The video recording didn’t look staged and the little girl’s outburst also sounded credible. In this age of social media when everyone has become a performer determined to drive attention in their direction, it makes sense not to take everything one sees at face value. But so far, nothing has happened to make anyone question the authenticity of the little girl’s ranting bout as one made for the cameras.
I refer to the story of one little girl that has been identified online as Success Adegho. She is, it was reported, a pupil of Okotie Eboh Primary School in Warri, Delta State. Success’ disappointment at being sent home from school for not paying a specified fee had left her in a rage that only goes to underline her determination to lift herself above the debilitating atmosphere of her immediate environment. It shows also the yearning of every Nigerian child to succeed amid the criminal irresponsibility and failure of leadership.
Her outburst was caught on camera and posted online by someone who must have run into her as she made her way home from school. It was not clear from the recording how this ‘citizen’ reporter got the little girl to speak on camera without being fazed. That again speaks to the age we are in one in which children are exposed to the invasive demands of social media without showing any sign of unease or anxiety. The touching part of this girl’s anger was when her interlocutor asked her if she would rather submit herself to corporal punishment than being sent home and she readily opted for the former.
She put down the behaviour of her school authorities to stubbornness and vowed to show them she was more stubborn: “As dem say dem stubborn, ai go tell dem say I stubborn pass dem”, she vowed. The girl who made this solemn vow couldn’t possibly be more than five years, possibly less. Could her determination have been better expressed? I doubt it. And what was the cause of all this ruckus? Why would a little girl be sent home from school in a state where primary school education is supposedly free?
It was all for non-payment of a so-called examination fee! The premises of this school that demands the N900 examination fee is simply an eyesore. It’s like an abandoned junkyard with falling walls, crumbling roofs and classrooms that are without furniture. Yet this is where children, our own children – so-called leaders of tomorrow are made to receive an education that is increasingly put beyond their reach.
Does it not smack of hypocrisy that a state government (never mind that primary school education is under the supervision of local government authority) that claims to provide free education at the primary level nevertheless insists on being paid examination fees? Is examination not part of the education that primary school pupils are supposed to receive? What kind of crooked thinking enables our policymakers to separate examination fee from school fees? But this is one of the foolish tricks our politicians perpetrate to undermine the integrity of policies they freely enacted and promised to implement for the benefit of the people.
All over the country, primary education is touted as free but none of the states where this policy operates ever admits to the fact that they have been charging all kinds of fees which amount to some kind of tuition fees under deceptive labels: “development”, “building” and “excursion” levy, etc. What’s all the deceit about? What kind of education, properly defined, goes on in that same environment where little Success and her friends are required to pay examination fees?
What motivation can teachers in such an environment give their charge? In a few years’ time, products of schools like Okotie Eboh would find themselves in the university and we will suddenly expect them to be transformed, as if by magic, into “responsible” youth that should pledge allegiance to a country that has never been there for them. Beyond the platitudinous talks of raising good citizens, nothing concrete is ever done to make our children feel they are a part of a meaningful future. Rather, we are actively destroying any kind of prospect that they could aspire to.
Literally, we are killing the future of this country with the levity with which the life of the young is handled. Only a few days ago in Ita-Faaji, Lagos Island, many children, school pupils, were killed along with their teachers right in their school premises.
The very school building that had served for their education also became their grave after the weak structures of the building collapsed on them. Aside those killed, others sustained injuries they would carry for the rest of their lives. Had the authorities taken life as sacrosanct, had they taken more than a cursory interest in the education of the children in that unfortunate school and other schools like theirs, they would have realised that the so-called school was never approved and that the building from which it operated had been earmarked for demolition three full years before it collapsed.
What other options were available to parents of the pupils in that school had they chosen not to send their children and wards there? Many of them probably knew the danger they were exposing their children to by sending them to a school housed in a building that is structurally weak. But they would have reasoned that “a half loaf is better than none”.
How come the authorities in Lagos were only moved to act after many young lives had been needlessly terminated? What were the avalanche of mourning cries and photo-op visits by private and state dignitaries meant to achieve after so many lives had been destroyed? Now we hear state officials promising to pick the hospital bills of victims of the tragic incident.
Why are we only good at burying the dead and are never bothered about their welfare while alive? It took an online post for Nigerians to know of little Success. But there are scores of millions like her. Why can’t we do things for their inherent goodness rather than the opportunity they present us for self-aggrandisement and unfair profit?
Countries planning to make a better future for themselves to invest in the younger generation. But we kill our young. It took a Bill Gates to call the attention of our politicians and other policymakers who are so fixated on providing the “dividends of democracy” by way of capital projects to the urgent need of investment in human infrastructure. There is more to life than the mundane things our low-thinking politicians focus on. There can hardly be anything, any project, greater than the human project. Unless this country begins to invest in the future of our children, it is doomed.