By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) recently revealed that about 13.2 million children of school age are currently out of school and lack access to learning facilities.
This is most evident when one is confronted by thousands of kids roaming the streets, particularly in the northern part of the country.
Consistently and repeatedly, the north is acclaimed to have been lagging behind the south in educational advancement, according to available statistics and data from official sources.
This educational backwardness in the north has been attributed to some religious and cultural impediments, as postulated by researchers and scholars.
The global outcry and condemnation that trailed this revelation over the years have therefore attracted the attention of the United Nations Children Funds (UNICEF).
The major goal of United Nations Children Funds is to ensure that “All children access and complete quality education, within a safe learning environment, with skills and knowledge for lifelong learning.
Worried by this increasing numbers of out of school children in the country and its coming effect, UNICEF, organized a two day media dialogue for journalists in Kano to jaw-jaw on ways to address the issues and ensure for the Girl-Child education.
During the engagements, experts noted that poverty, nonchalant attitude of government and ignorance on the part of some parents were largely responsible for the rising army of out of school children in the country.
While taking a walk in the street of Kano, our reporter came across 13 year old Abdul Ibrahim, who was begging for alms. He told our reporter that he was out of school because his parents never took him to school.
He said he was taken to an Imam to study Islamic education since he was 7 years old. “At age 7, my father took me to an Imam to study under him. My village is far away from the city Centre, and we are not allowed to go home. All we do is to go and beg for food and anything we can get from people.”
Speaking further about his family, Ibrahim said his father who is a cobbler has two wives with seven children. “my father has two wives and seven children. Some of my brothers are also in the system while those that graduated are currently working as House helps in other places.
Asked if he wants to go to school, Ibrahim said he is always happy when he sees people going to school, but he doesn’t know what it is all about. “If given the opportunity, I would like to know what it is all about. But even if I want to go now, my Mallam will not agree”.
There are many children out there like Ibrahim, who are currently out of touch with what the society is all about or where it is going.
To this, Professor of Humanitarian Management, Bala Jack Yakubu, said the issue of out of school children is worrisome, and not a good omen for Nigeria.
“This issue is very serious, and we need to nib it in the bud before it consumes us all. There are more children of nursery and primary school age roaming the streets than those of secondary school age. Any time you go out, they are outside at the time they are supposed to be in school- this is between the hours of 9 and 2pm. In kaduna for instance, you will see this children haggardly dressed and begging or just roaming the street. It is not good. The fault may not be that of parents but the system.
“Currently, there are no appropriate policies to help these children. The federal government as a father should take care of them by formulating policies that can help them. We have the ministry of youth which is supposed to champion this idea, but they forget that youth starts from these children.
“They need to formulate policies that punish parents who refuse to toe the line of the law. Some of us befitted from strong policies of government aimed at compelling children to go to school. During Obafemi Awolowo, no child in the western region roams the street during school hours. If we have this in our system, it will help many children. It is funny how we call them leaders of tomorrow with no policies to shape them and give them that knowledge which tomorrow requires. We keep assuring them that they are the leaders of tomorrow but we have no plans for them.
“There is an urgent need for us to begin to have policies that punish the father who refuses to send children to school. We must also make education free to compel them, that way they won’t embrace cultism, drugs and other anti-social activities.
The numbers of out of school children keep increasing in the north because we don’t respect them. We believe that they belong to the Mallams and only wait to send them to farms when they reach farming age; this nonchalant attitude of parents is denying the children of a better tomorrow.
Also speaking, the Executive Director, Savannah Centre for Diplomacy Democracy and Development (SCDDD), Ambassador Abdullahi Omaki said education is key to everything in life. “To think that a child in the 21st century has no education, that child is condemned for the rest of his life. Unfortunately in the entire northern region, the number is increasing, some say it is about 10 million, but I think the number is conservative, because I believe it is more than that. Imagine what the children will be doing in the next 10 year. The implication is that they can’t take care of themselves and cannot fit in to the new world without education.
“No country should be proud of raising children it cannot chatter for. This is because their future is very bleak for them and they can only be used for violence.
“The family should understand that they owe a child obligation which is education that will prepare him for future challenges. Without this, he can’t do anything. Government should ensure that its population is educated. Everything we do has component of education.
Omaki added that poverty plays a major role because education is not cheap. The role of government is to ensure that its populace is educated and have basic amenities to fare better. “Religious and traditional institutions should also collaborate with government to address these challenges before it consumes us all.
“If we don’t take care of them, we are doing harm to ourselves, and what these children will do, might be too late to be addressed.”
Looking at how poverty and lack of investment in education has contributed to rising insecurity, the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, said that Boko Haram crisis will be a child’s play in the next 20 years if education and strong economy are not provided, and demographic explosion not addressed in northern Nigeria.
Speaking at a 3-day International Conference on “Insurgency and The Phenomenon of Boko Haram”, held on Tuesday in Kano, Sanusi said economic marginalisation and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, especially Nigeria, were the major causes of the Boko Haram insurgency.
According to him, in the next 20 years, Nigerian youth population would skyrocket to 100 million, adding that if the government fails to rise and regulate the demographic growth, more crises worse than Boko Haram could erupt.
The emir, who represented the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III noted that, fertility rate, investment in education, drug abuse and its causes must be looked into in order to have a peaceful society.
He however, noted that, the effort of rebuilding the northeast region, ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency, needs to be centred on the ecosystem of the area in order to find a lasting solution.
“In the next 20 years, Nigerian youth population would grow to almost 100 million of youth, men and women between the age of 20 and 40. What are they going to do? Is the civil service or banking industry going to employ them?
“Now, if we don’t build on economy and demographic explosion not addressed, the Boko Haram insurgency would be a child’s play in the next 20 years.”
“So, we need to have that conversation, the fertility rate, lack of investment in education, drug problem and looking at its causes. This would make a great impact in the effort to find a lasting solution in the northeast and the country as a whole, “he said.
Judging by these submissions, the government needs to up its game and stop playing politics with the education sector, especially at a time when the country’s population keeps rising. Also, if the projection of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs that Nigeria will be the third populous country by 2050 is anything to go by, then the bomb is already ticking.