Thursday, 16 October 2014

Nigeria and the 2014 Day of the African Child

Nigeria and the 2014 Day of the African Child
Next Monday is this year’s International Day of the African Child. The then Organization of African Union (OAU) now African Union (AU), first set aside the 16th day of June to for this purpose in the year 1991. It all began in 1976 when thousands of black school children took to the streets of Soweto, South Africa, in a march more than half a mile long to protest the inferior quality of education which was being served them in their schools – black schools – under the apartheid regime. Hundreds of young boys and girls were gunned down by the state security forces and, as a result, two weeks of protest followed and many more persons were felled down by the bullets of the state: more than a hundred people were killed and more than a thousand others were injured. The day was therefore set aside to honour the memory of the children and all those killed and the courage of all others that marched. June 16, the Day of the African Child, is also a day when attention is drawn to the realities of the African child.
Every year a theme is chosen for reflection and action on this day. For this year, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), an AU body, has selected the theme “A child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa”.  It is interesting reflecting today on the events of 1976. The reason for the protest march of those children was the quality of education they were being served and thirty-eight years after, the quality of education in Africa is still a subject of grave concern, which evidently accounts for this year’s theme. In Nigeria for instance, basic education which is the foundation upon which any serious economy can begin to build upon has surely nosedived since 1976. Indeed the quality of education of any country can only be measured by what obtains in the schools where the bulk of the children in that country attend and, in our case, it is the public schools. Many of us who had basic education in Nigeria in the seventies and eighties attended public schools; the LEAs and GSSs. Today we dare not send our children to such schools; we in fact do not even seem to know the roads to those schools, and that is simply because we have been blest with some modest means with which to go for the privately owned ones which cost a lot. Far many more Nigerians, both in the cities and more in the rural areas, are not as “fortunate” as we are, for they live on less than two dollars a day, and therefore their children are consigned to the ill fate of having to attend these derelict public school. The continued existence of these schools seems to give us as a people a false feeling that we have education whereas, in fact, we have nothing.
Again, still reflecting on the events of 1976 in apartheid South Africa, one cannot but wonder how a state can just decide to turn its gun on its own citizens – hapless, unarmed and defenseless – much less children of basic school age for asking for better quality of education. But the apartheid state did it and today we cringe in horror at the thought. Nigeria is a free state today – as it was back then in 1976 – but what it has allowed under its watch to happen to education is worse than what the apartheid state did, raining bullets on its own children. What the Nigerian state has done and continues to do is akin to facing its children with amoured tanks and rocket propelled grenades, ripping them to pieces and not even caring. It is even more so in northern Nigeria and the leaders of the region should hide their faces in shame.
A friend once said that the Nigerian child lives in a perpetual state of emergency. This was about seven years ago; I don’t know what he would say regarding today. Nigeria must wake up. The north, more especially, has no time sleeping. This year’s theme for the Day of the African Child gives us an opportunity to begin to make a clean break with the present sordid state of education. For their tomorrow we must give our today.

BLUEPRINT Newspaper; June 12, 2014

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