‘We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.’ Franklin Delano Roosevelt
On April 13, 2010, the editorial of The Punch newspaper expressed sadness over “the death of 28 pupils of Aricent Nursery and Primary School, Olupitan, Ore, Ondo State, the school proprietor and a teacher in an auto crash on the Ore-Ondo road.” According to reports, the pupils were returning from an excursion to the famous Idanre Hills when the driver of the bus recklessly overtook other vehicles at a bend on top speed before crashing into an oncoming trailer at about 8.30pm. Forty-two pupils whose ages ranged from six to 13, the proprietor and a teacher were reportedly crammed into an 18-seater bus.
It is disheartening that more than a year after this sad incident, nothing concrete was done by the stakeholders to immortalise children and formulate people-oriented policies that will prevent such incidents in Ondo State and beyond.
Barely one year after, The Punch yet again reported on Thursday, May 12, 2011 that, ‘three primary school pupils of Cornerstone School, Ajah, died in a bus accident along the Lagos-Epe Expressway, Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State. History repeated itself. We failed as a nation to heed the warning of George Bernard Shaw that ‘the lesson of history is that we don’t learn from history.’
I must say, it is not the character of the Nigerian State to learn from her history, particularly in matters that affect children. Children here are not seen, not to talk of being heard.
My concern today is the right of the Nigerian child to life matters little to those that should be concerned. It is important to note that the right to life is the foundation of every other right the child has. In fact, every other right of the child is fulfilled in the protection of the right of the child to life. Thus, when the child’s right to life is breached with impunity, as it is in Nigeria today, every right is breached.I make bold to say today that contrary to what many may think, the right of the child to life is the most breached in Nigeria.
I have identified 15 areas of threats against the life of the Nigerian child. One of these is road accident.In one of my advocacy handbooks, titled, “20 nuggets on how to protect your child’s life,” I stated therein that, “560 children were killed by road accidents across the country under avoidable circumstances within one year (2003), according to the Federal Road Safety Commission.”
In view of the tragic cases of the ‘Ondo 28’ and ‘Lekki 3’, which happened in the course of transport within the school system, it is important that we take a critical look at the present practices in respect of school run and see if it is in conformity with best practices. In doing this, our twin goals are to, one, call on the Lagos State Ministry of Education to set up a commission of enquiry, with a simple term of reference, to investigate the circumstances under which the incident occurred; establish if the school has employed best practices in its school run administration; and finally, make recommendations thereof that will impact permanently and positively, on the administration of the school run in Lagos State. Two, share with our readers some of the local and international practices, which parents and other stakeholders in the life of the child must insist on, as a matter of supreme urgency for the safety of our children.
Under the first goal, I have some simple but salient questions that are ringing in my mind since I read about the story of the tragic death of the Lekki 3. I share them as follows: One, does Cornerstone School have a school run policy? Two, how do they recruit their drivers? Three, how do they ascertain the mental state and attitudinal disposition of their drivers? Four, what kind of safety training do they give to their drivers? Five, are there administrative staff on the bus to monitor and supervise the driver and ensure compliance with safety tips? Six, if the answer to the above question is yes, does the administrative staff have the capacity and authority to supervise or monitor the driver indeed?
Given that reports say the accident occurred as a result of brake failure, under what condition does a vehicle brake fail? When last was the vehicle in question and its brake released for periodic servicing, and how often does the school change the vehicle’s tyres? What kind of tyres does the school buy, fairly used or new? Above all, what is the mechanical history of the vehicle? And finally, were the children educated on basic preventive and immediate-response safety tips while on the school bus?
These questions are too many and legitimate to be swept under the carpet. The world needs to know for the best interest of the child. The world needs to know, to enable us to learn from history and put these kinds of occurrences behind us as a country. The society must not develop the character of not learning from its past; and the key to learning from the past is to investigate and evaluate it and discover what and how it went wrong and a new course for a new and positive beginning. This is how societies of the world have moved from primitivity to civilisation. I volunteer myself to work with the Lagos State Government in answering these questions.
I will like to share with us a document known as “Guidelines for School Bus Operation” released by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria elaborated by the Technical Committee for School Bus Standards with reference to national and international regulations/guidelines as well as comments from relevant stakeholders across the country.
