By Betty Abah
In our bedeviled times it seems like it is a crime to be born a Nigerian. Some may say a child has no choice as to where he/she eventually emerges, but our times have no patience for the logic of choices; our times swallow our children even before they think geography. Poor Nigerian child.
As nations sit back this day (November 20) to think of strides or otherwise made in the actualization of the Convention on the Rights of the Child set forth by the United Nations (International Children’s Rights Day), it is common knowledge that the child fated to be born these times in Nigeria ranks one of the most endangered species on earth.
Or, what do you make of this heartbreaking scenario: all that those kids had in mind were futures decked in gold, and some were probably already bagging laurels on their way to reclaiming those futures. A big bang and that was all. What did we see? Fifty eight body bags containing dreams sliced to unrecognizable bits in a shattered school in Potiskum.
And, as it was in Potiskum, so it was in Buni Yadi: 69 innocent school children consumed in one fell-swoop—bombed, slaughtered, burnt, parents’ high dreams up in the smoke of an insane insurgency.
Then think of the Chibok girls. What exactly was their crime? In the era where their peers settled squeamishly in the discomfort of forced child marriages, of forced violations, fragile bodies primed by a shameless norm for unripe tasks, unspeakable maternal suffering, these girls dared to dream.
They dared to step up their lives, to be enlightened, to be elevated and to shine as harbingers of light to their families – future and present, to be pride to Nigeria. Those adventurous dreams ended in the thick of the night, borne to the bushes on the craggy backs of Boko Haram’s lorries, carefully guarded by the Kalashnikov.
Seven months later, no word about their welfare. And except for international pressures, their matters would have long been buried in the face of 2015 electoral exigencies. Delicate dreams buried deep in the thick of Sambisa forest, bygone girlhoods, children sold off as slaves, so the mad men bragged. Those who escaped owed their freedom to self-help, nothing more.
And yet these are people’s daughters, people’s investment, communities’ hopes. But then, who cares? Those who have cried themselves hoarse asking for the innocent girls to be brought back have been labeled enemies of progress, opposition party members.
Naturally, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs should care, as sensitive women would, if only they haven’t now become superb event managers for powerful women married to powerful men in the days of the cobra. They are experts in organizing rallies to ‘BringBackJonathan’, incredibly, at a time the world remains united in their plea to ‘BringBackOurGirls’.
Some may say they are supposed to be mothers, but then so what? These are children of faceless peasants, Nigerians of no consequence, children who choose to their peril to be born Nigerians!
And lest we forget, there was something called the Safer School Initiative in which school children were to repose their trust as to the protectiveness of the learning four-walls amidst terrorist threats. Propounded by former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, its launch came like ice cold water to a desert traveler.
But today, if you have a clue as to how the program is being implemented and how many lives are truly safe from the bombers of childhood dreams, let’s know. If you do not know and you ask me, who I go ask?
Now, think of the bloodshed of the innocent on the chilly hills of the Plateau. Think of the bloodshed of the hapless in Kano. Mubi. Nyanya. Agatu. Alakiyo and the children driven into orphanhood at tender stages of an uncertain life having watched their parents killed in cold blood. Or those displaced without hope.
And, better believe this, the endangerment of our children are not only restricted to the Boko Haram-harassed North. Within well-fenced, well-adorned homes in elitist Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu and Port Harcourt brimming with over-dotted and sometimes overweight children, other underage children with ‘’irrelevant parents’ live in domestic slavery. Unschooled. Underfed. Unkempt. Over worked. But again, who cares?
Haven’t you heard that Nigeria now tops the world in the number of out-of-school children? According to UNESCO, it stood at 10 million as at last year. This year, with more violence, more fears, more forced migration, it is certainly more. And, please, do not ask me if the government has yet asked after the welfare of Nigerian children, families now refugees in Cameroon, Niger and Chad, but I do know we are now a top ‘refugee nation’.
And here we are, consistently ranking high on the global negative index when it touches on children. One of the highest in under-five deaths, according to Save Our Children. Very soon, perhaps, cases of battery, child rape, kidnaps and other crimes splashing our local media pages daily may no longer be news after all.
Or, can we ever speak exhaustively about Nigerian newborns being virtually hawked on the streets of Aba, Owerri, Enugu, Port Harcourt and exchanged for naira and kobo to buyers from Lagos, Abuja, London, Paris? We are talking about children of vulnerable teenagers, fellow children, babies who will grow up, never knowing their biological parents neither history.
Some, we even hear, end up in ritualists’ altars. Unbelievable but true. The sold babies, like the ‘baby house helps’ are victims of same fate: anti-trafficking laws in bold letters lacking bold and comprehensive enforcement. And so the evil cycles continue.
Who is really there for these unlucky children? Remember it took the plea of Pakistani teenager Malala to get our darling president to see distraught parents of the Chibok girls? Remember the jamborees that usually follow the news of the slaughter of citizens? Buni Yadi. Chibok. Nyanya. Potiskum. Remember? Who really gives a damn?
And if the president does not give a damn, is it any surprise that majority of the citizenry, especially the well-off, act completely aloof? Isn’t it why, whenever children are bombed out of existence, innocent lives hacked down for no single fault of their, the rest of Nigeria instantly go on tweeting deliriously about Arsenal’s trophy or cooing on Facebook about Angelina Jolie’s killer dress sense?
It is this indifference by the majority of the populace and this impunious lack of action especially by policy makers on so many child-related fronts that makes this particularly tragic.
But the aloofness may not even be restricted to government and the tired citizens. In the recent past, we have had UNICEF offices in Palestine, South Sudan and many other places ravaged by conflict building international coalitions to attract help for hapless children of those countries.
If you ask me if Nigeria has a UNICEF branch and what they do, na who I go ask? Go to its website and social media pages and see them gathering cobwebs and you will know, like government, like people, even our UNICEF and most international child’s rights groups in Nigeria don’t give a damn. Afterall, these children embarked on the suicidal trips to be born Nigerians. It’s their fault, innit? But God is watching us all on a 5-D camera, His quill in His hands. History too is not sleeping.
Alas, lest we forget in a detached hurry, it may be pertinent to ask the right questions about what awaits us: What manner of children are we breeding? If we do not show them love, show them that our well-oiled government has the resources and capacity to protect them, fight for them and fend for them when necessary using all sorts of tastelessly insensitive alibis, what manner of adults, leaders do we assume they would grow up to be? Will we adults be safe, supposing we reach that future, together with the children of today?
It is the more reason, compatriots, we must halt the parties, halt the ineptitude, the corruption and aloofness and ensure that the lives, rights and future of the Nigerian child is protected, starting now.
Mrs. Abah is founder of CEE-HOPE Nigeria, a child’s right and welfare NGO.