By Sunny Awhefada,
The most significant segment of Nigeria’s demography which governments at all levels have neglected in the last twenty years is the children bracket. The present debacle in the name of insecurity be it terrorism, insurgency or banditry aligns with the destructive consequences of not paying attention to our children and youth. The Urhobo have a saying that arien omodiaa arien okpako diaa which means you cannot be a good adult if you were not a good child. We were told some years ago that there were 12 million out of school children in Nigeria. Instead of being alarmed and taking strategic steps to remedy that dangerous deficiency those ruining Nigeria as rulers laughed and saw that tendency as another gold medal of monumental failure that should adorn their necks. General Useni once told the story of how in 2003 he was riding with Ali Modu Sheriff then governor of Borno State and he saw thousands and thousands of children running around on the streets when they should be in school. On asking the Governor what the children were doing on the streets when they should be in school, the latter laughed and replied that they were better off on the streets as they will be the army to be deployed during election periods. Those children that the Governor didn’t educate nearly two decades ago have metamorphosed into terrorists, bandits and kidnappers.
As I write, I am painfully reminded that today 27th May is Children’s Day in Nigeria, the day set aside to not just celebrate them, but to also give a thought to their welfare and future. Our children, the leaders of tomorrow, have become victims of our failings and government’s negligence.
Our individual failings as adults or parents coalesce into societal failure in our inability to guide the children on the path they should follow. Government’s monumental failure in not being able to provide quality education, healthcare and other social infrastructure has turned the tide against our children. Thus our children are assaulted by both society and government. If ten years ago, 12 million children were out of school then the figure at the moment is better left to the imagination. But what is clear is that Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children globally.
The fate of the Nigerian child remains precarious. A journey across Nigeria will reveal how terribly debased the Nigerian child has become. The society, especially due to parental negligence, has turned many of Nigeria’s children into urchins. They will grow into lumpenproletariat and turn against the same society. Government’s deliberate inability to address the plight of children compounds parental inadequacies. Today, many Nigerian public schools are really no schools.
They are worse than poultries. Teachers are not motivated and largely inadequate. The home and the school are the two most important factors in the making of a child. Unfortunately, both institutions are assaulted from every side today. Our homes are experiencing socio-economic rupture. Government’s inability to create a socio-economically stable polity has become the prime undoing of the home front. Thus with the denigration of the home and the school many Nigerian children have taken to the streets. The street culture they are imbibing portends grave dangers for their future and Nigeria.
An economically unstable home front has dire consequences for the child. Government’s economic policies refuse to add up for the good of the citizens. Corruption in government has robbed the people of the good things that should go to them. The manifestation of government’s all round failure inheres in unemployment, low wages, nonpayment of wages, lack of electricity, collapse of the manufacturing sector and other such negative indices which breed poverty, social inequity, disillusionment and crime. Many state governors who eat of the fat of the land have condemned their people to penury. Governors who have hundreds of vehicles in their convoys and live the most expensive lifestyle on a global scale not only refused to pay salaries to workers, but are also retrenching the few that are in government employment. This is the case in Kaduna State where Governor El-rufai has chosen to wage war against the people.
His excuses remain untenable. He should learn to manage resources, cut down on executive spending and eradicate corruption in contract awards. He should selloff the many government-purchased SUVs and think out of the box and see if there won’t be more than enough money to pay workers.
The unimaginable advancement in ICT which has facilitated globalization has also created a lot of negative influences among our youth. True, ICT has shown humanity the infinite possibilities of the mind as it craves advancement. It has also thrown up flipsides. One of such is the bludgeoning but debilitating yahoo culture which is anchored on internet fraud among our youth. The frightening indices that go with the yahoo culture are drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, sorcery, lawlessness and disregard for civilized norms. Many boys and girls now find a leeway in yahoo culture.
They are the big boys and the big girls and they enjoy massive followership in cities and even villages. The social media has become a carrier of vices. Can this be postmodernism at work?
That the Nigerian child is endangered is frighteningly depicted in Northern Nigeria where terrorism is on all fours. The killing and abduction of school children in that region is a national tragedy. But we must neither give up on Nigeria nor on the Nigerian child. We must bring back our children. Parents must realign themselves with the ideals of good parenting irrespective of whatever socio-economic rupture assailing us. The society must rise up to guide the young. The responsibility should be both individual and collective. Let us show interest in every child in our neighbourhood and beyond. Some of these children need help and counseling. Let us offer them and in so doing give them a future to live for and society that is stable. Let us not wait for government. I celebrate Nigerian children wherever they are.
They remain our hope and pride. Tejiri, Jokpeme, Ovie, Amakashe, Maro, Yoma, Nenesi, Ebruba, Isio and their friends and age mates, to you all I hold up a glass filled with hope that you will grow and make Nigeria a better place. Happy children’s day!