The guidelines identified the following types of buses that can be used for school bus operation: Type A1- a bus that accommodates 18 persons including the driver and assistant; Type A2- a bus that has an extended capacity to accommodate the school bus driver and the school bus driver assistant; Type B1- a bus that accommodates 28 persons including the school bus driver and assistant; Type B2- a bus that has an extended capacity to accommodate 35persons including the school bus driver and the assistant; and Type C- a bus that has a maximum seating capacity to accommodate 72 persons including the school bus driver and assistant school bus driver.
The document laid out the requirements for bus drivers and assistants as follows: general medical fitness test; alcohol/drug test; mandatory mental health and acuity test; no criminal record of indictment or jail terms.
The questions to further ask are: are parents and school owners aware of the existence of the guidelines outlined? If they are aware, do they abide by their provisions? Finally, is the SON committed to the enforcement of the guidelines? It has been found all over the world that where school bus operation is properly regulated, it is the safest mode of transport in the school system.
On Friday, October 28, 2011, I was a guest of the Lagos State Ministry of Youth, Sports and Social Development at its Family Value Townhall Meeting held at Adeyemi Bero Hall. It was an attempt by the Lagos State government to pay needed attention to building healthy families in the state.
It is an established fact that the family is the foundation of any meaningful society. The family is the reflection of the society. I was at the programme to discuss Family Values and Child’s Rights.
It gladdens my heart that major stakeholders from the government, private sector, social service sector, the private and public school system were not only on ground to learn but to also contribute their quota through their goodwill messages. I believe with this kind of efforts and related one, the dignity of the family unit will be established and entrenched in Lagos State.
I proceed today to discuss the 30th Human Hindrance. Please follow me closely.
30. The passive professionals: These ones do not see themselves as social service providers, who must always act in the best interest of the child. They do not take out time to counsel parents, who by omission or commission fail to act in the best interest of the child. These are doctors, who aid abortion, despite its illegality.
For example, parents come to a doctor with their 4-year-old son, who is seriously ill and almost at the point of death. After proper diagnosis, the child is said to need blood transfusion. The parents say their religion forbids them from blood transfusion and therefore they would not allow their child to be transfused with blood.
What is the role of a medical doctor in this kind of situation? Should he allow the parents to go on with their decision without making an attempt to counsel the parents or where they would not heed his counsel report the matter to the police? But do you know, what I have found is that a lot of children social service providers lack a sense of mission to act in the best interest of the child. They are merely perfunctory.
31. The lip service political office holder: To these ones the child is a campaign item as they seek political office. They make all kinds of promises, which only proceed from their lips and have no root in their hearts. Therefore, when they take charge of the seat of power they do nothing about their promises to the child.
Please note, it is not that they forgot their promises, they were never in their memory in the first instance. The child has become a tool to tune the minds of the electorate in their direction. They call them all kinds of names. Some say they run a child-friendly government and they watch teachers in the public schools go on strikes for months, without concrete efforts to meet their demands, which in most cases are not only reasonable, but they are the least human dignity demands.
32. The child unconscious media: Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria gives a clue to the role of the press in a civil society thus: “The Press, Radio, Television and agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.” I must say that, when it comes to protecting the rights of the child or upholding the responsibilities of children, the media in Nigeria has not done too well.
I once ran a weekly column in a leading newspaper on the rights of the child. I ran that column consistently and met all production deadlines. The Executive Director woke up one morning without any reason or prior warning yanked off the column. I have found that when the media carries a story on child abuse, they hardly follow up to the end as watchdogs, doing their constitutional responsibility. The story becomes attractive to the editor or producer of the programme because of its sensational value, which in turn increases readership, viewership or listenership.
On Saturday, October 15, 2011, I walked into Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, to speak with more than 240 couples, who had decided to take the bold step to adopt children. I was the guest of the Office of Youth and Social Development of Lagos State Ministry of Youth, Sports and Social Development.
The programme was the post-counselling seminar for adopters in Lagos State. My role was to discuss Child’s Rights and Abuse. It was my second coming as I was on ground a year before to share along the same line.
