Emmanuel Onwubiko: Children and the Nigerian impunity


 

We are to debate the state of Nigerian children. In doing so, I am of the strong conviction that if you want to gauge or assess the quality of life of the general populace of any nation, just look at the quality of life of the children.

This is so because of the pivotal role that children play in the life of any nation as those who will stand in and become successors for the present adult generation and inevitably if the present-day children are not adequately protected through a combination of effective child-friendly legislation and child-friendly policy ‘frameworks and implementations, it, therefore, follows that the future of that nation will definitely be bleak, brutish, short and frustrating.

As stated, in any society in which children are not considered in the framing of the laws and in the implementation of those laws and governmental policies as is exactly the case in Nigeria, the situation of such a society will not be different from how the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes described the laws of nature.

Debating the State of Nature, the postulation of that English thinker matters a lot because he undertook a deep-seated philosophical analysis of what the state of nature was.

To establish these conclusions, Hobbes invites us to consider what life would be like in a state of nature, that is, a condition without government. Perhaps we would imagine that people might fare best in such a state, where each decides for herself how to act, and is judge, jury, and executioner in her own case whenever disputes arise—and that at any rate, this state is the appropriate baseline against which to judge the justifiability of political arrangements.

Thomas Hobbes terms this situation “the condition of mere nature”, a state of perfectly private judgment, in which there is no agency with recognized authority to arbitrate disputes and effective power to enforce its decisions. This exactly is how the Nigerian child is treated with no one or body of institutions to stand in for their rights.

Hobbes’s near descendant, John Locke, insisted in his Second Treatise of Government that the state of nature was true to be preferred to subjection to the arbitrary power of an absolute sovereign. But Hobbes famously argued that such a “dissolute condition of masterless men, without subjection to Laws, and a coercive Power to tye their hands from rapine, and revenge” would make impossible all of the basic security upon which comfortable, sociable, civilized life depends.

There would be “no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” If this is the state of nature, people have strong reasons to avoid it, which can be done only by submitting to some mutually recognized public authority, for “so long a man is in the condition of mere nature, (which is a condition of war,) as private appetite is the measure of good and evill.”

An analyst stated that although many readers have criticized Hobbes’s state of nature as unduly pessimistic, he constructs it from a number of individually plausible empirical and normative assumptions.

He assumes that people are sufficiently similar in their mental and physical attributes that no one is invulnerable nor can expect to be able to dominate the others.

Hobbes assumes that people generally “shun death”, and that the desire to preserve their own lives is very strong in most people. While people have local affections, their benevolence is limited, and they have a tendency to partiality. Concerned that others should agree with their own high opinions of themselves, people are sensitive to slights. They make evaluative judgments, but often use seemingly impersonal terms like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to stand for their own personal preferences. They are curious about the causes of events, and anxious about their futures; according to Hobbes, these characteristics incline people to adopt religious beliefs, although the content of those beliefs will differ depending upon the sort of religious education one has happened to receive.

With respect to normative assumptions, Hobbes reportedly ascribes to each person in the state of nature a liberty right to preserve herself, which he terms “the right of nature”. This is the right to do whatever one sincerely judges needful for one’s preservation; yet because it is at least possible that virtually anything might be judged necessary for one’s preservation, this theoretically limited right of nature becomes in practice an unlimited right to potentially anything, or, as Hobbes puts it, a right “to all things”. Hobbes further assumes as a principle of practical rationality, that people should adopt what they see to be the necessary means to their most important ends.

There is no doubt that the state of the Nigerian children during the current political dispensation headed since the year 2015 to vacate office on May 29th 2023 by Muhammadu Buhari has been the one of torpsy turvy.

I say so because, first and foremost, the executive arm of government led by President Muhammadu Buhari can not in any way be credited with vigorously pursuing the widespread domestication of the child’s rights Act which was passed by the National Assembly since 2003. To put it much more in practical format, the Federal Ministry of women Affairs and social Development lacks any primary child’s rights contents even in the naming of that federal agency that ministry of woman Affairs and social development should rightly be identified as the ministry for family Affairs and children development.

