Say, you’re hanging out with a group of Nigerian acquaintances. It’s an auspicious evening. You talk about your life experiences in a Nigerian home, growing up. The ups and downs. The perks and disadvantages. You begin a particular tale about how you were beaten by your mother for playing with the neighbor’s children.
You barely get past three sentences before your tale is summarily punctuated by fits of laughter—the kind of laughter that warrants rolling on the floor, with legs swinging in hysterical undulations—not because your tale is particularly funny, not because your delivery betrays a hidden comedic genius. No. You’re laughed at because “your own beating na small naw”, “you never chi chomchin”, “you no even suffer reach wetin I suffer na”, “Na only beat them beat you?” “Lol, ajebutter.”
You’re then treated to a compendium of harrowing tales of torture and incessant beatings in the hands of Nigerian parents. Amidst it all, one thing becomes apparent to a keen observer:
Many Nigerians simply do not know what abuse is.
We hear it every time, even uttered by learned Nigerians. We call it “hard resets.” A great many Nigerians subscribe to the idea of corporal punishment. A lot of us believe that beatings help teach children morality—that it’s okay to spank children into correction.
What many Nigerians who were beaten as children and subscribe to corporal punishment as adults fail to admit, however, is that most of the beatings they received were for things that a critical scrutiny of which would reveal were not wrong, in any sense of the word. Like playing soccer for instance. I was beaten periodically by my mom for playing in the neighborhood field. One particular episode culminated in having fresh pepper smeared over my eyes (true story). A critical examination of all the beatings we received would reveal that most were pointless, needless and hopelessly callous.
Worst still is our failure to admit that corporal punishment did not make us better. It only made us better at identifying actions/behaviors that guaranteed a session of beating and better at avoiding them. It said nothing of the morality of the actions themselves. A child who is constantly beaten for a behavior comes to avoid that behavior, not because he/she understands why such a behavior is wrong, but do so to avoid further pain.
Reminiscent of the Five Monkeys Experiment, beating a child constantly triggers a form of operant behavioral conditioning. But operant conditioning can be used to weed any behavior. (Any behavior not genetically triggered at least.) A child beaten for reading would eventually stop reading. (I made a Facebook post last year about the periodic beatings I received from my dad for sketching because he thought the cartoon characters I drew resembled “demons”. Eventually, I stopped drawing. A decision I regret today.) This is what advocates of corporal punishment fail to acknowledge.
THE SNOW BALL EFFECT
Negro slaves in plantations across the southern States of the US who were made house slaves and thus were closer to their slave masters—and to whom little rein over the field slaves were bequeathed to by their masters—tended to treat the field slaves the same way their masters treated them, never minding the fact that they all were slaves.
In what I like to term as the Federal Government College (FGC) Effect—and those who attended FGCs across Nigeria can attest to this—we’d see fresh students severely abused by their seniors. Younger students were beaten, stolen from, punished for every perceived slight, and the same young students, through the years, eventually became seniors who, for no other reason than the fact that they were punished when they were younger, would invent terrible forms of punishment and exert them on younger students in an ever distending—and rather grotesque cycle. Bosses at work who were constantly shouted at, insulted and abused in their early years tend to shout at, insult and abuse interns and fresh recruits. The culture of violence and abuse reinforces itself. An abused child usually becomes an abusive parent. And in all of this, never once acknowledging that what they passed through, or what they were meting out, was abuse.
“Mummy, why are leaves green?”
“What color did you expect them to be, Junior? Don’t ask stupid questions!”
Parenting is a difficult job. It should be. It’s not easy raising another human being. Parenting involves active participation in every stage of the young human’s life. This usually involves active control of the kind of information consumed by the child, their type of association, open-ended discussions on right on wrong. Sadly, Nigerian parents seem to have found a shortcut to parenting: on the bark of that dried cane and on the sole of that multipurpose pair of slippers. Parents who are authoritarian and who constantly beat their children in the name of correction usually do not notice the disconnect between them and their children. They fail to notice the inability of their children to approach them when in need. They take no cognizance of the difficulty their children have in communicating their problems with them. So we raise children who see violence as a cop-out for responsibility. We become a society so inured by violence, we do not see how it affects our relationship with others.
ARE YOU OKAY?
“Hey. But I was beaten by my parents, and I turned out okay.”
Fifty years of our unending beating culture has not stamped out our homophobia. It has not positively affected our view of women and their role in society. Fifty years and we’re still as hopelessly tribalistic as we ever were. If you turned out okay, you did so in spite of all the beatings you got. Not because of them.
And if you were beaten, growing up, and you’re now an adult who thinks beating a child is very okay, or homosexuals should have no rights, or women are not equal to men, then you did not turn out okay.
Written by Godswill Vesta