Nigeria must do more for its children, writes Bidemi Nelson
A Nigerian northern monarch recently decried the growing numbers of children who are orphans in Northern Nigeria. He said that the increase in insecurity in Nigeria has significantly contributed to this trend and warned of the comeuppance to the country if the situation is not nipped in the bud. While killings, abductions, banditry and cultism, among others occur in several parts of the country, there have been reactions from different quarters of leadership to emasculate or negotiate with the perpetrators. The plans to mitigate the rising levels of insecurity have however neglected the adequate welfare of its victim (case in point, the orphans). Truth be told, just as socio-economic development and security in any country is a product of human capital investment, so is the preponderance of insecurity. In fact, insecurity is fuelled by the existence of willing, ignorant or coerced individuals who typically have nothing to lose. Unfortunately, children fit into this picture, so well.
Ironically, insecurity is driven by the availability of people and insecurity equally ensures the availability of people, even though it sponsors gratuitous killings. The stakeholders who benefit from the proceeds of insecurity know the value of human capital and as such target women and children as trophies of their escapades. Another painful truth is that when more and more orphaned children are repeatedly ignored by the government and other caregivers, the more they are groomed for a life of crime. Like it or not, some of the people who perpetrate the crimes of insecurity are the same children of communities who have been victims of insecurity. One more sad truth is that no one is impervious to insecurity and its challenges irrespective of location, position or resources. Insecurity has a way of hunting everyone down sooner or later and if you are not a direct victim, you might just be an indirect victim when you lose your loved ones to this menace.
While we can all talk, blame, strategize and sigh at the spate of insecurity, our posterity will never forgive us if these are all we end up doing. Fighting against insecurity is both an individual and collective effort. Orphanages in Nigeria should be re-assessed to evaluate their capacities and resources. In addition, more orphanages should be established in the country. Individuals and government should assist orphanages in capacity and resource building while creating room for accountability. Data about orphaned children must be quickly collated in their communities and this information used to distribute these children to orphanages if there is no family member that can be located immediately to take up their care. Individuals can also work with security agencies such as the Police or the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps to ensure that children who beg for alms or loiter around are quickly taken off the street to orphanages, which will cater for them. A department in these security agencies should be dedicated to this work since it is very sensitive.
Furthermore, we must also factor in the dynamics of foster-parenting in Nigeria. Nigerian orphanages may not be adequate to accommodate the high numbers of orphaned children scattered across the country. Beyond this, orphaned children need food, clothes, education, health-care, alongside a good support system to thrive and this is usually present in a balanced family setting. Families who are willing to foster orphaned children should be located and the necessary trainings, documentations and agreements drawn up. Religious organisations will play a very prominent role in raising awareness about fostering in their gatherings while further extending their hands of “Religious Social Responsibility” by donating more funds and materials to foster families and orphanages. This definitely does not exclude the government’s role as an administrator, provider and negotiator. Every orphaned and fostered child in Nigeria belongs to the Nigerian government and the government must be in the fore-front in ensuring their well-being and safety.
Nelson is CEO, Shield of Innocence Initiative, an NGO in Ibadan campaigning for rights of children