• Monday, March 04, 2024
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BusinessDay

The faceless ones

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The busy food market on Diya Street sits just before the popular New Garage Bus Stop Gbagada, a relatively quiet suburb of Lagos metropolis. Many farm produce – beans, rice, maize, vegetables – are transported in large quantity to this fairly large market, even though the nation’s 13 million people are often on the brink of starvation. The economics is simple – prices are higher in oil-rich Nigeria. Hence to make ends meet, parents are forced to engage their school-age children in trading. In the early morning sun, Amarachi Amadi is sitting by his mother’s ware of fresh pepper and tomatoes. He is supposed to be in school but he has to assist his mother for the next two weeks or more in other to get the money with which to pay his school fees.

Increasingly, it seems children like Amarachi have no hope of a better future or education in a country that is reeling in poverty and that does not have a social welfare programme for its citizens.

Combating poverty and social exclusion remain high on the policy agenda in all countries around the world. But social experts say fostering individual and social development require more than that. A wide range of issues from employment, trade and labour standards, health, family, gender-equity to education and population ageing need to be addressed.

Nigerian children are languishing at the bottom of an international league table examining the physical and emotional well-being of youngsters in supposed Africa’s wealthiest nation. Despite living in what is believed to be the richest country in Africa, the next generation of Nigerian citizens experience some of the worst levels of poverty.

A research found they regard themselves as less happy, and that they rebel against their parents by taking to drugs, drinking alcohol and missing classes in school. They were also more prone to failure at school, experience violence and bullying while suffering a greater number of unhappy relationships with both their families and peers.

One of the problems of the Nigerian child is acute food shortage and lack of balance diet, says Olushola Adeleke, a nutritionist. It is therefore not a surprise that the United Nations says almost a third of Nigeria’s young children are moderately to severely underweight. Therefore, in the menu of an average Nigerian family, the main daily meal could be a starchy porridge, flavoured with chillies, dried tomatoes.

“Much of the blame for the poor state of Nigerian agriculture lies with the successive military dictatorships, which since the 1970s promised, but never delivered, on grandiose modernisation plans. But why is Nigeria even importing food? Agricultural produce used to be its main export. Now, it must turn to neighbours to feed its growing population, already Africa’s largest at 140 million. Most Nigerians live on farms, but today many can barely provide for themselves. The rains provided a good crop of sorghum and maize this season, maybe enough to get through the dry season,” says Adeleke.

Adeleke observes that each new year brings new uncertainty for the Nigerian child as poor infrastructure is biting him hard. “Water which is essential to a child’s diet is not available in most states in the country. There are many water pumps that have been overgrown with wild grasses. The problem is that the electric supply is erratic around there and there’s no diesel to run the pumps. No diesel in one of the world’s most energy-rich nations,” he says.

Josephine Woo, project officer, West Central Africa Department, the World Bank, observes in her report titled: Nigeria: Social Sectors Strategy, that Nigeria’s fertility rate, which is twice that of East Asia and more than 80 percent higher than the average in Latin America, has barely decreased in the past 25 years. Only 13 percent of married women have four or fewer children as their ideal, and only about 4 percent of couples practised efficient, modern methods of family planning in 1990, compared with 36 percent in Zimbabwe, 32 percent in Botswana and 18 percent in Kenya. Thirteen percent of Nigerian girls have begun childbearing by age 15, and nearly half by age 20.

According to her, there is much regional disparity within Nigeria as social indicators are worse in the Northern part of the country than in the South, and poorer in rural than in urban areas which has an adverse effect on children. “The under-five infant mortality rates are much higher in the Northern parts of the country than in the South, and higher in rural than in urban areas. Fewer children go to school in the North than in the South. Twice as many women in the North have never attended school, and girls’ participation in primary and secondary education continue to be much lower in the North than in the South. Regional differences in the knowledge and practice of family planning are also considerable.”

She also observes that Nigeria’s education and health services expanded rapidly during the oil boom of the 1970s, but there has been serious deterioration in the quantity and quality of services in the past two decades.

In order to thrive, says Bola Akinkanju, a sociologist and family counsellor, a child must experience the consistent and ongoing care by a loving, nurturing caring parents and government. According to her, the security and support that government and family can provide gives a child the self-confidence and resiliency to cope effectively with any difficult situation in life.

To this end, family experts are of the opinion that generally lacking in government’s policies, are viable implementation plans based on realistic assessments of the resources required and in most cases there are no clear cut plans for an average Nigerian family. And the few policies that are, constant institutional and personnel changes have also made consistent policy implementation difficult.

By: ANNE AGBAJE