By Suleiman Yakubu


Children’s Day was celebrated last week May 27, without the usual fanfare that accompanies it when we were growing up. This speaks volumes. It is a sign that we are neglecting our responsibilities to these little ones. I noticed that the Democracy Day May 29 easily dwarfed the Children’s Day celebration. I felt guilty when I chose to write about democracy day celebration last week, instead of children’s which occurred two days earlier. It shows where our priority lies and I am afraid that we are not ordering them right.

Children’s Day always leave me dazed with nostalgia, because as a child it was a very special day for me. I recall the endless march pass rehearsals weeks before the D-day, and the buildup of tension just before the event. I also remember the preparations, how we pestered our parents until they got us new shoes and uniforms; because it was also a day to oppress other children who might not be so fortunate.

My worst children’s day was when after being selected as one of those to represent Kuyanbana Primary School, Minna, now Umar Faruk Primary School; I tripped over some stuff around the house, during one of our rowdy playing sessions with my brothers, and peeled the skin off my right toe. But I was not about to forgo the celebration, therefore, notwithstanding the pain and discomfort, I forced my leg into my new sandals. And although every step I took was accompanied by excruciating pain, I marched on until the end.

At the field, we tried to do all we could to portray our school as the best. Of course, teachers were always there to ensure that we were at our best behavior. But we sure gave them hell. With friends, boys and girls, from other schools; it sometimes took more than a teacher’s cane to stop us from mingling and socializing with each other.

One other thing that is difficult to forget was the rain; it usually rains on children’s day, but I assure you that to us it was more fun. Being ignorant about the havoc that such cold weather could do to an exposed child, we wondered why our parents often worried so much. Now I know better, I also know that the rain is nothing but a sign that even the gods sanctioned that day. Perhaps this is because children are so innocent and not yet polluted by the stench of corruption that has held our nation captive for decades.

In addition, I think of the competition among schools, how each strived to outdo each other either by the way they dress or salute the guest of honour; and generally doing one thing or the other that would distinguish them from the rest. The maddening anticipation that usually held us captives just before the name of the winning school is announced was unforgettable too. And the shout for victory by the winning schools is usually the climax of the children’s days of yesteryears. I imagine that children today also feel the way that I felt about children days.

However, as we celebrate children and what the day meant for them, we would do well to remember those who do not even have the opportunity to be in a public school, let alone being selected for the march pass. Yet these millions of children who have to move about in rags and hawk before they feed; who do not have the privilege of marching passed their political leaders, are the ones who deserve more attention on children’s day. The average Nigerian child is malnourished, most of them live below poverty line, while quite a number of births never even attain adulthood.

All these in addition to the various forms of child abuse: Child labour, trafficking, early marriage, rape, and so on has placed the Nigerian child at a very disadvantaged position. Yet, we still pride ourselves as the Giant of Africa and one of the world’s largest producers of oil.

It is a tragedy that we keep toying with the welfare of our children. It is a very careless attitude that has huge adverse effects on our economy and nation. This is because we are obviously failing to train our future leaders, instead, we have unwittingly reduced their capacity by daily eroding their self-esteem.

We pay little attention to their health and education; and  with many jobless and underpaid parents, many children are forced to fend for themselves. They assume the role of breadwinners at an age when they are supposed to develop themselves or just be the children that they are.

We do not just deny our children material things but we are bequeathing them questionable legacies. They may be so little, but they hear and see the things that we do; and a child is a highly impressionable personality. Most of what they learnt as children remains with them for the rest of their lives and sometimes form the core of their principles. That is why it is so wrong to show a child our failings or the ugly side of life at such an early age.

The white people are very aware of this, and that is why they don’t even quarrel in front of their children let alone fight if they can help it. This is something that we do not even care about. Some parents even make their children to support them during such fights. In fact, some even make their children to lie on their behalf.

Our society has become the breeding ground for miscreants. Politicians employ street kids as thugs and many children are forced into prostitution and armed robbery because there is no one to fend for them.

It is very unfortunate that in Nigeria we emphasize wealth above all. Gone are the days when a good name is said to be better than money. Nowadays we practically worship money and adore the rich no matter how they made their money. Just get rich and even the law would bow to you. We are giving our children no reason to be hardworking, accountable, honest or just. We have also failed our future generation as a nation. Instead of long lasting institutions and infrastructures, all we do is patch things up so that we can have enough for ourselves. Where some nations have 100 years development plan which they are religiously pursuing, all we do is fight over how to share diminishing oil wealth.

We have short changed our children and mortgaged their future. I wonder if there is any hope for them, especially since we have also taught them to embrace the wrong values.

This is the time to really have a rethink for the love of this great nation. It is time to do the right thing. It is time to stop sacrificing the destiny of the Nigerian child so that we can send a handful of ours to the best schools abroad.