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Dele: Defying the odds

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In Nigeria the girl-child is, or is treated as, a second class citizen today. She is a victim of rape or of forced early marriage, or a victim of genital mutilation or a hopeless hawker of bread and bananas or someone’s house girl who is poorly fed and severely overworked. She is the one who is sold into slavery and prostitution around the world by heartless mercantilist gangsters. In poor families where even survival cash is hard to find, the girl-child is the one who is asked to skip school so that her brothers can go; she is poverty’s sacrificial lamb in families that are scratching everywhere for something to eat. It is not a life that is to be envied but one that has to be reversed but who will reverse it? Many governments in Nigeria are heartless and care little, do little, for those they ought to care more and do more for: the down-trodden among whom are the girl-children.

One of them, a seven-year-old primary one pupil of Hope Glory Academy in Ondo city, Ondo State, decided recently that even though the country is facing headwinds from all points of the compass nothing will keep her down. Dele Rasheed came back from school clutching the assignment given to her which she had to submit the next day. Unfortunately, there was a power outage, as there often is, in every part of Nigeria every day. She resorted to the kerosene lantern in the house. The kerosene got exhausted and there was no kerosene for replenishment. There was no candle for her to use even if she was ready to endure the soot that oozes out of a flickering candle. She couldn’t use the torchlight from her grandmother’s cell phone because there was no light, so the phone was not fully charged. An idea occurred to her. She could use the light at the ATM Gallery belonging to the First City Monument Bank (FCMB) not far from her house. Her grandma tried to dissuade her from taking such a risk at such a time.

These days even old people come easily into harm’s way because there are many evil people on the prowl. The danger for even young, unarmed kids is even enormous and even more so for a seven-year-old girl. The young girl did not want to be punished in school the next day for failure to do her homework. She did not want to be seen either as a lazy girl who did not want to succeed in life. Her classmates who had done their own homework will not understand why she failed to do her own. They will mock her. To her no excuse was good enough for failing to do what she needed to do. So this brave young fellow took her writing materials, much to the discomfiture and apprehension of her grandma, and went to the ATM Gallery where the light was shining brightly. There she concentrated on finishing her homework ignoring the world and the danger it may carry in its womb. She could have gone to bed expecting the worst the next day. She could have sat down and brooded like a game loser. She could have fretted like a fuzzy storm. None of these actions would have saved her from punishment in school the next day. She chose to take the risk that she took and it paid off. Her grandma said that she had gone to the ATM Gallery twice before to do her homework. This was her third time. She became third time lucky. This time a man called Bala Maruf Matthew saw her, took her photograph and tweeted her act with her photo: “I saw this little Dele at FCMB along Yaba Road in Ondo City.

She is using the ATM Gallery light to do her homework. My respect goes to her determination to make it in life. Let it go viral.” It went viral and the bank took note and responded: “We are inspired by Dele’s determination to study. It’s great our ATM Gallery could light her books for the evening but we would love to do more to support it. Can you please help us find Dele?” Dele was located. The bank gave her a cash gift of One million naira and a full scholarship up to university level.

MTN, the telecommunications giant, has also promised to install solar panels at Dele’s home to supply her and her grandma electricity. A bank account which has been opened for her already had about N140,000 by last week. Dele’s parents are said to live in Lagos in circumstances that are not nearly affluent. Now the family purse has been fattened by the determination of their little girl to be successful. Her life will never be the same again. The money tap, the goodwill tap, has been opened for her by people who did not know her, did not know her parents but who have become a vessel of mercy for her upliftment.

From now onwards she will no longer be a victim of the wisps of the smouldering smoke from a kerosene lantern or a candle. She will be studying in relative comfort in the privacy of her grandmother’s home which will now have the modern miracle called solar light. Nigerians have had a marathon struggle for electric power. Experiment after experiment has been done by all past governments. Nothing seems to have achieved the results we have been clamouring for. Now we have what have been called Gencos and Discos, that is power generators and power distributors yet our lives seem to be getting worse power-wise.

All we hear is “money” “tariff increase”, more money and more tariff increase. Whoever can sort out this power mess should be recommended for a global award. If there had been power our little girl Dele would not have had to take the high risk that she took. We are happy that she met a chunk of good fortune. But if she had been raped or taken away by kidnappers it would have been a tragic story just because the country is unable to supply electricity to its citizens despite its huge resources. But Dele has proven that despite the dysfunctional environment in which we live, those who are determined to succeed can succeed against these imponderable odds.

It is her determination, her courage, her fearlessness and her optimistic disposition to life that saw her through. The children who hawk in the streets during school hours are not as determined as Dele or their parents are not as supportive as Dele’s grandma. That is why the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria is high and is going higher, not lower. These children are the danger waiting for us in future. They have learnt no trade, they are not in school and therefore there is no hope of earning a decent income and living a decent life. They will become somebody’s thugs at elections; they will become dare devil kidnappers, arsonists and bandits and armed robbers who are determined to endanger our society. We are doing pretty little today to ensure that they do not become what we don’t want them to become. Now there are arms everywhere; there are dangerous drugs everywhere in the country and our young people are in possession of these arms and drugs which are provided for them by unscrupulous politicians.

Some States of the country are yet to promulgate a law to protect children. Only about 25 States have done so. We hope the rest of the States will find it meet to do so. In a world that is becoming very wild and very unruly we need both legislation and the will to be protective of our kids for us to have a sane generation of adults in the future.

There are probably many Deles in our midst, young girls who are ready to defy the odds, young girls who are ready to scale over the hurdles that society puts on their paths. Dele says she wants to be a nurse when she grows up. That is a profession for people of compassion. Being a nurse will be an act of reciprocity for a girl who did not ask for compassion but got it from people and institutions she did not know.

One hopes that this valentine of mercy shapes her world view so that she will grow to become a person who truly cares for people. Unwittingly she has put her school, Hope Glory Academy, in the spotlight. The school will now receive attention as a school that is so disciplined that its pupil does not mind taking the kind of risk that Dele took in order to meet the school’s success benchmark. The school is likely to become an unexpected beneficiary of the publicity mileage that Dele’s action has generated. It will also add to the school’s glory and alert other students to the possibilities available for those young girls from rich or poor homes who wish to excel by thinking outside the box.

The next time Dele goes to the ATM gallery next door it will not be for the purpose of reading under its bright light. She will be there smiling as she withdraws cash from the machine.


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