Nigeria: Redirecting Youths Towards Positive Values, Nation Building

23 June 2021

Mr. Isaac Olaniyi Alaka is the founder of Palatable Poison, a non-governmental organisation aimed at reaching out to students in schools on the need for them to eschew sexual immorality, drug abuse and other vices that could jeopardise their future. He explained to Funmi Ogundare its impact so far since its establishment and the need for government to support the organisation so as to further strengthen the outreach and ensure that the country builds people that are morally and mentally sound

The country's value system seems to have been eroded so much that it is affecting the youths who constitute a larger percentage of the population. Often time, too many young people receive confusing and conflicting information about morality and sex as they grow from childhood to adulthood. Worse still, many parents or guardian do not create time to give sex education to their adolescents or wards because they are either too busy trying to fend for their families or instead of correcting them for any wrong doing, they chastise them, thus creating a big void.

Rather than allow the future of these young ones to go down the drain, a non-governmental organisation, Palatable Poison, saw the need to fill the void that has been created, by organising school outreaches to talk to adolescents on how they could discover their purpose in life, stay out of immorality and other vices.

The founder, Mr. Isaac Olaniyi Alaka told THISDAY what spurred his passion to establish the organisation.

"The organisation berthed from a passion of what I saw around me. I have come to discover that morality and chastity has taken a flight from the lives of the youths. I saw many youths becoming cultists, drug addicts, rapists, going deep into pornography, mastubation and all forms of sexual immorality. We have quite a number of non-governmental organisations, but it seems as if they are not really touching where they ought to touch. The NGO started when I was serving in a school in Ibarapa Local Government Area, Oyo State as a youth corps member in 2014, but Palatable Poison started three years ago.

"While I was teaching in a school, I was given some subjects to teach, but I felt there was more to impacting the youths than just teaching. So I requested for three more subjects. I was taking all classes from JS one to SS three. Each time I taught them, some of them wrote on a paper that they were molested by their uncles, fathers and pastors. I discovered that at the onset, some of them were brilliant, but when they got involved in pre-marital sex, their academics began to deteriorate.

"Then I saw the need to correct this wrong by putting them through and afterwards, I discovered that 80 per cent of them were getting back their academic excellence. So I felt if this is a solution to their problem, then there is a need to give them a one-on-one counselling. I now entrenched it to other regions beyond the school I taught in. I told the principal to give me a day off because he saw the result and the impact I was making on the lives of the students.

"They were becoming morally sound, no more sagging, smoking and drinking or hanging around the fence. The one day off my principal gave me was used to reach out to other public schools around. As a tough corps member, they gave me the opportunity to penetrate the schools. After this, 80 per cent of the students came back rejoicing and I picked up the mandate to impact. That was when Palatable Poison started."

Alaka said while he was looking for a paid employment three years ago, he was caught up in a short revelation where he saw himself in a room with an angel who showed him several teenagers involved in sexual immorality, adding that he had to resign from his paid employment to work full time to impact students positively and so far, the impact has been huge.

"I saw about seven of those; lesbianism, bestiality, incest and men smoking. The angel told me that what they were doing is palatable to their bodies and poison to their soul and future. So that was what berthed Palatable Poision.

"I worked as an accountant in a dental clinic then, but I wasn't fulfilled. I had to resign and I worked for Project for Human Development (PHD), we go to schools, but I was still restricted, so I resigned. I picked up this myself to reach out to students and so far, we have been able to reach out to 150 public and private schools in Lagos, Oyo, Osun and Ogun states."

In February this year, Alaka who is a sickle cell carrier, said he and his team members were able to touch about 35 schools. Some took topics on rape, drug abuse, abortion, premarital sex, while others took topics on living purposeful life.

He said the impact has been tremendous, adding that some of the students felt remose by their actions after he shared his story of how he was able to scale through his sickle cell experience and crisis.

"So I call myself sickle brave that though I can be a sickle cell carrier, yet fulfil my purpose. We have been to several schools to impact the youths and a lot of them write to us. I have about 2,000 handwritten letters, 90 per cent of them border on the issue of molestation, forced into immorality and drugs, as well as smoking through peer pressure. One SS1 student told me he is into cultsm and that they have gone to rob before.

"The work is large, but the little we can do is to help reach out. They also confide in us which makes us happy. I believe that praying with them is not enough. One of them told me how she has slept with her father and brother and is now seeking for help. The letters were too much for me that I had to discard some and send some to their school.

"The work is getting too bulky for me and people are getting to know us. We feel that there is more to do than keeping their letters."

In the course of impacting students, Alaka said some of them had disclosed to him how they had thought of committing suicide because they were either being neglected by their parents or they felt the society does not need them.

