By Olamilekan Mashika

Image Credit: Jeff Ackley/Unsplash

As a boy who grew up in Mushin, Lagos, I am probably used to the street than most people, since Mushin is, in fact, streets. On one side are boys of variety of age drinking, smoking and chatting generally about women, and on the other side are boys and men of different age also drinking and rolling dice, drinking and smoking while turning out their entire savings to bet on rolling the highest figure. On another side are men of higher age grade at a spot drinking away and making mockery of everything and anything and discussing about the woman next street they had the previous night. Then there is on the last side another set of young men who simply want to leave themselves shirtless, not particularly drinking and sparsely smoking but running a pass at passer-by and catcalling ladies, whilst still doing recollection tale if they have had any of the passing ladies before or not. Also, on the last far corner are some boys preparing to go off to the nearest club house to enter the VIP lounge since they had just gotten thousands of dollars, which equals millions of naira, from an unwillingly willing foreigner the previous day.

In most cases when people hear ‘streets’, what pricks their subconscious is a group or groups of boys or in fact adult males who are gathered at a place and simply having the fun of life. Not that it is bad to have fun, but the where matters. The society is conditioned to see a boy on the street as normality regardless of his age. To them, he is simply on the road to becoming a man. This singular thought has constituted one of the reasons why not much attention is paid to the phenomenon. To people, “boys will be boys”. However, there is a problem.

In the exposure to the street, the boy is exposed to certain things at his age which he should not be exposed to. In formative years, a boy is supposed to be loved and cared for while close attention is paid to his wellbeing so that he can grow up to be the best that he can. However, because of the psychological conditioning that there is nothing bad in seeing a boy on the streets with his supposed peers and fellow ‘men’, the parents, guardian and any care giver simply sees nothing wrong with his finding a sense of belonging and purpose on the street. People simply ignore his change in behaviour as a sign of maturity: his one day tantrum after he was called out for not doing the right. His change in voice, his repeated usage of curse words, his penchant for drinking and smoking, his quick aggressive behaviour and many others were simply ignored and counted as the stage every adult male would go through unbeknownst to many that it is simply the streets getting to him.

There are many faces to which vices would reign supreme at a point or two when there would be a complete turnaround. But because people have misunderstand what street smartness is and have made a pass for a young boy who is not even of drinking age to drink as a sign of quick maturity, the society has endorsed the lifestyle of the boy and he is more attracted to the life of independence he has found on the street. And so the life harmonises with the boy’s life expectations and he is stuck to it.

The street, no doubt, births influences in the boy’s life. His life becomes the expectations of others and he runs to achieve what his peers are achieving.

What are these influences and how do they affect the boy child?

Peer pressure:

This perhaps is the most overarching of all influences. It is from peer pressure that every other influence is most likely birthed. In fact, one of the major reasons for which the boy child ventures into the street is peer pressure. Seeing what the other person does and then going into doing them just because he wants to be like that person. For peer pressure, at the point of getting into the street life, it becomes even greater. The boy drinks because his street friends, who are equally not of drinking age, drink; he smokes because he has seen many people on the street smoking and no one bats an eye to it. The boy does drugs because no one really cared what he does. All of these are influences of peer pressure which continues to seep deep into our society and makes the street a harsher place for a growing boy child to live in.

The environment of the street, at the point of his entering into adulthood, becomes too familiar and all he has now is the life he has been exposed to on the street. Due to this, he continues to replicate what he has learned or has been influenced to do and continues to do that.

Ritualism/yahoo enterprise:

The sub heading was deliberate. At this point in our country, getting involved in internet fraudulent activities is almost seen as a legal business. People troop around proud of themselves, of their achievement in what they do. Perhaps readers might be unfamiliar, but for a person that grew up in a place deeply associated with the street, it is very obvious. Boys will troop around, or hang at a particular spot, to brag about the amount of dollars they have made in the past week by being smart. In fact, they compare their wealth and size how big they are in the game: the game being yahoo. For those who are not satisfied with what they are making, or are not making at all, they go in search of more. When they do this, ritualism sets in. Then the problems of the society triple. At this point, they become problems to the society rather than assets.