In England, there is a child protection system in which case the Department for education (DFE) is responsible for how child protection system should work. Local safeguarding partners in England are responsible for child protection policy procedure and guidance at the local level.

Besides, the local safeguarding arrangements are led by three statutory safeguarding partners; the local authority; the integrated care board (ICB; previously Clinical Commissioning group or CCG); and the police.

The above is how England care for her children. In Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of woman Affairs is primarily responsible for the protection of the Nigerian children. The Nigeria Police is basically not adequately trained professionally to play any sort of role to safeguard child protection in Nigeria. In fact in Nigeria, when the police goes to arrest an adult and can’t find the suspect, the police would simply arrest even infants found in that vicinity as hostages until the real suspect showed up.

In theory, the broad mandate of the ministry of women Affairs is to advise the government on gender and children issues and issues affecting persons with disabilities and the elderlies.

This sort of a framework does not practically capture the real child-friendly obligations that the government owe to the Nigerian children under several international Human Rights laws.

Also, the National Human Rights Commission is too administratively weak to vigourously play positive role in protecting the human rights of the Nigerian children.

The current leadership is laid back and lethargic and is more concerned about mundane issues unrelated to the core issues of protecting and promoting the rights of the Nigerian children. This administrative lacuna and ambiguities on which specific national institution should carry out the mandate of child protection in Nigeria similar to the simplified format adopted in Britain, is the fundamental reason children in Nigeria are mostly affected by insecurity of lives, food insecurity, lack of educational opportunities, poor healthcare, poor welfare progammmes and protection from human rights abuses such as child trafficking and child labour. Nigeria is dotted with what we call baby factories whereby kids are born by single girls who are quartered in a settlement and the matrons pay boys to get these girls impregnated and when these pregnant kids give birth to kids, they are stolen and sold to patrons and matrons for several millions of Naira and the girls who gave birth to the babies are paid paltry sums as compensation. This impunity is happening and even when there are institutions to combat such criminality, nothing much is done. A state like Anambra is a possible exception because the current ministry of Women Affairs is very proactive coupled with the enabling environment for child rights enforcement put in place by the government of Anambra State since the time of Peter Obi up until the present Professor Charles Soludo-led administration.

Sadly, since coming on board, the present federal government has even made child protection a non-issue which is why from all negative human development indices circulated by the United Nations, the Nigerian children suffer a lot of deprivation and impunity.

Again, let us take a particular crime against the child that occurred in Liverpool whereby a gunman shot and killed a little girl, the British Police took less than a month to resolve that crime. In Nigeria, impunity and crimes against Nigerian children are never resolved in many instances.

Around August 2022, an “unknown” gunman forced his way into a Liverpool home while chasing a man, opening fire and killing a nine-year-old girl and shooting her mother.

Merseyside Police have named the child as Olivia Pratt-Korbel, and say her family are “absolutely devastated, inconsolable and heartbroken” following the incident in Kingsheath Avenue, Dovecot, on Monday night.

Olivia Pratt-Korbel murder: What we know so far

Chief Constable Serena Kennedy said a 35-year-old man was being chased by a person with a gun, who forced entry into the house and opened fire with “complete disregard”, hitting Olivia.

The nine-year-old child was taken to Alder Hey hospital in a critical condition, where she later died.

Two other people – including Olivia’s mother, Cheryl – are in hospital with gunshot wounds.

Police say at around 10pm two men were walking along Kingsheath Avenue and were approached by a lone person wearing a black, padded jacket, a black balaclava and black gloves.

They were approximately 5 foot 7 inches tall, of slim build and carrying a handgun.

The force says shots were fired at the men who then ran away.

Olivia’s mother is said to have heard the commotion outside and opened the door to see what was going on.

One of the men is then thought to have forced his way into the property, with the armed person said to have put their hand through the open door.

Olivia’s mum is believed to have tried to close the door and stop the people entering, but the gunman open fire, hitting both Olivia and her mother.

The man who had been chased “suffered a number of gunshots to his upper body” and, whilst Olivia lay dying, was picked up by his friends who took him to hospital.

The car that took him to hospital – a black Audi – has been seized by police.

Merseyside Police Chief Constable, Serena Kennedy, said: “I know that the murder of Olivia has rocked our communities, who are quite rightly upset and outraged that such an abhorrent crime has occurred here on the streets of Merseyside.

