Institutional Inequities Against The Nigerian Child, By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Emmanuel Onwubiko

Nigeria will on Monday, May 27 2013 mark with the usual make- belief and heavily contrived fanfare in governmental quarters, the Children and Youth Day during which the Nigerian Child is  celebrated. And in much of the sermons that will characterize the event, children and the youth will be admonished by government officials, made up essentially of the same old people that have presided over such events in the last five decades, to be of good behaviour and imbibe the essential leadership qualities of honesty, loyalty to fatherland, patriotism, fear of God and respect for constituted authority, including their parents and guardians.

It must be noted however that majority of the political leaders today are deficient in those virtues of good leadership which they will inevitably mouth tomorrow at the various children and youth parades all over Nigeria.

In some instances, Children in colourful school uniforms will be conscripted by their school authorities and made to stage carefully choreographed matches during which the political administrators of the various levels of government will take the salute. The private and public television stations will also host series of children programmes aimed at entertaining the large number of children that will be in very convivial mood in the spirit of the Children’s Day celebration. These same broadcasting stations have in all honesty failed to play their social corporate role of naming and shaming serial abusers of the rights of the Nigerian child.

At the level of state governments, it is expected that the 36 state governors will be in frenzy mood to outshine each other in rendering some flowery speeches pouring unrestrained encomiums on themselves and their wives [known in Nigeria as First Ladies] for implementing what they will cleverly but deceitfully call children friendly projects and programs. Some of these so-called first ladies in the 36 states of the Federation are already used to running very expensive pet programs some of which claim to be championing the human rights of the children of their beloved states but most people in the states know that these first ladies are only serving their selfish pecuniary interests by using the influence of their husbands’ offices to extort money hugely from contractors and other dubious business entrepreneurs who do regular business with these state governments.

One of the states in the SouthWest has even gone to the media market to run series of paid advertisements inviting the whole nation to attend one of its kind Children and Youth Day in the state capital of this state that recently adopted its own flag and anthem. This particular state has invited over ten dozen traditional rulers to grace this Children Day in what is seen as another spending spree. An interesting dimension about the politics going on in this particular South West Nigerian state aforementioned is that the state governor, who does not like being addressed as His Excellency as other governors would, recently introduced a feeding program for the school children in the public primary schools. The troubling development about this feeding program is that already the bureaucrats in this state are already brandishing some auditing claims which goes to show that several billions of Naira has already been spent feeding these school children but all of us know that these bureaucrats will capitalize on this feeding program to feed their pockets and fleece the state government of the scarce financial resources that ought to be used to maintain good and qualitative education for these children.  Besides, the state governor will also launch an information technology program targeted at empowering all the school children with designer laptop computers each.

While craving your indulgence dear readers to pardon my necessary digression from the body of the story, I will however state that Nigeria as a nation and the political leadership over the last 50 or so years since Nigeria became an independent political entity from Britain, have not being fair to the Nigerian child because there are so many institutional inequities that exist in the body politic that severely affect the enjoyment by the Children of their fundamental human rights and these institutional inequities will not be addressed or redressed by simply organizing colorful parades as will be witnessed on May 27th 2013 to mark the Children and Youth Day.

First, the Nigerian Children who are caught up in areas whereby terrorism and civil unrests have flared up over the years are usually the worst affected victims of these violence even as most of these children in these troubled spots and flash-points of terrorists attacks like the North-East Nigeria are denied their fundamental right to good and quality education in addition to the fact that their parents and/or bread winners are put out of job because of the violence or are even killed in the line of fire thereby exposing these children to the vagaries of growing up in very harsh and hazardous social environment.