Violence:

There is a certain synonymy of ‘streetness’ with bashing of heads, or breaking of bottles, or stabbing with knives or ultimately using guns as the ultimate weapon. The factors that contribute to these gory lists are not farfetched. The society knows them, we simply just look away. We are conditioned to see boys who are violent as normality. This is not even peculiar to Nigeria alone.

In movies, since we can accept that movies are to a certain extent a depiction of reality especially when this is a recurring depiction, we see boys on the street engage in violent activities. People have seen them as a necessity of the society and thus, they are conditioned to having them there. Boys stay on the street, serve on the streets, die on the streets and no one really bats an eye. It is normality.

But, should we be accustomed to such?

Because the society is so accustomed to seeing the boy child on the street, the street becomes the home of the boy. He luxuriates in the power it gives him and the shelter he gets. He gets a sense of camaraderie and continues to lust after its gnashing jaws.

However, one thing we need to realize is that for a society to be sane, and fully productive, there is the need to have functional men, myriad of functional men. This cannot materialise if we continue to have boys on the street engage in violence, cult clashes, internet fraudulent activities and being exposed to excessive peer pressure. There is the need for the society to recognize few things that might dissociate the boychild from the street and make him want more for his life than merely being encumbered with the quasi top of the ladder feeling that comes with the street.

So, what do we do as a society?

There is the need to recognize that the boy child equally needs more attention just as the girl child. In the formative years of humans, what they are exposed to is what becomes their culture and normality. We, as a society needs to ensure that the boy child does not see life on the street as better than any other life. It would seem that boys have had this notion growing up; however, due to the fact that the society has looked away on this, nothing good comes out of the Nazareth of the world’s society. It is therefore important to pay more attention. Watch what your boy does and who he follows, who acts as his role model and who he looks up to: is it a brother in the hood who is a known alcoholic or a guy man who is a known internet fraudster? Taking note of these at the early stage will ensure that the boy is snatch from the jaws of the street at the early stage.

We need to understand that some things that pass as normality should not even be seen in a society that wants to be productive. Glorifying internet fraudulent activities in our conversation has gone a long way in ensuring that boys are drawn to the street as that is where they can get quick connection to those who will show them the way. As a society, with the raging burns of capitalism, we have placed those who have at the very top of the society and see them as supreme regardless of how that supremacy comes by: this is why a musician will sing praises for yahoo boys and no one would care. We fail to realize that little by little this mentality, this flow of perverse thoughts, seeps into the brain of boys, or even young men generally and they take to the street to find their own mentor who will guide them to joining those at the top of the society. Whether successful or not, they become encumbered with what the street has to offer.

Another is eliminating peer pressure. This can be achieved with basic steps that have existed over the years on how to eliminate peer pressure. As has been established, peer pressure is the greatest weapon for recruiting boys onto the street, but if attention is paid to boys at their formative age and we ensure that they are taught to toe the right path, then the society as a whole is on the path to raising functional men.

Making boys employable is another way to consider. Boys, who go on the street, have been made to think that they can’t do much with their lives since they do not have the necessary skills to outshine their peers in the world. Being not easily employable is what they carry on themselves and they think that the street is the only place their qualification is needed and accepted. However, if there are more NGOs, just like Chessinslums who give boys necessary employability and life skills to succeed in life, then much more boys can be got off the streets pronto.

Finally, it will be a fool’s errand to attempt to exhaust every issue on street phenomenon and the boy child, however, this article has served as a call to action to parents, guardians, government agencies, and non-governmental organisations to step up towards looking at the street phenomenon, what it is and how can we get our boys off the street? This, in itself is a key and giant step towards raising functional men.