It is the eve of the New Year and I am compelled to do brief reflections on my work with children and their caregivers in Nigeria.
Permit me to submit that I am signing out of the year 2017 on a sober note. By the grace of God, I make bold to say that we covered some grounds this year but my soberness today is that there are much more grounds to be covered as it relates the children’s Rights and Responsibilities, CARE and Protection, Childhood Preservation and Family Strengthening
In my article, written to mark Nigeria’s 57th flag Independence, published in the Vanguard newspaper on September 30, 2017, I submitted as follows:
‘How do I wish our precious children happy independence, when as it is today the families, community and state are yet to accept that abject poverty is the greatest threat to the protection of our precious children and have no concrete plan for SOCIAL PROTECTION, which ILO began to propounded since 2014 as the number solution to seemingly insurmountable inequality in our world today, particularly as it affects our precious children?’
I concluded that piece on the following sobering note, ‘hmmm, how…how…how? I don’t seem to wrap my mind round rolling out the drums but to call for deliberate actions aimed at ending the sufferings of our precious Nigerian children and END VIOLENCE AGAINST THEM in THEIR BEST INTEREST and the PRESERVATION of our PRESENT and FUTURE of our great nation.’
As we sign out of 2017, the situation has not changed.
Let me dwell on education as a an example of one of the challenges that the precious Nigerian children face.
It is no longer news that Nigeria has the largest number of children out of School in the world, put by President Muhammad Buhari to be 13.2. Majority of those who are in school are not receiving relevant education, capable of helping them to be useful in the labour market. As a matter of fact, the educational sector, both private and public is in dire crisis as it is not regulated and lacks uniformity in curriculum, training of educators, remuneration of educators, conducive
learning environment and learning aids.
We just seem to have accepted as normal the fact that pre primary, primary and secondary education are in the hands of the private sector. There are over 18,000 private schools in Lagos State where I live, competing with 1,700 public schools. Many parents are under extreme pressure today to send their children to school. Those, whose parents struggle to send to schools today can be said to have conditional access to education. These children are often sent out of school because of the inability of the parents to meet up with the obligation of paying school fees.
My father was middle level staff at the defunct National Bank of Nigeria (NBN) and my mother was a petty trader in Erekesan market in Ado Ekiti, where I grew up. My education was never a social and economic burden for them. I often say to people that I was public child. I went to public primary and secondary schools and public University. I enjoyed the Free Education program of the UPN. My school fees per session in Lagos State University was N90(ninety) Naira. That is same LASU that the fees went as high as 250,000 about 15 years after my graduation from the higher institution.
The story of today’s parents is different. I am conscious of the fact that we should encourage parents to only bring to this world children they have the social and economic capacity to look after. Yes, but who should propopse and enforce that? It is still the State, like nations like China has done.
It is important to note that millions of Children in the North-East Nigeria are orphaned and unaccompanied in IDP camps. Many are denied of food and heath facilitates. The Boko Haram crisis has make that part of the country difficult for children to live in. We hear about the N1 Billion daily that the government of the day plans to spend on fighting Boko Haram but we do not hear about what is to be spent to rehabilitate these precious but poor children, whose only sin is that they were born in Nigeria.
Few years ago I had shouting march at with a director of Child Development from one of the states of Nigeria at conference on the issue of Child Labour. The director wanted us to address the issue of Child Labour without addressing the issue of poverty of the parents, who sent their children on the streets. The director didn’t want to accept any culpability on the part of the Nigerian State. Obviously, the director was not aware or pretended not to be aware of the position of International Labour Organization(ILO) since 2014 or thereabouts that Social Protection must be pursued as the leading solution to fruitfully tackling Child Labour globally. I ended my contribution by asking just one question: how many of those who were in the conference, considering their obvious comfortable or average state in life would send their children to the streets to engage in Child Labour?
