Wednesday, July 13, 2016 10:50 am
By Ezinwanne Raymond
Passing through Oshodi under bridge heading towards Ilupeju, on the 11th day of May 2016, a sight caught my attention. There, standing at the foot of the bridge, was a seven-year old boy dangling some sachets of shaving sticks in his hands. At first, I thought he was dumb because I could barely hear him, but on getting closer, I heard the whisper of the supposed “hawker in training”. For the convenience of this story, I would rather call him Rotimi. Rotimi was sent by his mother to hawk shaving sticks to foot the bills. How pathetic!
I have seen a bunch of children hawk all sorts on the streets, often times during school hours ,but something was peculiar about Rotimi. He was disturbed. He seemed to have lost that joy and innocence, one of the admirable potentials of a child. And then, when I gave him N500 to give to his mummy, he thanked me and feeling like he just made a friend ,he asked : Aunty, will I still go to school? I told him “yes” and there came the seemingly lost glow on his face.
Going my way, I pondered on my encounter with Rotimi and I have decided to share my meditations on this encounter with you, hoping that I would get answers.
To that heart that draws out to these little ones exposed to unspeakable mindless violence on the streets of Lagos, I ASK.
To that heart burdened with the future of a child abandoned under Oshodi bridge by some exuberant parent, I ASK.
To you, I ASK
When did our children become breadwinners?
When did our gem become junk?
When did our endowment become our enemy?
When did our blessing become a blight?
When did our beauty metamorphose to a beast?
These questions punctuated my soul all day like the pitiless sharp axe of a feller. We do not seem to realise or we have rather chosen to ignore the far reaching damage done to our children by our careless acts as caregivers. I am not some hope mouthed motivational speaker or an anointed spiritual leader with words of doom from heaven. I am a Nigerian citizen that has refused to stand aloof and watch Nigeria eat her bread and her seed.
A child exposed to the streets grows to become a psychologically, mentally and intellectually deficient youth, and of course in the long run, a deficient adult /parent. Except with divine intervention, this deficient adult/parent would replicate himself in his children .Herein lies the pathetic part of the story, we are unconsciously replicating our problems into generations to come. If we don’t stop this cycle of indiscipline and irresponsibility ,we might suffer the fate of the children of Israel in the land of Egypt.
I was taught and I know that every child is an asset ,yes even a Boko Haram perpetrator! Unfortunately, we procure the services of various experts before acquiring our stocks, shares, landed properties and their likes, but not even a thought of diligence before bearing a child, the most enduring asset. I am particularly amazed or rather disgusted at the rate children are born in Nigeria as though we are reliving the days of our forefathers where they rewarded a mother for successfully bearing a dozen children. For how long are we going to jeopardize the destiny of these little ones at the table of our raging emotions
Why will a parent with an annual income of N240,000 (Two hundred and twenty thousand naira) continue on the voyage of childbirth up to the fifth child? Why would a newspaper vendor have 6children,in this generation where technology has made people prefer soft copy to hard copy. These are all manifestations of our negligence and disrespect for the future these children represent.Yes, I hear you say, the government has a duty to provide education, free health care services, etc. Evidently, that is an achievement still in progress. Speaking of progress and the laudable national school meal project scheme of the present government, I would reply in the words of Thomas Malthus, a British clergyman and economist,
“The constant effort towards population increases the number of people before the means of subsistence are increased. The food, therefore which before supplied seven millions must now be divided among seven millions and half or eight millions…”
That is, more population, more children to feed! A major implication of this project which the government must embrace is :a periodic expansion of the budget for the scheme. The question now is are we prepared for this expansion? Yes, the budget has been calculated to run to 2020! It is important to know that the free meal scheme is not an initiative of the present government but a provision of Section3(1) of the Universal Basic Education Act 2004,thus:
“The services provided in the public primary and junior secondary schools should be free of charge” where the interpretation section defines services that should be provided free of charge as books, instructional materials, classrooms, furniture and free lunch.
Ideally,the school meal project should not end with Buhari’s government,it should rather run as a perpetual project. However,in executing this project, it would be disheartening for us to suffer the fate of a cancer victim who treats only the symptoms of cancer which of course would make him more comfortable at first but eventually destroy him . There must be a shift of efforts from treatment of symptoms to completely cutting out the cancer.That is,there should be a treatment of the current population explosion in Nigeria for efficiency of this project.
With this, I proffer a birth control policy in Nigeria.This may appear brutal but if the United Nations projects that the population of Nigeria will reach 440million by 2050,then birth control is worth the consideration especially since we can barely cater for our children at our current population of over 160million. Stringent population planning policies must be advocated to secure any tangible impact on the development of the nation. With the birth control policy, which is an extension of our family planning programs, children will be given the attention and care they deserve and of course they would become more efficient. Simultaneously, a number of social economic problems such as increasing poverty, high unemployment rates, environmental degradation, abuses etc would be alleviated in Nigeria.
This is a call to all caregivers to take responsibility for the Nigerian child under their influence because in them lies the preservation of the change today and years to come. All hands must be on deck to salvage this great nation from the pangs of this avoidable hardship.
So help us God!
Ezinywanne Raymond is a lawyer. She can be reached on: [email protected]