When on December 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170, and declared that October 11 of every year should be marked as the International Day of the Girl Child, the clear intention was to put forward the great importance of female children in all aspects of human affairs.
Since then activities have been organised to celebrate the girl child in various ways all over the world, including Nigeria. It was in keeping with this global tradition that the Governor of Bauchi State, Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed, vacated his seat for 14-year-old Aisha Katagum, a student of Government Junior Secondary School, Katagum, to rule the state for that day.
In his remarks, just before vacating his seat for Aisha and some other young girls who acted as members of the State Executive Council, the governor said: “It was a privilege to have a talented young girl take over the governance of the state. This opportunity given to these girls will also expose them to the dynamics of leadership and the infrastructure of governance.”
Still in the spirit of the day, Plateau State branch of the National Library of Nigeria (NLN) held a training session on Information Communication Technology (ICT) and other skills for secondary school girls in the state. Head of NLN in the state, Mrs Sarah Mshelia, explained that her office partnered with two Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to enable the young girls get acquainted with current happenings, as well as use the Internet for their personal development because the girl child has a lot of potentials worth celebrating.
Similarly, the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) held a training session for 100 girls in Kebbi State. The Project Coordinator in the state, Alhaji Isah Usman, said: “The exceptional interactive session with the school girls in Birnin-Kebbi was to build confidence in them, reassuring them that they can become anything in the society if they believe in themselves. It was also an opportunity to enlighten the girl child in the right ways to interact with their male counterparts and how education should be their top priority.”
Usman added that UNICEF is particular about the girl-child because when a girl is raised, a nation is already built being that girls are the bedrock of the society and, therefore, need the required assistance to achieve their chosen careers.
As part of the celebration, the girls were taken to places of interest to further their entertainment.
In Lagos, male students of Idimu Junior High School, Ejigbo, celebrated their female classmates as part of the activities marking the day of the girl-child.
The amazing boys put up placards with kind words to celebrate their sisters and friends.
During an interactive session organised by Family and Youths Suport Initiative, a non-governmental organisation, they took turns to say good things about their female schoolmates and what they represent to them. The convener, Bukoladeremi Ladigbolu, urged the young girls to take advantage of the digital media to enhance their understanding and improve their performance in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
On its own part, Lagos State House of Assembly did not differ from their counterparts as they also commemorated the day with a special focus on rights, safety and education of the child all over the world.
The Chairman, House Committee on Women Affairs, Poverty Alleviation and Job creation, Mrs Mojisola Alli-Macaulay, representing Amuwo-Odofin Constituency 1, moved a motion during the plenary session and said: “Every girl-child needs to be protected from every form of harassment because the phenomenon of a girl-child whose upbringing is not protected can lead to societal degradation.”
While the cheery litany of celebratory activities were going on to honour the girl child, a horrible scenario captured on video played out in Kwara State, where some girls got the ‘mother of all flogging’. In fact, a very senior journalist and newspaper described it as “satanic flogging” recorded in living colour.
The grievous incident took place at Musbaudeen Islamiy Arabic School in Ganmo, Ifelodun Local Government Area of Kwara State. Both male and female students were flogged in such unacceptable manner.
The viral video and what it depicted clearly and absolutely tainted the International Day of the Girl Child. In a section of the blood chilling video, a female could be seen on her knees while four senior male students, armed with vicious canes landed strokes after strokes on the back of the student and other parts of her body. With full strength and a sense of mission, the four senior students gave the girl a brutal, cruel flogging. While her mates were celebrated in other climes, she was dehumanised on the express instruction of their teacher and Muslim cleric who supervised the dastardly act.
What was their offence? They were said to have organised a birthday for their friend and pictures taken at the party were posted online.
The head of Arabic school saw the post and allegedly thought they drank alcohol, when in actual fact they only had yoghurt. On the basis of that presumption, he ordered that they be flogged. He claimed he had the consent of their parents. That was a questionable judgment meted out to innocent students.
Setting aside religious sentiment, what happened to the girl and the other students was a gross violation and abuse of the fundamental human rights of the students.
To imagine that such brazen display of barbarism and humiliation took place in a state that once produce the President of the Eighth Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. A state that names the Minister of Information and Culture as one of its illustrious sons.
One is compelled to ask: was the barbaric punishment the best way to correct the female student? While her fellow female students in Idimu, Lagos, were showered with accolades and praises by their male school mates to mark the day, the male students did the opposite by mercilessly whipping her.
In another part of the video, a male student of the same school could be heard screaming in agony as he was being flogged. Unspeakable evil, totally unvarnished.
It’s most commendable that the Kwara State government promptly stepped into the matter. It swung into action immediately to arrest the situation.
The Commissioner for Education and Human Capital Development, Hajia Sa’adtu Modibbo Kawo, led a team of other government functionaries who visited the school and necessary steps, including setting up a committee to thoroughly investigate the incident were taken.
Watching the video sent horrible vibes and wrong perception from her abusers. For starters, the physical strength of a boy is higher than that of a girl. From the trending video, the four able-bodied senior flogged the girl with their whole strength. It was quite worrisome that there were onlookers, who were seemingly complicit given that they made no effort to intervene.
What happened substantiated the claim of top Nollywood actress, Ini Edo, who said that the girl child has no place in Africa, stressing that the girl child is never appreciated, celebrated or valued in Africa.
In her view, gender equality does not exist. “Religiously, we understood that all men are equal, but in Africa women are not anywhere close to being equal, hav no place or value. We can only move forward by carrying the girl child along.”
She is not alone in that submission because this is one of the many challenges the girl-child faces as she grows up in Nigeria. When one talks about gender discrimination, norms, tradition and beliefs must be changed for the country to achieve developmental goals. That girls are discriminated against in Nigeria in terms of access to educational opportunity, food and nutrition. Girls carry a heavy burden of farm work and house work. Girls are married off early, and this interferes with their education or acquisition of skills needed for survival. Female education serves as an investment that will facilitate the achievement of family planning objectives and the production of healthier children. It is recommended that nutrition be improved for females and that illegal child labour be abolished. Early marriage should be outlawed, and parents should be educated on the benefits of later marriage. Parents have an important role to fulfill in helping female children achieve the basic necessities of survival and development in learning about the fundamental of child development and care. Teachers too have an important role to play in focusing attention on various problems confronting girl children. Government must focus more resources on reducing the inequalities between boys and girls, change discriminatory laws and establish political stability. As African girls are stereotyped and made to believe that they cannot achieve great things, the girl child can achieve great things and recent events has shown that.
Dear Nigerian girls, please do not kill your stars because of this label and do not forget October 11, the day set aside to celebrate you. The whole world must accord you respect. Rise up to be celebrated!