By Francis Ewehrido
If you want to do a thorough job of taking down a tree completely, you go to the root. That was exactly what Help-A-Soul-Alliance (HASA), a mental health NGO, with over 1000 members, led by Prof. Hope Eghagha, commenced on January 30, when it took the fight against suicide to the University of Lagos International School. The lecture was on mental health and suicide. The hall was filled with students.
After the lecture, which was well received by the students, it was time for questions. Only one student came out to ask a question. Others wrote their questions on paper. They probably had stage fright, wanted to remain anonymous, or they were shy.
Some of the questions form the thrust of today’s column. “My step-dad tries to sexually harass me, what should I do? Please help me.” Unfortunately, we did not know the student who asked this question. I would have loved to know her relationship with her mother. If she bonds well with her mother and the mother is protective of her, informing the mother is the first step. Some people advise against this because it can rock the marital boat. But sometimes, you have to be a boat rocker! What manner of a husband sleeps with you and also wants to throw your daughter into the equation? He has to be an agbaya (useless man), simple.
I have heard of mothers who shouted at their daughters when they reported sexual advances from their step-fathers. In other words, the message is, give him whatever he wants and do not cause trouble in my marriage. A woman who can tolerate sharing a man with her daughter is also an agbaya. If your mother falls into this category, seek help from responsible and mature members of your extended family. The abomination must not be allowed to happen. If you cannot get help from the immediate and extended family, go external. There must be somebody in your school, church or mosque to talk to and get help. A diligent police officer in a nearby police station can also take up your case. There are also government agencies devoted to fighting sexual exploitation, especially of minors. You must get help; do not succumb to your step- father’s sexual advances.
Another student asked what he should do if he is bullied. If the bullying took place in school, report to your class teacher or the school authorities immediately. If you are not satisfied with their handling of the matter, inform your parents. It can be risky sometimes, but students must also learn to stand up to bullies. Some of the students, who bully, do so to shore up their low self-esteem. They back off when you stand up to them. But some bullies do not back off and that is where the danger is.
Sometimes the bulling-perpetrator is an authority or a superior in position. Do not lose hope, as we say in Warri, jaguda get oga. As long as that person is not God, there is a higher authority. Seek it out and take your case there. In addition, even the seeming invincible has an Achilles Heel; seek it out and use it to your advantage. Bullies are like blackmailers, they never give up until they draw blood or come against a stronger force.
One student asked what he should do if he is forced to do what he does not want to do. And I ask what is that thing you do not want to do? Is it sinful, is it illegal, or is it wrong? Then do not do it. If the person persists, seek help from where you can get it. But if what you are being forced to do is the right thing, just do it, even if you do not like it. For instance, you have to help your parents to do dishes and clean the house, whether you like it or not. If you are an arts student, it pays you to be fairly good in mathematics. Someday, you will become a manager or managing director of a company. You need to be good with figures to understand the financial bits of your company operations. No knowledge is lost, just continue with your study of mathematics the way we swallowed Nivaquine for malaria in the 70s.
The next question is “how do you cope with too much school assignment when you have other things to do in order to excel?” Unfortunately, we did not get to know this student. I would have asked him what those “other things” are. The primary duty of a student is to study and every student must bear this in mind. I usually encourage people to learn about every aspects of life to have a broad knowledge, but that does not mean you should neglect your primary area of interest or study.
Talking about too much assignment, I think it is relative. Any normal teacher will give his students enough assignments to enable them to excel. No good teacher gives his students too much or unnecessary assignments. At the end of the day, the teacher has to look at these assignments and teachers do not have all the time in the world.
The last question I have here is “what if our parents don’t show concern?” I believe that majority of parents show concern for their children. There are a few who do not seem to show concern for their children. I will never understand why parents sell their own children for money. I will never understand why a parent will use his own children for rituals. I will never understand why a father will sexually abuse his own children. But generally parents care for their children.
Parents deal with many challenges. They have to earn enough to take care of bills and many parents do not earn enough. This can be very distressing for some parents. Some of them do not know how to manage their frustration and visit it on the children. To a young mind, this might look like the parents do not care, but they do; they are just overwhelmed.
But these are no excuses; parents must bond with their children. Parents should be friends with their children. Children are exposed to so much: peer pressure, social media, Internet, and so on. Many adults are being blown away by the avalanche of messages and contradictions from these sources not to talk of children. Parents must, therefore, form a protective shield around their children to avoid confusion. Once confusion sets in, depression is not far away, and depression is a fertile ground for suicide.
You will recall that in December last year, under the title: Women, Help Thyselves, I criticized Urhobo Ladies Association (ULA) for restricting membership of the association to only women who are paternally Urhobos. Sequel to the criticism, I am happy to inform you that ULA has reviewed its criteria for membership. Now emor’emete (women who are maternally Urhobos) and women married to Urhobo men can now become members of the association. I want to thank my aunt, who is also a member of ULA, Mrs. Dora Oboh, who saw the publication and raised the issue at their meeting. I also thank the President of ULA, Mrs. Lydia Imasuen, and her executive for their humility and promptness in ending this apparent injustice. Long live ULA.