaders of tomorrow."
On his part, the Minister for Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Senator Bello Jibril Gada, commeded the CBAAC's choice of theme for Children's Day celebration as unique as it explored the use of culture to complement the struggle to rid the nation of corruption - the bane of national growth. The minister stated the centrality of children in President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's seven point agenda, adding that children formed a core of the rebranding project of the administration.
His words: "Our culture prior to this time was rich in the promotion of honesty, diligence and hard work. However, it is lamentable that these values, which are part of our traditional lifestyles are now being replaced with the culture of impunity, insolence and greed. The replacements are at great cost to the progress of our people and country. Despite the gloomy impact of corruption on our socio-economic and political life, solutions could be found within our culture to complement recent efforts of government. I believe lessons could be drawn from our vast repertoire of folktales, mores and practices".
The minister, who has formed a habit of staying away from events the Lagos parastatals in his ministry organises, (first by Lagos Museum on World Museum Day and CBAAC) was represented by the Director General of the National Theatre/National Troupe, Prof. Ahmed Yerima.
The chairman of the occasion, Mrs. Sarah Bolous of Society of Performing Arts of Nigeria (SPAN), lamented that the arts, including the art of debating, were not being developed properly in the country, even as it was apparent that arts could be used as a tool to formulate leadership qualities among the youths. She encouraged the school children to develop themselves, and to say no to whatever was wrong like corruption. "Use your art to build good values by saying no to wrong things," Bolous affirmed.
The glittering silver trophy, which Ilogbo High Scool won, was donated by the Oragun of Oke-Ila, Oba Dokun Abolarin. He told the pupils that it was the pursuit of traditional excellence and values that made him sacrifice his lucrative job in Abuja to accept the kingship of his community back in 2006, and that he did not regret it as it was in service of his community, even as his son wondered then if he was mad to have accepted the kingship. "At a point in time, we should be able to sacrifice for the good of others," he admonished, adding, "why won't we fix Nigeria? The future of Nigeria is with the children. Turn out to be builders; think of how to fix Nigeria. There is power in small things. This is our country - make it happy!"
Joke Silver gave inspirational talk to the children as a worthy role model while Ngozi Nwosu was co-compere with Aremu Babatope and a comedian to thrill the children. Drama sketches, songs and dance were provided by the children to entertain themselves and the adult audience. There was much to drink and eat from the array of provision the supporting companies provided. It was fun-filled event spiced with intellectual activity for the children and everyone present.