I think the bane of Nigeria’s development is essentially our concentration on subsistence – just what is sufficient for a lifetime.
Nations who become great plan for the future, even when they work to make the best of the present. Nigeria is yet to have the blessing of leaders who have a big picture of legacies that generations after them should inherit.
Sure, we have had all sorts of national development plans and visions, whose objective and terminal dates have shifted time and time again. But we have not had the steel to see any of them through, evidently because they are mostly not well thought out from the outset.
Consider the most recent Vision 2020. Launched in 2009, it is an economic plan aimed at positioning Nigeria to become one of the top 20 economies in the world in 2020.
The parameters to measure the attainment of this goal, according to the policy document include a sound, stable and globally competitive economy with a Gross Domestic Product of not less than $900 billion and a per capita income of not less than $4000 per annum.
The health sector is expected to sustain life expectancy at 70 years and reduce the burden of infectious diseases to the barest minimum, an educational system that provides competent manpower and opportunities for citizens to attain their maximum potential, as well as a peaceful, harmonious and a stable democracy amongst others. You only need to imagine that there are about 13 million out-of-school children in this country to conclude that this is more day dreaming than visioning.
This country, which now panders to the dictates of the crude oil market, thrived in agriculture in 1960s and should have no business in the comity of mono product economy nations. Just think about the enormous potential of the creative and tourism industries and the massive human resource in the country.
If we had leaders with foresight in any measure, the nation would not be caught napping when the Boko Haram insurgency started a few years ago, in spite of several years of evident religious cum ethnic schisms and distrusts.
The tendency had even manifested in violent extremism at some point in our history. Recall the Maitatsine uprising in the 1980s. Yet, we imagined that we were insulated from the experiences of the other countries of the world, though one or two of our compatriots had been caught with evidence of taking their sentiment for zealotry beyond rhetoric. And so, in reward for the listless interest of our leaders in anything other than avaricious acquisition, our security architecture had no answer to the ferocious effrontery of the Boko Haram miscreants in the first few years.
Our security personnel, like many of us ordinary citizens, had seen nothing of counter insurgency outside the fictional character of Jack Bauer and his colleagues at the CTU in the America TV series, 24. This stimulated the escalation of the evil such that about 30, 000 people have, so far, been murdered in the most gruesome of ways and almost three million homeless.
Even when the need to deploy for war became imminent, our armed forces could only mobilise obsolete equipment. We are a country that is never ready for any eventuality.
Could we even have forestalled the outbreak of this Boko Haram insurrection? How did we imagine that having millions of underage children out of school, and at the mercy of misguided religious bigots, will not become a harvest of violence blowing up in our faces when we least expect?
For decades, regional leaders in Northern Nigeria failed to pay attention to the education of the mass of the people. Let us even concede that citizens preferred that their children did not go to school, did they know better? Is securing the future of every citizen not the cardinal charge of government?
But our leaders looked on and allowed the scourge of illiteracy and ignorance, which ultimately breed poverty, disease, anger and rebellion, to ravage our people all these years. One must register however, that in allowing this situation to persist; these leaders were just being selfish and callous. How do we justify the fact that most of their children attend some of the most prestigious institutions in the world ostensibly to come back home after their attainments and take over from their fathers?
Unfortunately, nature is not always so malleable; the wind which unimaginative leadership sowed has produced a dangerous whirlwind and as the chicken, which perches on a thin rope jeopardises the peace of both itself and the rope, Nigeria is no longer at ease.
What is quite scary is the prospect that the nation may finally have broken the hymen of peace forever. At the moment, it is believed that about 13 million children are out of school in Nigeria. Majority of them are from the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa and Taraba.
A lot of these children are orphaned or belong to extremely poor parentage. Hundreds of thousands of them, some in their infancy, are marooned in Internally Displaced Persons camps where they are poorly fed, poorly educated and exposed to poor sanitary conditions.
In addition to the deprivations and physical abuse that many of the children have suffered, they have retained ugly images of the carnage and deaths perpetrated in their environment. As a result, they are bound to be ensconced in the psychology of the trauma that they have suffered eternally, unless a comprehensive effort is put in place to ameliorate the situation, of course.
So the question is what are governments at all levels doing about this? What plans are in place for the proper education and re-orientation of these children? What trauma management and counseling provisions have been made to bring them back to normal life? What are we doing as a country to stop the recruitment of underage children into combat by Boko Haram and the civilian Joint Task Force as has been alleged?
My suspicion is that not much, beyond the sphere on political grandstanding, is being done to improve the quality of life of millions of Nigeria’s untaught and un-catered for children. And I do not see how an uncaring country hopes for a prosperous future when millions of its children go into that future uneducated and haunted by images of violence and losses that they have suffered in their childhood.
As a network of international non-governmental organisations, the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict suggested in a report entitled ‘Who will care for us? Grave Violations against Children in Northeastern Nigeria’ and published in 2015, the Nigerian government needs to instantly “support and expand initiatives to promote school protection by issuing a policy mandating baseline emergency planning and budgeting for state and federal schools across the country. Government should also urgently work towards developing comprehensive training programmes “on the rights and needs of children in emergencies and in situations of conflict, and provide this training to all members of the Nigerian security forces and relevant civil service members”
In addition, states that have not yet adopted the 2003 Child Rights Act should do so immediately and take steps to enforce its provisions. Most importantly, governors of states affected by the Boko Haram insurgency should develop a Memorandum of Understanding with their colleagues in peaceful states for the inter-state relocation of students from their states so that they will not be left behind. The Governors Forum can facilitate this.
Someone said that “children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” If we do not attend to the needs of Nigeria’s children urgently, this country will be sending a most ominous message ahead of its future. The evil ahead would be equal to that of a man who sniffs the head of a life cobra with his nose; he most certainly will live to tell the story. Let us save our future!