It is no longer news that a whopping 8.5 million children are out of school in just ten states of the federation while another 10.5 million are unable to access safe and quality education, due to the ongoing crisis in the North-east. These figures given by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are not only staggering but also scary.
The implication of this is that the nation is breeding an army of hapless and helpless children who can not only be easily influenced into crime but who might be left with no other option but to embrace crime as a way of eking out a living for themselves. Such phenomenon surely leaves the nation at the risk of crimes of monumental proportions in the nearest future which today’s grave insecurity might be nothing compared to.
While it is true that government alone may not be able to cater to the educational needs of these teeming children, those who have been known to be making genuine efforts to help get some of them off the streets and away from crime must be encouraged and supported not only by government but also by both local and international humanitarian agencies. This is the least expected of these institutions which are already aware of the gargantuan challenges faced in the task of educating the target populace.
That is where the laudable free education initiative of a religious institution like the Omega Power Ministries (OPM) should be lauded and supported.
With eleven schools where thousands of children are already receiving education absolutely free of charge alongside free school uniforms (4 per session), free school shoes, free books and writing materials, free beverages, free meals at school once daily, etc, the Founder of OPM, Apostle Chibuzor Chinyere is unrelenting in his bid to tackle the menace of out of school children head-on as he aims to reach out to more than the current 45,000 children nationwide with his Free School Programme.
Apart from the ones already built in Rivers State, Abia State and Bayelsa State, Apostle Chinyere has already concluded arrangements to build another set in Kaduna and Nasarawa States. An all girls Technical College which would also run free is in the offing and would commence soon. The idea is to also help the girl child whose gender has the highest percentage of out of school children to have access to the needed education.
Surely, this is not a mean feat particularly in a clime where many religious leaders are known to cater only to their own ostentatious wants and those of their immediate families, living in opulence and nauseating flamboyance while those around them continue to live in squalor. But Apostle Chibuzor has chosen to be different. He has chosen the path of the true Gospel by taking care of the poor and the needy through education.
Apart from the free education initiative, OPM also recently commissioned a Specialist Hospital in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, which is also run absolutely free of charge to cater to the needs of nursing mothers and help in reducing mortality rate in the Niger Delta region in particular and the nation in general. This is in addition to skills acquisition centre where apprentices are trained in various life sustaining skills.
It is in recognition of these giant strides aimed at greatly improving access to education by the poor and the needy that the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) recently honoured the OPM Founder with a deserving award. Such recognitions are welcome but to sustain these laudable initiatives of the Omega Power Ministries, to ensure that the burden does not become too overwhelming in the near future and lead to an unlikely event of sending these innocent children back to the streets, the free education initiative of the Ministry need to be supported by both government, local and international humanitarian agencies.
Bodies like the UNICEF that have shown genuine concern for the plight of the out of school children in Nigeria must go beyond just reeling out figures and statistics to actually getting involved by supporting and entering into partnership with individuals and institutions like the OPM who have proved over time to be involved in ameliorating the ugly situation.
It would be disastrous not only to Nigeria but also to the world at large if nothing drastic is done about the spiraling rate of out of school children in the country. For a Ministry like the OPM that has shown commitment to this cause, the least they deserve is support from relevant authorities and donor agencies since they already have the needed facilities to stem the growing tide especially considering that the tithes and offerings from their members they rely upon to keep the schools running might soon become too small to continue to sustain initiative and other humanitarian ventures of the OPM.
By Fidelis Ujah