In other parts of the country where there is relative peace and quiet, most of the children are faced with excruciating poverty because most parents of these children are either out of work or are too poor to enroll these children in good and qualitative educational institutions, they are therefore left with the devil’s alternative of either hawking bread, pure and unhygienic water and other variety of wares for their parents or guardians to make a living or they are compelled by circumstances of hunger to loiter around in bus stops to beg for alms. Two things normally  happen to these category of children of the poor and the disadvantaged who find themselves on the harsh streets of most state capitals and the commercial and political capitals of Lagos and Abuja hawking and roaming about begging for a living. These two things are either that the children are sexually violated by adult predators and serial violent sex offenders or are indoctrinated/recruited into the world of crime and criminality and used by adults to perpetuate evil and other manifestations of crime in the society.

A major institutional inequity in all of these atrocities committed against the innocent Nigerian child born into poor and disadvantaged homes is that the state governments and the federal government have no effective remedy in the event that they suffer such monumental crimes against humanity such as violent rape and other violations such as initiating or recruiting them into the world of crime and by so doing destroy their livelihood forever.

The courts of competent jurisdiction as provided for in section 6 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria ought to be charged with the sacred duty of redressing any of such violent sexual violations of the Nigerian Children but the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria is afflicted by the evil of compromise, corruption and serious systemic failure even as the institutions of law enforcement made up essentially of the Nigerian Police Force have shown total disregard and lack of interest and patriotic commitment to protect innocent children who fall prey to these sexual predatory animals who roam the streets of Nigeria as adult members of the communities whereby these children are born and bred.

The Nigerian Police Force is so notorious for lacking professional excellence and proficiency in effectively and efficiently prosecuting rapists of all dimensions because of a number of factors which include corruption, bribery and the lack of skills to carry through the constitutional job of ensuring that the Nigerian child are protected from sex offenders and indeed are allowed unfettered opportunities to enjoy their fundamental human rights as enshrined in chapter four of the constitution of Nigeria.

The lack of professionalism and the overwhelming presence of corruption and indiscipline among the operatives and officers of the Nigerian Police Force have all but contributed to the high rate of  rape of the Nigerian Child by adults and majority of these cases are either thrown out in the courts for want of diligent prosecution by the Police or the sex offenders escape with very lenient punishment that is not commensurate to the gravity of such crime of primitive sexual violations of the innocent Children. In some instances, the police close investigation of rape cases if there are accord on the parts of the parents and the relations of the sex offenders and the innocent children are denied justice and left with the scar of being sexually violated and maimed forever.

But why is there no institution created apart from the notoriously incompetent Police Service Commission to monitor the performance of the operatives of the Nigerian Police Force and to ensure that Nigeria establishes a national crime data bank whereby all sex offenders are captured and clearly identified in the media to stop them from reoffending especially against the Nigerian Children? Why is the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and social development which oversees child welfare issues not clearly led by skilled persons who could monitor closely the performance of police prosecutors that handle rape cases involving the Nigerian Children? Why is there no child welfare centres all around Nigeria and why has the National Human Rights Commission yet to open functional desks across the country for the purposes of monitoring the prosecution of sex offenders accused of violating Nigerian Children? Why is it that since the year 2003 that the Nigerian Child Rights Act was promulgated by the National Assembly only a few states across the federation have domesticated this very strategic body of law that ought to protect the human rights of the Nigerian Child? Why has the Senator  from Zamfara State  [Mr.SANI YERIMA] who blatantly violated relevant sections of the Child Rights Act by illegally marrying an alleged 13-year-old Egyptian girl child not prosecuted even when groups of civil society organizations including the Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria cried out louder to the Federal Attorney General and the National anti-human trafficking agency [NAPTIP] to initiate the prosecution of this Senator?  Why did the anti-human trafficking agency give this Senator a clean bill of health even when allegations were widespread that he indeed married an alleged 13 year old Egyptian girl child? These are some of the deeply entrenched institutional inequities against the Nigerian child.

What makes the situation so compelling and sad is that the holder of the office of the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development in today’s Nigeria- Mrs. Zainab Maina seems to have resigned to the unfortunate fate that the Federal Government is too weak to compel the state governments to domesticate the Nigerian Child Rights Act of 2003.

