How to Shield Your Children from Corruption

24 03 2019

By Chinwuba Iyizoba

Robtel Neajai Pailey
Robtel Neajai Pailey

Rife in every section of Nigerian society, corruption is more visible in the armed forces who clog highways with sandbags and drums, and openly extort money from motorist.

I was driving with my 7 yrs nephew, Jonathan, by my side. It was a hot afternoon. We came to a police check.

“Do you want to be a policeman? “ I asked mischievously.

 “No,” the boy answered, without hesitation.

“Why?”

I was curious to know the reason for such categorical rejection. A police job is honored work in many countries.

“They are corrupt!” he quipped without blinking.

The policeman by the car in front crumpled something into his pocket waved him on. We were next.

 I wound down and greeted him cheerfully.

“Anything for your boys?” drawled the officer.

“Nothing today, sir” I said, sheepishly. “May be tomorrow.”

He waved us on.

We drove on in silence. I was wondering how much harm was done to children by witnessing daily daylight graft on our roads by men in uniform.

It reminded me of another story a woman told me, some time ago, about her 7 yr old son, Hamza. He had just joined the boy scouts, the uniform and badges gave him such a trill, he felt like an officer, and like officers do, he wanted money. The next day, on his way to a scouting activity, he stepped into the middle of a busy road and faced a fast approaching taxi. He had seen policemen do all the time. As the car raced towards him, horn blaring, he raised an authoritative hand. Stop!

 The car swerved at the last minute to avoid running him over, the driver spat at him, passengers cursed and showed him their five fingers. Passersby screamed as they hauled him by the ear out of the road and someone whisked him back to his shocked and grateful mother. That was the end of his scouting career.

The difference between Jonathan and Hamza, it occurred to me, was that Jonathan goes to a private school where Christian ethical codes were taught every week. During classes, teachers emphasize the difference between good and evil, and how lying, cheating–in a word corruption, harms. They help them discover good and do it, they help them uncover evil and avoid it; they learn that they can make mistakes and how to be quick in correcting themselves.

Hamza, on the other hand, attends a public school ill equipped to teach him Math’s and English, but very efficiently creates an environment that makes it hard for him to be virtuous.  He learns from older pupils how to steal, smoke, drink and climb school fences at night to visit brothels. He has never been furnished any argument against the corruption he sees.

Yet more Nigerian children attend public schools than private schools, and we cannot have it both ways. Either we teach these children about the evil of corruption now or we have corrupt citizens later.

This troubled Robtel Neajai Pailey, a Liberian academic, activist and author until she decided to do something revolutionary.

 In 2012, frustrated with all the rhetoric about fighting corruption in Liberia she wrote anti-corruption books for kids. The first one, Gbagba loosely translated, means ‘trickery’ or, ‘corruption’

 “I realized that integrity must be strengthened at the earliest stages in a child’s life in order to mitigate the practice of corruption in the next generation” she said.

Gbagba is the story of young twins, who leave the countryside to visit their aunt in the capital, Monrovia. The intrigues of adults in everyday corrupt practices—robbery, bribery, fraud, vigilantism—collide with the children’s strong moral sense of right and wrong.

Immediately after the children arrive in the city, a thief “in dirty clothes” snatches their suitcases in broad daylight. The description of the robber tells us that that the man is poor and desperate. But the idea that it is greed rather than dehumanizing poverty triggers the man’s thievery incites the threat of mob justice

And in no time, the twins later observe their aunt’s driver bribing a police officer. Their aunt’s indifference during this encounter stands in stark contrast to the twins’ sharp perception of the unfair advantage that takes place after the transaction.

You can watch the video adaptation of the book below and please share with your children

Pailey was inspired to write the book in order to give children the verbal tools to question the ethical and moral values of adults around them. The book received critical acclaim and has been adopted as compulsory reading by Liberian Ministry of Education

“Eight to 10-year-old children are the perfect targets because it is at this stage that they begin to form an ethical core,” Pailey continued.

 “In writing Gbagba, I imagined myself a proverbial anti-corruption pied piper, without the instrument of doom…. Even though Gbagba‘s setting is Liberia, it remains a universal tale about children’s emancipation from the confusing ethical codes of the adults around them”

As Pailey says, children are the moral compass of Liberia if not the world. When they start publicly exposing corruption for what it truly is, my hope is that adults will be shamed into living more honestly, with integrity.

The book has been turned into a play and the play was well received by parents, teachers, and school administrators in Liberian and other African countries.  It has also been converted to a play, and 200 theatre-goers enjoyed the performance in the audience on debut day.

A parent of one of the cast members informed Pailey her daughter is now the integrity police in their household, pointing out when her parents and siblings are being dishonest.

This is a worthy investment Nigerian government should consider making, inviting Pailey with her project and give children like Hamza the knowledge they need to fight corruption in themselves and later in the Nigerian society . Pailey has since written a sequel to Gbagba called Jaadeh.

By Chinwuba Iyizoba


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7 responses

25 03 2019
Emeka Obioji

I’m also surprised that anytime the police stops us, on seeing the bus load of kids, they never ask for anything even after having asked the vehicle in front. Yet we are not a branded transport company.

25 03 2019
Barry Josiah

Thank you! I love this

25 03 2019
Editor

😁You are welcome, Barry. Try and write something like that so I can publish

25 03 2019
Emeka Obioji

Then on dropping off one of the boys he threw a biscuit wrap onto the Bush beside the gate of his house. Our (Ken & myself) reaction was automatic; we both shouted at him. The boy immediately ran and picked it up eventhough, the Bush was littered with biscuit wraps.

25 03 2019
Anonymous

😁gr8 👍🏿

25 03 2019
Anonymous

🤣haaaaaa, one must persevere

25 03 2019
Emeka Obioji

Today, while coming back from nsk, a half – drunk satchet of pure water flew from the rear window of a passenger bus in front onto the road. We have been encouraging the boys not to drop things on the ground and, they all saw it. I realized i have to do something. So I pulled up and scolded the occupant of the window side from which the satchet was dropped. To my surprise, she apologised.

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