I spoke out my heart to my patient and listening audience. My interest was the best interest of the children. I am interested in the protection of the children, who will be given out for adoption. I have found that except there is sound reorientation, adoption and foster parenting do not always work out in the best interest of the child, even in developed countries.
I must commend the efforts of the Lagos State government in doing its best to introduce sanity into the adoption processes and procedure in the state. I want to enjoin the state to ensure a deft post-adoption monitoring system. I must also commend the couples who took the decision to adopt. May God grant them grace to give the children being adopted, a future and a hope.
Join me today as I share with you the 28th Human Hindrance:
28. The misguided adopter: These ones adopt children for every reason but their understanding of the noble idea of giving a future and a hope to a child. They adopt a child because they want a playmate for their only child. It is my conclusion that where a couple or a person adopts a child for the playmate reason, the child will be treated as a toy to the child to whom the adopted child is to be a playmate.
I tell them they do not need to go through the rigour of adopting a child for the purpose of finding a playmate; they should go for a toy instead of going through the rigour of adoption.
Some adopt because they want the adopted child to be a forerunner for their own child. It is a general belief in this part of the world that couple, who do not has children early in their marriage, could attract child birth by bringing a child into their home by way of adoption or foster parenting.
Therefore, they seek adoption in adherence to the foregoing belief. Sadly they do not see the adopted child as their own child. Now if their own child does not come, you can be rest assured that they will treat the adopted child miserably as he has not been able to fulfill his own part of the deal of drawing another child from God. They consider every investment on the child as colossal waste.
The other side of the coin is that when they have a child after the adopted child, attention shifts immediately to the new child. The adopted child has finished his assignment. In most cases the adopted child becomes an object of obnoxious abuses in the hands of the adoptive parents.
29 The key household practices ignorant: The existence this human hindrance was first revealed to me when I was attending Training the Trainer Programme at the United Nations House Abuja. One declaration at the training was that many more children die from childhood diseases, more from lack of knowledge of Key Household Practices (KHHP) than from non availability of treatment.
Key Household Practices focuses on preventive measures and early intervention strategies, which every custodians of the life of the child must be aware of and be ready to practice as the situation demands. Many are around children today, who are not aware of these Key Household Practices, not to take of being prepared to use them or actually engage them when it is very crucial to the survival of the child.
As I round off this part of the human hindrance, I will like to share with you the four categories of Key Household Practices follows: The first Growth Promotion & Development; the second is Disease Prevention; the Third is Home Management, and the last is Care Seeking & Compliance
Welcome to this page today. Sure, you had an interesting week. Child protection is very critical to the well-being of the child. Therefore, all hands must be at work to ensure that children are protected at all times.
That is why I was elated last week when UNICEF and the Osun State government decided to train the officers of the Osun State Police Command on Child Justice Administration. Trained also were social workers and members of the judiciary, who are involved in Child Justice Administration in the state.
I must say it was a burdensome task for me getting myself across to the police officers as a resource person, but I was glad at the end that they got the message. Though, under the Child’s Rights Act, 2003, the unit responsible for children matters in the police is called, ‘Specialised Police Unit’ (SPU), the officers still run with Juvenile Welfare Centre (JWC), their name under the abrogated Children and Young Persons Law.
It is important to note that the JWC lacks capacity in terms of training and personnel, to take careful responsibility for the matters that relate to children in conflict with the law. The Specialised Police Unit is equipped by law to carry out such delicate responsibilities of ‘Restorative justice,’ which focuses on the following results: Reformation, Re-integration and Rehabilitation of a child in conflict with the law.
I believe that the leadership of the Nigerian Police needs to move swiftly to give expression to the provisions of the Child’s Right Act and establish the SPU in the best interest of the child.
Here is the 24th Human Hindrance to the protection of the rights of the child.
24. The negligent enforcer: Most of these ones are kept by taxpayers’ money. They make laws and refuse to create platforms, processes and procedures for implementation of the law. They do not pay attention to capacity building of their personnel in their areas engagement. In some cases, they are also called law enforcement agents.
