Partnership to Tackle Insurgency

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Chiamaka Ozulumba writes that hope rises as Access Bank partners the North to tackle insurgency

By 2018, the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria rose from 10.5 million to 13.2 million. Although primary education is officially free and compulsory in many states, 61 per cent of six to 11-year-olds regularly attend primary school with only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months receiving early childhood education. Interestingly, the picture is bleaker in Northern Nigeria, with a net attendance rate of 53 per cent.

According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, only 45 per cent of girls in the North are enrolled in schools, while the North-east and the North-west states had a female primary attendance ratio of 44 per cent and 47 per cent. The agency explained that the issue can be traced to poverty, early marriage and cultural beliefs, and further compounded by uncommitted teachers, poor learning environment, leading the country to account for more than one in five out-of-school children globally.

This year, the Federal Government reported that following various interventions by state government and their partners, the number reduced from 13.2 million to 10.2 million. The number remains mind-boggling, but there is hope. While the population continues to increase through rising birth rate, parents are not financially supported, and children are sent out into the streets and left exposed to abuse, slavery and recruitment for anti-social activities.

Education is a fundamental right of every Nigerian child, and the absence of formal education, career counseling, societal or parental care end up turning them into aggressive, gullible and violent young adults with obvious hate for the larger society. Majority of them eventually grow up to become delinquents and potential recruits into terrorist groups.

If the children are being recruited, inspired and configured towards crime, it is important that we motivate them in another direction and paint them a picture of different possibilities. However, the first step to achieving this is strengthening the education system and getting as many children as possible off the streets and into the classrooms.

With this goal, Access Bank in partnership with the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) and Fifth Chukker, made a commitment to child development and strategic community support through the Charity Shield Polo tournament. The purpose is to rebuild and strengthen the educational system with the hope of increasing access to formal education and reducing child delinquency.

Through this initiative, Access Bank has raised funds to invest in schools, fixed existing ones by providing facilities and teaching materials, and by building new schools in several rural communities.

Speaking recently, Victor Etuokwu, Executive Director, Retail Banking, Access Bank Plc. said, “In Kaduna, we are facilitating the building of a new school which will have 60 classroom blocks and accommodate over 1,200 children. Once this is completed, we intend to expand our impact to other states and consequently other regions. We are

happy that we are not working alone, as we have the full support of UNICEF and Fifth Chukker and hope other banks can join us in our crusade”.

The Boko Haram insurgency has been a point of concern for both Nigerians and the global community. It has cost more than 4,000 lives, displaced close to a million people, destroyed hundreds of schools and government buildings and devastated an already ravaged economy in the North East, one of Nigeria’s poorest regions. So while the regions begin to recover, there is no doubt that if urgent measures are not put in place to support the citizens, the current threat will steer the future of the country towards obscurity.

Though the government has made several efforts to curb insurgency through military control and strategic planning, it is clear that this is a war that cannot be won by the government alone, independent of capable, well-meaning individuals and organisations. More importantly, the results of our victory cannot be sustained unless all key stakeholders take clear ownership of their respective roles and participate actively in the task of nation-building.

From its inception, over N1 billion has been raised through the polo tournament and all the proceeds have been invested in child education. Access Bank still hopes to revitalize the educational system in the locations of focus, and provide Nigerian children with a chance for a better tomorrow.

According to the Polo & Equestrian General Manager, Fifth Chukker, Barbara Zingg, the 2019 event also featured a special Children’s Day programs which included riding lessons for 200 children, 150 of which will be underprivileged children selected by UNICEF. She also disclosed that cuisines from countries across West Africa, East Africa and Mexico were introduced as part of a cultural exchange program.

Over the years, through various schemes and projects, the bank continues to showcase its commitment to being more than banking. The Group Head, Corporate Communications, Access Bank Plc, Amaechi Okobi, who spoke on the essence of the polo charity event, said, “So, as often as we can, through the support of organisations like UNICEF, Fifth Chukker and the media, we will continue to let Nigeria and the world know that Nigerian children and their education will not be ignored”.

The project is building program ownership among federal, state and local government education authorities. Commendably, the Kaduna State Government has recognised the efforts of the bank in improving the educational system in the state through the building and refurbishing of schools and the governor pledged to match the efforts of the bank. This means that upon the completion of current project, the state government will build another school to accommodate 1,200 students and further more.

There are signs of hope for the future, and Access Bank is leading the way. With such an impressive record in giving back to communities, a stronger and sustainable foundation is currently being laid for the future; the Nigerian dream. Therefore, it is important that everyone, as individuals and corporate institutions, begin to raise our voices and drive the action in supporting the growth of the Nigerian child.