By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
I love kids. I love childhood. I love children. I refer to real kids, the unsoiled ones. The ones who see this world as a world of no impossibilities. Daddy is a hero, a magician. With daddy around, they can get all they need, all they want. The ones who say ‘I will tell daddy for you’. If they tell daddy for you, daddy will deal with you. Or the ones who say ‘Mommy said I should tell you that she is not in the house! And unwittingly cause a war between two families!
I love their unspoilt nature, their innocence, their simplicity, and their lack of pretence. With them, you know where you stand. They will not scheme against you or hatch an evil plot to destroy you or derail your career. They will not envy your successful life. They do not pad things. They may make things up for their world to flow. But they do not mean to destroy your world. Their world is governed by truth, truth as they see it. They may be, they are often naïve but they are genuine. They may not act right. But they keep no malice. They trust adults. They believe adults. They want to be like adults in some respects. Yet in their world, the mindset of the adult is dangerous!
When daddy has no car, it is because daddy does not need a car. Not because he cannot afford one. When daddy says ‘there’s no money’, they say to ‘daddy go to the bank and take money.’ And to dad’s ‘There’s no fuel in the car! they say let us go to the fuel station to take fuel! They do not have fake identities. They are who they are. They are, they could be fun to be with, especially if you are a grandfather, not obliged to pay their fees or be with them twenty-four hours. They make you forget the uglies of the world. You stay with the beautiful, the good, the kind, and the testimony of sainthood. In the world of kids, there is no malice. In malice, be like children. In understanding by like men. So, the Apostle Paul says. The assumption is that all men have understanding. We know however that sometimes, the naivety of a child is more powerful than the wicked understanding of an adult. It is our peril. It is our doom. Adults rule the world. Not children. Wish they could rule the world!
Some powerful men, like most rich men, treat women like kids. Their kids. Their plaything. Their toy. The gambit is money, influence. Access. The women look at them in awe. Treat them with awe. They exhibit the innocence and charm of the kid. They throw up the charm of a kid. The men fall for it. They lap it up. They fall for it. And the relationship becomes sweet, remains sweet. Until when the innocence disappears, that is, when the woman discovers the web of deceit, lies, and cunning. Innocence or the appearance of innocence in a woman portrays the image of the child, the vulnerable. It makes men want to protect them.
Childhood is innocence. It ought to be innocence, that is, a child ought to be innocent. Childhood is synonymous with innocence. At some point, innocence disappears. They grow out of it, into the adult world. Like the children in William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies in which Ralph ‘wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of a man’s heart’ as the beast in children rise to the surface and dominates the landscape, their lives, their stay in the wild. Maturity comes. Maturity? Perhaps, not maturity. Savagery. Exposure to the greed in the world. The hate. The jealousy. The spite. The bile, hidden one. You could be an adult without being mature. But you cannot be a child without innocence. Once innocence is lost, the sanctity of the contract between childhood and innocence evaporates. Golding also writes about ‘the world, that understandable and lawful world’, which ’was slipping away!
The child is the man. The child is the father of the man. This is belief in the future. It is hope. It is faith. It is a seed that is planted to be nurtured when, if all circumstances are equal. It is no apotheosis of any kind, no epiphany; nothing near it. It is no divine revelation, no. It is the reality that we contend with daily. That hope is humanity. That hope is the future of humanity, the earth, the cosmos. So, when we destroy the kid, we destroy the future. Not in the physical sense maybe. But in essence. To be sure there are consequences.
The kid dies in the child that is exposed to or plunged into the ugly dangers and filth of the adult world before the age of innocence naturally ends. And that is the plight of our world. Our fall. Our doom. Our death. Too many things kill innocence. Sheer brigandage rules the airwaves through the power of technology. Social media. Blogs. Porn sites. Wars and rumours of wars. The smartphone. The Internet. Brigands in power. Disappearance of sacred values or nonrecognition of sacred values. Muscles of the adult world squeeze life out of the chest of values, of decent codes, of mentorship.
There is a sense in which an adult loses innocence after trauma. This is another form of innocence. Experience, sometimes traumatic, opens the eyes to the realities of existence. Or when a sibling or a close friend or blood relation betrays you. Or when the husband is discovered for who he really is. Something gives, something dies, something flies away. Never to return. It is a story of no return often, even when there is forgiveness. Their spirit cannot rise to that level.
So, I love children. I love the kids. And I want them to enjoy the beauty of innocence as long as they are naturally entitled to it. We should guarantee childhood. But we are destroying the world of kids. The kid in Nigeria. In northeast Nigeria. The kid growing up in the wild killings in Owerri. The killing fields of Kaduna. In Jos. And the ones abducted from school. Innocence is destroyed, not lost. And they will never be balanced adults because there was no fitting transition. There was no transition. There was a staccato of shots. Suddenly that blind belief in the world of no impossibilities vanished in a puff. It is not a story to be told, neither now nor in the future!
There are tears for destroyed or murdered childhood. Tears for a compromised and destroyed adulthood. So, when a young adult breaks down or cannot face the world or cannot handle a family or cannot handle his kids or remains tied to the apron strings of their parents, where rests the blame? Has blaming exculpated the guilty or the vanquished? The answer is not blowing in the wind!
Loss of innocence is inevitable as the child grows into adulthood. But a destroyed innocence is a scar that not even time can heal. ‘The death of innocence causes an imbalance’, writes Bowers, ‘and initiates an internal war that manifests differently in each individual, but almost always includes anger, withdrawal and severe depression’. What have we done to innocence in the land?
*Professor Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha, University of Lagos