“The people of Liverpool and Merseyside are known for their compassion and pulling together in times of crisis, and I know that our communities, people are wanting to help the family in any way possible.

“This is not the time for anyone who knows who’s responsible for this shooting to remain tight-lipped.

“It is time for our communities to come together with us and make Merseyside a place where the use of guns on our streets is totally unacceptable, and those who use them are held to account.”

Olivia was a pupil at St Margaret Mary’s Catholic Junior School in Huyton.

Headteacher, Rebecca Wilkinson, has described her as having a “beautiful smile, a lovely sense of humour and a bubbly personality”.

She said: “Our school community is devastated at the sad loss of Olivia. We are in shock and disbelief at such tragic news.

“Olivia was a much loved member of our school. She had a beautiful smile, a lovely sense of humour, and a bubbly personality.

“She was kind-hearted and would go out of her way to help others. She loved to perform and recently participated in the school production of The Wizard of Oz.

“Olivia will be missed greatly by staff and children at our school. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends at this extremely sad time.”

A murder investigation has been launched and a huge police presence remains at the scene, with residents have described the incident as “devastating”.

Anyone with information is asked to DM @MerPolCC or call @CrimestoppersUK on 0800 555 111 quoting log 1083 of 22 August.

The killing came 15 years to the day after 11-year-old Rhys Jones was shot dead in Croxteth.

The mayor of Liverpool Joanne Anderson has said the nine-year-old’s murder is an “appalling act of evil”.

She said: “15 years to the day that Rhys Jones was murdered, another innocent child of our city becomes a victim to gun crime.

“Has nothing been learned? Enough is enough. If you know something, you must come forward. Guns have no place in our communities.”

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered his condolences to the family and said he has ensured Merseyside Police “get whatever they need to catch those responsible.”

itv.com

The British community prioritizes child protection and crimes against children are swiftly treated. This is not so in Nigeria. In Nigeria, the government officials will be busy passing blames (buckpassing) on each other even as the impunity against the child is not attended to.

Recently, a group of 21 children who were abducted by gunmen from a farm in northwestern Nigeria’s Katsina state were freed and reunited with their families after the Parents settled their kidnappers.

Kidnapping has become endemic in recent years in Katsina – the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari – as roving gangs of armed men abduct people from schools, hospitals, roads and farms and demand ransom cash from their relatives.

Three of the captives’ parents told Reuters the children, aged between 8 and 14, were released after parents paid a ransom of 1.5 million naira ($3,400), but police spokesman Gambo Isa denied a ransom had been paid.

“They have been reunited with their families,” Isa said in a message shared via WhatsApp late on Saturday.

The three parents who spoke to Reuters asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from authorities, who do not approve of ransom payments, or from the bandits themselves.

“They said if we don’t pay the ransom between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. yesterday (Saturday) they will move into the deep part of the forest with them and then we will never see them,” one father said, adding that some parents had to turn to relatives to help raise their share of the money.

Parents said more than 30 children were kidnapped on Oct. 30 while harvesting crops at a farm located between Kamfanin Mailafiya and Kurmin Doka villages in Katsina, but some managed to escape.

Imagine a Country in which children who are even exposed to child labour are kidnapped and the government is so helpless so much so that the parents have to pay to secure the freedom of these innocent kids. Hundreds of school girls are kidnapped by terrorists and for years nothing is done by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

Known mostly for blame shifting, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, regretted that his ministry could not completely eradicate the rising number of out-of-school children in the country after seven years as minister.

The minister, in his keynote address at the meeting of the National Council on Education on Thursday, blamed the rising figure on the “state governors’ lukewarm response to the suggestion for the declaration of an emergency on education, especially at the basic education level.”

The meeting of the National Council of Education, the highest decision-making body in the sector, began with technical sessions on Monday and continues until Friday with the theme: “Strengthening of Security and Safety in Nigerian Schools for the Achievement of Education 2030 Agenda”.

The minister said the choice of the theme is the prevailing security situation in the nation’s educational system “and the inevitable challenges it poses to the public and private sectors alike.”

