2024 Children’s Day: In search of future for Nigerian child

Children have always been referred to as the leaders of tomorrow and that ‘tomorrow’ belongs to them. However, these assertions seem to be neither here nor there, considering the myriad of challenges before the Nigerian child.

Children besieged by many challenges

The challenges are profound and pervasive with many children inhibited by socio-cultural and economic factors in the coordinates of their wellbeing and development.

These challenges range from childhood mortality to poor access to basic education, nutrition and healthcare rights to child labour and sexual abuse, not to mention being victims of conflict and war.

In addition to these challenges, climate change has put their lives under constant threat.

According to Save the Children International, nearly 710 million children in many countries around the globe are living at the highest risk of suffering the impact of climate crises.

Similarly, violent conflicts, widespread insecurity, kidnapping and banditry seem to form part of everyday challenges for millions of children in Nigeria.

With the number of out-of-school children estimated at more than 10 million in the country, stakeholders have expressed concern that even those in schools are challenged by poor facilities, with many of them sitting on bare floors.

Kidnappers have been having a field day, abducting school children and their teachers at will, a situation analysts described as counter-productive to the ongoing efforts to provide children with functional education.

During the 2024 Children’s Day celebration in Abuja, the young ones particularly called for more investment in their education. They made a case for children’s acquisition of functional skills to position them in a way that would enable them to exploit their potential in the ever-changing world.

The call by these young ones was in tandem with the theme of the event which was, ‘Enhancing the Total Well-being of the Nigerian Child through Quality Education and Skills Development.’

According to a 14-year-old secondary school student, Kolawale David while echoing his voice on that day,

“Help children in need and give those from poor households access to free education from the primary to the tertiary level. Equip our schools and make them conducive for learning. This would enable all children to access quality education and develop the needed knowledge and skills to live productive adulthood,” he had said. 

For nine-year-old Ashezi Akwashiki, the author and advocate of a book on literacy and education, “Dreams do come true if every child is nurtured, supported and equipped with the right knowledge and skills.”

At nine years, Akwashiki has been instrumental to the production of ‘Book Buddies’ by Ashezi Initiative, a non-profit organisation promoting literacy and educational equity.

This wouldn’t have been possible if she did not get the support she needed to learn and if her immediate environment had not been conducive enough to excite her imagination.

No wonder FCT’s Children Parliament described the well-being of children as the cornerstone of the future of Nigeria.

The speaker of the parliament, Rahama Waziri, who made the assertion at an event to commemorate the 2024 Children’s Day, added that Nigerian children were in dire need of quality education and skills.

Waziri noted that the celebration provided the needed opportunity to discuss how to collectively ensure that every Nigerian child receives the education and skills necessary to thrive in any chosen endeavour.

According to her, empowering children with education and skills is pivotal to the sustainable growth and development of the country.

“It is through their eyes that we envision a brighter tomorrow and it is through their development that we can achieve it.

“Education is the bedrock of any progressive society. It is the tool that empowers individuals to transcend the limitations of their circumstances and achieve their full potential. For the Nigerian child, quality education is not just a right, but a necessity.

“It is the gateway to opportunities, the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and the foundation for a prosperous and equitable society,” she maintained.

She also stressed the need for skills development, describing it as crucial to preparing children for the challenges and opportunities in the future as according to her, the world is evolving rapidly and that the jobs of tomorrow would demand a diverse set of skills.

Therefore, she said, “It is imperative that children are equipped with both technical and soft skills that would enable them to adapt and thrive. We need to ensure that schools are well-equipped with modern facilities, including libraries, laboratories, digital resources and that curriculums are updated to reflect current realities and future projections.

“In this digital age, technology plays a crucial role in education. Integrating ICT in classrooms can enhance learning experiences and provide students with the skills needed in a tech-driven world,” she said.

In the mood of the celebration, many school children were seen playing drums during a cultural dance in Abuja and many cities across the country.

Acknowledging the need to equip Nigerian children with functional digital skills, Ms Chidinma Ilechukwu, the assistant project officer, International IDEA, Nigeria Office said children must be protected at all cost owing to the many challenges they face ranging from abuse to violence, abandonment and neglect.

She reiterated the organisation’s continued commitment to ensuring that all children in Nigeria have access to justice through the implementation of the Child Rights Acts at the federal and state levels even though all that seems like a far cry.

Sharing a similar sentiment, Sylvia Sarki, operations manager, Across Atlantic Development in UK said parents, guardians and caregivers must continue to support and empower children to reach their full potential.

Sarki insisted that children must be supported to explore and grow as future leaders, innovators and change-makers of tomorrow.

FG committed to children’s welfare

Responding to these calls, President Bola Tinubu said the federal government had embarked on key transformative policies to create a conducive learning environment across the country.

Tinubu, represented at the event by the FCT minister of state, Dr Mariya Mahmoud, re-affirmed his administration’s commitment to implementing all matters relating to the total well-being and development of the Nigerian child.

To that extent the president said that the government had established the National Education Data System and approved skill development for all levels of education and teachers ‘training in digital skills.

“We are also working with the state commissioners of women affairs and the state Ministries of Education, State Universal Basic Education Boards, and civil society organisations to ensure quality education and skills development for Nigerian children,” Tinubu said.

The president also said that in furtherance of his ‘Renewed Hope’ agenda, the government had earmarked N100 billion in the 2024 budget for school feeding programme, targeting 10 million Nigerian children from primary one to six.

He explained that the programme is being reviewed to address hunger, improved nutrition, enhanced student’s’ attendance, academic performance, boosting of local agriculture in order to serve as an economic stimulus to local communities.

Other speakers reaffirm commitment 

Similarly, the minister of women affairs, Mrs Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, assured the children that their rights would be protected.

“When it comes to fighting for your rights, I shall always be there for you because Mr president said the poor shall breathe and the children are one of the vulnerable,” the minister said.

For Mrs Adedayo Benjamins-Laniyi, mandate secretary, Women Affairs Secretariat, FCT Administration, children are assets to the nation and must be nurtured and supported.

Benjamins-Laniyi assured children in Abuja of FCT minister, Mr Nyesom Wike’s commitment to ensuring that every child in the Federal Capital Territory has access to quality education and skills development opportunities.

She added that the FCT was working to promote policies that protect children’s rights, education and other necessities towards building a life of dignity.

Also reassuring the children of government’s support, was the chairman of the Abuja Municipal Area Council, Mr Christopher Maikalangu who announced the establishment of an ‘Education Endowment Fund’.

According to Maikalangu, the fund is to enable children in rural communities to have access to quality and functional education.

He emphasised the role of education in protecting children from various forms of abuse, adding that no child should be denied access to basic education.

Stakeholders stressed the need to prioritise children’s rights and participation in matters that concern them with a view to building a better future for all.