What today’s children are forced to deal with


It’s the second month since my Uncle and his wife had fled Kano by night taking just their children and few things they referred to as luggage, and moved to Lagos starting all over. Just as they started to pick up pieces of their lives, then came the unbelievable news on New Year day that the price of petrol had doubled. And the result? Transport fares skyrocketed and food prices escalated. The anger that followed suit was the most unbelievable that had come out of Nigeria in recent times (or anytime at all). At a time when the world is fed a daily dose of stories of instability, anarchy, corruption etc. Nigerians came together as one regardless of tribe, religion or political views. Young and Old, Artisans and Lawyers, Market Women and Professors they all did one thing, they occupied Nigeria. They stood out in the “African heat” against every form of oppression; they chose to say no to every political waste, and unnecessary recurrent expenditure. From the old lady with almost no teeth in Kano state to the young student in Ekiti state, and young hip-hop stars in Lagos that dished out melodious tunes in solidarity they all had one clear message. And some had to die for it, where trigger happy policemen, showed off their happiness.
Now my uncle’s children (boys) were Nnnana (11) and Dozie (7) and a little girl, just above one. The boys always liked to ask questions. They could ask about things that seemed trivial, like why Fura de Nunu (fresh cow milk) wasn’t easily available or why Suya was so expensive in Lagos. Some I could answer, others I had no answers to. ??????? Why are digestive biscuits now expensive? Dozie asked ?????? I turned to respond, but Nnanna seemed to have an answer ? ?? ? “Well, its fuel subsidy”. Nnanna answered, with a show of certainty ????? “What’s fuel subsidy?” Dozie enquired?? ??? I listened with keen interest????????? “It’s the reason why mummy now puts only one spoonful of milk in our tea, the same reason why mummy said jam is too expensive and we have to start using margarine now” the older one answered. “But I hate margarine, I want jam” he cried ?????? “You will have to manage” Nnanna responded ??????? Why must I manage? He continued almost in tears.
“Dozie, I will buy you ice cream ok? Don’t worry about fuel subsidy” I offered.??? “They should bring the subsidy back, because I like it” He concluded
Now I’m reflecting on the above conversation and I can’t help but wonder how on earth the boy’s mind was able to liken all that to petrol and it just beats me. Here was Nigeria with all its potentials and richness, and that how an 11 year old chose to dwell on the seemingly little holes that make the great gap in his life. He had explained how the government policies affected him, now I am wondering how I explain to these children that we run an “efficient” type of government that understands it makes more economic “sense” to increase petrol taxes than cut government wasteful spending. I have tried to understand how I have been able to survive in a repressive civilian government, where elder statesmen are tear-gassed during a peaceful protest; young people can be killed for engaging in peaceful demonstrations and tertiary institutions are locked up and educational activities brought to a standstill. A lot of government officials argued that the price increase would eventually benefit Nigerians; every time I hear this I choose to murmur and then laugh just like my grandmother.
Sunday morning as we prepared for church my little cousin was evidently troubled.?? “Are we going to church brother?” He queried ??????? “Yes we are going” I responded ?????? ??? “Please oh! Hope Boko Haram won’t come there?” He asked sadly??? “There’s no Boko Haram here, go and wear your shoe osiso” I answered with a smile. And I remembered my childhood, I had my own worries, and they were for things like where the next family holiday would be, if I would be getting extra Ribena or if I would be following my father to the festival in Jos. Well now it seems children have more “important” things to burden their hearts with. Plus they are expected to cope with this fear.
Boko Haram, another menace that had eaten deep into the northern part of the country, where being in a crowded environment is best referred to as “territorial hazard”. Where people moved in fear of one another, allowing a type of normalized fear to invade our lives. How daily we are awakened by the news of “fresh” bomb blasts, in different cities with new deaths, new numbers of injured and an addition to the teaming number of ready orphaned and vulnerable children. And these numbers go further to show a failing social welfare scheme, where the citizenry are not catered for. My cousin tells me about Benjamin, his friend who got “bombed” with his father in their shop (in his words) and how the mother kept rolling on the ground refusing to be consoled. As I listen to his tale of sadness about Benjamin’s family I ask that those who have openly claimed to know who these Boko-Haram people are should please let us know. I think the government needs to need to sit and have meaningful suggestions, but the issue is who these conversations are had with and if they depict the needs of the people.
How a government finds it more productive to meet with the IMF, World Bank and other cartels of “good intentions” to discuss the needs of its citizenry still beats me. And now these cartels make up supposedly good plans of Africa’s needs. And this government seems blind and deaf to the true yearning of its people, but I am consoled with the saying that “whom the gods want to destroy, they first make blind and then deaf”.
Kenneth Ibegwam
Follow the writer on twitter @ken_ibegwam

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