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p. 55-64

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1The issue of juvenile delinquency is a matter of great concern to parents and indeed the entire society. Manifestations of juvenile delinquency in Jos transcend many levels of social relationships. Juvenile delinquency is a social aberration that arises from a combination of factors. Essentially, anti-social behaviour reflects the strains and emotional stress experienced by individuals in the society. In discussing the various manifestations of juvenile delinquency in Jos metropolis, we will look closely at the following issues as they relate to youths generally.

  • Economic and socio-political attributes of juvenile delinquency
  • Girls, juvenile delinquency and violence
  • Religion, juvenile delinquency and violence

Economic and Socio-political Attributes of Juvenile Delinquency

2Nigerian socio-political and economic conditions, as in other developing societies, leave much to be desired. Acts of deviance are becoming the norm. The rule of law and respect for human rights are increasingly ignored by the very people expected to be the custodians of justice. The social environment in which children are brought up is visibly violent. This is one explanation for the growing trend in juvenile delinquency and the explosive nature of violence among youths. The social institutions that support child rearing, child socialization and stabilization are not stable. Principal among these institutions are the family, the religious organizations and the school system. Only 15 per cent of youths in the survey group affirmed that their parents lived together, but this does not tell us whether they are committed to the upbringing of their children and wards.

3Stagnating economic conditions have forced many parents and guardians to look for extra work. This removes them from the home for unusually extended periods. Homes without parents result in an almost total neglect of the children. On the other hand, the loveless affluence of some parents also generates a poverty of morals among young people. The obsession of some parents with the acquisition of wealth exposes children to unsuitable lifestyles stemming from the general moral laxity in the country. Nigerian educated youths are hitting out in anger and frustration at a society that has mortgaged their future.

4Youths are exposed to the immoral behaviour of ‘significant others’ (teachers, religious leaders, parents and guardians, etc.) in their homes, schools and in the media. Non-deviant youths in the society when ‘... left to the mercy of corrupted media’ can become involved in deviant behavior (Smah, 1995a: 43). Furthermore, Smah’s (1995c) study on the media and the use of alcohol and tobacco among secondary school students in Jos reported that the effects of media advertisements in shaping the consumption pattern of people are pervasive.

5The role of religion in moulding the character of children is waning in today’s urban setting. Even though many youths identify with one type of religion or the other, deviant behaviour is on the increase. Religion is often manipulated by operators of the state apparatus/structure. As the United Nations Social Defence Research Institute (UNSDRI, 1984) noted, a useful starting point in understanding social deviance, juvenile delinquency or adult criminality within a social context depends on the definition of these concepts. The state and its agents define the conduct of citizens in specific ways. The personal intents and interests of government ultimately define the way society responds in both official and non-official ways to the issues of crime, delinquency and deviance.

6In Nigeria, sharp divisions along economic or social lines locate individuals and groups differently within the dominant culture. Over the last decade, there have been a number of movements of individuals and groups from other cultural contexts into the city of Jos. The circumstances of their migration could result in the Mertonian cultural vacuum known as anomie or normlessness. Survival, in most cases, requires partial or complete abandonment of learned norms of conduct. The vacuum is filled rather rapidly as individuals join with others and collectively form subcultural groups that provide the conduct, norms, institutions and techniques of coping with the shared situation (UNSDRI, 1984: 14).

7The completely new cultural environment provides, as it were, a ‘moral holiday’ in which ethics become less and less binding on the conduct of the individual. The emergence of juvenile gangs is one of the aftermaths of cultural transmission. The United Nations Social Defence Research Institute (UNSDRI) (1984) noted that:

The size, structure and degree of internal solidarity of such groups vary from loose associations better characterized as ‘near-groups ’ to well organized structures with hierarchies, divisions of labour and patterned responses to the outside world. The behavioural norms governing individual conduct within the group depend in part on the opportunities afforded by it to meet the needs of its individual members – money, status, socialization, etc. and on the reaction of the wider society, particularly official reaction, (p. 14)

8The study further posited that although individuals are marginalized as far as participation in the legitimate economy is concerned in the society:

They frequently have some ties to other social, linguistic and ethnic groups, their family, perhaps their school and other friendship networks. Paradoxically, there may be little conflict in personal goals or measure of social prestige between members of groups labelled as delinquent and those not so stigmatized. The differences that may exist may only be in the means that can be used to achieve universally accepted goals. (p. 15)

9When the political and the business classes indulge in prodigious corruption, official agencies of social control lose their legitimacy and the moral fabric of society is consequently undermined. Where family ties and traditional kinship values break down, the individual is free from the exigencies of conformity.

