By Obatunde Adebola
Africans, including Nigerians cherish children and places value on having one or more where possible in their lifetime.
Those who do not have are ever prayerful to have one also in their lifetime so as to savour the joy of parenthood. Those that have are also ever prayerful and hopeful to see their children successful in life.
One major role of the family the world over is to provide emotional support for their children. In this regard, I have written elsewhere as a Sociologist that ‘the family cares, protects and emotionally support members of the family. The family is expected to provide food, clothing, shelter, security and many other needs (such as social, spiritual, intellectual and physical trust) that will make members feel a sense of belonging to a family.
The main function of training a child rests on parents within family setting. Parenting for Israel Oku, is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. It is usually done by biological parents-father and mother-although government partake in the process as well for two reasons, one as a matter of inherent right of the children and two, as adoptive parents. The parenting process is carried out within a family setting for a proper transfer of values and virtues of the society. However, due to societal dynamics, children have suffered a lot of deprivations in contemporary Nigeria hence, the emphasis on child rights to militate against some of the abuses children are exposed to prior to the 2003 Child Rights Acts. What the Nigerian children and parents go through in the hands of kidnappers is almost indescribable to capture the reality of trauma children are exposed to under the elements in the forest.
However, since modern time requires children to attend schools out of their home, the schools have become another section of the society that share in the role of parenting of children through proper socialisation and incorporation into the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of the society and more importantly, in the personality formation of the children. The schools are to also share in the provision of the emotional support children need to function as proper humans. This required function of both parents and schools have come under excruciating painful challenge recently and the hope of Nigerian parents in seeing to the successful life of their children is becoming dim and dimmer by the day in Nigeria. What is worrisome however is the seeming nonchalant attitude of Government officials about the plight of these children. One may even wonder if there are parents at all among Nigerian Government Officials! For sure, a demand for patriotism from these traumatic children from governments of Nigeria now and in future may be a mirage because patriotism is about reciprocity.
The President of the African Development Bank Group; Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina says recently that ‘Nigeria’s future depends on treating youths well’. To him, ‘the future of Nigeria depends on what it does today with its dynamic youth population’. What is Nigeria’s attitude to its youth today? From empirical data available to me ‘Nigeria has the largest number of children in the world who are not being educated’. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-40715305. This position is acknowledged by an education ministry’s permanent secretary in person of Adamu Hussaini sometimes ago. The conservative figure of ‘out-of- school children’, mostly from Northern Nigeria, keeps rising from ten (10) to thirteen (13) Million and there seem to be no hope for the parents whose children are in this category and neither is there any help for these children concerning education. This is how Nigeria is currently treating her future!
Aside the hopelessness of those children out-of-school, those children-in-school have also become an endangered category courtesy of the incessant attacks by Boko Haram and Bandits in the last half a decade. I remember the origin of these attacks from the Federal Government College Bunuyadi from Yobe State whose boys were not so lucky and were all slaughtered in their sleep on February, 2014. Their parents lost hope and the slaughtered school children need no more help having been dispatched to the great beyond prematurely under the watch of the Nigerian Government. This unfortunate incident and calamity was followed by the abduction of the 276 Chibok girls in April, 2014.
Nigeria had a respite of about four years until 9th February, 2018, when the 110 Government Girls Science and Technical College students from Dapchi, also from Yobe State were abducted as well. The year 2020 witnessed another abduction of about 300 Nigerian children at the Government Secondary School at Kankara in Katsina State on 11th December, 2020. In year 2021, 27boys; 3teachers and 12family members of Government Secondary School in Kagara, Niger State were kidnapped on 17th February, 2021 by bandits.
As if the bandits were in a season of scaling down the category of their abductees, they went for the Government Girls Junior Secondary School students at Jengede in Zamfara State, kidnapping about 317 of the students in the dark of the night on 3rd of March, 2021. The successes recorded seem to have emboldened the bandits as they went again and almost immediately few days after the Jegende operations, for the UBE Primary School, at Rama Birni Gwari Local Government in Kaduna State on 15th March, 2021, where pupils and teachers were whisked away in broad day light, at 9am unchecked by any security agency. Earlier and also at Kaduna, the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation Students at Mando were kidnapped around 9pm on 12th March, 2021 by bandits who made away with 23 female and 16 male students. These dastardly activities went on almost unabated as security agencies efforts yielded little or no succor for the Nigerian parents who now live in perpetual fear of kidnap on every available space in their environment in the day and at night.
