As the curtain falls on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, Nigerian children have scored the outgoing government low in the handling of security challenges besetting the nation.
The children who decried the unbridled loss of lives, rising inflation, soaring unemployment, skyrocketing cost of living, and alleged general poor governance among others, also berated the Buhari-led government for its sloppy handling of educational issues, including industrial actions embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
The children who bore their minds to The Guardian, as the world marks this year’s Children’s Day celebration today, urged the President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to ensure the happiness of the greater number of Nigerians as he takes the reins on Monday.
Specifically, 15-year-old Senior Secondary 2 (SS2) student, Jude Ovwure, told The Guardian in Asaba, the Delta State capital that recurring strike actions by public university lecturers are a threat to his future educational pursuits, urging the government to do all within its powers to solve the problem.
“I want the Federal Government to settle its differences with the ASUU so that when it’s time for me to enter the university, there would be no problem. I don’t want to wait at home after finishing secondary school.”
He queried: “Why can’t government and ASUU agree for our sake since most government officials send their children abroad to study? It is we whose parents cannot afford such that suffer as a result of the incessant strike actions. The government should settle its rift with ASUU,” he said.
On his part, Okpe Johnson, who wants the government to reduce the cost of living, lamented: “Even the packet of biscuits that we used to buy for N20 is now N50, and is smaller. Before now, N100 was enough for our snacks in school, but now, even the N200 my parents give to me for that purpose is not enough.
“We are tired of this government, and want the incoming one to be different because we are suffering too much,” Johnson said.
He also wants the government to address the issue of cultism in schools, “because some members of the cult groups have been threatening us to join them, and we are sometimes afraid to report them to the school authorities.”
Master Somtochukwu Okwara, a Primary 2 pupil of Shalom Academy, Asaba, Delta State, appealed to the incoming president to ensure that there is a constant power supply in the country, saying: “I want the president to reduce the prices of everything, especially food items and school fees.
Michelle Chibuikem, a pupil of St. Jude International School, Asaba, simply said: “I want the government to offer free education and scholarship for us. For Echezona Emmanuel and Ijeh Joy Chukwufunogo, both Junior Secondary 2 (JSS2) students of Unity Secondary School, Asaba, the government should provide free education and inculcate discipline among teachers and students, who are in the habit of coming late to school.
According to them, truancy among students and lateness by teachers don’t add value to education, hence such vices should be stopped. Echezona asked the government to provide accommodation through housing estates for parents who are unable to afford one to make life easy for many families.
For Umar Farouk, a student of Government Secondary School, Wuse Zone 3, Abuja: “The Nigeria of my dream is a country where there is justice and fairness. I want a country where there is peace, progress, honesty, and development. We should have quality and affordable health services, and we need a good healthcare system. I want a Nigeria where youths are allowed to contribute their quota to the development of the country. Above all, I want a Nigeria where there is no ASUU strike; where youths enter the university and graduate at the appropriate time; where indigent students are given credit facilities, scholarships, and bursary allowances to enable them to go to school. Most government schools are dilapidated and don’t have enough teachers. We need good schools and qualified teachers. I also want a secure Nigeria, where children are protected.”
Many children in the South East geo-political zone said they want the incoming administration to end the weekly Monday sit-at-home in the region to ensure that students conduct their normal academic activities like their counterparts in other states of the federation.
Speaking with The Guardian, an SS2 student of the Queen’s School, Enugu, Mary Onyegbula, noted that like other sectors, education in the region is grappling with the challenge of insecurity due to the wave of kidnappings, abductions, and killings carried out by outlaws.
Her words: “I am worried that my fellow students go to school and end up being abducted, raped, or killed and the government appears helpless. The kind of leadership that I wish for the country is the one that will guarantee the security of lives and property. There is no reason for people to invade schools to attack or kidnap innocent students. We have not forgotten about the Chibok girls who were abducted from their school. While most of them returned with painful stories, others till now have not come back. It is a sad thing.
“Here in the South East, it is not easy for us. Students board their school buses but do not end up in their schools because some will be waylaid, kidnapped, raped and what have you. There is also the weekly Monday sit-at-home that has seriously affected our curricula. So, let our new government think of bettering the lives of young people. It is a bad thing that we are not free as students.”
John Ugwuja, who is an SS3 student at Government Technical College (GTC), Enugu, while acknowledging the need for the government to protect students, called for a better welfare scheme for Nigerians.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult for my parents to meet their responsibilities at home. The cost of living is too high and this is affecting the provision of my school needs. So, let the government come up with policies that would turn things around in this country. It is not a wrong thing to provide scholarships for students; it is not a wrong thing to provide us with books and writing materials. Doing so will equip us to concentrate on our studies. So, my advice to the new government is to help reduce the sufferings of Nigerians,” he said.
