The streets here are filled with them; armed with plates, tainted wooden slates for Arabic text, they appear emaciated, haggardly dressed, they screeched at gates too classy to be banged, their screeching is usually followed by chants of words weaved in songs often ending in “Allah ke a ye”, on lucky days they get a cold meal headed for the bin or money. On special days they might receive remnants from guests’ meals accompanied with tripe of meat thrust at them, hostile responses are normal too, especially from those who believe that parents should only give birth to children they can cater for.
Amidu is one of them, he is ten, this reality is his life, of all his near death escapades hunger, is the most recurring, his records show he had cholera at age 5, he survived it. Another time he was treated for tetanus after a nail punctured his right leg. He continued his job, limping. During this time, he got more food but he paid for it by later staying indoors for treatment. Being Indoors mean hunger, indoors means more stench and surely more Arabic classes.
To Amidu, hunger is all that needs to be fixed not wooden slates or cloth, not pairs of slippers like the NGOs usually share but hunger. He has been to realms where only food brought him back, those are times he prayed to God to permanently fix his hunger; the more the pangs hit his stomach, he has no option than to go from gate to gate.
The month of Ramadan is usually a blessing, people remember hungry children, people who once treat them as slaves… they say God listen more during this time, same with the Christians in their festivities.
Talking about children like Amidu continues to strike conversations and controversies that never fixed the problem. 2018 Unicef Report on Nigeria says children like Amidu account for 72% of the population of out of school children in Nigeria, they are about 9.5 million out of the 13.2 million of them. Their population varies across the 19 northern states and other parts of Nigeria.
Most government policies have failed to fix the problem beyond the surface level, using instant gratification of cheaply distributed necessities.
The Goodluck Jonathan’s Led administration promised a merger of the Arabic learning system with Western education, by building schools across Northern Nigeria most especially the North-East states, this project was not fully actualized and in areas where it was, it never fixed these problems, Are these children still hungry? Where they still homeless? Do they still screech at gates? These are indications that treating at the surface level would not fix a foundational problem.
Who dares question a societal norm that has come to stay, some Northern politicians have boasted about sharing same childhood experiences. A common pact, we were once like these children, they fall in the first category; those who see these children in a transit situation, not a permanent problem. Another category of people believes it is a permanent situation with a long time effect on the child.
This second category of people also believes it is never about religion but families, about parenting and its intricacies. It is about society avoiding family planning. It is about ignorance, about the government giving terrorists room to recuperate. That it is about clerics avoiding the question of posterity. Others insist it is the greatest hostility between children and their parents.
Amidu problem of hunger might easily be fixed by the popular terrorist disturbing North-east Nigeria and if we don’t act as a nation we might only have been successful in building another generation of terrorists by neglecting these children.
Written by Jegede Joseph