In The Guardian of Sunday May 26th 2013, the minister of women affairs and social development was quoted as saying that the Nigerian child have been denied the full enjoyment of their rights in their states because the state houses of assembly have failed to pass the Nigerian Child Rights Act even as she stated that the Child Rights Act was introduced because Nigeria’s national government felt the need to give a legal backing to the commitment made by Nigeria under the United Nations convention on the Rights and welfare of the Nigerian Child. Why have these state governments failed to domesticate the Child Rights Act to fulfill Nigeria’s obligation to the International humanitarian laws or are these components of the Nigerian federation not part of the whole federation?

Again, since the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and social development is so weak to wage advocacy programs in the 36 states of the Federation to successfully convince and persuade them to pass the Nigerian Child Rights Law in their respective States to benefit their children, why do we still waste so much tax payers money running the office of the Federal Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development? What is the relevance of this ministry when Nigeria does not have functional social welfare departments all across the Federation thereby allowing all criminal syndicates and charlatans to invade the sacred responsibility of running motherless homes and other child welfare schemes as business enterprises and most of these private children home owners are now in the illegal business of turning these homes into babies factories whereby couples with issues of childlessness can pay huge price for their choice babies? Why do we sell and buy little babies in this modern age even with the abolition of slave trade?

Government at both the Federal and State levels have spectacularly disappointed the Nigerian Child and unfortunately, these government officials are getting ready to dish out some lies as speeches during these public events to mark the Children and Youth Day on May 27th 2013 all across Nigeria.

The state Governors that have failed to persuade their state houses of assembly to pass the state version of the Nigerian Child Rights Act should ask themselves the soul searching question of why they are deceiving their people by staging Children and youth Day parade when deep inside their hearts they hate these children? To show how hypocritical these state governors are, one only need to know that their children are all schooling in Europe or America whereby these nations have long promulgated and are enforcing strict child rights laws but yet they have failed to give the children of the poor this opportunity of enjoying their human rights just like their children that they have taken abroad for the best things that money can buy.

In the North, the state governors sometimes argue on the basis of religion for not promulgating the Child Rights Act and I ask is any component part of Nigeria practicing any religion as state religion even when section 10 prohibits such illegality, absolutely? Why will the Northern state governors not permit the child rights law that prohibits early marriage but can not come to terms with the fact that early marriages inflict grave health problems such as [Virginal deformity] VVF and other severe diseases that results from early marriages especially given the fact that these children are given away in marriages to men that are twice older than their biological fathers and are forced to give birth to babies that they can barely carry since they themselves are still little children?

In the South-East, the children of the poor are all out of school because the state governors have diverted the Universal Basic Education fund which ought to be used to provide free, compulsory and quality primary and junior secondary educational opportunities fro the children of the poor. The rate of boys drop out of school in the South East is a major national catastrophe which must be institutionally addressed and redressed fundamentally before we produce a generation of youth that are half baked educationally and therefore can not drive the process of information technology and industrialization that will see Nigeria through in an increasingly competitive World.

Interestingly, Mr. Vijay Mahajan, in his intellectually nice book titled ‘Africa Rising’, argued persuasively that in Africa there is a huge population of the youth who if well groomed can drive the process of development.  His words; ” Africa is one of the youngest markets in the World, with 41 percent of its population under the age of 15, according to the population reference Bureau’s 2007 World Population Data sheet. This can be compared with 33 percent for India, 28 percent for Brazil, and 20 percent for China”.

But I ask, how can Nigeria benefit from the strength of her large army of children when the majority of these children are born into poor homes and brought up in such a way that they are denied the educational opportunities that children of the rich get on a platter of gold? No nation will make it in our contemporary times if it fails willfully to educate its people and empower the children with the requisite skills to competently compete with their peers around the globe. We must make hay while the sun shines or we will forever regret this institutional inequities that we have criminally failed to dismantled so our children can have the best things that money derived from our rich natural resources can afford.

Let us stop stealing our national treasury but invest wisely in the educational and skill empowerment of our children.

+Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head, Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria and blogs @ www.huriwa.blogspot.com; http://www.huriwa.org/.


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