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‘Nigeria has many dysfunctional adults due to mismanaged childhoods’

By Tobi Awodipe
25 December 2021   |   4:00 am
The socialisation of a child starts in the womb. This has been scientifically proven, and so children begin to learn well before adults take responsibility for their learning.


Taiwo Akinlami is a parenting educator, family and social development attorney, Principal Partner, Gilgal Partners. A leading subject matter expert on children’s human rights, child rights, protection education, advocacy and systems/policy approach, he is also the co-founder of S.A.F.E@ for Children Society, a non profit dedicated to helping children discover, understand and play their inevitable roles in their personal safety and self-protection.

In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, he talks about the importance of enforcing positive masculinity in boys right from birth, the role of the media in shaping the minds of young boys and why the Nigerian state must begin to invest in her boys to avert problems in the future.

In your opinion, how soon should the boy-child re-orientation and education start?
The socialisation of a child starts in the womb. This has been scientifically proven, and so children begin to learn well before adults take responsibility for their learning. If you ask me when we should start orientating our boys, I would say right from when they’re born.

It is important to understand that according to science, 80 per cent of a child’s personality is formed between zero and six years and what you do in those formative years are very important. Maria Montessori said children have absorbent minds, minds that soak everything and what we do with children not only goes into their memory, but into their souls, minds, will and emotions.

It’s important we take responsibility of training our boys as early as possible. When I talk of orientation and re-orientation, I do not speak of teaching children what to think but how to think. We must recognise that children have worth; they have the power of choice and sense of judgment. How does your boy child see himself, because how he sees himself will determine how he sees and relates with others. If your boy child sees his gender as superior, he is going to relate to the other gender in a superior manner, but if he sees the other gender as equal, that is how he is going to relate with them- from a place of equality.

I trained some young men recently on positive masculinity and in my first class with them, I asked what they think about the female gender and they thought women are inferior to them whilst they were superior. They told me their dads ‘discipline’ their mum, but she cannot discipline him in return; this is food for thought.

Do you think lack of attention to boy-child issues has a major impact on how many men turned out these days?
Our foundation is built from childhood and as a nation, the major problem we’re dealing with is mismanaged childhood, which manifests as dysfunctional adulthood; that is what we see today with most adults. If you don’t train young boys to understand positive masculinity, that their strength as a man is to protect, empower, strengthen women, we will continue to have the problems we are seeing today.

Male and female are created to play different roles and are equal; there is no basis for competition and if we don’t understand this, we create problems. Gender doesn’t mean superiority or inferiority; it simply means each person is created to play different roles. As a boy, your job is not to raise your hand against your sister or girlfriend or to be a bully, but to protect others and be a shoulder to lean on.

Are there enough organisations focused on boy-child issues in Nigeria today?
If we talk about the many vices and dangerous habits that young people are exposed to these days, there are many organisations doing their bit to help in this regard, but I am not sure if they’re speaking the language of young people. Those seeking to mess up young men are speaking the language they understand while those trying to help are doing the opposite.

We need to change our tactics. Sports and entertainment are very popular in communicating with children and that is why we started a comic to let children know that they have a role to play in their personal safety and self-protection. We allow sports, music and entertainment to waste away without using it to communicate with young people, instead we use plenty words to speak to them. Children don’t want to learn this way and it is time to reach them in the ways they want to be reached.

Unfortunately, the entertainers shaping the destiny of our children today, especially our boys, are not role models and many are being led astray this way. Many songs, movies and entertainment these days are not meant for children, yet we keep exposing them to these things and wonder why they are misbehaving. Until we turn this around positively, we wouldn’t make much difference in re-shaping the minds of our young boys and men.

What role does the media play in shaping the images and mentality of boys and young men, especially in this era of the Internet and increased exposure?
Media is everything and media means medium. For every medium, there is content, and behind every content, there is a value system. Behind this, there is profitability. The challenge we have is that there is no proper regulation to most of the media young people consume.

What is the Censors Board doing? What are the different regulatory bodies doing to ensure that children are consuming the right content? At the push of a button, everything is accessible to children these days. What kind of content is your boy consuming? How are you controlling the content children consume and I don’t speak of parental control alone. We should teach our children that when they go online, there are three types of people there; the funseekers, fraudsters and the serious minded ones. The first two are in the majority unfortunately and are the loudest.

We don’t need to eliminate entertainment from young people’s lives, just give them alternative, positive content that would help them self-regulate. There must be commitment on our part to raise responsible boys and use our temporary authority to instill positive value systems in there that remains with them even when you aren’t there with them or no more.

How can we raise better boys?
First, you must recognise his personhood and allow him know he is a person of worth. When he knows he is someone of worth, he won’t give his life to drugs, alcohol, cultism, immorality, pornography and so on. Give him a voice and allow him express himself and also, give him the opportunity to make his own choices.

This is a difficult time to be a young man; there is so much temptation everywhere and we must communicate with them in a helpful, healthy, empathetic, inspirational and supportive manner. Move from simply communicating with them to communing with them.

The wife of the Lagos State governor recently said neglect of the boy child is responsible for increased banditry and rape being experienced in the country today, do you share this opinion?
To a large extent, this is right, because the boys you don’t train today are going to mess up the systems you build tomorrow. But we have to ask what the Nigerian state is investing in her children. About 13.5 million Nigeria children are out of school. We don’t want our boys involved in crime and other related criminalities, but is the Nigerian state investing in the average Nigerian child? What is the Nigerian state providing in terms of basic facilities like education, healthcare, food and nutrition and so on?

Many Nigerian children are citizens of their parents, if the parents are well off, they take care of their social protection and if they are not, the children suffer. When children are abandoned, they become enemies of the people and are ready to throw the nation under the bus. Four institutions are responsible for raising children, the family, community including schools, churches and so on, the state and the international community. The way we treat our boy children today, it’s clear that we’ve lost our souls and we’re either preparing for a resurrection or a burial and I cant state that Nigeria is preparing for a burial as things stand today.

What changes would you like to see carried out for the boy-child from the government, communities and on individual levels?
We need to pay attention to their education, healthcare, nutrition, development and everything that concerns them. We need to have a national plan that shows how much we are committed to their well being. Our constitution states that every child has the right to education up to university level, but are we following this to the letter?

When your nation doesn’t have respect for the future- which children represent- there is no hope. A popular proverb says, ‘We do not inherit the world from our forefathers, we borrow it from our children.’ The question I ask now is, in what state are we returning this country to our children?