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Our girls remain an endangered species

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Bisola Aiyeola

The recent debate over how Nigeria has treated its young started from a foreign source: Bill Gates, is not one to join issues with anyone, except where his business is concerned.

Clearly, he has decided to make Nigeria his business, coming here year in year out, bringing along a piece of that $65billion he doesn’t really need, in the effort to kick out polio.

He almost succeeded too, except for a stubborn strain of the disease found recently to be camouflaged in the ‘koro’ of Borno State, like a debtor running from a creditor.

Anyway, polio is not why Mr. Gates is trending. At the last expanded National Economic Council meeting chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, my Uncle Bill gave our economic plan a rating of ‘e get as e be.’

“People without roads, ports and factories can’t flourish. And roads, ports and factories without skilled workers to build and manage them can’t sustain an economy,” he said. That is to say, we don’t have the infrastructure or the manpower to grow the economy.

This generated mixed reactions. Opposition started popping champagne; the government disagreed furiously. I guess Uncle Bill got this feedback so.

In a CNN interview later, he justified himself with this telling remark: “As a partner in Nigeria, I am saying the current plan is inadequate.

Nigeria has all these young people, and the current quality and quantity of investment in these young generations; in health and education, just isn’t good enough.”

We must agree that we can do a lot better for our young. And we young people must also agree that we can do a lot better for ourselves and our children. Not just in health and education but also in the very lucrative areas of entertainment and sports.

There have now been two major incidents of girls kidnapped from school. Bravery should not be a criterion for going to school.

We are already afraid of our teachers. We don’t have to add the fear of abduction to it.

I have an eight-year-old daughter and for me, the whole saga is proof of our inability as a nation to protect the life and wellbeing of the girl child.

Boarding schools for girls all over the country are so easily accessible that not just terrorists and kidnappers but other paedophiles have been known to take advantage of this for nefarious purposes.

In Lagos where I live, just two years ago, police arrested 32-year-old Chinoso Okonkwo, for allegedly taking out 10-12 year old school girls in Surulere to a hotel, during classes, for use as commercial sex workers.

Last year, the gateman of a girls’ school around Abuja was arrested for pimping out the girls to men who gather in the evenings to have their pick.

Incidents of rape, domestic abuse and sundry crimes against girls are on the increase as we fail to offer real protection to these most vulnerable members of our society. It is getting so bad that the girl child in Nigeria might soon qualify as endangered specie.

There is one thing that most paedophiles and rapists have in common. They are men. They are men who have mothers or sisters. As we talk about government interventions on the one hand, we cannot ignore a decay of values on the other. From our homes, we must remember what it means to instill respect, discipline and above all – love.

Speaking of love and respect, I cannot forget how my mother, Luchia Feubodei thumbed the fingerprints of these values on the hearts of my siblings and I. It has become our moral compass. You would appreciate this story if you have listened to my tribute song to her, Luchia, produced by my Temple Music senior colleague, Tee-Y Mix.

The other gift my mother gave us was a good education. Unfortunately, the recurrent decimal about the serial tragedy of kidnaps is the obviously poor education that these girls are getting from these dangerous schools.

In nearly every interview, it is saddening to note that the girls could hardly express themselves in the English language, requiring a translator to do the honours. Ordinarily, there would be nothing wrong with this, but our syllabus is in the English language.

In their sitting on Tuesday, the Senate in plenary, read a motion lamenting the standard of education in the country as exemplified by poor WAEC results. The Minister of Education has been invited to come and explain this debacle.

The reasons are easy to see. The UNESCO recommends that 15-20 percent be budgeted for education by nation states. Nigeria manages to budget less than 6-7 percent annually, or some N60billion out of N8.6trillion budget. Ghana and Ivory Coast both budget at least 30 percent annually.

Most teachers, as shown in Ekiti, Edo, Sokoto, Katsina and recently Kaduna States, have no business in the classrooms. So we can neither guarantee the safety of, nor provide quality education to our girls.

Yet as Uncle Bill said, “If they (Nigeria) can get health and education right, they will be an engine room of growth not just for themselves but for Africa.”

We need to all stand up and take account. This is not a battle that will be won by governments and NGOs. This is a cause that we must find worthy within our own hearts.

The remedies and the changes must start from each and every one of us in our homes, our schools and our workplaces. They are our future. Let us not endanger that future.

Bisola Aiyeola is an ambassador for the ONE campaign, dedicated to fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease.


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Bisola Aiyeola
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