By Miranda Nkasi
A first time visitor to Yobe State had just left one of the local government headquarters to conduct a three-day research in the state. He had wanted to acclimatize himself with his new environment by visiting a Mai Shayi (a tea and bread vendor) shop in the state capital, Damaturu.
Some young children numbering about 20 had gathered with some plastic plates on their hands at one corner within the location. This visitor requested for two eggs, a cup of tea and a loaf of bread as breakfast so he could proceed to do his job.
Sitting with him were some of the local government officials who accompanied him and were to guide him as he journeyed through the nooks and crannies of the state for his work. They all ate together at the Mai Shayi’s shop. These children kept vigil on the customers as they ate on.
Hardly had they left their seats when the children swooped on the crumbs of bread and eggs in the plates to the astonishment of the visitor. They fought over the remaining tea in the cups and eggs in the plates. The government officials showed no concern because such a thing was a common sight.
This is the situation many children in Nigeria are facing and the challenges come in different forms. For some, it is hawking, while for others, it is being used for other abuses namely trafficking for sex, slavery; being used as political thugs; and where possible, being engaged by non-state fighters as terrorists.
Nigeria is a wonderful nation, blessed with diverse human and natural resources. But, failure to effectively harness these resources has been the bane on the nation’s stride to joining league of prosperous countries across the globe. Nigerians are everywhere on earth doing great exploits in countries they choose to live in, or where their services are being engaged. But, here at home are millions of penurious families whose hopes of survival are on the precipice.
Many factors have been blamed for this. They range from looting of nation’s resources by privileged few, policy summersaults by government, failure to implement basic laws, moral laxity among the population, parental irresponsibility, lack of effective family planning, and growing injustice among other ills.
Tackling the menace of street children require collective efforts of stakeholders such as parents, government, religious institutions, civil organization and leaders of thought. Street children come in different forms and they bear different names across geographical zones in Nigeria. In the north, they are called “Almajiris,” in the south, particularly in Cross River State, they are called “Skolombo,” in Lagos state, they are known as “Omo sa nle.” The most unfortunate thing about these children is that they don’t go to school and they eventually turn out to constitute nuisance to the society by being ready tools in the hands of persons who would use them for criminal activities.
A survey conducted by United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), indicates that the population of out of school children in Nigeria has risen from 10.5 million to 13.5 million and is regarded as the highest country with out of school children in the world. This is a country that currently has an estimated population of 200 million. Experts believe if the potentials of this population are tapped, the current struggle by the country to graduate from being a developing nation nearly after six decades of independence would be needless. Nigeria has huge dividends from her demography, if well-harnessed!
Nigeria’s future depends on her children because the safety and quality of life, education, care and training given to the children will determine what becomes of the nation in the future. The world is advancing technologically at jet speed. Nigeria cannot afford to waste her enormous human resources.
Part of the security challenges currently faced by the country is as a result of the humongous population of uneducated, homeless and hungry children who have no one to look after them or show them love which has made most of them to grow wild and very dangerous. These children believe the society has no love or regard for them, so they are ready to be willing tools in the hands of criminal-minded persons.
Majority of insecurity issues like robbery, abduction and rape faced today by Nigeria are as a result of activities of out-of-school children. Like any other human beings, they need food, water and basic other needs for survival. They can only get these by being engaged by others.
Every child has his own unique reason for being on the street and this varies from state to state. These factor also vary over time such as poverty, displacement due to natural disasters, conflict, insurgency and family breakdown. In fact, bombardments by the Boko Haram group in northeast over the past decade have displaced and orphaned thousands of children. Many of these children have become nomads, eating and sleeping wherever their legs take them. It is believed that every child in school has a parent or a guardian. Therefore, putting every child on the street in school puts that child under the guardianship of someone or an authority.
With the contemporary security situation in Nigeria, one is compelled to assume that the future of the nation is seriously in danger if serious measures are not taken to address the challenges. In order to curb the trend, stakeholders, especially the government, have to do more to give the children a befitting future. First, government at all levels are expected to enroll the children in school. This can be achieved by making schools attractive with well-trained and motivated teachers to train the children. The government should make laws that will make at least primary and secondary school education free and compulsory for all children.
Leaders should reduce their ostentatious lifestyle and commit some of their resources into giving meaning to the lives of children in the country. Besides, they should live by example by ensuring their children receive their education at all levels in the country.
Parents, religious institutions, leaders of thoughts and community leaders too have roles to play in bringing dignity to the children, giving them a good future by putting them in school. Couples and youth who are ready for marriage should be regularly advised on how to raise only the number of children they can effectively cater for. There should be penalties for parents who abandon their wards in all communities. With these, the number of children roaming the streets at school time will be reduced and the future prosperity of the nation will be further guaranteed.
It is expected of government to provide skill acquisition facilities for children who are specially gifted in learning skills. These skills should be acquired alongside western education.
While the government and NGOs do these, parents in the society should make sure they don’t look down on kids when they come across them because all they need is love and care. As it stands today, the duty of helping out-of-school children is the responsibility of all. We should try and do our part. Together, we shall make Nigeria a better and safer place to live in.