by Anne Muyiwa
It is a known fact that those in the Nigerian corridors of power have no articulate plan for our children. Ask most of the elected officers what plans they have for children born last year who will in 4 years be expected to sign into primary education and they’ll send for their deputies who may likely send for their subourdinates and the masquerade dance comes alive. Okay ask an easier question, “How many spaces will be open in tertiary institutions by the end of the next school session and how many students leaving secondary schools are guaranteed a place?” And they may just be lost in the maze.
In commemoration of the Day of the African Child (June 16) and as a Child Rights Advocate the question on my mind is, what is the national agenda for children? What is the theme for this year’s Children’s Day? For years, UNICEF and other international bodies have been responsible for charting the course for our children but if we love our children as much as we claim, should the agenda for their lives be set or fashioned by a global entity? Why do we need policy papers from external bodies to set an agenda for our priceless resource?
Though there are no government-motivated themes or agenda for this special day, it is a day that is hinged on history. Nigeria, in respect of the United Nation’s call in 1954 for member states to have a day to promote mutual exchange and understanding among children, initiate action to benefit and promote world’s children and celebrate childhood, chose May 27. May 27 also marks the creation of Lagos State by Decree 14 of 1967 which restructured Nigeria into 12 States.
To appreciate the importance of children in Nigeria, May 27 (which happens to be my birth date) remains a special day at least on our national calendar. It is a day when the strides, hopes and aspirations of the Nigerian child should be brought to the fore. But if parents are meant to be at work then it is a day that should be celebrated and commemorated by the government and a national theme or agenda will be apt. Like a vision 2015 on Almanjeris or Zero Tolerance for Child Abuse or Operation Ratify the Child Right Bill in all states. Something serious, something definite, something that goes beyond the artificial pomp and pageantry of stage managed marches, cultural performances and goodwill message oratory in the company of some privileged children and few less privileged ones.
In 2011, it is sad that we are still struggling with the FG’s Universal Basic Education (UBE) agenda, an offshoot of the Universal Primary Education (UPE), which was introduced in the Western Region in 1955. Like many other agendas; this agenda had no end date. If the original agenda had been actualised our children would have had compulsory and free education at least through Primary and Junior Secondary School and there would have been an attempt towards gender balance in the educational landscape. The effect of this would have been seen in many sectors and I daresay economically too.
It was John Ralston Saul, author and President of International PEN that said: The better the citizenry as a whole are educated, the wider and more sensible public participation, debate and social mobility will be…Highly sophisticated elites are the easiest and least original thing a society can produce. The most difficult and the most valuable is a well-educated populace.
In 2010, a UNICEF report shows that 8.3 million Nigerian children are out of school. Little wonder recent findings have shown that fewer children know what they would like to become in future. This is mainly due to lack of information, inadequate information or misinformation. At times children who have an idea of what they would like to become are misled to follow another path by peers, parents or guardians leading them to be unsure or unfocussed in their lives’ journey.
The good leaders today are those prepared yesterday, how well are we preparing our children for life’s journey? Every child is important; whether privileged or not, the nation must plan for children. Efunroye Tinubu, Obafemi Awolowo, Margaret Ekpo, Mohandas Gandhi, Gambo Sawaba, Barack Obama, were just regular children who had the privilege of being educated and loved. I know it may be pretty hard to expect that anyone who was not loved as a child would consider loving especially in a culture where children who need balanced diet get to eat the chicken feet while the mummies and daddies eat the thigh that is where privileged enough to even have chicken to eat but we can begin to re-write our history and celebrate the culture of real parents and guardians who would go hungry to feed their children or settle for faded clothes so their children could have new clothing or chose to burn the midnight candle just so they can encourage their children to study or become police officers just so they can guide their ward’s character and ensure they are culturally aware and globally relevant. To all those who have gone the extra mile for children, God bless you for all you have done! If we all continue to stretch ourselves for children, someday we can sit back and happily enjoy the fruits of our labour.
Individual effort by parents, mentors, teachers and guidance counsellors (if they still exist in schools) may move us forward but joint effort towards our goal will take us far. The government needs to take a definite stand about child rights especially in the area of education, nutrition and health and social development. Those who advocate on media about issues relating to children need to come together. A decision to do at least one story/programme/page etc on children or against child rights abuse will go a long way to mainstream these issues. Together we can stop the abuse against the girl-child, together we can promote quality education for children, together we can keep children on Nigeria’s top agenda.
According to Olabisi Adesina, a former staff of Metro FM Nigeria and child rights advocate: The issue about having at least a story, interview etc on children has been talked about years ago when we attended UNICEF workshops. These are issues that have always been raised. If only media professionals see the importance of children issues in the media we will not be going in circles and repeating ourselves. We should not be begging to have the voices or issues of children published or broadcast. We need to make a positive impact instead of celebrating greedy leaders and politicians.
Don’t even remind me! All those workshops that ended up being on paper; all those workshops after which we had to go and challenge our bosses to do something for children. I can’t recollect how many television productions I had to do with my money… I was at TVC sometime last year to discuss the possibility of having a defined children belt which fortunately is on their agenda. But, the Programme Manager I met was neither ready to enter into partnership nor sign up for programme production. Interestingly, he saw the need for human interaction and agreed it is very important for children to have quality and cultural media but guess how the discussion ended, “That’s just my opinion, if we can’t get anyone to buy airtime, we’ll just slot in cartoons.” Honestly what you’ll get across the media is not different. Just tune in between 4 and 7 to any channel and see what has become of our so called Children’s Belt.
Cartoons are funny, usually fast paced, well produced with rich colour mix. Our children would stay glued to them even when they cannot make out the grammar or identify with the splendid locations. I grew up watching a number of them myself but back then we had the benefit of locally produced programmes that satisfied our yearnings for local content. Cartoon would have been okay if culturally produced or relevant to the need of our children for quality local media. Unfortunately, foreign cartoons have become a neo-colonisation and westernisation tool. Plus research has found some of these animations, which were previously seen as safe for children, to be very violent with high level of sexual connotations; some are even pornographic!
Creating media for children have become highly commercial and until we carry the placard to compel stakeholders to do something, we’d just have to make do with our drop in the ocean effort. Perhaps we should consider a 1000 March on Media for Children during the International Children’s Day of Broadcasting (ICDB) next year. Let’s even start with the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). From my research, I discovered they have a BIG plan in the NBC Code but that’s all it is, a plan! So so mouth, no action. If NBC can compel television and radio stations (for a start) to have no less than 2 hours of local programming for children per day, then we’d be off to some start. Having a Public Broadcasting Station for Children would be more like it but that may take another decade if the attitude of our leaders and politicians is anything to go by.
There are so many child related areas to be explored – sexual abuse of children that have become rampant with the economic regression, poor education standard with a 2% National Examination Council (NECO) Pass Report Card for 2009, child witchcraft accusations and killings, child exploitation and trafficking, the menace of street children, lack of good parental upbringing, negligence in care centres and schools, acculturation and westernisation of children, child pornography and the negative effects of social media… When we take a definite stand as parents, guardians and stakeholders to bring these issues to the light especially through the media, we would compel our leaders to include it on their white papers. With a media for children agenda, we can begin to mainstream child related issues and stampede our government into setting the right agenda.
See Also Parenting Articles by Dr. Randy Cale at www.TerrificParenting.com