I was at a press conference few years back where a top state government functionary was announcing the program of the state government against child abuse. After unfolding the beautiful program, I asked just one question. I referred to densely populated and poor areas of the state, where abuses are more rampant and asked, if is not possible for people to give what they do not have, how do parents, whose entire existence is abuse rise up to protect their children from abuse.
The challenge we face today is that we live in a state without respect for dignity of human person. How does that state respect the rights of children and create a conducive environment for their peaceful development?
Here is my final submission, I have never been a rabble rouser and I do not intend to become one in the years ahead. I am not a critic or an enemy of the state. I only preach the Gospel for the protection of the precious Nigerian Child.
Having been in the trenches since 1997, I understand the difference between short-term and long-term interventions. The short-term interventions must never be an end but a means to an end, the end being long -term interventions, which aim is to create a conducive and structured environment for the Total Childhood Management and Child Development. The long-term interventions must have their eyes on holding government accountable to the responsibilities of the WELFARE and the SECURITY of the citizens under the Social Contract and the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Empowerment of parents and other caregivers is as far as I could concerned part of short-term interventions, if the goal is to encourage parents and other caregivers to carry on without the support of the state in their children protection and development efforts. Until the goal of an empowerment efforts of parents and other caregivers goes beyond the foregoing and extends to mobilising them to hold government accountable for their WELFARE and SECURITY, which has great impact on their social and financial ability to provide the best of care for the precious children, such empowerment efforts will not bring lasting relief nor be part of strategies for long-term interventions. Above all, such efforts will represent nothing but impotent tokenism.
Also, providing individual support through personal efforts and institutional support through NGOs, FBOs and CBOs for indigent, abused and neglected children must be encouraged and applauded as short-term interventions. But beyond providing material and intellectual support directly to children and their primary and secondary caregivers, initiators of the foregoing efforts must be interested in a more permanent solutions of engaging the State and her apparatus by playing the roles of regulatory bodies, who provide enabling environment for child protection and development by developing systems, policies and regulations. To act as if the state does not exist or does not have a social contact with the people will amount to noting but excusing the state and embracing tokensim.
The challenge with tokenism is that it is often not sustainable. Where it is sustainable, it does not provide solutions to the majority and the solutions tokenism provide for the minority is often weak in quality. Tokenism is often built around people, whose greatest asset is passion and not a system. Above all, tokenism makes heroes of the initiators at the expense of the people, whose cause and interests they claim to represent. Their social and economic conditions get better while the situation of the people do not experience tangible and enduring change.
Yes, family is the number one ring of protection and it must be strengthened and I do a lot of that. But it will amount to tokenism ending the intervention there, without identifying the other three rings of protection and the inevitablity of their roles in protecting the child. The other three rings are the community, state and international community. It is globally settled that these three rings have a primary responsibility to empower the family to effectively play the role of protection.
In 2018, TA Academy will continue her empowerment programs but she will more than ever before pay attention to helping primary and secondary caregivers to understand the roles of the state and her functionaries in child protection and how to hold them accountable.
We will focus a lot on working with like-minded individuals and organisations to peacefully and respectfully engage the State and her apparatus, bringing credible suggestions for Systems and Policies for the protection of our precious children. We will not delude ourselves to think and submit to primary and secondary caregivers that that all they need to raise their children is personal determination and motivation. We will acknowledge the laudable roles of foregoing but we must move beyond same.
I see an interesting but challenging year ahead for the precious Nigerian Children, their primary and secondary caregivers and those who defend their right.
I really hope that 2018 will help us to evolve a conversation that will lay a solid and inevitable foundation for the narrative of what it takes to raise happy and balanced children through the instrumentality of child protection.
I may not today have enough tangible reasons to with the precious Nigerian Children Happy New Year, but I wish them an INSPIRED New Year.
I am Taiwo AKINLAMI and I am Sober on my Knees on the New Year’s Eve…
Think the CHILD…Think TODAY…Think the FUTURE™