BEING TEXT OF CONTRIBUTION BY DR. ABIODUN ADENIYI, PROFESSOR AND HEAD, MASS COMMUNICATION, BAZE UNIVERSITY, ABUJA, AT THE 2021 HUMAN RIGHTS LECTURE OF HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION (HURIWA), HELD 29TH SEPTEMBER 2021, AT GURARA HALL, ROCKVIEW HOTEL, ROYALE, WUSE 11, ABUJA, AT 11.00A.M.
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has now come a long way. The Convener, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, concealed the activist part of him from us all as growing up professionals in The Guardian. Apart from being a prolific writer, the only other part of him we were familiar with was that he would have been a catholic priest.
For some reasons, he rebelled, leaving for the secular world, before berthing in journalism. We discovered his Marxist, bearded parts in our post-The Guardian years, when we began reading him in the newspapers. Each time we saw Emmanuel signing a statement, it intrigued us to see it was the same Onwubiko we used to know. Another element of the human dynamo has thus been revealed, and it is for real.
And he has been consistent ever since, as a change agent, adding his voice to not just the quest to expand understanding on national issues, but to press for improvement, for good governance, consistent with our collective quest for the positive evolution of our dear nation. I congratulate HURIWA, and I salute the courage of this inimitable Comrade for his conviction and consistency in a world of amoebic allegiance to principles, where ideas shift like the desert wind, faced with inducements.
In wishing you more grease to your elbow, it is suitable to situate the problem of the Nigerian School Children, Insecurity and Human Rights within the context of freedom. For freedom is an inalienable right in being and becoming. It is a condition where choices are limitless, and where the ability of the choice maker is unhindered, provided it does not infringe on the position of others. Freedom is a ground for happiness, a pedestal to grow, through the stimulation of ideas, and the germination of notions.
The sophistication of systems and societies is determined by the level of freedom in evidence. There are, of course, systems without a fall of freedom, but where development has happened. China, Singapore and some other countries in the middle-East are ready examples. In some of these systems, however, there are still slight attempts at showcasing freedom through representational governance and the expansion of participation in the decision-making process.
What this adds up to is that freedom is cherished the world over, as it is godly, priceless and desired by humankind, either as individuals or as a collective. Comrade Onwubiko has changed careers and pre-occupation because he was free, and in line with the permission of providence. It is the freedom he had that we are now envisaging for school children (albeit on a plural plinth), given the brazen denials by insecurity, and the unabashed trampling on their rights to be educated. It is part of the 21st century violence being inflicted on the child. I will explain more in no time.
What more do we have to say about the Nigerian Child? We have harped on the rise of nihilism, and how this is affecting their future, just as we have been expressive on absence of proper governance in places where children would otherwise have done better. We have been forthcoming on the lethargy of some leaders, as we have been detailed on the statistics around their hopelessness, haplessness, and the vacancy being created in the child’s mind.
Children sustain systems in a process, through generations. Children are supposed to be molded for a next cohort. It is the reason we should prioritise their concerns as a vulnerable social segment, just as women, the elderly and the youths. The rights of children are the rights of the future. Mortgaging this right is mortgaging the future of a nation. It is a path that no nation can afford to follow, and a path we must walk away from.
Governments may have been forthcoming with efforts to cater for them, but we must acknowledge the increase in the numbers of non-state actors, including insurgents, bandits and kidnappers, and their vociferous attempts to change our narratives. There are also assassins, and rapists, who are sometimes driven by drugs, poverty, lack, hunger, anger, de-industrialization, and the emergent problem of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
In perpetrating these acts, they are unaware, unbothered and uncaring about their actions, given their deep sense of disbelief, their faithlessness in reality, and the emptiness in their persons. That state of emptiness is what they imagine for the rest of us, leading to not a clash of civilization that Samuel Huntington wrote about ages ago, but a clash of purposes.
While our purpose is freedom, happiness and prosperity, theirs is pain, prison and death, for the price of causing anguish and death for the other person is punishment or death. What do we then do, faced with this crisis, for the sake of the Nigerian child, whose rights and freedom have been affected by insecurity?
First is to address the mass production of children. We seem to be in a world where we think that the care for the child is external to us. Other than giving birth, we imagine that another force will care for the child. We have lost that sense of responsibility, taking pleasure only in procreation.
More wives, plenty of children, with little or no concern for our belief systems that ask us to be responsible and be caring. The consequence of this is not just overpopulation faced with scarce resources, but a hysterical next generation. It is ironic that the United Kingdom with which we shared the same population size at independence has hardly grown further, despite their wealth and prosperity.
