I once read somewhere that Nigeria is home to the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. Initially, I was indifferent to the report until recently that I confirmed the figure with the National Bureau of Statistics, then, it struck me, so hard that some memories flashed vividly before me; ranging from the many underage beggars I meet daily on roads to the underage children I see hawking in traffic jams in Lagos, then to the very experience that sent a chill down my spine. Then, I concluded that international agencies may never stop donating aids to us and giving us grants because we are our major problem as a people.
I recall my stay with an aunt in one of the South Western states, a couple of years ago. On getting to her house I saw two children, obviously between 11 and 15. I was surprised, because I knew my aunt’s three children are grownups, even though it has been ages I saw them – the youngest is sixteen. Well, I greeted them warmly and so as not to sound awkward, I asked after their mom (my aunt); from their response, it was clear they could not communicate in English. Definitely, my wealthy aunt, whose husband is a millionaire banker could not have birthed these ones, I should have deduced from their tattered clothes. When she returned, she confirmed that they were her housemaids. Not bad, I thought. The next day was Monday, and I got out of the guest room to meet these kids cleaning the house. I was not surprised, after all, that was their job in the house but what worried me was the time – it was past nine and I expected them to be in school. But it was a sad discovery when I learnt that these two are among the 9.1 million Out-of-School children in Nigeria as confirmed by the National Bureau of Statistics and possibly, not captured among the 61 million children between the ages of 5-11 that do not have access to Primary Education as reported by UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS). They are above 11 and one of them confirmed later to me that they did not finish primary school. This is something to be worried about but I was not very worried then because I was not aware of these alarming figures.
Recently, I was having a discussion with a group of friends on the effectiveness of Nigeria’s
constitutional provision for compulsory primary education and we shared testimonies of the many children we have witnessed being denied access to primary education. One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for 2030 was to achieve quality education for all, but I must assert that such projection is unrealistic or I should say, unfair. They had not addressed equal access to Primary Education, yet they are projecting “quality education”. Primary education is a fundamental human right that should never be violated, and when it is, the world should lose sleep in addressing it. But look around you; check your neighbor’s homes they must have some underage kids working as housemaids for them. Perhaps, you are guilty too. This is child labour and the United Nations may never solve the inhumane practice unless we take bold steps as a nation to not be a contributor to world’s problems. Aristotle says, “education gives life”, and for me, when we deny a child primary education, we have practically taken his/her life. We are worried that our status as “underdeveloped” has not changed but the sad news is we may remain this way because, our own Albert Einstein might be in a mansion cleaning toilets for some old folks, whose children are in the hands of the best teachers; our own Bill Gates might have been denied access to basic education. It is important that we change our ways.
I suggest that employment of underage children as housemaids be criminalized with severe punishment. in fact, it could be addressed as a terrorism act. It is not outrageous, after all, planning a peaceful protest against bad governance is what qualifies one as terrorist in a country called Nigeria. Let’s fight this criminal act and contribute to the advancement of humanity.