10Juvenile delinquency and violence cannot be explained without reference to broad cultural forces in the society, namely, the marginal positions occupied by individuals in the opportunity structure of the larger society. A critical examination of the wider economic, social and cultural factors provides not only the setting within which juvenile delinquency and violence take place, but also suggests the reasons for them. In the present study, the majority of respondents came from middle to low income families, who find it difficult to make ends meet.

11In Nigeria, cultural, social and economic factors cannot be divorced from the total political framework of the country. Nigeria’s post-independence history has been a tale of political instability and corruption. Successive Nigerian governments since independence, have had to contend with political acrimony, official corruption, fraudulent practices and social injustice. The marginalization and economic deprivation of the majority of the citizenry breed injustice, vice, and corruption. The constant closures of industries/factories and schools due to unresolved industrial disputes and low capacity levels of production have had deleterious consequences. For example, the frequent closure of schools affects the process of learning; and since many parents in the city are salaried labourers, they cannot absorb their children into their economic activities. When the schools close, for whatever reason, the children and wards drift and fall into ‘bad’ company. As Sutherland (1947) argued in the theory of differential association, ‘the principal part of learning criminal behaviour occurs within intimate personal groups’. A high number of youths in Jos are members of peer associations (table 23). This is a veritable source of violence and other forms of delinquency.

12Wolfgang and Ferracuti (1967) presented a very clear psychological position ‘that the greater the degree of integration of individuals into a sub-culture or a gang, the higher the probability that their behaviour will be violent in a number of situations’. Thus, there is a direct sociological relationship between rates of violent behaviour and the extent to which the sub-culture of violence represents a cluster of values around the theme of violence.

13Thornberry, Lizotte and Kron (1994) observed in their Rochester Youth Development Study that associating with delinquent peers increases delinquency through the reinforcing environment of the peer network. Engaging in delinquency, in turn, increases the association with delinquent peers.

14We can also attribute violence in Jos to the culture of poverty in which many families have been trapped. In a study of the children of Sanchez in Mexico, Oscar Lewis pointed out that some people in backward societies and in urban slums in industrial societies are economically, culturally, psychologically and socially entrapped. Over the years, they apparently develop a way of life which represents an adjustment to their deprivation. In modern times, poverty is not only a state of economic deprivation or the absence of something. It also implies the constitution of ‘defence mechanisms’ predicated on the imperative of survival. Lewis pointed out that the poor, entrapped in a culture of poverty, struggle for survival under conditions of unemployment and underemployment. This often breeds a culture of violence. The fallout from such violence is often police brutality.

15The police, however, see themselves as the custodians of justice. They also ‘negotiate’ justice with the recalcitrant children and wards of the rich and socially powerful in society (Circourel, 1968a). Information on youth crimes in Nigeria is almost non-existent. The reports available represent the crimes of the poor and disadvantaged, whose deprivation and social exclusion make them vulnerable to the police.

16The aetiology, patterns and dynamism of criminal activities reside in the social structure of the society (Alemika, 1986; Odekunle, 1977, 1982; Ahire, 1981; and Oloruntimehin, 1983). Policing a corrupt society only widens the dimensions of criminal injustice, inequality and inequity. The high level of poverty makes it impossible for the average ’Nigerian to afford the services of a lawyer to redress perceived injustice. He becomes the victim of a system in which justice and fair play hardly exist. The values and norms of the few with enormous economic and political power are translated into law and enforced on the masses. Law enforcement agents are used as instruments of coercion and oppression. Ordinary human conduct becomes criminalized. This explains why criminal statistics express the actions of members of the politically and economically powerless classes. Does this mean that the upper classes and their children do not commit crimes? On the contrary, they are involved in sophisticated delinquent acts, such as drug abuse, drug pushing, drug addiction, fraud, theft and assault (Smah, 1995c). The main difference is that their parents and relations use their powerful connections to bail them out, to ‘negotiate’ justice, and to obliterate any trace of their offences in the official records.

Girls, juvenile delinquency and violence

17The traditional view of crime is that it is mainly a male problem. Alcoholism, for example, is seen as a male habit. This also goes for drug abuse, smoking and drug trafficking, among others. It is generally believed that young women do not commit crimes, but research is mounting to support a contrary position about women and deviance.

