WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
Some weeks ago, I was moved to write a provoking piece entitled “ ERADICATION OF STREET DESTITUTION IN NIGERIA “ which was published on the 10th of July 2019 (on the same page) . It bothers on the long overdue need for the nation and the states to rise up to the challenge of ridding our streets of destitute as a panacea for stemming the onward growth of crime and criminality. The expectation was that a number of genuine commitments would surface after the pleading, but the reverse has been the case. More so, it appears those in position of responding have only become dismissive and unapologetic in their continuous exploit of the growing menace to play politics and to score cheap political points.
It is so surprising and disappointing when those who should be addressing the menace, some days ago, was manifested by one of the Senators from the north eastern part of the country. He felt all that was needed to help the helpless, vulnerable children on the street is a trip, accompanied by news broadcasters, to distribute soft drinks that would be consumed once and forgotten. And yet, that would be an achievement listed in his honour against next campaign season.
Suddenly, some states have started rolling out adorable news of mass reduction in number of out-of-school children in their states. Some states, like Kano state rolled out a fantastic figure claiming number of out-of-school has dropped by as much as 50 percent, yet these figures are not justified by realities on the street. The Almajirai (children) are still in their numbers on the streets; the child hawkers are still in their numbers on the roads and in the parks.
It then become necessary to re-echo the need for Nigerians from all corners of the Country to arise and to do something or else we will all be contributing to the destruction of the future of this nation
I have been wondering recently about what useful index should we use in measuring the development of states and Nigeria as a whole. We have had state governors boasting of giant developmental strides across the nation, parading news of gigantic social and economic commitments including roads and bridges constructions, educational rejuvenation and a number of such acclaimed monumental interventions. These states have been boasting of monumental changes and improvements in general standard of living of the citizens; and I wonder what could be better evidence of the acclaimed achievements than undeniably lifting indigents out of poverty. What better index of measuring government performance if not the evidence of a marked drop in the number of destitute on Nigerian streets.
We become engrossed with vices, crimes and criminality. We groan under the yokes of seemingly insurmountable regimes of insurgents and groups that we groomed by our personal and collective neglects of the upbringing of the nations’ children and youths as much as non-inclusion of provision that will serve as social security and to reduce the menace of destitution among our population. Ironically, our definition of governmental responsibility does not seem to accommodate the universal recognition of the need for amelioration of general poverty of citizens and education for all. Analysis of our state governments priorities shows marked diversion from citizens’ unspoken and general expectation; the summary of our developmental history is a story of misplaced priority. Sadly.
It is in Nigeria that we have states governors who, without considerations for the poorest of the poor in their fold, continuously roll out bogus programs while desolate children, unprotected and without any known means of livelihood roam the streets in search of non-existing basics of life and for survival. The undeniable truth remains that while our governors across states pay lip services to the much needed government responses to call for help for the destitute in their states, we groan under the implications of kidnapping, armed banditry, insurgency, cultism and the likes because we raise children and youths who are street-trained to become nothing less of vagabonds. What do we expect of a nation that wholly or partially ignores the upbringing of children; where the upbringing of the boy-child is nobody concern; where we allow the children to roam the busy street for survival and witnessing the excessive class disparity between the haves and the have-not. A nation where public office holders, mostly at the state level, pay lip service to child education and care less if the children are in school or not.
In the last few days, the social media was agog with a heart-wrenching video of children – apparently below the age of fifteen – lacing the corners of a street in their thousands waiting in line to receive a bowl of dish-out lunch, perhaps from a philanthropist who wanted to give them a temporary relief. These are children who should have been under the care of their parents but are without care and guidance to prepare them for the future; children that are supposed to be in classrooms receiving quality education provided by the government; but they are out there on the streets carrying and bearing the burden of what to eat, how to remain safe and survive yet another day.
Will the state governments claim they are not aware of the presence of that relatively high population of such children lacking care in their domain? No! they are aware, but they are doing nothing beyond political rhetoric of ‘gigantic’ plan to solve the problem. They are more preoccupied with exhibition of phantom projects on televisions , newspapers and social media. While the population of battered kids on the street is rising, when citizens who could no longer afford to cater for their minimum natural needs litter all streets and corners of almost every city and community in the country, those saddled with the responsibility look the other way expending state revenues on those needs that has no direct bearing to uplift the citizens out of poverty and penury.
A direct consequence of the failure in this regard is that we have created a society drowning in the mire of insecurity; from insurgency, kidnaping, banditry to all other unimaginable atrocities perpetrated by the same children we ignored yesterday. It becomes so easy for criminal and dissent groups to recruit our children and youths because we have so much told them we have no plan for their future.
The solution to the many unrest existing with us in almost all the states in Nigeria today will not begin with restructuring of the security outfit or any other measure that punishes offenders but rather with the conscious decision to rejig child-welfare programs of the states. When we priotised the development of the youth, when it becomes our priority that no child would roam the street begging for survival; when the education of all children stopped being a political show up and campaign rethoric of politicians and those in government, then a virile and responsible generation without inclination to crime would be produced and our nation will become peaceful and safe.
