By Magnus Eze
Almost one year ago, more than 10 children were confirmed dead in a diarrhoea outbreak at the Wasa camp in Waru ward of the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), Federal Capital Territory (FCT), housing over 5,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Officials of the FCT Primary Health Care Development Board had attributed the outbreak to a contaminated stream where the children and other displaced persons got their drinking water.
Inmates of the camp, who had lost everything in life, no thanks to the insurgency in the North East, could be termed the poorest of the poor.
However, this year’s Day of the African Child brought some smiles to the faces of some children in the camp as a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Betneely Charity Foundation (BCF), remembered them.
It was a clear case of ‘from grace to grass’, albeit temporarily, as over 50 IDP children from Wasa camp joined some other vulnerable children from various orphanage homes in Abuja to receive five-star treatment in The Mustard, an upscale restaurant in Wuse 2.
From the dingy Wasa IDP camp, where they lacked every basic amenity of life, the children had comprehensive fun, which lasted for over three hours; they played, sang, danced, ate and drank, and, above all, they forgot their pains and sorrows while it lasted.
The colourful luncheon, which featured drama, cultural dances and dance competition by the children was capped with the presentation of special gifts from BCF to all the children.
BCF president, Mrs. Betty Olutunde, in her remarks at the memorable event, brought to the fore the plight of children in Nigeria, with about 14 million of them roaming the streets.
She stressed that many children in the country live in deplorable conditions with little or no shelter; exposing them to extreme and life-threatening situations.
Olutunde noted that the condition of internally displaced children was pathetic, and urged well-meaning individuals and organisations not to relent in supporting less-privileged children in the society by “the improvement of their education and always sharing something special with a child,” as this would help to shape a better society.
The theme for this year’s International Day of the African Child was “Accelerating Protection, Empowerment and Equal Opportunities for children in Africa by 2030.” It also resonated at the African First Ladies Peace Mission Secretariat, Abuja, where another colourful event was organised in honour of the African child.
Wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, who spoke at the commemoration ceremony, identified peace and education as panacea to poverty.
She said the world needed peace to improve on the quality of children’s lives, accelerate protection and empower them, giving them equal opportunities to attain their best.
Represented by Mrs. Pauline Tallen, the President’s wife said: “If we invest in expanding opportunities for every child, the most disadvantaged will have a chance to be at par with the most advantaged. More so, education can provide children with knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life. It is associated with increased income, poverty reduction and improved health.”
She argued that, for education to play the foregoing role, it must begin with early childhood development and quality learning opportunities that provide for all children, especially the most disadvantaged, a fair chance to thrive.
Mrs. Buhari described the theme of the celebrations as apt having aimed that no one should be left behind, in line with the fundamental principle of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, targets and implementation.
She, therefore, urged all stakeholders to take a bold step in contributing efforts and commitments towards improving the plight of African children by focusing on protection gaps and responses.
The event, which attracted members of the diplomatic corps, including the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Lulu Mnguni, development partners and notable NGOs, featured talks, performance by the children and art exhibition.
Similarly, at another event organised by a child-based NGO, Iykon Global Foundation for Child Care and Human Rights Defence, in honour of the African child, the national coordinator of the foundation, Chief Ikechukwu Nwonu, highlighted the plight of orphans and vulnerable children in Nigeria.
Nwonu, who charged government to go beyond paying lip service to the conditions of Nigerian children, called for more pragmatic action in addressing child-related issues.
He reiterated the commitment of his NGO in bringing succour to the orphans and vulnerable children, especially street children.
Nwonu tasked government at all levels on the need to evolve a national policy on reclaiming and rehabilitating street children, adding that the foundation was poised to partner state governments to establish reclamation centres for street children across the country.
He said the organisation was targeting two categories of street children, “on the street children and in the street children.”
“On the street children, those who are on the street but might have very poor parents and go home after their vending for the day. In the street childre, those children who don’t have parents and even where to go after vending.
“So, we’re working to reclaim them, cater for and rehabilitate them. But, you know, as NGO, we have our limitations; ours is to facilitate and drive the process. We expect state governments to get involved. We are also working out how to get the reclaimed children properly engaged in agricultural activities,’’ Nwonu said.