He said the meeting would be an opportunity to “take stock of progress in the education sector, identify the challenges and consider policy options that will enable us move rapidly towards achieving our twin global agenda – Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Charter 2063.”

There were about 10.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria in 2015 when Mr Adamu became Nigeria’s education minister, according to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).

Upon assumption of office seven years ago, Mr Adamu said he wanted a declaration of emergency in basic education, but the decision could not be taken at the Federal Executive Council because he said it was state government’s responsibility.

“I said we should declare an emergency on education, especially at the lower level. A decision couldn’t be taken on this because the issue of emergency on education at the level of primary school is a state’s responsibility,” he said.

“So I was directed by the President to hand that memo into a memo for the National Economic Council which I did thinking that if the council bought into it –and the members are state governors, it would just be a nationwide issue. I had to make a presentation three times and up to this moment, emergency has not been declared.”

In 2015, Sokoto and Kaduna states declared a state of emergency on education. In February, Kogi State government also declared a state of emergency on the sector.

He, therefore, called on commissioners for education present at the meeting to persuade their governors to give more priority to education at the basic education level, saying “our children are still out of schools because the resolve by the states is not as strong as that of the Federal Ministry of Education.”

This year, the Nigerian government maintained that the number of out-of-school kids in the country remains 6.9 million, dismissing the 18.5 million and 20 million figures given by UNICEF and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) respectively.

Mr Adamu also listed his ministry’s efforts at reducing the number of out-of-school children to include the development of e-learning portal to cater for students in basic and senior secondary schools across the country, the development of Nigerian Learning Passport designed to close the learning gaps and to enable continuous access to quality education.

The minister said his ministry has trained over 200 almajirai by the National Arabic Language Village, to be integrated into formal basic schools in Borno State.

He also stated the implementation of Adolescent Girls’ Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE) in seven pilot states with $500 million funding support from the World Bank. The AGILE programme supports the provision of secondary education, critical life skills and digital literacy to adolescent girls.

He added that the ministry has secured a $20 million funding for accelerated emergency funding for the North-east zone from Global Partnership for Education.

Meanwhile, the minister has called on all stakeholders to unite in addressing the security challenges facing the country and the educational institutions.

He said: “Security is a collaborative effort and should not be left in the hands of the law enforcement agents alone. As such, all stakeholders in education sector should interface and be involved, through the National Council on Education, in order to address the menace of insecurity in our country, which remains one of our biggest challenges.”

Mr Adamu said his ministry has so far carried out sensitisation on the implementation of the Safe School Declaration (SSD) Initiative; conducted vulnerability survey on schools in order to devise robust security strategies, constructed perimeter walls around schools, installed CCTV/alarm systems in schools, temporarily abolished boarding in rural areas, coached students and teachers on emergency security measures and created a special security unit for schools. Nigerian government has failed the children of our generation. Also these children who are deprived of educational opportunities and risked being kidnapped even whilst being exposed to child labour, are also buffeted and tormented by absolute poverty and mass hunger.

The 2022 Global Hunger Index (GHI) report was released, revealing the gravity of Nigeria’s hunger crisis. Published by Germany’s Welthungerhilfe and Ireland’s Concern Worldwide, to mark the World Food Day, the GHI ranked Nigeria 103rd out of 121 countries. Nigeria has held this ranking for the second year in a row.

The GHI outlines five levels of hunger: low, moderate, serious, alarming, and extremely alarming. Nigeria’s score of 27.3, which places it right above Ethiopia and right below Rwanda, indicates ‘serious’ hunger levels.

As of 14 June 2022, the World Bank had stated that Nigeria’s inflation rate of 16.95 per cent, already one of the world’s highest, was set to increase due to the war in Ukraine and the resultant rise in fuel and food prices. Furthermore, the World Bank predicted that an additional one million Nigerians would fall into poverty by the 2022 due to the increase in inflation. This is apart from the six million Nigerians that the World Bank determined would fall into poverty resulting from the inflation that was present before the Ukrainian war.

A task for whomsoever would win the coming election is to change the moribund ministry of women Affairs and social development to MINISTRY FOR FAMILIES AND CHILDREN’S DEVELOPMENT.

EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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