News TrendStrategic Opinions

Chrisland’s Dubai Five and Our Digital Footprints, By Azu Ishiekwene

Most parents like to think that their generation’s burden was the heaviest. And that today’s children are too soft and spoilt by the easy life to be up to any good. Well, I disagree. Or let me put that a bit differently: I don’t agree completely.

The debate about just how far astray today’s children have gone was sparked afresh by the juvenile sex video of students of Chrisland School, VGC, Lagos, who had gone for the World Schools Games in Dubai between March 8 and 14.

Since that video was leaked a few days ago, the “Dubai Five”, the children involved, have taken a serious verbal beating. Deeply distraught members of the public have been holding up the video as proof that after many years of parental negligence, we may have succeeded in raising aliens who will succeed us.

How can children sent on a special programme at great expense by their parents for only a few days and in the care of their teachers, turn a learning opportunity into a sex orgy? How can children enrolled in one of the country’s most expensive private schools and who may have been selected for this programme on merit, let themselves, their parents and school down so badly?

Isn’t that video the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle which shows that years of namby-pamby parenting can only raise a generation of self-indulgent, grasping and self-absorbed children whose only interest is instant gratification at any cost?

The short answer, is, not exactly. But the explanation is long and complicated.

What happened in Dubai was a nightmare beyond description and even for a country so used to stumbling from one painful distraction to the next, this one would be hard to sweep under the rug. Yet, I think it would be a bridge too far to cite it as evidence of the final takeover of the wayward generation.

Far from being lost and wayward, I think that today’s youngsters, particularly those belonging to Generation Z, the closest demographic cousins of the Dubai Five, are perhaps more vocal, more diverse, more socially connected, smarter and certainly curiouser than any generation before them.

Interestingly, the smartphone, that pervasive device and perhaps the single most powerful force in the lifestyle of this generation is both an extraordinary source of pleasure and a huge source of misery for them. It’s their playground, of course. But sadly also, it’s their trap – the most intrusive tool ever invented since George Orwell’s Big Brother.

That is not to downplay the gravity of what happened in Dubai. It’s simply an invitation to be a little less sanctimonious, a call to put aside the heart-breaking foolishness of the Dubai Five, and to reflect for a moment, on what might have been only, say, 40 years ago.

If our parents had the benefit of smartphones to scrutinise and monitor us at school and play, would they have seen something dramatically different in our secret lives from what we see in the Dubai Five today?

We should be shocked and outraged and sad that out of 76 children who went on a weeklong sport competition, what we’re being reminded of is not the laurels they competed for or the strides made, but a video that reminds us of how disastrously we’re failing in our duties as schools and parents.

I’m appalled that Chrisland is once again at the centre of this scandal less than three years after a teacher in the school was tried and convicted for raping a two-year-old girl in the school and after it also came short of a public showdown with parent and actress Mercy Johnson-Okojie over allegations of child bullying.

The school has explained that it went to extraordinary lengths to keep the children safe and away from mischief. That it kept them seven floors apart in the Dubai hotel where they were lodged. It also denied carrying out any pregnancy tests on the child as her parents alleged, saying what was done was the mandatory Covid-19 test on their return from the trip and actually named the laboratory where the test was done.

On top of that, it has explained that the authorities went the extra mile to engage the mother of the child after the matter came to light in a post-travel review, but that she refused to cooperate and at a stage, threatened to “take the matter to social media,” because she believed that her daughter had been drugged and “raped” and that the school was trying to cover up.

The school failed in its duty of care, even though the board insists that the authorities had been implementing a higher standard of child care and protection since the unfortunate incidents of the past and, in fact, awarded itself a pass mark that out of 76 children taken to Dubai only five let the school down.

But the five, even one, is 100 per cent to the parents involved. Having nine staff members, comprising seven male teachers and two females, look after 76 students of 50 boys and 26 girls, was a recipe for trouble.

But the parents didn’t do better. Listening to the recorded video of the mother of the girl, you would almost think her daughter’s fees was the price for outsourcing responsibility of parental care. And it breaks your heart to think that while her daughter was still nursing the trauma from the exposure, she had time to be coached by a social media influencer for a PR dogfight with the school.

Part of the disease of the rich is that they not only boast of sending their children to big schools and also boast of paying hefty fees, they think that their money should buy them presence in their children’s lives. That is apart from payments for regular indulgences like a smartphone before they have left the crib and a trip to Dubai with Uncle T and the rest of the creche family while the parents are watching Zee-World at home. It’s not funny.

In the blame game between the school and the parents, care for the Dubai Five – which should be the real focus of the unfortunate incident – is missing. The ego of the feuding parties makes them want to protect their own turf, while busybodies swoon with testosterone over the explicit video. In between the real question is lost: who recorded the video and how did it go out?  

Whether the sex was consensual or not and whether the juveniles had the cognitive capacity to recognise what they were doing, it is improbable that any of the parties involved would have authorised the sharing of the video, as part of the so-called “Truth or Dare” game. And that unauthorised sharing was a crime. It was a ghastly infringement on the rights of the children and can only deepen their wound.

If we care about the children beyond nailing them to the cross of social gossip, we must come down from our high horses and refrain from tossing them out like a few bad apples. That would only further damage their esteem and impair their recovery. And here, I’m concerned not only about the treatment of the juveniles involved in the act, but also those present in the room and all 76 on that trip.

Lagos State has to do better than closing the school. It has to investigate the source of the recording and leakage and provide a common ground for the school and parents of the Dubai Five to rehabilitate the children, perhaps with help from child welfare specialists outside government. It’s time to put the children front and centre.

Though Lagos is considered perhaps the most socially responsive state in the country, its handling of the tragic death of Bowen College student Sylvester Oromoni who died under very suspicious circumstances leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Chrisland would be a good place for the state to redeem itself and to show that at least when children’s lives are involved it is not a captive to the mob or special interests.

The story of the “Central Park Five”, a group of five teenagers in the U.S. wrongly accused and convicted of a crime they didn’t commit shows that where technology is rudimentary the state’s malicious incompetence could be exploited to ruin young lives and families.

The story of the Dubai Five shows, however, that surrendering our lives completely to technology, in a race in which children are destined to lead, also comes with a heavy price. And our absence from their lives could sometimes make the price even heavier.  

Ishiekwene is the Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP

Leave a Reply