Today’s Children’s Day celebration affords the nation another opportunity to evaluate the state of the Nigerian child. What, exactly, is the fate of children in the country today? As we ponder this poser, we must never forget that our children represent the future of the country. But, do our homes, schools and governments reflect that in their planning and actions? Hardly, is the painful answer. Matters like good housing, quality and affordable education, good nutrition and effective healthcare, which affect children the most, have sadly taken a back seat. Are we not mortgaging our future as a nation?
The future leadership that we like to ascribe to our children means that they deserve very sound foundations upon which they can build solid structures. But, most of the examples available to them in the country are not the stuff of which great countries can be built. The foundations that we are giving to our young generation are at best poor and shaky.
We can start from the homes. What are families affording children nowadays? Some parents, on account of the economic downturn, can hardly afford proper feeding for their children. Gone are the days, it now seems, when children were fed three good meals a day. Good housing is getting out of the reach of most Nigerians, and many parents can hardly afford the most basic needs of their children.
The state of public schools, especially primary and secondary schools, is nothing to write home about. Our public schools are no more building blocks of character and careers for our children. Classrooms and physical infrastructure are mostly rundown and grossly inadequate. Teachers are not enough and the ones available are poorly motivated. Though most states have a free education policy, it is only so on paper. In reality, the children are still made to pay all sorts of levies, a number of them illegal, but facilitated by the general corruption and indiscipline in the system.
There are still too many out-of-school children in the country. While the problem is phenomenal in the North, especially the North-Eastern states, it is no less common in the South. Street hawkers and the almajiris are mostly recruited from this unlucky pool of children. We are glad that the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, recently spoke out forcefully against the almajiri culture in the northern parts of the country as both anti-Islam and retrogressive. He has asked that something decisive be urgently done about it. The Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, has also spoken out on the need to improve child education in the North.
Crimes against children are on the upsurge. In addition to the more common ones such as child labour and other forms of child abuse, the incidence of child molestation and rape is on the increase. Adults, and sometimes even their own parents, exploit children for sex and other perversions. Children mostly suffer these pains in silence and carry the wounds into adulthood. If the children do not recover properly, the society into which they grow is doomed.
As we join the rest of the world to commemorate Children’s Day, let us resolve to give our children a better future. Government can start by prioritising primary and even pre-primary education. This should start with the sums earmarked for education, especially basic education, in our national and state budgets. We either catch them young or lose them forever. While the school feeding programme which the current federal administration promised is laudable, it is being implemented in fits and starts, two years into the life of the administration.
Many state governments do not properly fund their free and compulsory primary and basic school education programme. They are only paying lip service to it. That is why there are still many out-of-school children roaming our streets and communities. But, we urge a change of attitude. Ministries and agencies of education and social welfare across the various tiers of government should wake up to their responsibilities and ensure that our children are taken off the streets and into schools for their good and that of the country.