18During the last fourteen years, women have been observed to play a leading role in drug trafficking across the international frontiers of Nigeria (Ene, 1992). Using their feminine charms, some of them have been responsible for car snatching at gun point on major roads in Nigeria. Smoking and alcohol abuse among young women are also on the increase. In an ongoing research (Smah, 1996), interesting patterns are being revealed about female alcoholism.

19From the sample of girls interviewed, our general observation from all the tabulations is that girls are equally involved in all categories of deviance. This shows that gender dichotomy, as an important variable in modern social research, may facilitate the understanding of patterns of delinquency and crime in the society. A number of girls are involved in substance abuse as a normal part of living and as a prelude to committing a deviant act.

20As earlier noted, the intermeshing of political, economic, cultural and social factors serve as the criminogenics from which diverse kinds of criminal and immoral activities arise and thrive. Female juvenile delinquency and violence, therefore, cannot be explained or understood as isolated or pathological phenomena set apart from and alien to the broad cultural forces in Nigeria. Criminogenic factors are deeply rooted in society-wide processes; they do not arise magically from the internal workings of either male or female groups. It is our contention that the stress and strain arising from the past 15 years of economic depression in the country has exposed more women to incriminating circumstances in the work place, school, and at home, making delinquency and crime no longer the preserve of men (Smah 1996b).

21Conclusions from other self-reporting studies in the United States strengthen the findings of the present research. For example, the study conducted by Powers and Witmer (1951), used a sample of 101 youths of whom 61 had never appeared in court previously. The youths were found to have committed a total of 6,416 offences, of which only 95 (1.5 %) were brought to court for hearing. Though 616 of these offences were serious, including a number of assaults, only 68 of them (.2 %) were punished. Short and Nye (1958) also used a group questionnaire approach and selected a sample of high school students and compared them with incarcerated delinquents. Ann-Kay (1961) in her Ph. D. dissertation found that females were more involved in violent crimes than males (30.2 % to 11.3 %). These authors concluded that there were no significant differences in delinquent behaviour for boys and girls of’different social classes.

22Our data also confirms that delinquency among young women is increasing. This is a manifestation of a deep-seated moral crisis that reflects the prevailing social and eco-political orders. Female delinquency is, thus, showing us another side of the declining economic power of many families in Nigeria. Many males can no longer legitimately support the family. Many females (particularly in today’s industrial societies) have had to take the challenge of working outside the home in order to complement the efforts of the males. As such, adolescent girls both in school and out, are increasingly being used to raise funds for the family’s upkeep. Child labour is a dynamic phenomenon in contemporary Nigerian society. For example, many women now keep late nights with their teenage girls, frying and selling yam and bean cakes (‘akara’) in order to support the family.

23The ‘blessings’ of the industrial and technological revolutions, and the anonymity of the modern industrial urban centres, increasingly devalue the sanctity of certain institutions such as the family. Premarital proscriptions are viewed with skepticism by youths today. Our survey revealed that many youths have more than three sexual partners (table 19). Indiscriminate adolescent sexual activity has become part of the lives of teenagers. Bell and Chaskes (1968) noted that sexual activity and premarital sexual experiences increased among girls between 1958 and 1968. Similar trends have been observed in Jos.

Religion, Juvenile Delinquency and Violence

24Religious identity is one of the most potent determinants of integration in Nigeria. Thus, it has increasingly acquired a place of prominence in Nigerian economic and political life. The place accorded religion by government, however, is intended to mythologize the economic and political interest of state operators. Since the Babangida era (1985 to date) religion has become more important in job placement, promotion, transfer and the overall distribution of opportunities and resources among the citizens of the country. Disputes have arisen principally between the adherents of Christian and Islamic religions. African traditional religious practitioners and adherents of other faiths tend to be forgotten when religious lines are being drawn. More Christians than Muslims were interviewed during this study. The primary data revealed some practitioners of African traditional religion, etc., but most of the respondents claimed either Islam or Christianity, given that many people hardly confess publicly that they are members of traditional religions.

25Religion is expected to play a positive role in shaping the character of adherents towards peace and stability in the society. This study, however, revealed that religion has had little affect on juvenile delinquency and violence in Jos.

26Dr. Bala Usman (1985) noted that the state manipulates religion by its interventions. These interventions, are regarded as desirable if religion plays the role of sensitizing adherents to the need to eschew violence and moral impropriety. Successive governments in Nigeria have only used religion to gain and sustain legitimacy. This is largely responsible for religious violence in the country. Religious institutions have become a veritable source of violence and delinquency. The almajirai and yaro boys (beggar and messenger juvenile classes, respectively) are of the view that delinquency and crime are perpretated by the ‘unattached’ members of society.

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