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From Chrisland to a presidential pardon: A series of very bad decisions

Two scandals have continued to agitate conversation in Nigeria this week. One was triggered by the actions of children, some as young as 10, in…

Two scandals have continued to agitate conversation in Nigeria this week. One was triggered by the actions of children, some as young as 10, in a place as far away as Dubai. The other was orchestrated and executed in the Council of State by old men who in all honesty should know better.

One was about sex. The other was about corruption. Combined, they showcased, in startling, garish light, the corruption of morals and the moral corruption that has pervaded our country, from top to bottom. The two incidents are separate and distinct, yet in essence, are similar and the same.

The decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to pardon convicted looters: Joshua Dariye, the former Governor of Plateau State and his Taraba State counterpart, Jolly Nyame, and with dramatic arm-waving ushered them to go and, well, sin some more, is as ill-thought-out and ill-advised as the decision by those 10 to 13-year-old pupils of Chrisland School, Lagos to turn a school trip to Dubai into a bunga bunga party that Silvio Berlusconi and his ilk would have envied.

From that unfortunate trip, a viral video in which a 10-year-old girl seemed intent on outperforming regular porn stars has emerged, shocking and exciting Nigerians in equal measures. Exciting in the way that the video has been shared by adults and has been making the rounds in parents’ WhatsApp groups as an example of what ‘children of nowadays’ are up to. What is even more shocking to some of these parents and adults is the discovery that circulating child porn is illegal and may result in a 14-year jail term. Many have laughed off people who warn them about the legal consequences and then insisted that they are sharing the videos in good faith, to call on other parents to keep a closer eye on their children.

Somehow, they refuse to accept that it is possible to issue this wake-up call without sharing the video of these rather unfortunate children.

In the end, we are not issuing wake-up calls but mortally injuring the life and dignity of a girl who is in no position to realise the consequence of what she was doing.

Her mother claims she was drugged and used. But what do you expect a shocked and confused parent to say? I have doubts about that claims but investigations will reveal the truth. Allegations of rape have been thrown about but is that what happened?

No. Not legally, at least. It seemed like a consensual act among children, except if the investigation proves otherwise. As far as the law is concerned, that is not in itself criminal. Morally reprehensible, yes. Criminal, no. What is criminal is sharing the videos.

While we are quick to apportion blame, it is prudent to admit that no matter how rigorous a school is in watching students, children will always have curiosities about their studies, life and sex, especially at a certain age.

Parents and schools might not be able to plug all the loopholes but what matters is how they respond when these loopholes are discovered. And an investigation is needed to find out exactly what happened and how Chrisland School managed the situation.

Others, especially, the ilk eager to share the video have claimed this as a sign of the end times. Calm down. It is not.

This will not be the first child sex scandal and unfortunately, it won’t be the last. Long before the children at Chrisland were born, in fact, long before any of their teachers or parents were born, children in schools and out of schools throughout history have been known to exercise some sexual curiosity. Those who attended boarding schools in the good old days will tell you, if they are being honest, of rampant sexual misconduct among students, of sodomy in boys’ schools and lesbian acts in girls’. It is not because these boys and girls were gays or lesbians, it was that they were sexually curious.

When discussing with her six-year-old girl, a parent in Abuja was shocked to discover that the child has a female classmate of the same age with whom she has been sneaking off to the toilet to kiss and cuddle.

Nobody in the school had a clue and she wouldn’t have found out if she hadn’t asked probing questions.

Such things happen. Yes, schools must protect the moral well-being of children put in their care. It is expected of them. What would be unacceptable is when such breaches happen and the school instead of addressing it promptly, with openness and sincerity to the parents and discretion to the children involved, decides to stage a cover-up or subject the students to dehumanising treatments. Chrisland has denied that it subjected the girl in question to a pregnancy test without her parents’ consent, insisting they only did the mandatory post-trip COVID test and invited those with doubts to contact the lab they used for the test.

The crime here is not that the children were dumb to do what they did. It is the glee with which individuals and organisations have plastered the girl’s face and shame all over the internet. The same macabre glee with which the corpse of Chinelo Nwando, killed in the Kaduna train attack, was shared on social media, the same glee with which we are eager to post pictures of dead and dying accident victims and victims of the country’s senseless killing sprees.

Even an Abuja-based newspaper was gleeful enough to “uncover more videos” of the girl on her social media, dancing. They published her name, and her videos, showing a clear image of her face on their website. It was a bad editorial call. What happened to the basic journalism ethic of protecting children?

If children behave badly, what excuse did elders sitting in the National Council of State have to do worse?

The presidential pardon of Mr Dariye and Mr Nyame is all shades of wrong for several reasons.

First, is the fact that this government came to power swearing to fight corruption. That promise stalled for years and in 2018 when an Abuja High Court convicted Dariye of misappropriating N1.162billion while serving as governor of Plateau State, it seemed the promise was not dead yet. Only last year, the Supreme Court reduced his 19-year-jail term to 10. Nyame, who used to attach the prefix of reverend to his name, was also convicted in 2018 for the theft of N1.62 billion. His 14-year jail term was reduced to 12 by the Supreme Court last year.

Dariye’s corruption probe and subsequent impeachment were one of the earliest big stories I covered as a young reporter in Jos at that time. I remember the sweltering heat and excitement and shock when two London Metropolitan officers arrived to give evidence, revealing shocking details of his spending spree in London with public funds.

Yet, the government that wanted to fight corruption got these men convicted and literally did what the Hausa people would say vomited and ate up their vomit. The president decided he wanted to free these men and presented this issue to the council as if there were no more pressing and urgent issues. The council rubber-stamped it and two convicted looters who should serve as an example to others are walking free.

What was even more stunning was the outpour of joy in some parts of Jos and Jalingo over the release of these convicts. The people whose commonwealth was looted to be spent frivolously on trivialities like a pen worth 7,000-pound sterling celebrating the release of the men who robbed them blind. Yes, Dariye bought a pen worth that much while children in Plateau State were being slaughtered in their huts and mothers and their children were dying in poorly-equipped hospitals under his watch. That was how the man rolled.

And you wonder why we are where we are as a country.

From those celebrating the corruption of someone’s 10-year-old daughter, giddily sharing child pornography, to Buhari’s clear and blatant corruption of the anti-corruption propaganda that has now transitioned into an endorsement of corruption—even more than his exoneration of Ganduje—this has been a humbling week for Nigeria. One in which the corruption of morals and the morale of corruption have both received significant boosts from persons who should be championing them.