Over the years, the more we discuss and witness the implications of increasing population of desolate and helpless children across the streets of Nigeria, the more we increase our negligence of social I’ll plaguing the nation. The more we discuss the need for a programme or establishment of an institution to adequately address the ill, the more it appears we have done nothing. So, we become a nation lagging behind in child and youth welfare services. Efforts by well-meaning individuals to some extent, reduce the menace and its consequences on our society, have over the years repeatedly become jeopardised by the same people – in power – whose responsibility it is to design and implement programs and projects that would end the scourge.
Asides government near-to-nothing direct interventions, there are currently hundreds of indigenous non-governmental organisations that are accessing millions of dollar yearly from the development community to cater for these children lacking care and even adult destitute in the country; but they often do nothing with the money other than diverting it for personal use. That in itself, is an abuse. We do not see much impact of most in-country multinational corporations’ foundations, their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and their other direct interventions for the same reasons.
In our characteristic manner as a people, instead of realising a potentially dangerous situation in the littering of our streets, we naturally become biased; we suddenly want to use it to rubbish the government at the center. We are quick to say it is the problem of the north; not minding the reality that a visit to Onitsha town at any time of the day will show thousands of children who are supposed to be in school hawking by the road side. It does not matter if the children are abandoned to beg in the street or are forced to hawk on the road when they should all be in school and under full protection of responsible parents and guardians, the form may be different, but the product are the same. Arguably, there are as much crimes in the south-west as there are in the south- east, and in any other region of the country, because the predisposing factor is the same, everywhere.
What does it take to rid the country of this social ill, the neglect of a very sensitive subset of our population? Asides dealing segmentally from various positions of responsibilities, if we do not also approach the problem with a common front and a common sense of purpose, regardless of our location and dispensations, we will be haggling and wrangling among ourselves until the implications of the problem further swallow us all.
Over the years, those in position of authority have been passing laws but ignore their implementations. The nation is a signatory to the United Nations convention on the Rights of the Child, established in 1989. This convention makes it an offence to engage children in any activity that would negatively impact their total development and it also mandates the government to protect children from exploitation. The Child Right Act of Nigeria directly states that children should be protected from trafficking, street hawking and street begging. Till today, the domestication of this act in most of the states and subsequent implementation has been ignored by most states; and to add, the Universal Basic Education programme has been abysmally implemented by most state governments.
It is the responsibility of the governments at all levels to create a protective environment for these vulnerable children. It is our responsibility collectively to protect and save them from all the psychological trauma and physical dangers in the street. It is our responsibility to ensure no child is abandoned to the mercy of the street. We must know that denying these children their rights to be catered for and protected is a measure of injustice; injustice against their development, well-being and the future of the nation.
We all, are responsible for stopping the growth of the menace; beginning with the government both at the center and the states but much more resting on the state governments as we must move away from politicising the response to the menace and develop a proactive response that would produce desired results. Whatever is done, what is needed is for the children to be off the street, and to ensure that Nigerian children no longer, for whatever reasons, find solace on the street again. What becomes of Child Rights laws that are obviously in effect in almost every state of the nation? The law must be the starting point; we must review same to suit the needs and peculiarity of the state; the government as much as the parents must be culpable for every child found roaming the street for sustenance.
It is high time we redefined the structure of the nation’s Universal Basic Education. In the north for instance, we could adopt the natural progression of the Almajiri system to turn the tide. The children, through the years grow from street begging to taking up menial jobs ranging from cobbler to motor bike riding and similar jobs aside the population that become readymade tools for crime. Instead of placing all the students in conventional schools, we should rather, move the very young ones among them to conventional schools this is to go side by side with the Tsangaya school system while we develop a system of vocational schools to absorb as many as possible on a full live-in arrangement.
For the above suggestion to work, there must be change of national child education policy direction; meaning that, it would require a complete synergy among all tiers of government, especially the federal, states and the local governments. The program and the projected schools should be run altogether by the three tiers of governments through an accepted arrangement. Graduating apprentices as they would be called can then be allowed access to soft loans to set up their workshops and mini businesses across the nation.
For the population in the south, the same is applicable, but it would be more realistic if the children are given the options of deciding the direction they wish to follow.
While we declare national emergency on child destitution in the country, well-meaning Nigerians across all turfs must come to the rescue. The rich and well-to-do in our society should contribute their resources to fight the menace. This is the time for all our religious houses to immensely contribute to the process of ridding the nation of the menace. This has gone beyond consideration for religion affiliations. if we all refuse to do something today, tomorrow, just like notorious Boko Haram and all other groups, they would see no difference between us when they come to attack anyone of us.
Taking the children out of the street and the street out of them is a project realisable; and one we must as a matter of national urgency, embark on.
God Bless Federal Republic of Nigeria!