Perhaps, the enormity and gravity of the activities of the bandits and the untold hardship on both parents and students/children got to the President who had to make a special promise on the 27th May Children’s Day that he would leave them ‘a better Nigeria’. The President actually hosted the children as a father and he celebrated the day with them describing them as ‘precious blessing’. No sooner had the President made this promise than the bandit struck again on Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic, Kaduna State on 11th June, 2021. However and earlier, precisely on 30th April, 2021, the Islamiyya School at Tegina, Rafi Local Government of Niger State had lost her over 200 children to the kidnappers at about 4:30 pm. Even in this month of July, 2021 as I write this paper, Bethel Baptist School at Maranba Rido also in Kaduna State was visited by the bandits and they made away with students numbering over 100 in spite of the obvious fact that the school is just about 15 minutes away, without traffic, from Kalapanzi Artillery Military Barracks, Kakuri, Kaduna State.
I took my time to share with you, in order to remind you about, how the Nigerian State is treating the youth, their future and the state of hopelessness their parents are subjected to almost on daily basis. The case of Leah Sharibu who has been in captivity for not renouncing her faith since 2014, is a special one among many others who have been forgotten in the hands of the kidnappers. This is important to note because it is not all cases of kidnap that enjoy a mention in the newspapers. And not all those mentioned receive the necessary attention of Government for any intervention if any at all.
What I and, I guess many Nigerians, do not really understand in all of these is the level of docility of the different levels of Government about the plight of these very young Nigerians whose only offence is, going to school, only to be kidnapped under the power of gun and bullets. Were it to be a one off case, it would have been understandable but it has become business of the day. This banditry, as a business, thrives on the hopelessness, helplessness, trauma and sometimes blood of the innocents Nigerians that submitted their powers of self-protection to the government through the ballots only for the government to turn her back on them when they needed her most.
Perhaps one should ask what manner of ‘love’ the President has for the South of Nigeria that he had to go after the ‘troublers’ of South of Nigeria ‘masquerading as agitators’ within one week? The Presidency was indeed elated for arresting a Kanu that it made; scatters and shatters the home of Igboho (a man that it also made), with bullets killing two and destroying many properties in the process. At least, since the attack on the ‘troublers’ of the South of Nigeria, there have been peace of the grave yard in the South of Nigeria and there is hope again for the parents and help for the defenseless in the East of Nigeria where hitherto there had been attacks on government facilities by Gunmen.
From the forgoing, I think it would not be out of place to ask the President to extend his ‘love’ to the North of Nigeria who deserve his care, protection and emotional support as a family man that he is. Parents of the Northern Nigeria agonise daily as they felt totally abandoned by the Federal Government about this issue of kidnap of their children. In its 7th July edition, The Punch Newspaper reported that about 348 students are being held by bandits in at least four States in the North. What exactly is the state of life of these children is not known to anybody including their parents. The state of things of these children became more worrisome when the bandit demanded for food stuffs to feed the children in their hideouts. The bandits actually made a list of items to be supplied such as local bags of rice, foreign bags of rice, cans of oil etc and the parents had to quickly rally round to make the supply available. Failure to supply the items means starvation for the children and no parent would risk the threat of this criminal elements. The hope of the parents of the girl-children are at close roads, as the bandits claimed on 12th July, 2021, in Nigeria national tabloid, that ‘we have married off your children’ yet the Government is docile and inactive about this heinous crime against Nigerian children. Where is the Government in all this? Where is the parent in the Nigerian Government Officials? Sadly, no one could track the attacks anymore as a result of the fast rates of attacks on innocent Nigerian children in schools. Nigerians have lost count of the isolated and reported cases of daily attacks. It is excruciatingly painful to the Nigerian parents whose children could not even be accounted for (Dead or alive) in the entire process.
This is a riddle for me and many Nigerians. How? The government has refused to negotiate with the abductors of the children. The government had said it is illegal to negotiate with any kidnappers. If the parents negotiate with the kidnappers, they would be engaging in illegal activities and liable to prosecution. Till date no parents have been prosecuted for the supposed illegality of negotiation for the release of their children! The parents are actually engaging with the kidnappers as they discuss what to give or offer through Nigeria’s telecommunication Network controlled by the Government to secure the release of their children alive and unhurt! Something is not just right about this whole process of abduction, kidnappings and negotiation or no negotiation going on in Northern Nigeria. I even heard that the protesting parents of the Bethel Baptist School were dispersed by soldiers from occupying the highway! It’s like the more we look, the less we see.
Is there something going on that Nigerians are not told by the Government? The whole scenario is so cloudy and mysterious that Nigerians do not really know what to belief, what to do, who to run to for help and how to handle this terror unleashed on Nigerian children and their parents unchecked. May be that is why Dan Agbese wrote that ‘perhaps in the near future, sociologists would study these times and tell future generations of northerners why governments instituted by the people for the people abandoned the people to their fate in the hands of criminals’. As it is now, the children need help and their parents need hope. I can only hope the governments at all levels would rise to the occasion and restore the lost hope of the hopeful parents and help the helpless children return to the caring arms of the family.