NIGERIA'S DAY OF THE CHILD
Today is a day schoolchildren in Nigeria look forward to. A day of pomp, pageantry and splendor. Because today is Children's Day.
Though not in the mould of carnivals in Latin America, Children's Day celebrations in Nigeria nevertheless offers kids an opportunity to immerse themselves in a number of social activities -- from excursions to funfairs to parades. The schools that win the award for best military parade format performance win the honours and bragging rights among their peers for the next year.
The excitement of the day is palpable. As part of their celebration last year, my son's class organised an excursion to the train station and airport in Abuja. They got a close guided tour of the facilities. He was over the moon.
May 27 was set aside as a holiday for children In Nigeria in 1964. The day draws attention and brings to the fore awareness on problems faced by children.
A TAPESTRY OF ACTION
Children's Day brings together a pot-pourri of activities, across different segments of the Nigerian society. Besides the parades and speeches by government officials and school authorities, many others also share in the celebrations.
Religious groups, for example, celebrate the day in style. Parties are held for children from diverse backgrounds by private and public organisations, all in a bid to give children a sense of belonging. Media organisations bring in different personalities to discuss issues affecting the wellbeing of children and government and societal efforts to improve the lives of children.
Parents are not left out. They get gifts for their children or take them out for a treat.
There is an interesting practice in some states of Nigeria. Government officials and media houses honour selected children with leadership opportunities. TV and radio stations feature child broadcasters, giving them opportunities to anchor programmes.
In the same vein, some elected state leaders permit a child to shadow them for the greater part of the day as "state governors". Certain levels of representative authority is conferred on the child governor. The perks of the office include an entourage and guidance committee. The child 'governor' spends time participating in special functions and regular public roles. The expectation of this gesture is that it raises the aspiration of children, inspiring them to aspire to civil leadership roles in future.
And let's not forget the flowery speeches made by elected and government officials. During last year's celebration, for example, President Muhammadu Buhari spoke about the government's determination to ensure schools remain open and that they would no longer be interrupted by criminals and bandits. In a similar manner, the Lagos governor reaffirmed the state's commitment to providing a safe learning environment for children.
This is where we come up against the perennial disconnect in Nigeria between talk and action in governance. Perhaps that's why the government of Nigeria has come up with the theme for Children's Day this year of Strengthening supportive systems for the protection of Nigerian children: a wake-up call.
This is another disconnect: the absence of children taking part in the planning and preparation for Children's Day.
CONNECTING THE DISCONNECT
A supportive system can be described as a network of people -- peers, family and friends -- who provide emotional and practical support to an individual.
Nigeria's future depends largely on the wellbeing of its children and young people. The more a child's wellbeing is ensured through developing appropriate support systems, the more confident Nigeria can be for its future generations. A child who grows up in a supportive and secure environment is more likely to be able to cope well as an adult, to advance their standard of living, and to look after the older generation.
I believe the supportive system principles that are inherent in this year's theme have their roots in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international and national laws and protocols. These principles include ensuring:
- the interests of children come foremost in any activity that involve them
- the care and protection necessary for children through the application of all suitable administrative and legal measures.
If we take the first principle, how do we know what the interests of children are if we do not ensure their participation and voice come to the fore? The same Convention on the Rights of the Child enshrines the right of children to be heard. The practice for national and sub-national planning for Children's Day doesn't include avenues for meaningful participation of children. We hardly ever hear government officials mention consultation with children in their speeches.
While we as government or partners push to improve support systems to ensure the protection of children towards achieving situations where help for children's wellbeing is high quality, timely and appropriate, we also owe them a solemn duty to ensure they participate meaningfully in all processes.
The second principle links the protection of children to the sound application of the law. We are witnessing the steady domestication of the Child Rights Act in Nigeria, particularly in northern states. Save the Children has always argued that it is not enough to put laws in place. they also need to be applied.
That's why we're aligned with the Wake-up Call as contained in this year's theme. A Wake-up Call for the full application and implementation of laws that ensure our children are protected.