Our population has grown nearly five times higher, despite diminishing resources and declining governance mechanisms and institutions to cater to them. Our preference for faith has predominated over the ideal preference for fact. Delusions are riding over science, and hence the problem of planning. How do we control this population? What can government do, if at all they can do something?
And if not, what next? It will boil down to enlightenment, and exposure, the enabling of the environment for the thriving of education, as a basis for better understanding of life and its implications, plus the need to take responsibilities. Absolute reliance on God and government is becoming an anathema, which is why the people have to be helped to take charge, realizing that they also have an important part in the dialectics of life.
To be sure, overpopulation, beginning with uncontrolled births, has been a bane, causing the multiplication of not just the army of nihilists, but also the volume of children we cannot educate, not to talk of proper education.
The result is a sequence of illiteracy, leading to what criminologists call the cycle of violence. This cycle thrives when children are ill-trained, leading to crime and criminality in later years, in adulthood. The cycle has to be broken, regardless, through exemplary leadership, appropriate policy direction, and a determined implementation of the policies, no matter whose ox is gored.
In years past, social theorists including Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank, Walter Rodney and our own Claude Ike zeroed in on how a centre was underdeveloping a periphery. It was regarded as the development of underdevelopment, meaning the deliberate interferences in our development plans, leading to impoverishments and poverty.
These theorists blamed our problems on outsiders. It was a case of foreign state actors, preventing the potency of local state actors in development efforts. The narrative has now changed to foreign actors been replaced by local variants, local non-state actors coming as impediments to our development efforts and beginning with the traumatization of children.
I promised to explain the multiplied violence against the child earlier on. Let’s see: state actors, including elites and some non-elites, inflict violence on the child through mis-governance, ethnic bigotry, hate speech, and religious extremism.
This violence is a shade of the type of violence envisaged by Frantz Fanon, writing in The Wretched of the Earth and Festus Iyayi, in his novel Violence, because it is psychological and indirect.
The failure of governance, corruption, happening through kickbacks, inflation of contracts, cronyism, nepotism, and other malaise leads to the absence of facilities and utilities that would otherwise have benefited the child, and therefore affecting their rights to wellbeing. Ignorance, political manipulation, primordialism, jingoism, lack of patriotism, faithlessness in nation-building have led to this sort of violence.
Added to these are greed, avarice, self-centeredness, poor institutional control, dearth of values, and poor or non-implementation of laws. Resolving this would happen both in the short- and long-term basis, through dialogue, moral suasion, activation of relevant laws, institutional efficiency, and the determination of leadership.
We can be more specific about what the government can do. Government has enormous powers, which can be effective, if plowed. Government can take immense initiatives, if determined, and willed. Government can also implement, if focused and primed for legacy. Imagine the creativity in the response to the outbreak of Covid-19.
Think of the alternative to the repair of some roads across the country through tax credits to some conglomerates, where they could help in fixing some federal roads. Where do we often get the funds to tend to health emergencies of some of our leaders when the need arises?
The argument here is that the same energy, same ingenuity and dynamism that we deployed in these situations can be replicated in resolving the crisis confronting the Nigerian child. I am thinking of emergency arrangement whereby maximum attention will be paid to them, in a periodized format, say over one, two or three years, through increased financial votes and releases, shoring up facilities and utilities in their directions.
We can talk of additional school support, supplementary learning environment, special attention to affected communities, the provision of teaching and learning incentives, and perhaps a legislation on compulsory child education. And this education does not have to be western. It could be Islamic, Christian, or even traditional, for as long as it fertilizes the mind, and prepares it for tomorrow, in the mold in which the philosophic state of tabula rasa would be tweaked for the good.
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has been exhaustive in their missions on child education. As a bastion of multilateral support for education, it offers a ground for leveraging on realizing the rights of children and the need to give them a tomorrow. That tomorrow is envisioned in the freedom that I began this intervention with.
But it might be impossible if we do not take more steps today. Despite ongoing endeavours, the call here is for more, still. The ball is yet in our courts, and it is a task that must be done. It is a human right that has to be guaranteed.
Congratulations HURIWA, and very well done, once more, for the job you are doing. God bless us all. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
DR. ABIODUN ADENIYI, PROFESSOR AND HEAD, MASS COMMUNICATION, BAZE UNIVERSITY, ABUJA.