The politicisation of out-of-school children in Nigeria

In Nigeria, the issue of out-of-school children continues to escalate, posing significant challenges to the country’s development and prospects. While various stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), are ostensibly involved in addressing this crisis, a troubling trend has emerged: the politicisation and exploitation of this vulnerable demographic for personal gain and publicity. The number of out-of-school children in Nigeria is alarming. Despite efforts to improve access to education, factors such as poverty, cultural norms, insecurity, and inadequate infrastructure persistently contribute to this phenomenon. In this context, the role of NGOs is crucial, as they often fill the gaps left by government’s interventions. However, the noble intentions of these organisations are often overshadowed by a focus on garnering financial support and enhancing their public image.

A concerning aspect of this issue is the extensive use of propaganda tactics by local NGOs. Instead of prioritising the implementation of sustainable solutions, many organisations focus on publicity stunts and photo opportunities that showcase out-of-school children. These images often portray almajiri children in the streets or girls involved in street hawking, which are prominently showcased on their websites and social media platforms. They capture compelling images of destitution and hopelessness during their street campaigns. However, although these images may elicit sympathy and generate short-term donations, they fail to effectively address the underlying issues that perpetuate the exclusion of children from education.

Furthermore, some NGOs resort to superficial gestures, such as providing a single meal to out-of-school children and publicising these acts as substantial interventions. While beneficial in the immediate term, do not address the systemic barriers to education that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and exclusion. By prioritising photo opportunities over meaningful impact, these organisations prioritise their own interests over the well-being of the children they claim to serve.

The consequences of this propaganda-driven approach are dire. It undermines the credibility of genuine efforts to address the out-of-school children crisis. When NGOs prioritise optics over outcomes, they erode public trust and perpetuate skepticism about the effectiveness of interventions. Moreover, it perpetuates a cycle of dependency, as communities come to rely on sporadic handouts rather than sustainable solutions that empower them to address root causes.

The politicalisation of out-of-school children also has broader implications for governance and accountability. When NGOs prioritise their own agenda, they divert attention and resources away from efforts to hold governments accountable for fulfilling their obligations to provide quality education for all. Instead of challenging systemic failures, they inadvertently reinforce the status quo by offering Band-Aid solutions that do little to address structural inequalities.

To combat this alarming trend, concerted action is needed from multiple stakeholders. First and foremost, the government must take proactive steps to address the root causes of the out-of-school children crisis. This includes investing in infrastructure, addressing poverty, promoting inclusive policies, and enhancing the quality of education. NGOs can play a vital role in advocating policy reform and holding authorities accountable for their commitments.

At the same time, communities must be empowered to take ownership of the issue and actively participate in finding solutions. Community-led initiatives, supported by NGOs and government agencies, have the potential to foster sustainable change by addressing local priorities and leveraging existing resources. By building partnerships based on trust and mutual respect, stakeholders can work together to create an enabling environment for children to access and thrive in education.

Crucially, there must be greater transparency and accountability within the NGO sector. Organisations must be held to high ethical standards, ensuring that their interventions are driven by genuine concern for the welfare of out-of-school children rather than self-interest. Donors and supporters should prioritise funding organisations that demonstrate a commitment to long-term impact and accountability.

The politicisation of out-of-school children in Nigeria is a disheartening trend that undermines efforts to address this pressing issue. By prioritising propaganda over genuine impact, NGOs perpetuate dependency, erode trust, and detract from efforts to implement sustainable solutions. To reverse this trend, stakeholders must come together to prioritise the needs of children, promote transparency and accountability, and work collaboratively to create an inclusive education system that leaves no child behind.

Tijjani Mukaddas, 

Humphrey fellow, 

Vanderbilt University, USA.

Tijjani Mukaddas

Humphrey Fellow,

Vanderbilt University, TN, USA 

[email protected]

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