Sunday, December 5, 2021 8:00 am
By Festus Adedayo
In the last one week in the American and Nigerian cities of Michigan and Lagos, 1983 Nobel Literature winner and British author, William Golding, was literally woken up from the dead. Golding, novelist, playwright and poet, wrote the highly celebrated novel, Lord of the Flies. If you underestimate the holy writ’s admonition that foolishness resides (is bound up) in the heart of a child, then you need to read this Golding’s 1954 debut novel. Woven round myriad thematic concerns, chief of which was the innate bestiality in man, Lord of the Flies, as a name, derived its etymology from the word, which in Latin means Prince of Devils and in Hebrews, a Philistine god, the Beelzebub.
It is the story of a group of British schoolboys, while Britain was entrapped in a raging war, who had the plane evacuating them shot down and were lucky to survive in a deserted tropical island. Stranded on this desolate and uninhabited island, the boys then resolved on the need, which eventually turned disastrous, to govern themselves. This led them to the process of formation of rules and a system of administration of their island. However, lacking the civilizing impulse of an adult, they eventually relapsed into their Hobbesian state of nature, exhibiting feral, warlike behavior, violence, brute force and cannibalism, with Golding teasing out the theme of man’s fundamentally savage human nature from the novel.
Last Tuesday, three students were killed in a shooting which occurred at Oxford High School, Oxford, Michigan in the United States. The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office identified the victims as Tate Myre (16), Hana St. Juliana (14), and Madisyn Baldwin, (17). Eight other victims were shot but sustained various degrees of injuries, including a teacher in the school. Of the lot, three’s cases were dire, including a 15-year-old boy who got shot in the head, a 14-year-old girl who was hit by bullets in the chest and is on a ventilator, as well as a 17-year-old girl, who was also shot in the chest.
The students were shot by their fellow student, Ethan Crumbley, a 15-year-old sophomore, in whose custody a semiautomatic handgun was found as at the time of his arrest. Police’s preliminary investigation revealed that the instrument of violence, the gun, was purchased by Ethan’s father on November 26, with three 15-round clips. Police also said that the suspect had recently posted photos on social media of himself shooting at imaginary targets and from investigations, the weapon of crime appeared similar to the gun Ethan practiced with. Immediately, James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of the teenager, who has since been charged in the shooting, were arrested and charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter.
In Lagos, Nigeria, one of the raging subjects of the people’s anger today is the death of Sylvester Oromoni (Junior), a 12-year-old pupil of elite Dowen College, in the Lekki area of Lagos State. Two diametrically opposed allegations have been made about circumstances surrounding his death. While the family claimed that the lad sustained fatal injuries from wounds sustained from his colleagues’ attempt to forcefully initiate him into a school cult, hinging their claims on the disclosures made by the now deceased boy, the school claimed that Oromoni died from injuries he sustained from a football game.
The above two cases are one of the many incidents of adolescent asocial behavior that the world is grappling with today. Not strictly a new phenomenon, antisocial behavior operates as a cluster of related behaviours which range from aggression, violence, temper tantrums, lying, burglary, stealing, substance abuse, early sexual behavior, among others, rampant among adolescents. Though psychologists say the behavior is normative and is one of the features of certain ages of child development, these malevolent manifestations among children act as strong predictors of potential criminal behavior in adulthood.
Many of the adults who eventually grew into responsible parents and citizens today were at some point in their developmental growths notorious antisocial elements who gave their parents and society headaches. However, the reality is that, a huge chunk of these adults, weaned from the ashes of these antisocial behaviours, never recovered from the blows of the effects of their antisocial behavior. By the time they attempt to take up their destinies in their hands, it is almost always too late, thereby consigning them to the heaps and dustbins of life.
So many reasons have been adduced as reasons why children, many of whom hail from responsible homes, dither into reprehensible antisocial behavior. While peer group pressure and pollution by playmates who themselves are products of fractured homes, are factors that loom large in reasons why children go off the handle in their adolescence, parental influence is another major factor. Studies have revealed that antisocial parents, in their display of these behavioural patterns at home, rub off hugely on their wards who internalize these behaviours, unbeknown to them. Thus, psychologists have established that possessing an antisocial parent is a major force in the prediction of violent or serious delinquency found in adolescent and young children.
Lord of the Flies and the holy writ earlier cited above tell us that within the child is resident innate bestiality that parents and society must pertinently and painstakingly tame in a child. The problem is that parents have very wrong conception of the period of childhood and adolescence. They misinterpret the period as a time when the child is naïve and incapable of taking on delinquent behaviours. This is why parenting is a big job, something in the mould of the structural platform of a house construction which bespeaks the kind of super-structural objects that may be placed on the foundation. In the Michigan shooting event, unknown to James and Jennifer Crumbley, the couple was the ethos that Ethan learnt by rote. When they thought he was inattentive or absent from occurrences in his surroundings, he was fascinated by the piece of metal that his father had just purchased and perhaps secretly wished that someday, he would get to that same level of accomplishment of wielding a weapon that conferred on him power over the unknown other. The fatal shooting at Oxford High School, Michigan, for Ethan, was the culmination of that dream, the power to subjugate the other under his awesome powers.
