For Nigeria the last three decades stick out like a sore thumb for the way the Giant of Africa has failed to carry its children, above its broad shoulders, away from vermin that roam the ground and nip at heels. The fruit has become a very long stick with which the most populous black nation on earth is beat at each juncture over the situation of its children.
In 2021, the Global Childhood Report 2021, containing the End of Childhood Index by Save the Children which compared latest data for 186 countries – the highest number ever – assessing where the most and fewest children are missing out on childhood, yielded a harvest of abundant embarrassment for the Giant of Africa.
With a score of 549 out of 1000, Nigeria duly placed an embarrassing 180th out of 186 countries. To add insult to injury, countries ripped apart by war or bloody dictatorships like Eswatini (135th), Djibouti (138th), Eritrea (170th) Yemen(162nd) and Syria (165TH) all placed before Nigeria. In the 2021 report, all ten countries occupying the last ten places came from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Nigeria`s journey to that embarrassing result started at least two decades before. In 2003, after an eternity of senseless squabbles stoked mainly by those who use religion to bludgeon reason, the Child Rights Act was passed by the National Assembly.
The Act, prescient in its provisions, prescribes the paramountcy of the best interest of the child. Section 1 provides thus: In every action concerning a child, whether undertaken by an individual, public or private body, institutions or service, court of law, or administrative or legislative authority, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.
The best interest of the Nigerian child finds extensive coverage in the rights guaranteed under the Act. Sections 4 to 17 exhaustively provide for such rights as the right to survival and development; right to a name; freedom of association and peaceful assembly; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; right to private and family life; right to freedom of movement; right to freedom from discrimination; right to dignity of the child; right to leisure, recreation and cultural activities; right to health and health services, right to parental care, protection and maintenance; right of a child to free, compulsory and universal primary education e.t.c; right of a child in need of special protection measure; right of unborn child to protection against harm, and contractual rights of a child.
It is heartwarming that many of Nigeria`s thirty-six states have domesticated the Act to give the protection and welfare of children legislative backing. There is however an urgent need to ask the eleven states of Kebbi, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Jigawa, Zamfara, Bauchi, Yobe, Gombe, Borno and Adamawa which are yet to domesticate the Act to account for their incredible reluctance to legislate the protection of children in a country which has become a graveyard for children.
At least 10.5 million Nigerian children are currently out of school. Many of them are caught in the clutches of forced labour, while societal pressures make it practically impossible for others to see the four walls of any classroom. In Nigeria, it is easy to see that it is the children going through the Almajiri system of education that have become posters for child poverty and neglect in the country.
They are always conspicuous on pedestrian bridges in parts of big cities in the North, or anywhere under them during the active hours of the day. Every morning, they are transported to strategic spots in many cities of the North where they take up positions and thrust their begging bowls into the paths of passersby.