“We are calling the attention of parents that we have failed our children in the sense that the kind of values we use to have is no more”. This was the point-blank remark made by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, while speaking in Kaduna at a recent stakeholders’ interactive session with 77 district heads, religious and community leaders from the 23 LGAs of Kaduna State. She told the gathering that children need to be upright and that the criminality going on in parts of the country, on daily basis, is neither for their benefit nor for the country.
When the majority of those at the helm of the country’s affairs today were young school boys and girls, their future was well secured by those in positions of authority at that time. Those altruistic leaders remembered the necessity for National Development Plans (NDPs) in order to plan and provide for the basic needs of citizens particularly the Nigerian child. These development plans were vigorously and conscientiously pursued to the latter such that schools, playing grounds, and health centres were adequately provided; most times before the need for such facilities became critical.
The country’s era of Fixed Medium-Term Plan (1962-1985) witnessed four successful NDPs namely: The First NDP (1962-1968), which was extended to 1970 due to the Nigerian civil war that broke out; the Second NDP (1970-1974); the Third NDP (1975-1980); and the Fourth NDP (1981-1985). During these periods, government gave attention to systematic growth of the country’s infrastructure, which for instance led to the establishment of first, second and third generation of universities in Nigeria. Colleges were strategically built and sited based on projected need. The then few schools and fewer teachers were well equipped and the standards too were high. This practically explains why, in those days, no one ever heard of extra lessons or private schools.
As a result of successive years of inadequate or complete lack of NDPs, today’s Nigerian children and youths who conservatively constitute about 70 or 75 percent of the country’s population have rather been turned into vulnerable folks as thugs, hired protesters, out-of-school children, street hawkers, and scoundrels. In some parts of the country, school-age children are sachet water vendors or cobblers if they are not commercial motorcycle operators, as if that is the best the country can make out of them. Youth are potential assets for national development. Unfortunately, Nigeria is wasting this vast human resource.
Four to five decades before now, leaders in Nigeria were role models in all spheres of life. This is why, more than five decades after leaders of Nigeria’s First Republic prematurely left the corridors of power under a failed military coup, their ideals are being extolled at every given opportunity by their political successors. By today’s standards, our past leaders were ‘angels’. Corruption and brazen impunity, which have become characteristic of many public officers, were never in the character of Nigeria’s foremost political leaders. In the good old days of Nigeria, leaders saw public office as an opportunity to serve. Now, it is a privilege to be served and to betray every trust and confidence connected to a public office; forgetting that children and youth are watching.
Surprisingly, it does not bother today’s leaders (particularly federal lawmakers) even if the cost of governance were to devour as much as a quarter of the country’s annual budget; most often to the detriment of limited access of citizens to primary quality education, healthcare, clean water, and good roads. The excessive self-centredness of public officers in various leadership positions in Nigeria comes to fore when, in periods of economic recessions, they advise citizens to tighten their belt. Yet, no budgetary expenditure in their name is either suspended or reviewed downward.
While past God-fearing leaders of Nigeria remained sensitive to the plight of their people as they took quality decisions without necessarily resorting to national fault lines of religion and ethnicity, many of today’s leaders are dishonest as much as they are given to speaking from both sides of their mouth. They care less about the gaps of inequality that keep widening almost every day.
Without minding the moral implications of their actions on our national life, many Nigerian adults as parents bequeath their children and other naïve admirers with a depraved cultural orientation in which money, not hard work and integrity, remain the basic instruments for defining success. They teach and aid young Nigerians how to cut corners, disrespect elders and constituted authorities, abuse privileges of a public office, violate traffic rules, rig election results, and forge academic credentials.
Indeed, we have individually and collectively failed our children not only as leaders but also as parents, teachers, and as individuals. It is catastrophic and bad enough for the overall well-being of a society when its men who are old enough to be grandfathers defile small girls as little as 4-year-old. Many parents, especially of the elitist class are so permissive in the inculcation of right morals in their children that the latter grow up without appreciating universal ethical values. They harm their children by over-pampering them as if money is everything.
In the northern part of the country, some parents abandon or shift the responsibility of training and educating their children to others by dumping such toddlers in Almajiri schools that are far from where kids can get the natural love and care that only parents can provide at that stage of their life. The sack of some lecturers including professors from ivory towers in recent years for their involvement in “sex-for-marks” scandals reveals how teachers who used to be dependable guardians of their students have lost conscience and now extort, harass, intimidate, and even maltreat those who, as students, should be trust in their hands. We have actually failed the youth of this country.
The singular courage of the Finance Minister to take responsibility on behalf of Nigerian leaders with blunt remarks deserves commendation. The announcement by the minister (at the interactive session) of the creation by the federal government of a N75 billion entrepreneurship support fund to empower youth in the country to grow their businesses and be economically independent is also laudable. Nigerian youth need this kind of national agenda that will key them into productive sectors of the economy. While it is important to bring back NDPs for states to also replicate, it is time for a pragmatic national ethical re-birth. May Allah (SWT) guide us to fear God in all that we do and say, amin.