Last February, I was in Ibadan the Oyo State capital for a function and a few well-meaning residents demanded I did a story on the plight of young kids littering the streets of the city––from Ode-Aje through Oranyan to Oja’ba all the way to Gege and Born-photo and beyond. Although I never had the time to eventually do the story, I took a little time to observe the kids and how they ‘operate’ as beggars and pickpockets in major parts of the metropolis.
The kids, often dressed in dirty, torn clothes, moved around in groups. They had no idea of what it meant to be in school and they never cared. They simply lived life the way they deemed fit, unperturbed by the uncertainty that looms ahead in the future.
To be sure, the presence of out-of-school children on our streets isn’t alien to us; it’s a problem we have subtly come to accept as one reality that may never go away from us. It is so rampant and pervasive in states across northern Nigeria that the southern states, which ought to be worried about their own statistics too, imagine themselves as some eldorado of sort.
But there seemed to be a new dimension to the trend noticed by Ibadan residents as I would come to understand in February: the presence of little kids of barely 5-year-old or so, littering the streets during school hours and picking pockets on weekends! The kids, mostly from wretched and uneducated homes, often graduate into teenage conductors, political thugs and other societal nuisance.
So when I saw the video of Taju, the 5-year-old internet sensation discovered by comedian Elamefa a few weeks ago, my mind went straight to those kids I casually monitored in February on the streets of Ibadan. But unlike those kids, the young lad, Taju, became an instant social media topic when the video of him being mocked while trying to speak English hit the internet, owing largely to his enthusiasm and juvenile innocence.
In the middle of the internet frenzy, prompted largely by the comedic value of the boy’s theatrics, many Nigerian celebrities like AY the comedian, Don Jazzy, Funke Akindele, and others showed interest in ensuring that he was enrolled in school.
The political class, never to be outdone in the middle of such frenzy, also came in with the Oyo state government promising to take responsibility and custody of the child through the child welfare unit of the state government. Pronto, Taju met Governor Abiola Ajimobi and his wife, Florence Ajimobi, with loud photographs of the meetings posted lavishly on the internet. The state’s first lady also used the opportunity to emphasise her commitment to reducing the “vulnerability of children and the underprivileged in the state” while urging young parents not to be irresponsible to the role of training their children but care for the children with the required nourishment and basics of life.
Commendable as the gestures from both government and individuals are, there is a deeper conversation that is getting little or no mention in the midst of the frenzy. Taju’s case, like that of the bread-selling Olajumoke before him, isn’t an isolated case of poverty-fueled illiteracy: it’s a pervasive problem deeply rooted in how the society has been configured to function, largely due to the deliberate (in)actions of the ruling––some would say ruining!––elites. The case of Taju’s absence in school is even more poignant in this context.
The 5-year-old boy, brilliant and intelligent as he appeared, said in that video that he never attended any school. With the scanty information available in the public domain, Taju is perhaps from Oyo state and may be resident in Ibadan––the political capital of the old west where the late sage, Awo, governed and stunned the world with his genius and pro-people policies and programmes. And it’s quite interesting to note that the people running the affairs of the west today, whose (in)actions have denied Taju and millions of others basic primary education, were educated through Awo’s educational policies in this same Ibadan. Irony.
But the rot goes beyond Ibadan.
Last September, a report by PREMIUM TIMES showed that despite its headstart in western education, other regions might have overtaken the South-west in educational advancement. The report detailed the performances of the region in the Senior School Certificate Examinations, SSCE in the last five years, showing how the South-west states only trailed other regions in their well-publicised ratings. In all the years analysed, none of the states, besides Lagos, made it to the list of top 10 states on the West African Examinations Council, WAEC performance table.
In 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 WAEC results, only Lagos featured in the top 10 list of states which continued to be dominated by states from the South-east and South-south. The case of Oyo, Taju’s homestate, is quite unsettling as in 2015, it occupied the 27th and the 24th in 2014. (One would be under serious delusion to imagine that it’s all well in these other regions, anyway).
Oyo, in essence, is a microcosm of Nigeria. And in terms of school enrolment figures, the statistics are terribly scary across the country.
Three days ago, a Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICs) 5, of 2016 and 2017 conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in collaboration with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and other partners, said about 60 percent of children of school age are out of school.
According to the report, only about 39.4 percent of Nigerian children of primary school age are currently enrolled in school, with a large chunk of the kids based in rural areas. With Nigeria’s population rising at a level no one seems to understand, it is apparent that the nation is sitting on a keg of gunpowder.
In essence, one would implore the Oyo state government and indeed the Nigerian government, to consider it important an issue to be addressed with sound policies and programmes. Beyond the photo-ops and covert politicking, the Oyo government (and indeed Nigerian government) should realise that there are numerous other unknown Tajus out there who are out of school and may never trend online like this lucky 5-year-old Taju. They deserve attention too!