The Power of Numbers
The week just gone by, the United Nations Children (UNICEF) claimed in a well circulated report of its research that one of every five children out of school of school age is resident in Nigeria. This is 25 per cent of children out of school in the world. In an attempt to make light of the weighty and damaging fact, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, the Junior Minister of Education came out brandishing a figure of between 10 million and 13.6 million children of school age that are out of school. Quite sardonically. But further, that same week the minister gave a breakdown of the number of students who registered for the national common entrance while Lagos state registered over 28,000 pupils for the examination, Zamfara, Yobe and Kebbi states registered ridiculous figures of 22, 24, 28 respectively. The figures, from the Ministry might have given tacit approval to the UNICEF claim.
The sheer numbers of out of schools children are huge. And socially the country is reeling under the negative effects. We may continue to live in denial. But the cold facts are there staring us in the face. The agberos of the West, the militants of the South South, the social renegades of the East. The unquenchable bandits in the North West. The Boko Haram insurgents in the North East. These are open sores on our collective conscience.
Though, conversely the Northern hemisphere of the country, both the East and West zones have being under heavy bombardment of insurgency if various colouration for quite some time, Boko haram in the east, bandits in the west. the southern flank of the country is not free of her own version of insurgency to the legion of agberos in the west , the militant in the south-south and other sundry miscreants in the east but according to the NBS over 80& of this 1 out of 5 of out of school children are in the North and of particular interest is the huge presence of unskilled Northerners in the western part of Nigeria , they either ride Okada, works as cart pusher or sells groceries along the road in Lagos state Environmental Sanitation Corps locally code named KAI only held their breathe to allow our Lord Jesus Christ the grace of re-risen and re-ascended back to Heaven gleefully on the Easter Monday before bearing their full fangs first thing Tuesday morning. it was Magic, as it was madness from Ojodu Berger in Ikeja down to Pen Cinema area of Agege where these KAI operatives were let loose to move street traders out of sight. I later learnt it was a State-wide exercise The Tuesday’s operations saw some pockets of attempted resistance, particularly in Ojodu and Agege. But by Wednesday, the teams were accompanied by a full compliments of Mobile Police fully armed.
Banditry has been an intractable headache in the North West. So also is the destructive Boko Haram in the North East. The nation watch helplessly as these hounds from Hell visit unreliable destruction on both human and properties. Nothing rile the heart more than the sight of the huge numbers of out of school children in the country. Western part hitherto known for her ‘mad rush for education’ is already exhibiting perilous signs. It is now very common seeing children of school age roam the streets aimlessly during school hours. Lagos State’s attempt at stemming the trend seem forgotten by even the officials. The Lagos State Neighbourhood Corps rather than engaging in the mad chase of Street traders ought to focus a little on this. If my memory has not declined, as I strongly believe, Mrs. Joke Orelope-Adefulure, as the Deputy Governor made so much noise of the edict when enacted. Today, what do you see on the major highways in the State? Huge numbers of these out of school kids, hawking or begging.
Be it 10 million, or 13.6 million or the one out of five claims of the UNICEF, the incontrovertible fact remains that a huge numbers of out of school children are residual in the country. From North to West, to East down to South South, the sight is not palatable. The life journey is a total recipe for a life of criminality or a penurious life. A child who is allowed to roam around until his/her teens, then then thrown into the murky waters of life suddenly, can hardly survive on anything legitimate.
I watch with a bleeding heart as loads of peasantry wares were being hurled into the Operatives’ trucks. Some traders were arrested, sheds and other supporting facilities destroyed. I tried speaking to one of the operatives. He explained that ‘the street traders were the main cause of the traffic chaos in the State. And besides, there is a law banning Street trading’.
Agreed. He was saying the obvious. But, the economic crisis in the country, further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic is not helping anyone. I rather view this from the prism of governmental foibles and failure. The out of school children are going to grow into a truck pusher, a street trader, a groceries seller, all by the roadside, and these are even the timid ones who can not jump into the world of criminality.
The various States Government, and relevant agencies cannot pretend as if they do not read or heard of the damming reports of the research conducted by the UNICEF. All aware, only typically of our country, we carry on as if it will not come back to aunt us. Officials tardiness have cost us a lot. Yet we learn very little still. But for how long do we have to allow tardiness in relation to an issue bug us down? Boko Haram did not spring up in a day. Likewise, the bandits terrorising the North West. These are wounds that were carelessly allowed to fester until it become cancer. It is apparently misleading for Sheikh Gumi to assert that the Northern youths were taught the art of kidnapping by the South East and South South boys. He was a bigot looking for an excuse to hide the horrendous criminality of his people.
Of the total numbers of the out of school children in Nigeria, clearly over 80 per cent are in the North. Sheikh Gumi and other Northern nationalists have not seen that and look for ways to critically address it.
The Southern flank of the country too is already loosing the battle. No matter the figures released by the Federal Ministry of Education as the enrolment fugues per State for the National Common Entrance examination, the fact is that the educational and economic policies of most states are elitist and anti-people. The blinding unemployment figure in the area is also very distressing. These coupled with the never seen before poverty ravaging the land have all combined to dwindled the numbers of the school enrolment. Government schools are mainly in comatose. Leaving the Shylocks and blood sucking vampires private school proprietors to feast on the people’s blood. The UNICEF now is complaining. Perhaps, the Civil Societies Organisations will join and raise their voices. But the Churches, the Mosque and the dye-in-the-wool capitalists running the private schools.
We need not deceive ourselves further. School enrolment has drastically fallen in practically all the states of the South. The indeterminable population figure may be deceiving us. Lagos registering some 28 thousands or so for National Common Entrance Examination might just be a fraction of the qualified but disabled figure. Others simply cannot registered for various reasons not unconnected with funding. Many of the Children simply jump into the street once done with Primary school.
Do we laid back lanquishly and blame Providence for this? I hope note. This is the direct result of planlessnes or better still official laziness. The North from time have rely so heavily on the Almajiris system. It is both religious and cultural. It has never help the region nor worked for the people. No doubt, occasionally, here and there, one or two may have fortuitously escape from the claws of the retrogressive system, no one should find an overall positive narrative for the social-religion practice. It stunted intellectual development, help enmeshed people in penury and debar access to social and political opportunities. But the Northern leaders, both political and spiritual are least bothered. Anyway, the practice keeps the children of the poor out of competition with their children.
While it is easy to analyse the why’s and wherefores’ of the damage in the North, the turning point in the South is still a puzzle. From having the highest budgets for education up to late 80s, from providing free and qualitative free education till early 80s, to the present day desolation in the educational system.
While one is not condemning the efforts of the Lagos State government to rid the State of the nuisance of unwholesome street trading, I just felt the energies of the Corps of the State’s Environmental Sanitation Corps be directed at a more productive area of keeping children of school age out of the streets. These are the future of the State and no efforts should be spared in making them useful for the progressive growth of the State.
Afolayan Adebiyi writes from Lagos, Nigeria
© Feferity Media Group 2021
*Photo credits: Google images