The Yorubas have a popular adage: omo ti a ko ko ni yo gbe ile ti a ko ta, meaning that the child that you did not build will eventually sell the house you built at a giveaway price.
Violence, all kinds of violence seem to have found abode in Nigeria: religious violence, political violence and social violence. They are at home here. Blood everywhere, human blood. I do not know any religion that forgives or will forgive the spilling of human blood on a daily basis. Yet somehow we think ‘it is well’, that our land will prosper, that we can step through human blood and ascend into goodness and wealth. We know it has never happened anywhere but we expect it to happen in Nigeria. We somehow think we can kill children, the weak, the aged and still get the desires of our heart as a nation. We know that there has never been and shall never be peace for the wicked. Peace and the shedding of human blood cannot coexist in the same nation. Examples abound but we think our case is different, that we will get away with any colour of murder. But we won’t. Mend our ways we must or doomed we are.
So, I repeat, education is everything. It is the children that we have refused to educate that are running riot all over the place. They are the reason violence has found favour in Nigeria. Those children we didn’t love enough to educate are the ones we are trying to reason with today. Reasoning too late. The money we ought to have spent on education is now being spent on buying firearms and building IDP camps. Isn’t it too late to cry when the head is already off? But maybe it is not too late to fix tomorrow. Just maybe we can start educating those children we left on the streets.
The Yorubas have a popular adage: omo ti a ko ko ni yo gbe ile ti a ko ta, meaning that the child that you did not build will eventually sell the house you built at a giveaway price. No parent has a guaranteed peaceful old age if he does not build his children and that is the problem with Nigeria. Let’s use Osun state as a case study.
The parties that lost out in the recent governorship election in Osun state were angry. The voters who said their votes were not counted or stolen or both were even angrier. The ones who were prevented by hook and crook from voting at the rerun election were the angriest. Now, did you see young Osun people burning houses or beheading people because they felt short-changed? Did you see them unleashing terror on everybody and everything in sight? No. Osun people knew they will not gain anything, anything at all, by burning their own houses because when they did so in 1983, after the governorship election that declared Dr Victor Omololu Olunloyo winner against the incumbent Governor Bola Ige. They had to rebuild everything they brought down all on their own. They have also learnt that those who encourage them to go on the streets and unleash mayhem stay back indoors with their wives and children. Only the children of other people are sent on errands from which they may not return. This time around, these angry voters knew that the children of all the candidates that lost, and those of the winner, would not join them on the streets to face live bullets. Yes, they knew because the children of Bola Ige and Olunloyo did not die in 1983. Only the children of other people. So, this time around, they counted their teeth with their tongues and decided that they will protest at the election tribunal, not by burning houses in Osun because that would be double jeopardy. In any case, where would they find protesters? Osun youths want to become senators and governors. One told me he’d like to become Central Bank Governor one day. Another one nurses a presidential ambition. Their role models are Aliko Dangote and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. They know that dead people do not become future leaders.
That is the place of education. That is why education is everything. It gives you focus. It opens your mind and your eyes. It tells you if your governor can do it, you can. It helps you to see through the selfishness of political rhetoric and tells you that a man who cannot lead the battle to retrieve his own mandate is not a man worth following. If he feels strongly about his stolen votes, then he must lead the protest, on foot, facing live bullets. No, he is not allowed to bury his pain in expensive cognac, in the cozy comfort of his shipped-from-Italy living room while assuring his wife and children hiding out in a beach house in Miami, that all will be well. If his kids are thousands of miles away from the flying bullets, so should yours.
So, how does that work with the almajiri, those poor, unloved, abandoned children who grew up on the streets, left to the elements long before they knew how to clean their own butts and noses? Who do they look up to? Their teachers who farm them out to the heat of the northern sun? Imagine, just take a minute to imagine having to walk barefoot in the cold, northern harmattan, all through the harmattan season. A colleague said he was so moved to tears, he parked his car and bought a pair of slippers each for all the ones he saw one cold morning. Imagine the afternoon heat from a paved sidewalk, the hot sand when the temperature is at 40 degrees, how that feels under the feet of a 12-year-old who has had nothing to eat all morning, all day. Look at your 12-year-old son and try and imagine it.
Children who eat the leftovers of vultures are dehumanized children and dehumanized children are unpredictable. We did not love them so we have no right to demand love or humanity from them. These ones have been fending for their lives for far too long to care about concepts so far-fetched as ‘future leaders’. They live by the day because the system has no plan for them. The society drives past them every day. Life flies past them every day. They wonder why they have to live life the hardest way. They wonder if other children who go to school spend more than nine months in their mother’s wombs. They trudge along daily wondering what they did wrong, who they wronged. At age five, they are just hungry and weepy. By age 18, they are angry and vengeful, available for anybody recruiting for any evil venture. And we wonder why there is violence in every news bulletin? Are we stupid or plain mean or both?
A 16-year-old who has been on the streets for 11 years is offered 200 naira and enough food for a day, for five days if he is available to be part of a violent procession. His 18-year-old ‘brother’ who has given up on life is brainwashed to bear a bomb into a market, a school, or church in exchange for some wild pleasures with non-existent virgins in Paradise and you expect him to turn it down? Why? There are no virgins lusting after his unwashed body here, are there? Why should he care if there are virgins in Paradise or if he will be allowed to have sex there? It can’t be worse there!
The almajiri, he has no ambition to become Dangote. He doesn’t really know who the CBN Governor is. Indeed, he has been taught that his hard life is his destiny. So, N200 and free food is like winning the lottery. He’s a waiting workshop for the devil to occupy.
Recently, at the Northern Nigeria Traditional Leaders Conference on Out-Of-School Children, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, and other speakers had admitted that “northern Nigeria contributes a large chunk” to the 13.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria.
The deputy representative of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Nigeria, Pernille Ironside, clarified the statistics thus: ‘When we speak of out-of-school children, who are they? It is too easy to keep them nameless and faceless. The latest Mics data tells us that 69 per cent of out-of-school children in Nigeria are in northern states. Bauchi has the highest number of 1.1 mil- lion and Katsina follows with 781,500.’
Add to all that the list of the Executive Secretaries of UBEC (Universal Basic Education) from 1999 till date, from Dr Ali Adamu to Dr Hameed Bobboyi, save two, all are from the north, aware of this deficit. Then round it up with each northern state having a commissioner for Education since 1999. And I am left wondering why we still have the almajiri on the streets. Is there something the northern governors are not telling us? Is it that the Almajiri arrangement works for northern elite and politicians or the situation is just bigger than everybody? It is a sad phenomenon because these children are the easy recruits for Boko Haram, political and religious violence.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to convince an undergraduate who sees himself as a Bank MD-in-waiting to take even N1,000 to go and face armed soldiers. He’ll just laugh, look briefly in your eyes just to be sure your insanity is not infectious and then return to his Snapchat, Instagram or Black Friday on Jumia business.
Even in the very sophisticated cities, only area boys can be recruited for violence. The educated youths watch from a distance, record the shame with their smartphones and post online. They are too busy planning for a future they will be part of to be fodder for violence.