But in Nigeria, these ones do not enforce the rights of the child. They watch heartlessly the rights of the child being trampled upon. I have in various times written them letters calling their attention to areas where the rights of the child are being trampled upon. They have never batted an eyelid. The danger is that their nonchalant attitude to the enforcement of the rights of the child has become a norm.
25. An uninformed judiciary: These one populate the judiciary. They have no passion for the child and the matters that concern them. I was in a magistrate court in my hometown one day when a magistrate stormed out of his chambers, where he was adjudicating on a juvenile matter. He was not only livid, he physically assaulted the father of the juvenile, who he accused charming him into a decision in favour of his child.
The most unfortunate part of the story was that the lawyer to the child was almost prostrating for the magistrate.
I had thought that our law does not recognise the existence of charm or magic. Every assertion must be scientifically proven before the court of law. I had thought the magistrate should understand and appreciate this obvious fact, upon which the highest court of the land once sentenced a group of people in a village to death for killing a woman, who they accused of witchcraft. I thought that if the magistrate understanding of the workings of our law, was on sabbatical for a season, what about the lawyer, who must see himself as minister in the temple of justice and carry himself so.
In this case as it has become rampant there was connivance between the magistrate, who went outside the ambit of the law to address a personal perceived wrong and the lawyer, who jettisoned his duty to his client against the best interest of the child.
26. The passionless, untrained and half trained social workers:
These are people, who have neither passion nor skills for the task of training the child. There is no pinch of care flowing in their blood. They have no idea of the universal principles guiding developing children under their care. Some of these people are teachers, who teach for a living and not for life. They focus on the head.
27. The myopic (narrow-minded, bigoted, prejudiced and intolerance) policy makers: These are policy makers who are ignorant of the current issues as they relate to children. They are oblivious of their roles as enunciated by the enabling law. It is therefore difficult for them to live up to their responsibilities.
Dear friends, sure you are warming up for the best of weekend. Mine is going to be a very hectic, but I am not complaining. I am going to be doing what I am born to do. To stop doing it is like signing up for suicide. What is this thing that I am born to do?
It is captured in a three-fold mandate I received by divine inspiration on Sunday, February 16, 1997, to: 1.Seek change through knowledge 2. Practice change through desire, discipline and skill 3. Disseminate change through my lifestyle. It is in pursuit of the foregoing that I do all that I do. So, on this Saturday, I will be working with young people and adults to disseminate our programme. I believe God for strength, so, help me God.
Join me today as I begin with the 20th Human Hindrance. Please, enjoy and learn.
20. The unprepared: These are young men and women, who are not married nor prepared emotionally and financially to raise a child. Because of their inability to control their lust and passion, which they wrongly called, ‘love,’ they engage in premarital sex.
One of the consequences of such unholy alliance is what is called, ‘unwanted pregnancy.’ Many children, who were raised by grannies or abandoned on the streets or are today in different orphanages are product of ‘unwanted pregnancies.’
21. The angry: Many angry for different reasons and the custodians of the life of the child are not exceptions. Some are angry against the system, and some against their spouse. As I shared few months ago, the word children are an acronym, where D stands for delightful. I opined that children are delightful being and full of innocence and unblemished simplicity.
I further postulated that a child does not have the capacity to make any adult angry, except an adult, who already has anger in him. What children suffer from angry custodians a lot of time is transferred aggression. Custodians do not understand that even when a child needs correction; it cannot be done in anger.
Once we attempt to correct a child in anger, we do not communicate discipline, which is the goal of correction, we pass on anger. The tragedy of this kind of situation is that we end up raising angry children. And when a child is angry, he is a kettle of gun powder, which may explode on himself as a suicide bomber, on the family, fellow children and the society in general.
Hitler was an angry child, who became an angry adult. He killed millions of Jews. Ted Bundy grew up angry and he confessed to thirty murders, but investigation concluded that he murdered between thirty-five and hundred people. The fact that he read psychology as his first degree did not solve his anger problem. Same was Idi Amin Dada of Uganda, who did not only run down his country, but was accused of cannibalism.
22. The God-unconscious custodians: These ones say they are free thinkers. They do not understand that God rules in the affairs of men, including the task of raising children right. In the acronym of the word, parent shared two weeks ago, I said that alphabet T stands for turn to God.
