Your Excellencies, Nigerian kids are knocking on your doors

Published: Sunday, 29 Apr 2007

Congratulations, our dear President and governors-elect, on your recent landslide victories at the polls. Soon, you will move over to your official quarters to assume duties. Although some observers put question marks on your successful outing; albeit some of you are perceived to be stooges and godsons of some garrison commanders, something tells me that you will spring surprises and shame your detractors. Already, many Nigerians are eagerly waiting for May 29. They have designed a special prayer to usher you into office. We shall come back to this prayer.

But first, let’s look at one major issue parents will want you to tackle as soon as you mount your thrones. It has to do with some requests from Nigerian children. These requests became more apparent during my recent visit to a primary school in Blaina, a village in Wales.

Seven international scholars had visited the school at the instance of the British Council to enlighten the pupils about other cultures. The scholars are from Nigeria, Kenya, Malawi, Fiji, Iraq and Brunei. Most of the children, we were made to understand, have never stepped out of their village. Hence, they are always desirous to see and learn about other cultures. On our way, the picture in my mind’s eye was a dilapidated school with some ugly-looking children playing away their time. But when we got to the place, the question on everybody’s lips was, “is this the village school?”

Your Excellencies, telling you that there is nothing rural about this so-called village may be stating the obvious. After all, you are well travelled and some of your kids may be in the best of schools abroad. It may also not surprise you to know that the structure and facilities in this village primary school can compare with facilities in the best university in Nigeria. Most of the classrooms in the school are equipped with at least two computers, a projector and different children’s books. Also, there are reading rooms, a library and two large Information and Communication Technology rooms equipped with many new DELL computers and printers. There are different classrooms for children with special needs.

What surprised us and may be of interest to you is that this is a public school. And there is no school fee, no sports fee, and no lunch fee. Everything is free. You can also see enthusiasm and commitment radiating in the teachers. One of them, Ms Joan Price, says all the facilities they enjoy are paid from people’s taxes.

At a point, each of us went to different classrooms to interact with the kids. We told them about our countries, our people and cultures. Typical of children, they innocently asked questions that made some of us laugh and think as well. Some of them asked, “Do you have Internet and TV in your country? What type of food do you eat? Do you have beaches, coconut and banana trees? Do you have dangerous roads?”

Of course, I painted a beautiful picture of Nigeria. I told the kids that we had Internet and TVs; and that most Nigerians watched CNN, BBC, Sky News and other international stations in their living rooms. I told them that our roads were not dangerous, except for a few potholes here and there. I told them that the major difference between their country and ours was our constant sunshine as against their constant cold weather. The harsh sun, I said, was what had blackened our skin. After stuffing their little brains with the beautiful images of Nigeria, I asked how many of them would like to visit Nigeria in the near future. All hands went up. Satisfied that I have done my patriotic duty, I left.

But, even as I laboured to satisfy these curious little minds, certain images of Nigeria played some games in my mind. I remembered the violence and deaths that trailed the elections we just had. I remembered how my wife (who just came back to Nigeria from the UK), recently woke me up very late in the night with a phone call. For some seconds after I picked the call, I heard nothing except the cry of my one-year-old son, Ebube. And then, the woman fumed, “This is what we witness every night. We don’t sleep anymore. Heat is killing us and there is no electricity to put on fan. I have no option now but to put on generator every night. If you see Ebube’s skin now (referring to heat rashes) you will cry. In fact, you will cry any day you come back to this country after that long stay in the UK.”

Sadly, millions of Nigerian children cry like Ebube every night. The unlucky ones die from preventable diseases everyday. Malaria, in particular, kills a child every 30 seconds. The disease, the World Health Organisation says, is stalling development in Africa. And since the noise about roll back malaria started a few years ago, I do not know how many mosquitoes the programme has rolled back to wherever they came from.

Happily, the outgoing Minister for Education, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, recently joined to amplify the cry of the children. She has cried about the state of Nigerian public schools. A few days ago, she was also reported to have called on all governors-elect to declare a state of emergency in their public school system. Ezekwesili was not happy that the report of an inspection of all public secondary schools in the country last year scored the best performing state 32 per cent. Most states were said to have scored below 15 per cent.

The rot in our school system disturbed noble minds in February when some female students in primary and secondary schools protested to Ezekwesili over sexual harassment. The students urged the minister to let male teachers know that they came to school to learn, not to be sexually harassed and intimidated.

Your Excellencies, these are some of the requests of Nigerian children. Please do not disappoint them by shutting the doors against them. If only you can join Ezekwesili in her national cry, the kids’ problems will be half solved. Be assured that Nigerians are fervently praying for you. They wish that May 29 were today so that you can immediately begin to correct the deluge of problems besetting our fatherland. Their recent prayer, as graciously forwarded to me by my younger brother, says it all: “Our Baba who art in Aso Rock. Balogun of Owu is thy name. Thy handover shall soon come. Thy will has been done in Umaru and Goodluck. Leave us this May 29th, your departure date. Lead us not into anarchy. Forgive Turaki his disloyalty as we forgave your failed third term plot. Deliver him from INEC hammer for Otta is thy destination, with all that is thine, thy bag and thy baggage, forever and ever, just go ooo. Amen!”

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