Nkechinyere Njoku, an SS1 student of the Federal Government College (FGC), Enugu, is looking forward to a new government that would lift the standard of education by tackling dilapidation in schools.
“Some of the schools in the country don’t have required facilities, including libraries and laboratories. Instead of pure practical, we are now doing alternatives to practical. This is not healthy for our development,” he said.
Meanwhile, with the number of Almajiris in the country said to be over nine million currently, the Federal Government has admitted that the menace was assuming a frightening dimension.
The government lamented that the values originally attached to caring for the almajiris have degraded not only the children but also the caregivers, thus subjecting the children to a higher level of vulnerability.
The Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, while speaking at the commemoration of the Almajiri Children Right Day, yesterday, in Abuja, noted that apart from reducing the religious essence of the almajiri practice, the socio-economic implication of the almajiri phenomenon was enormous in a country that is facing harsh economic realities.
The minister, who was represented by the Director of Child Development in the ministry, Ali Maidugu, stated that while stakeholders were working to proffer solutions to address the almajiri question, the Federal Government was also setting up other programmes such as the Alternate School Programme for out-of-school children, especially almajiris.
He pointed out that the Home Grown School Feeding Programme was another way to encourage enrolment, retention, and graduation, especially from primary school and junior secondary school.
The Executive Director, of Almajiri Child Right Initiative (ACRI), Mohammed Keena, in his remarks, said the Almajiri Child Rights Day 2023 was observed to raise awareness of the urgent need for transformative action to address the plight of almajiri children in northern Nigeria.
He said the theme for this year’s commemoration, “Transformative Action to Address Situations of Almajiri Children,” emphasises the need for a thorough and long-lasting strategy to address difficulties faced by these defenseless kids.
While noting that the almajiri system has long been a subject of concern due to adverse conditions that it often subject children to, including inadequate access to education, health, and basic social services, he stated that although the Federal Government has made commendable efforts in the past to address these issues through various policies and initiatives, it was crucial to recognise that short-term fixes alone are insufficient to bring about lasting change.
Keena stressed that a system change approach that tackles the root causes of the problem was essential. He called on the incoming administration to prioritise the issue and increase investment in education, particularly in rural areas, adding that by investing in education at the grassroots level, the country could provide almajiri children with the opportunity for a brighter future and a path to contribute positively to society.
He also called on the government to undertake a comprehensive review of existing policies and initiatives on almajiri, with a focus on enhancing access to quality education, improving living conditions, and addressing social and economic challenges faced by almajiri children and their families.
According to him, the review should involve consultation with relevant stakeholders, including civil society organisations, religious leaders, educators and communities directly affected by the issue.
In a related development, a non-governmental organisation, Eko Smile Support and Empowerment Initiative (ESSEi) has celebrated with children in the Internally Displaced Persons camp in Maraban-Rido, Kaduna State, during which they called on the government to step up its care programmes for the children.
Founder/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the organisation, Blessing Eko Sunday, said she visited the camp with her team to ensure that the children celebrate the day with joy and happiness like other children in the country.
According to her, the organisation chose to celebrate with the children at the camp because a majority of them were orphans. Blessing called on the Federal Government to work harder toward improving the welfare of IDPs in the country. She equally called on wealthy individuals both in the country and abroad to support women with skills that could help them to take care of their children.
“They need everyone’s help,” she appealed. Some of the activities carried out at the camp include reading, writing, and dancing competitions, which produced winners that were rewarded with prizes, and the cutting of Children’s Day Cake.
The National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), has also called on stakeholders and governments at all levels to set a comprehensive agenda that caters to the education, health, and safety needs of all Nigerian children.
President of NAPSS, Chief Yomi Otubela, made the call yesterday in a statement to mark this year’s Children’s Day celebration. Otubela extended NAPSS heartfelt congratulations to all the children in the country and saluted their courage, resilience, and zeal in the face of vulnerabilities and threats that they are constantly being exposed to, which they must overcome to face the future with hope.
Otubela said the theme for this year’s Children’s Day celebration “Investing In our Future is Investing in our Children”, is a reminder of the need for governments and education stakeholders to set a comprehensive agenda that caters to the education, health, and safety and well-being of the children.
He pointed out that investing in children implies that the nation is investing in the future.
“The nation and the world at large cannot prosper if children of today are not healthy, educated, protected, and properly nurtured to face the future.
“Moreover, investing in the education and well-being of children is important not just to a family, but to society as a whole. These children are the leaders of tomorrow, and the outcome of our society depends on what we make out of our children today.
“We must note that just as the rights of citizens are enshrined in the constitution, so are the rights of children to good health, education, shelter, security, rights to basic things of life, and many more.
“As the vulnerable ones in society, children need to be protected and provided for by the laws of our country,” he said.
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