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The cries of the next generation, the conscience of hope

March 15, 2009

There is a child in you; there is a child in me, the children of the generations past. As a child, once I traversed the streets doing the things children do. As a youth, I look forward to the day I cradled my children, singing them songs of nights past when my mother also showered her tender love, and the caring arm of my father protected me from gales and stormy nights called house rents, school fees and other names accorded to ways a child should be cared for and given a future.

The next generation is not you nor is it me, the next generation cannot be the wizened fathers and mothers we dearly cling to, the next generation are the children of our loins, my children, your children, our children. My mind sees the new-born child, and remembers the toothless-laughter of the 2-yr old. My thoughts return to the unfettered questions of the 10-yr old, and the innocence of the weaned child, these are our next generation, the generation of the children.

Recently at a UN conference in Brazil, Severn Suzuku speaking on behalf of ECO, a children-initiative organization composed of 12 and 13-yr olds said…”WE HAVE TO CHANGE OUR WAYS!” Restless with the weight of her message to the world at large, I decided I would once again remind you of the cries of the next generation. In Nigeria, the hopes of children are dashed strong against the reality of corruption, neglect and pure evil.

In general knowledge, Nigeria is one of the blessed nations in the world. Rich in mineral resources, rich in human intellect, and rich in labor. There could be no blessings more available to a country. In recent reports, on geological samples taken at general locations in Nigeria, it speculated that Nigeria contains even if in trace amounts a representation of every mineral that exist on the face of earth. Yet her children are mal-nourished, yet most of her children, still are homeless, and roam the streets, like vagabonds stripped of the hope of a future.

In recent records from UNICEF, the story of a young boy was told during the recording of ‘Voices from the Street’ a UNICEF-supported Radio Nigeria program produced by children living in the streets in Lagos. One of 25 children who have told their stories on Nigerian national radio through a UNICEF-supported project, Isaiah, aged 15yrs said: “It is not easy living on the street but what can I do? I have two sisters that I have not seen in five years, I have smoked Indian hemp like other boys of my age got beaten by bigger boys, robbed of my money, and took my bath in the canal. I started to sleep under the bridge or inside any of the buses parked under the bridge,” he says. “If mosquitoes are too many, I sleep inside the boot of the vehicles. The good thing is that I am alive!” Given the opportunity to go to school, Isaiah says he would like to become a lawyer.

While unethical fetish cultural practices are abolished in some parts of Nigeria, eight-year-old Uduak was said to possess supernatural powers and was declared a witch by a prophetess at a vigil in Eket, Akwa Ibom. His mother had to take him to the church for “spiritual deliverance”, that was the beginning of Uduak’s tortuous road to living as his mother publicly disowned him. More troubles awaited the child the next day at home. His father splashed acid at his face, leaving him with blisters, and chased him out of the family’s one room apartment. Uduak now finds shelter among other abandoned children at the Eket Sports Stadium. But he still dreams about home, and pleads with anyone who cares to hear his story to take him home to his parents. “I want to go back to my parents; I want to go back to school, but I am scared of the prophetess”.

Brendan Behan, an Irish author, once wrote in a play titled ‘The Hostage’:”I wish I’d been a mixed infant”. Little wonder the meaning of that statement, because in Nigeria, a child is blessed by where she is born, or who his family is. Recently at Onitsha, the local health commissioner said:”at least 27 children in a village close by have died from gastroenteritis after drinking contaminated water from a communal pool”. He said…”People of the community draw water from the same source, a kind of pool, where animals also drink from, they put the water to domestic use and bath with it too, so we think that is how they got it. It must have entered their mouth somehow and it began to spread.”

While crimes done against children are more obvious, infants are affected at a more alarming rate. A month ago, I received news of how a toxic chemical mixed into a teething medicine for babies has killed at least 84 children in Nigeria. The children died after taking a medicine called My Pikin Baby Teething Mixture, syrup for teething pain. According to Nigeria’s Health Ministry, health officials said that a batch of the medicine that went on sale in November contained diethylene glycol, an industrial solvent and an ingredient in antifreeze and brake fluid. The chemical looks, smells and tastes like glycerin, a sweet syrup commonly used in a wide range of medicines, foods and toothpaste. However, counterfeiters enhance their profit by substituting diethylene glycol, which is relatively cheap, for the more expensive but harmless glycerin. The chemical causes kidney and liver damage, as well as attacking the central nervous system, causing paralysis that hampers breathing. Children in Nigeria began to get sick in November with unexplained fevers and vomiting. Some stopped urinating and many had diarrhea. While an adult may weather a case of diarrhea, diarrhea with infants has attained the largest death count in Nigeria.

Despite all these, a little child in an interview with Severn Suzuku, the children ambassador, said: “I wish I were rich, and then I would give all these children food, clothes, medicine, shelter, love and affection”. If a child, bereft of hope can still love, can still give despite his station, then we who hold the keys to the next generation have an opportunity to create a better world for our children and the children of our neighbors. If stripped of hope, Isaiah still dreams of becoming a lawyer, then the future is not lost, but merely misplaced. While our immediate children may not see such horrors, we owe the children, the next generation, more than a chance at survival but the conscience of hope. A conscience that thrives on the love of parenthood, and the honesty of a citizen in our beloved country Nigeria. A conscience that will make provision for the nights ahead, and will fight for the rights of every child born and unborn.

This is a clarion call not only to the individuals with reputable fortunes, but you and me and everyone who desires a world full of love and hope for the next generation. You do not have to wait till the full face of fortune smiles upon you, before you reach out to a child. A soothing touch, a helping hand, a well placed smile can save the life of a child! You may start by donating to funds of child-care institutions or by working towards a bright future for the next generation, but do so with the conscience of hope! Thank you.


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March 15, 2009

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