I believe in the submission of the Bible that says “except the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain that build it.” The custodians in this category believe in physical strength as the way to prepare for the delicate task of parenting or solve any problem that arises in the course of the noble cause. Unknown to them every human being on the face of the earth is an agent of either God or the devil.
Some are conscious agent of either personality while the majority are unconscious agents. The truth of the matter, however is that both personalities have different agendas they are unrepentantly committed to. God has the mission to give life and give it more abundantly.
The devil has a mission to kill, to steal and to destroy. Now, whether you are a conscious agent or an unconscious one, the two personalities are skilful in working through you, depending on your availability.
23. The hypocrite: These ones say one thing and do another. They do not believe that actions speak more volumes than countless voices of instruction. They are very sharp with their tongues and very weak in their character.
On September 28, we were received at Ox-bridge Tutorial College, GRA, Ikeja, where we disseminated our ‘I’m D-SMARTTEESST™’ to the entire student. The programme, which has been disseminated to close to 15,000 teenagers and young people, is an attempt to make these young people the number brigade of their protection.
The truth is that parents, guardians, teachers and other stakeholders in the life of the child will not always be with the children they love so dear. Except they are equipped to protect themselves against abuses, they will be cheap victims of predators.
If you cannot boast that your teenagers and young people can proclaim, I’m D-SMARTTEESST™, I want to assure you that you may have a lot to worry about. Knowledge is more powerful than empty hope that nothing bad can happen to your children. If nothing negative will happen to our children, it does not answer to wishful thinking, but deliberate and positive actions. I pray that God will grant us wisdom in these things.
Let me move on as I share with you my story as the conclusion of the 18th Human Hindrance: The head teacher: Dada was a childhood buddy. We were classmates in the primary school and often spent our lunch break together, playing. One of our favourite games was tree climbing. But our regular, delightful game of tree climbing took a turn neither of us expected when Dada slipped on this eventful day.
As one of the fragile branches of the seemingly strong tree gave way under Dada’s young foot, he fell, stomach first, on another broken branch. The branch went right into his stomach as I watched, frightened. I raised an alarm. Dada was immediately rushed to the hospital. Two or three days after, the news filtered in while we were in class, that Dada had died.
The first and only response from my class teacher was, “as from today, call this boy, Taiwo, Esu (Satan or the devil).” This was in my Primary 3. Here was I traumatised that I had lost a dear friend. As I write this piece, I still remember, Dada’s physical features. I needed all the encouragement I could get as I mourned the loss of my dear friend.
I was also overwhelmed with fear, having grown up in a superstitious society, where it was believed that the departed would often come back to take with him a close associate. Apart from the fact that I was close to Dada, I was the last person he saw as he slipped out of consciousness.
My teacher, who should, did not understand any of this. She added a measureless chunk of load to my already overweighed cross. From then forward, I carried that plague of a nickname for the remaining years of my stay in the school. Children are always in the habit of teasing their peers, often, by giving unsolicited nicknames.
When a child does not like a nickname, he would run to the teacher for protection. My case was hopeless because the teacher was the architect of the cruel nickname I bore through school. It was a case of a custodian becoming a predator.
She was a predator over my soul. What about the school authority or the head master? Pupils did not have any relationship with them. Besides my mind was too untrained to seek help or remedy from such quarters.
I woke up every morning burdened by the fact that I would have to appear in school again to be called the devil at will by my class and school mates. My teacher obviously was a Head Teacher and as time went on I live up to his expectations.
I behaved like the devil, before I found help 14 years ago.
19. The inconsistent: These one are not consistent with acting in The-Best-Interest-of-the-child. The decision of the people in this category to raise children right is not predicted upon understanding the nobility of the idea, but on mere emotion or an ungrounded attempt to conform to a new message or thought they have come across.
The inconsistent, as parents do not train children by the rule and are therefore not consistent in the discharge of their responsibilities to their children according to their state of development. In most cases their commitment to their children is according to their position of birth.
For example, in most cases, inconsistent parents do not give much attention and care to their other children like they give to the first child. The inconsistent has many explanations for the foregoing, but I make bold to say that none of them hold tangible water in the court of progressive reasoning.