May 27 every year is set aside to celebrate the Nigerian child in what is traditionally known as Children’s Day. The idea of Children’s Day was mooted by Rubab Mansoor, a child in the eighth grade and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1954. However, Children’s Day was first celebrated globally in October 1955, sponsored by the International Union for Child Welfare in Geneva, Switzerland. Nigeria, just as other nations of the world, choose to mark the Day at different times, settled for May 27 to honour and recognize the role of the Nigerian child in building an enduring, healthy and prosperous family and indeed, the nation.
And so, no effort is spared by the adult and the society at large to make the day a memorable one for the child. Before now smartly dressed children in primary and secondary schools, aside from participating in the usual march past, with meals and prizes won in between, visit recreation centres to have a fun-filled day with the support of their parents. This year’s Children’s Day celebrated on Wednesday May 27, 2020, was remarkably different as the Nigerian child could only sit back at home imagining what the day would have turned out to be but for the deadly coronavirus pandemic that made it impossible for them to come together to celebrate the day.
The preventive measure of physical distancing to contain the disease would not allow that. So, most of the children remained at home, owing to the peculiar times the nation finds itself. But beyond the celebration, the occasion provides us yet another opportunity to critically examine the conditions of the Nigerian child in a nation riddled with corruption and generally regarded as the poverty capital of the world, where close to 82 million Nigerians live below the poverty level of less than one dollar a day, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
From all indications, it looks bleak for the Nigerian child if the statistics rolled out by UNICEF on child survival in sub-saharan Africa is anything to go by. According to the world body, one in every five of world out of school children is a Nigerian. About 10.5 million of Nigerian children aged between five and fourteen years are said to be out of school. Only 61% of six to eleven years old regularly attend primary school, while 35.6% of children aged 36 to 59 months receive early childhood education.
The picture in the North is even more disturbing where net childhood education attendance rate is put at a paltry 53% and North Eastern Nigeria where approximately 2.8 million children are in need of education in emergencies in the three conflicts-laden states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States. Where therefore is the hope of the Nigerian child under this crippling environment? Is the day worth celebrating at all? We strongly believe hope is not yet lost if only the President Muhammadu Buhari government will exercise the political will to squarely address the issue of poverty and infrastructural deficit in the country, tighten the noose and plug all leakages to stem the brazen looting of the country’s treasury by some of those who are privileged to superintend over our common wealth.
Efforts need to be made to strengthen existing laws that safeguard the rights of the child from all forms of abuses, molestation and exploitation. Child labour and early marriages must be discarded, while efforts must be made to provide for orphans and other vulnerable children in the society, especially the internally displaced.