By Alex Enemanna
Ever since the video of little Success Adegor, a primary 3 pupil of Okotie Eboh Primary School 1, Sapele Delta state broke the internet, our real nature, the very thing that defines us as a nation and of course our stark nakedness has been advertised to the global community for a free view bazaar. The seven-year-old pupil was said to have been sent home from school for her parents’ inability to pay her examination levy.
Little Success was visibly green with anger, full of fury, overwhelmed in frustration as she expressed in her words and gesticulations but not without unassailable determination, stone hard resilience, defined focus and a contagious optimism. She was certain she will pay as soon as her parents make the money available to her. Yet in the face of a brazen harassment, threat and intimidation, in the face of a premeditated humiliation of her very human dignity, ridicule of her social status and mockery of her family and ancestral background, her eye, spirit and soul was in the classroom; she wants to join her mates to acquire education for a brighter future. She never retreated nor surrendered, she defied all odds, like a sportsman determined to lift the trophy, she moved, surged on with all the energy she could muster in her very innocent heart.
Thanks to the internet and the social media that brought to fore Success’ story that has since turned a success story through the overflowing milk of kindness of the good people of Nigeria and foreigners alike. The story of success again gave life to the already known fact that there is no Islam or Christianity, North or South in the Nigeria project but a people united in one common goal and love for one another. There was no Christian or Islamic help, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo or Tiv assistance in the collection of the succour that has come the way of little Success ever since she was embarrassed into success. She and her family saw Nigerians who were touched by the agony of an angry school girl.
Paradoxically, beyond the hoopla, razzmatazz and frenzy the story of little Success has generated, I can bet my integrity that not a lot would be done by those in authority to address the ranting of an aggrieved Sapele girl. Apart from the pseudo and face-saving suspension of the Headmistress of Okotie Eboh Primary School 1, Mrs. Vero Igbigwe and the hasty renovation of the school, nothing else will be done to rejig a system that has abysmally failed to serve the purpose for which it was created.
Instructively, Success’ case has been there as far back as one can remember. It is an old, obsolete and archaic practice that has consistently set the pace in counter productivity yet my dear country still adopts sending pupils home in this era as a measure to deal with them for the inability of their parents to pay their fees.
Banking on Malcolm – X’s saying that “Education is our passport to the future, for, tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today” even as a little boy who was determined to raise my head above waters through the pursuit of education, I was constantly reminded that my razor sharp zeal was not enough to keep me in the classroom without a financial backing. This wouldn’t have formed a discourse if it was clearly stated that primary education was/is not free. Like the Sapele school, the age long deceit that education is free in public primary schools started from my most humble and mini forest Ebeyi Nvosi Community school in Abia State over two decades ago.
I was almost a regular customer to premature school dismissal on the account of non payment, a situation that continued till I eventually found myself in the secondary school. As a palliative measure, I had to wake up 4:30am every day to cover several kilometers in bicycle from Ebeyi in Isiala Ngwa South to Nbawsi in Isiala Ngwa North where I purchased breads for resale. While I reserve this story for another day, it is pertinent to state that as it was from the beginning, so has it remained.
These school managers usually hide under the veneer of one potato and yam levy or the other to extort parent with reckless abandon, milk them dry while still thumbing their chest that “education is free for every Nigerian child”. This is happening under the full glare, supervision and co-ordination of the government, who in this case has embarked on an aggressive scavange for a scapegoat in a desperate efforts to save its face. Could poor head teacher Mrs. Vero Igbigwe have acted solely on her own?
To say that the Nigerian child is the most disadvantaged, cheated and depraved among his equals across the world is to put it mildly. The signs are visible for everyone to see.
Addressing the Northern Nigerian Traditional Rulers Conference on Out-of-School Children pre-conference briefing in Abuja in October 2018, the Executive Secretary, Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Ahmed Boboyi, stated that the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria has risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, the highest in the world.
According to the United Nations, out-of-school children are children who are yet to be enrolled in any formal education excluding pre-primary education. What this implies is that Nigeria is housing a scandalous 13.2 million Success Adegors who are in a certain street, village, community or hamlet boiling in anger and frustration without anyone hearing their voices or listening to them even as their faith in their fatherland continues to dwindle with a speed jet.
There is no right-thinking Nigerian that will not be startled by the outrageous figure of Success Adegors we have succeeded in nursing and raising amid concerns of our precarious security situation. What could happen between now and 10 years to come is better imagined.
UNICEF said the reason why more children were out of school, especially in the North is “rooted in socio-cultural and economic environment barriers, cost of education, poverty and negative perceptions to formal education .”
These are the children we see loiter the streets day and night. While some have resorted to hawking banana, groundnut, pure water, akamu, moi-moi, bread and beans, some have become permanent secretaries in one virtual bet centre or the other, hoping and praying that fortune (that may never come) smiles at them.
How they eventually become the terrors of our day and horrors of our night shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone by the way. How they become movers and shakers of internet fraud industry becomes traceable. How they become merchants of hard drugs and other high profile crimes becomes what we already know.
We have shown a large scale unfaithfulness by the number of malnourished children we are currently incubating as a nation. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2018 raised alarm that 17 million Nigerian children are stunted due to severe acute malnutrition (SAM). What are we doing the address this?
In the face of the growing sexual abuse, pedophilia, exploitation and harassment against the Nigerian child, how have we lifted a finger in helping them?
In the face of physical torture, mindless aggression and battery, how much do we do to protect them?
In the face of emotional abuse, subjugation and suppression, how much efforts do we put in giving them a shoulder?
In the face of harmful cultural practices, obnoxious religious rituals and other inhuman treatments, have we done enough to amplify their voices?
Whatever we make of our children today is what we’ll reap of them tomorrow. If we play ostrich to the myriads of physical, emotional and psychological burdens heaped on the average Nigerian child, when the result finally manifests, we’ll all be affected.
Like little Success Adegor, we must rally round the rest of the 13.2 million children in her shoe. We must look at our immediate environment and give a child a pen and a paper for our collective good. It it not enough to wave the flag of “me, myself and I” in utter selfishness from the comfort of our fenced houses, tinted cars and heavily secured workplaces.
We must stretch a helping hand to one child. We must nourish a child in our immediate environment and give him a hope to live.
The story of Success is also a big for the slay queens and kings out there to rise above their limitations, conquer fear, threat and intimidation. We must not be the architects of our own reason for failure. Success was in a face to face confrontation with limitation but she was determined to soar.
Government at all levels must rise above politicking and deceit. The rot in our educational system can conveniently make it to the Guinness book of records. If we have succeeded in lifting the trophy as the headquarters of abject poverty in the world, what else is beyond us? We are a nation without shame and have learned nothing from the anger of a seven-year-old baby.
Until proactive measures are taken to make education affordable for all at all levels, make life more meaningful and liveable for all Nigerians, our journey to Eldorado will continue to have a comfortable abode in the figment of our imagination.
Enemanna is an Abuja based journalist.