Adibe Emenyonu writes that the commemoration of the annual African Child’s Day was another opportunity for the Edo State government to emphasise its determination to educate children of school age

The importance of education cannot be overemphasised. And in Edo State, the government of Godwin Obaseki believes educating the population is everything in the effort to achieve human and material development. The annual African Child’s Day celebrated recently provided a unique opportunity for the government to reiterate its belief in educational pursuits for children of school age.

Put together by the Edo State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development in collaboration with the Office of Wife of the Governor and Hallmark Initiative, the four-day event featured educational talks alongside drama presentation/poem recitation. There was also a presentation on drug abuse by Miss Benedicta Uweru titled: “Effect of Drug Policies on Youth, The Present and Future of Nigeria.”

Another presentation was by Gift Ojie-Jonathan, a Libyan returnee, on the negative effect of Illegal Migration. Also used to entertain the audience were cultural displays and a debate by school children on who should take the blame if a child was failing in school. Perhaps, the most heart rending was a poem rendered in Benin Language by a Primary Three pupil advising parents to teach their child the danger inherent in hard drugs, such as codeine and Tramadol.

The Struggle

It is noteworthy to state the struggle that led to the commemoration of the day of the African Child. The day is celebrated on June 16 every year to commemorate the 1976 student uprising in Soweto under the apartheid regime in South Africa. The Assembly of Heads of Government of the Organisation of African Unity (AOU), now African Union (AU), in 1991 set aside that date every year to commemorate the massacre of over 700 African children who on June 16, 1976 took to the streets to protest against the oppressive rule of apartheid in South Africa.

The apartheid government at that time had introduced the Afrikaans language as a means of instruction in schools in addition to English language but exempted the white students, who in the new law were allowed to learn in any language of their choice. Consequently, about 20,000 black children walked from their schools to Orlando Stadium for a rally to protest the new law which led to the massacre of several of them by the South African apartheid police.

Edo’s Educational Priority

Celebrating the day with children drawn from various schools in the Edo State, wife of the state governor, Mrs. Betsy Obaseki, in her goodwill message, said South African narrative was necessary for the children, so they can appreciate the importance of education and for them to appreciate the significance of the freedom they now enjoy as outlined in the Constitution of Nigeria and the importance of Child Rights Law

Against this backdrop, she said the education of the child remained a priority that could not be toyed with if the country must attain the much talk about national development. In attaining this goal, she said the Obaseki led administration was giving education its pride of place by embarking on reforms in basic education and also revamping technical schools in the state.

Represented by the Commissioner For Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs Magdalene Ohenhen, Mrs. Obaseki said, “I do not want the importance of this day to be lost in the euphoria of celebration, rather (I want it) to serve as a reminder of the importance of education as the medium of knowledge and enlightenment, particularly in a world that is today fixated on accumulation of wealth at any cost.

“While the realities of the economic hardship in the world today may well justify the drive for wealth, history has shown that an uneducated population is one which is prone to slavery and oppression from exploiters.

“This mind-set also informed some of my initiatives such as the ‘Betsy’s Angels Shelter’ and ‘Betsy Obaseki After School Club’, both of which were launched this year. The launch of the children version of the Child Right Law and the initiation of my partnership with the school of the blind and people living with disability are some of my other children centred initiatives.

“My appeal to you today is to make the most of the opportunities you now have for education and enlightenment using the technologies at your disposal so that you can stand like those Soweto students against oppression where it comes in the form of poverty, discrimination, drug abuse, bullying or human trafficking.”

Collaboration

As one of the collaborators for the event, Hallmark Initiative, in their goodwill message, said the body consisted of volunteers across Nigeria, who were motivated by a strong vision to eradicate ignorance among vulnerable teenagers, especially those in remand homes, juvenile centres, and orphanages in rural communities.

Hallmark Founder and CEO, Emmanuel Umukoro, noted that because rural and urban communities in the southern part of the country had their fair shares of challenges for everyone, the decision to be a change agent was propelled by what they saw children and teenagers in rural communities suffer.

Umukoro said, “So, Hallmark Initiative was birthed out of a genuine passion to promote the development and empowerment of children and teenagers in grassroots communities. With a vision to raise civic leaders out of teenagers, through their various programmes, we help teenagers change old habits, development positive behaviour and implement strategies for taking immediate action towards their dreams.”