I believe real freedom comes through proper access to knowledge, information, and opportunities, but without a doubt, these are some of the rights the African child is deprived of - especially when it has to do with the girl child.

 

One such example is obvious in the recent UNICEF report, which states that Nigeria has the highest number of school drop-outs globally, with girls representing the highest-recorded among the youth demographic.

Right from the 1950’s a time referred to as the decolonisation period in Nigeria which saw a few number of schools in the north compared to the other regions which had over 30 to 20 recognised schools running as of that time, although with a very low number of female enrolees and drop in educational expenditure between 1949/1950 fiscal year.

Quality education has been one of the major rights of which most children from the northern part of Nigeria are being deprived of.  These issues aren’t solely the fault of the government, though they are not blameless, but there is also a myopic reasoning of our northern forefathers that contributes to this.  The attachment to religious values - which actually support the search of knowledge and its benefit to all individuals on earth and in the hereafter – are often used as a rationalization to keep young people from seeking formal education.

This lack of understanding has led to misinterpretations of the benefits found in modern education, and its positive impacts on Nigerian society.  Even in 2017, this mentality is still present, and particularly in some rural areas.  Even though there is hunger for new knowledge in such societies, education represents change, and change can be frightening.  This fear has given birth to various terrorist organisations and sects who seem to think they are fighting for the emancipation of their people from so-called ‘Western’ education.  But in reality, it seems that what these groups are really seeking is freedom: freedom from colonial rule, from the erasure of their cultural identity, and a desperate search for a better life which, if you ask me, could be interpreted as the pursuit of “civilisation”.  So much the more peculiar that this is, in the long run, exactly what these people claim to be against.

When the issue of education is raised in the north of my country, it is only within the circle of the elite families.  Nigeria has one of the widest income disparities in the world: the affluent are not just well-off, but ultra-rich, and the poor are desperately so.  Whilst Nigeria’s existing wealth could be transformative if used to create opportunities for its community, it is often hoarded as something that can better the life of that family, but rarely extends to the community.  Accordingly, the wealthy receive the highest calibre of education, and the middle and lower-class families have no option but to view education as a luxury rather than a right, given their real concern is avoiding or mitigating their own poverty.  In families where money is scant, sometimes the most fiscally responsible decision is not an enviable one: the best option for the survival of the family might be for the most senior child to drop out of school to assist the parents through hawking, farming, or to be married to someone who can provide reciprocal financial support.  In such cases, the girl child is usually the victim of this decision, and is forced to sacrifice her opportunities and dignity to be married away or sent to the streets to beg.  These children are made vulnerable to abuse and exploitation in these contexts, and the traumatic repercussions of these situations can last throughout their lifetime.  It is a tragedy that heinous crimes are afflicted against children, not just by the direct or indirect callousness of their parents, but also by the cabal of leaders who only advance their cause, and do not actively support the communities they have sworn to serve.

The lackadaisical attitude of most leaders in the Northern part of Nigeria to create a more education-friendly environment for the young ones and the community is appalling.  They hide behind the fact that education is free for young children, but no investment is made in ensuring retention, support and monitoring until they graduate.  How many of the smart ones among the free government education scheme are being given incentives or nurtured once their talent is noticed?  How many of these talented children from low-income families actually benefit from the international scholarships provided by the government, and how many of these scholarships are instead awarded with nepotism to a leader’s own children, or the children of friends, or even the wards of those who carry political or economic influence?

How many powerful families retain their economic and educational power, generation after generation, at the expense of empowering those who need it the most? 

It is said that for every problem there is a solution, and I can confidently say I do not share the more bitter sentiments of some of my peers who see this reality, and consider Nigeria to be in dire trouble.  I see Nigeria as a bold nation, making progress in a gradual way.  I maintain the hope that it will stand taller globally every year, and will demonstrate a more impactful and positive story someday; can I get an amen?

Our biggest solution, not just in the Northern part of Nigeria but nationally, strongly relies on the level of effective investment being put in the lives of our young ones - especially the girl child - through:

1. Quality Education: This simply means that an enabling school environment must be provided to young people.  It must be mentally engaging and encouraging, with the type of tutors and teachers - from Primary to Secondary and even University-level - being well-qualified, and passionate to spread knowledge and manifest in the future of these children.

2. Qualitative Education: Every year, employers and examiners complain about the poor quality of graduates being produced these days, many of whom are unqualified to practice all they have been taught or trained due to lack of suitable equipment and materials, or substandard educators.  This needs to improve with proper engagement and the attainment of all the available and required resources.

3. Access to scholarships for low-income families:  There are brilliant and outstanding children from the free education government programs, and they should be searched for, retained, and given the opportunity to further their education as far possible.  We must seek opportunities to give these young people global education, with the aim of injecting them back into their society to mentor and inspire other young ones in their community and across the nation at large.

4. Community awareness on enrolment:Sensitisation about education should be organized by the Ministry of Education to all the low-income families across Nigeria, and particularly in the hard-to-reach areas.  Families must understand the importance of enrolling their children - and especially the girl child - into schools, and how an educated child creates a higher yield for their selves, families and communities in the long run.  Also, traditional leaders should be strongly involved in these sensitizations, where they should be inculcated as Royal or Chief Ambassadors of these campaigns, which would allow each community to have active engagement in enrolling their youths in school.

5. Adequate Monitoring: Agencies in charge of the free education programs should have a strict monitoring and evaluation system put in place in order to spot promising students, nurture their talents, and know how best to help those who are lagging behind.  Also, a guidance and counselling unit should be made available in all schools where enrolment is free, in other to help students experiencing challenges in school or at home that could negatively affect their studies.

In the words of one of Nigeria’s founding fathers Chief Obafemi Oyeniyi Awolowo: “Any system of education which does not help a man to have a healthy and sound body, an alert brain, balanced and discipline instinctive urges, is both misconceived and dangerous”.

This cannot be the future our Northern leaders see for the generations they plan to leave behind, because no nation or region can ever achieve the goals of economic freedom and development without education. The North and Nigeria cannot do without it. They must act.

 

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