I still remember how we celebrated children’s day in those days not too long ago. We normally assembled in the public square or stadium wearing our school uniform to celebrate. We marched round one school after another saluting the Governor/Sole Administrator and we also competed in traditional/cultural dance. There was always joy and love in the air as we were sometimes accompanied by our parents to the event,but that is no longer the case. The story of the Nigerian child today will make you shade
Last Children’s day in Benue State, school children were not celebrating in the public square or stadium but were on the streets protesting with other concerned Nigerians against the closure of their schools for about seven(7) months. The sad story was that these children had not seen the class room close to a year and Nigerians and Nigerian government wasn’t worried. Some were not worried because their children were not affected and others because they don’t just care. This story is just a tip of the iceberg.
According to unicef about 10.5 million children of school going age in Nigeria are out of school. The International Labour Organisation has it that about 15 million children under the age of 14 are engaged in child labour-working as hawkers,domestic workers,beggars and shoe shiners just to mention a few. It is not funny that 810,000 Nigeria children die before they are 5years old and 300,000 die of malaria. It is shocking that with this kind of numbers we are all still business as usual. We are celebrating Children’s day every year without addressing the problems confronting the Nigerian child. We are hoping for better tomorrow and we are deliberately giving the worst to people of tomorrow.
In a survey by the Economic Intelligence Unit in 2013,Nigeria is the worst place to be born. If you add all those frightening statistics above then there is no doubt this is not best of times to be born in Nigeria. This is not the best time to be a Nigeria child. They have been sentenced to illiteracy,child labour and early death. They are now used by the boko haram lunatics as suicide bombers and spoils of war. We are still awaiting the return of our Chibok girls. The Chibok girls continue to represent the struggle of the about 800,000 children displaced or separated from their parents as a result of boko haram violence in the north-east. In as much as we never forget to celebrate children’s day,the truth remains that the Nigerian child has been abandoned and nothing tangible has been done about it.
The Nigerian Child Right Act was passed in 2003 to protect the rights of the Nigerian child but till date it is just a piece of paper. Most of the rights of the Nigerian child that should be protected are violated everyday and everywhere before our very eyes. When last I checked only 26 states have adopted Child Right Act as their State laws but still they are not being implemented. Like almost all the laws in the country,we have decided not to enforce the laws that will protect the Nigerian child from wicked guardians,the harsh economic reality,the madness of extremist and the evil practices of religious bigots. Do we think we are safe because our children are getting the best?
We are comfortable buying bottled water,chilled drinks and snacks from very little children trekking under the scorching sun. We always buy from them and forget about their condition because they are not our biological children. Mchivir a very small girl of not more than 12years who hawk peppered iced fish told me she wakes up in the morning around 6 ‘o’clock and go to the market to buy iced fish,the aunt will then prepare the peppered iced fish with her assistance. After this she will be given the peppered iced fish to carry on her head to go and sell under the scorching sun,while the child of her aunt will carry books in her bag heading to school. The story of Mchivir is the story of so many hawkers you see on the streets and most times patronise them everyday. Some of their stories will even be more horrible.
When we finally accepted that it was cool to deny children their childhood by making them also work to bring some income home,we gave other heartless people the opportunity to take it a step further by using children to fight their war. 14years old Zahra’u Babangida who was arrested in Kano after a double suicide bombing in the market that killed 10 people,she had a very horrible experience to share. She told whoever cared to listen that her father and mother took her to boko haram hide-out and offered her to the sect to be used as a suicide bomber. It is a very touching story but because we accepted as a people that it is okay for a father or mother to sentence his/her child to a life of providing for the family,others too taught it wise to use their children to fight their wars.
We may be able to send our children to the best schools to get excellent education,we may be able to afford more than three(3) meals a day for our children and it may not be our children who are sentenced to hawking sachet water under the hot sun,but they all matter to us. Before our very eyes we are raising very angry children that know no love. Children whose dreams have been trampled upon and their future mortgaged on the alter of greed. We can send our children to the best schools in the world but the fact remains that they are not safe amongst these angry children. We also will not rest in our old age as these children will torment us. There is no escaping if we don’t start doing something about it now.
We must use this Children’s day to critically take a good look again at the predicaments of the Nigerian Child. Children are not suppose to provide income for the family,they are not to be pawns in our wars and don’t deserve to be our domestic workers. If a child is unfortunate to have poor parents that can’t afford toys,he or she should be please allowed to at least play in sand. The right of the Nigerian child to education must be enforced and no longer should it be the case that the likes of Mchivir will be hawking peppered iced fish under the scorching sun while other children are receiving education. We must also improve the quality of our education by building world class facilities and improving the pay and welfare of teachers so that people will be proud of the occupation which will help retain the best in the sector. It is the work of government to improve our education sector but it is also our responsibility to call the attention of government to this urgent problem.
We must find a way to protect and educate the Nigerian child or expect the worst in future. The sorry state of our children is a national emergency that all concerned Nigerians must make their voices heard. It is unfortunate that most of these children can’t speak for themselves and that is the main reason we must use this Children’s day to speak for the children of Nigeria. Let us remember the wise words of Fredrick Douglass,he said “it is easier to build strong children than repair broken men”. Let us protect and educate the Nigerian child before it it’s too late.
Bemdoo Hulugh is an active citizen and a columnist of atiterkula.wordpress.com. He writes from Makurdi.
You can also interact with him on tweeter @bumy04