The holy writ earlier cited was not oblivious of the constitutive innate bestial nature of the child. It recommended that “the rod of correction shall drive it (the Beelzebub) far from him.” Traditional African society also learnt early enough that the heart of the child is stony and only chastisement could soften it. Unfortunately, the technological modern age has purged punishment from the list of objects that can be used to rid the heart of the child of the Lord of the Flies. In some western societies, it is even criminal, a violation of the child’s rights, for parents to administer cudgel on their children. This has made the Beelzebub in the children to acquire multiple notorieties like the biblical Madman of Gadarene and the inability of society to dimension its bestial inclinations. Technology has further worsened the lot of the children, literally ensuring that a community of maggots meanders out of the bodies of our children. They have access to occurrences in practically all parts of the world within a twinkle of an eye and, rather than being a blessing, this exposure has further aggravated the rot in their hearts.
The world is witnessing a complex metastasis of violence, in nodes that are unprecedented. Weapons are acquiring frightening sophistication and small arms are as widespread as mushroom on the farm. Our children, whose brains are admittedly more sophisticated than ours, their parents, are moving with the tide of a sophisticated world. Deploying technology and the wizardry of their brains, they get involved in antisocial behaviors and crimes which, in our wildest imaginations, we cannot grapple with or anticipate in them.
While not prejudging what the outcome of investigations into the Dowen College death from alleged cult initiation will be, our society is just crying where we should exhibit admittance of our errs. The incidence of secret cultism in our schools has become a matter of concern to those who know how this negative growth is becoming a crisis. By 1999, more than 56 secret cults were said to have existed in Nigeria’s 133 higher institutions of learning and had penetrated secondary and even primary schools. Right now, the figure must have quadrupled because, the more civilization we receive, the more we sink into complex notorieties.
I have spoken in earlier pieces about the power of the dreaded ancient secret cult, Ogboni fraternity in Yoruba traditional African society. Membership of it is borne out of search for power, protection and fame/wealth. Cultism is one of the carryovers of traditional African society that has survived to this age of modernism. It arose from the need to protect and sustain some basic interests among a group of people, whose details are shrouded from being exposed to outsiders. Cult membership is usually a restricted affair and members are known to swear themselves to oaths of allegiance. This is how secret cults/societies have festered in centuries.
There are a plethora of metaphysical powers that initiates of blood, especially in fraternities and cults like Ogboni cult, wield and which entrap those in search of such authorities. Believing in the potent power of the Earth as a binding force, Ogboni use the edan (a twin object of a man and woman pegged on a cylindrical brass spare) in their lledi (shrine house) and sprinkles of blood to subtly encode obedience to rules and secrets. Not only does Ogboni ensure secrecy of affairs among its initiates, an espirit de corps is prized out of the initiates by blood oaths, thus suborning potential squealers off revelations of Ogboni secrets and dark acts of the initiates.
Peter Morton-Williams, former pro-vice chancellor of Ulster University and an eminent anthropologist, who worked for many years in Nigeria and Ghana, researching West African social anthropology, a leading authority on the history and culture of the Yoruba people, did an anthropological study of the Ogboni, entitled The Yoruba Ogboni cult in Oyo and An Outline of the Cosmology and Cult Organization of the Oyo Yoruba (1964). In them, Morton-Williams outlines the potency of blood in sacrifices and oath, explaining the interface with and how the public sphere is being recently inundated with hackneyed recounts of the cultic oath mess of our children. This work is a study in what probably drives interests in secret societies and why the elite take unqualified voyage into it, in spite of rapacious embrace of Christianity and Islam, and why the Ogboni still has controlling importance in Yoruba religious organization, centuries after it was established.
If it was found out that indeed, the pupils of Dowen College were attempting to recreate what their fathers and forefathers practiced for centuries, with same ferocity and manifest wickedness, how does our society want to blame the messenger and refrain from blaming the message? Golding’s Lord of the Flies, represented in boy characters like Ralph, Simon and Piggy (with his perceived metaphysical eyeglasses) not only built a central paranoia among the boys, it elasticized the concept of struggle and contestations in a metaphysical felon that must be battled. This, the novelist represented in the boys’ belief that a supposed monster called the “beast” existed on the island. The “beast” which at one point was felt to be the pilot who ejected from a crashed plane and whose carcass hung on the tree, soon became a fetish around which the whole of the children began contestations. The Dowen College students, while not likely to have totally apprehended what a cult was, perhaps also had the paranoia of power contestation that the boys in Golding’s had. Flexing of muscles, mixed up with violence and toughness, are fed into this game of wanting to behave like their fathers at home.
While we wail and cry over the calamity that befell the Oromonis and the victims of the Crumbley murders in Michigan – if it is found to be true – can we also press charges against the parents of the allegedly offending pupils at Dowen, especially if they are found to be accessories after the fact of the violent behavior of their wards, as the police did with the Crumbleys? The greater worry for us should be that antisocial behaviors of all kinds have wormed themselves into the hearts of many of our children. It behooves parents and guardians to create time for the proper moral and psychological nurturing of their children, especially in this age where everyone is busy in the rat race for existentialist desires. Now is the time to mould their future, rather than heap on teachers the responsibility of keeping our wards on the straight and narrow, forgetting that the teachers also have their own demons that they daily contend with.
*Dr Festus Adedayo, lawyer, journalist and public affairs analyst, writes from Ibadan