Factors that trigger violence and conflicts in Nigeria lack a definite list. Conflict experts easily link the country’s existential problems to many issues including poverty, bad governance, youth unemployment, marginalisation, state-sanctioned violence, amongst others. At the heart of the action are predominantly youths. Also, many Nigerian children are both victims and perpetrators of the insecurity. Worse off in the North-East conflict are young children coerced into a jihadi war.
The tragedy of child soldiers should be of great concern to government, stakeholders and the international community. Between 2013 and 2019, the United Nations reported that the Nigerian armed forces detained over 3,600 children, including 1,617 girls, for suspected involvement with non-state armed groups. In 2017 alone, about 1,900 children were arrested.
Vulnerable Nigerian children are potential contributors to violence. Expert views may have focused more on structural factors (poverty, unemployment of parents, guardians and youths, etc.) that influence the susceptibility of children and youths to criminality. As a result, family roles and positive parenting that are the beacon of light to a child’s growth and development are often relegated to the background.
The family remains the smallest unit of society. Social and family values shape the character of society members. The disregard of the family and community as essential agents of socialisation, moulding the character of young individuals and creating a peaceful society for all has become a challenge. The sizeable number of vulnerable children in Nigeria is a clear indication of the failure of families and communities in positive parenting.
In the discussion of abandoned children and insecurity, Nigeria’s almajiri situation comes in mind. Understandably rooted in ethnoreligious underpinnings, it may have been loosely practised that it has created a range of challenges for government and society members. For instance, the protracted North-East conflict is strongly linked to the accessibility of recruits in the region that also has a high population of almajiri and out-of-school children. Sixty-seven per cent of out-of-school children in Nigeria are from Northern Nigeria. The conflict in the area has made schools unsafe, and education a far cry. Vulnerable children are becoming potential child soldiers for non-state armed groups.
The situation of many Nigerian children demands moral reorientations. There is a need for intervention programmes to promote family and community values. Family values and community values reinforce each other. The National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) holds that values can add to relationships, influence judgements, behaviours and parenting styles. In a precarious world where parenting roles are weak, and vulnerability of children high, mainstreaming family values, roles of parents and communities in child upbringing becomes crucial. The NCFR further maintains that instilling family values can also protect children from making hurtful decisions.
Governments, civil society groups, community-based and faith-based organisations have a role to play in redefining what values communities hold. A report by Nextier SPD states that some families in the Northeast in defying all odds have come together to redefine values and practices to support resilience and coping mechanisms in the face of the jihadi war. Community actors have improved their roles in mobilising communities towards peace and collective safety for all. This example points to the intrinsic nature of family and community values. However, government and other relevant actors can trigger and support such conversations at the community level. As conflicts in Nigeria continues to cascade, with children and youth doubling as victims and perpetrators, it has become crucial to mainstream the roles of families and communities in the proper upbringing of children as productive and law-abiding members of society. Good Parenting must be a weapon for achieving peace.