"I got two letters recently, one of them said if I had not come, she would have attempted suicide. Another said she was tired of living, that this world does not need her. Many of them said their parents never had time for them and they have never had any conversation with them except being flogged or chastised. One said he had the best position when he was in primary school, and when they were about giving him the prize, the mother had left. Another said there was no love at home and no attention was given to them."

Alaka said lack of attention from parents at home is the reason most adolescents look out to get it from others who molest them in one way or the other, adding that peer pressure or the association of friends that they keep bring to them low self-esteem or make them feel unwanted.

"I have always told them that your association determines your acceleration. Low self-esteem could come from the school or church and try to bring the self-esteem of the girl-child down, stigmatisation is also a factor. I was stigmatised and I had low self-esteem and that was why I had suicidal thoughts at some point. The students also felt that why will they continue failing a course when they teach some of their friends who pass the same subjects. They feel that their parents scold them and their teacher didn't help matters and none of their friend puts them through."

For those that have gone through these challenges, Alaka said his organisation provides therapy for them by hammering on the fact that there is greatness inside of them, adding that these words make them feel better.

"A family friend once committed suicide because her mother told her she cannot amount to anything and that if she fails her SSCE again, they will send her to the village. So by the time she got her result, seeing that she had failed, she hung herself. We found that these are some of the things destroying many lives. I spent about seven years in the university, I was failing due to my crisis and my parents actually neglected me.

"We need to let the children know that this is where it came from. I wasn't well fed when I was in school and any little thing triggers my crisis, I also had pneumonia of the lungs, so I felt what was I living for! I had suicidal thoughts then, until I met a counsellor who told me that I can be a sickle cell carrier, but still live longer. So from there, I was able to get out of low self-esteem and stigmatisation and suicidal thoughts," he said.

According to him, when teenagers engage in premarital sex, it brings about premature maturity such that will make them feel that they are on top of the world and are uncontrollable. This, he said makes them to lose concentration in their academics.

"Some of them drop out of school, some of them even slap and insult their teachers. That is why we lay emphasis on premarital sex."

Asked the effects of COVID-19 on his team to spread the message, the founder said it created a bond between families such that parents were able to make out time for their daughters and sons and they had the privilege to ask questions, adding that it was also an opportunity for the organisation to reach out to them via social media platforms.

"We organised online teachings, chatted with them, created a teens group and shared true life stories with them and they were able to open up to us. We also got some funding from two organisation from UK and we were also exposed to online trainings and teachings that on a normal day, we wouldn't have been exposed to."

He however said some of the students got exposed to internet and they began to download erotic things that are presently affecting them negatively. "Some of the girls wrote to us that they saw their first pornography during COVID-19 and they began to practice it and now, they could not get it off her minds. One of the girls told me she used to be the best student in her class, but she lost concentration as a result.

"At that period, fathers too began to sleep with their female children. COVI-19 actually affected families both negatively and positively in terms of their mental wellbeing and emotional inteligence. It however brought out the best in some and the beast in others. The effects were 50:50."

Asked if he thinks the government is doing enough through the schools curriculum to emphasise on sex education in schools, Alaka said, "they are not doing enough, there should be more sensitisation on the issue and there should be a body that will be responsible to scrutinise, teach and talk about these issues in schools, else we will not stop seeing abuse, rape and molestation."

He said the government should empower more youths and give them the opportunity to access schools, saying that the more children are left in the hands of uncles, brothers, neighbours who lie to them, the more we will keep losing covenant children and future of Nigeria into suicide, depression and low self-esteem.

He expressed concern that some teachers who are paid to teach students are the ones endangering their lives saying, "I heard the story of a teacher who taught 14 female students in Akute after school hours. He is a pastor, one of the girls confessed that the teacher disflowered her and same for all of them. For such teaching position, the teacher must be someone that should be trusted and the man is not struggling with sexual indiscipline.

"In the course of my studies as a student, I discovered that those that were lured into premarital sex were pastors' daughters and girls from reputable homes, so the bad girls were the ones pimping them, if pastors' daughters can actually fall into that, it means the pastor is not doing enough from the home front. Most times, we put the blame on the girl because she is exposing her body.

"If the government can grant such opportunity, it will go a long way. I once shared my true life story with them on how I was dealth with. One of the five things I talked about was purpose, when the purpose of a thing is not known, abuse is inevitable, when you discover your purpose, it leads to recovery. They need to know who they are and build themselves up. We need people who are morally and mentally sound to lead this nation into the promised land."

Alaka stated that his organisation needs more volunteers and support in terms of finances to further grow the outreach and make more impact in the area of stamping out the issue of drug abuse, sexual immorality and depression among adolescents.

"If government can empower more people like us, who have passion, they have provision, so when passion meets provision, it moves to action and manifestation," he said.

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