By EMEKA EJERE

Concern is mounting as to how much of a toll the current COVID-19 pandemic would have on the children and youth population of Nigeria going forward, Business Hallmark has learnt.

This is based on conversations with civil society activists, public sector players, and children and young people in the wake of the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic that has for several months now virtually held the nation and indeed the globe in its paws.

On the best of days, and more recently too, it has indeed been a challenge of sorts to be young in Nigeria. From the high infant mortality numbers to the decrepit state of the public education system and mounting levels of unemployment, being young in Nigeria continues to be a most gruelling burden for the mass of the youth.

These have now come to be compounded in the COVID-19 era were with even more affluent and privileged segments of the population finding themselves exposed and vulnerable, very scant attention is being paid to the interests and real needs of the youth.

To put some of the issues in perspective, the Civil society group, the Center for Children’s Education, Health, Orientation, organized a Tweetchat on Friday, May 8, 2020.

Tagged “YOUTH VOICES: Where Are They In The COVID-19 Conversations?” the session featured speakers that included Manu Anyole, a Ugandan Writer/Youth Advocate, Oluebube James-Raphael, President of We Run The World Girls, Holly Palmer, Secretary, United Nations Association York, York City (England), Hon. Raphael Ikuyinminu – Former Speaker, Lagos Children’s Parliament, and founder, Preach A Child Initiative and Hadassah Esther Mwangi, a Communicator and Youth Champion from Kenya.

How COVID-19 has impacted young people?

In his presentation, Ikunyinminu outlined that the Covid-19 pandemic had indeed affected a lot of the pivotal activities in the lives of young people. According to him, the restriction of physical movement has affected the sociability of children as they are confined to staying indoors to avoid being infected.

On his part, Palmer concurred that COVID19 had truly affected the day to day life of young people immensely, from education, work, family, socialization, mental health, and well being, even to unexpectedly having to move back in with parents. According to him, the reality today was that life has changed, and we are still working and learning about how to play in this new world.

Among other specific changes, he noted that in his experience in the UK, schools are equally closed, universities are operating online, many people are working from home, the government has implemented social distancing measures to keep some 2million people away from others, with queue systems being introduced for supermarkets and unnecessary travel banned.

For Mwangi, the situation in Kenya is that the youth have been deeply affected by COVID-19 in different ways. Most of them in the formal work environment have been sent on leave without pay, while those running small businesses have been forced to close down and stay at home with no fresh income coming in.

Corroborating this point, another East African participant, the Ugandan, Manu Anyole remarked that based on a presidential directive in his country, primary and secondary schools, university, and other institutions of learning had remained closed, from March 20th to date. Though it had been presented then as a temporary move to fight off Covid-19 and avoid further spread among large groups of people, the closure has presently now become the new normal with many wondering about what would happen next.

Disruption to Education

While appreciating the difficulties in the extant situation, panellists also spelt it out as starkly as it was. On her part, Oluebube James said that in terms of education, Covid-19 has led to a situation of students not generally attending class. Conceding that some schools have been able to organise online classes, however, she noted that not all students had been able to tap into it as many parents do not have the financial resources for that.

In the UK, Palmer reported that much of the teaching of students has moved online, and some departments are offering seminars on platforms such as Zoom. However, the libraries are closed so access to resources is difficult. Accordingly, some assessment deadlines have necessarily then been extended by a couple of weeks and overall, the format for assessments is now generally almost exclusively via essay or online modes as a new normal.

Palmer thus noted that in this stressful time, students are working in unusual environments, access to internet/computers is expected (which poses some equality & class issues), and we are still working to complete our studies & assessments.

But how well does online learning fill the gap? Says Oluebube James:

‘I am a student of @UnilagNigeria, till when schools will resume, we’ve had to resolve to online education for the time being. Honestly, I miss the classrooms, group study, and my friends and these contribute to the intelligence of a child.’

On his part, Anyole adds that the practical reality in Uganda has also been mixed:

‘Many principals and educators were to embrace technology and virtual education on platforms like the Classroom app. Although registration for and writing exams were postponed in the interim much to the glee of some students.’

For Raphael James, it is indeed a very complex matter:

“Well so far, indulging in E-learning and virtual education, schools are trying but they can actually do better. I think they should also take into consideration that children have various learning patterns.

Some children are visual learners (videos and pictures),  some learn by reading texts, others learn by recitations. All of these should be put into consideration even in the virtual learning system.’

The Almajiri puzzle

If the saga of children in the formal school system has been this disrupted, what about the situation of the largely ‘out-of-school’ population of poor and parentless children in notably, Kano State in North West Nigeria where the expanding impact of COVID-19 has led the state authorities there to hurriedly embark on an ill-advised policy of forced deportation of these children, ostensibly to their states of origin. While many see the deportation as clearly ill-advised and one capable of expanding the problem, there are however varying responses to the issue and they indeed reflect the continually expanding polarization of the Nigerian space.

Indeed, given the decades-old challenge posed by the almajiri system, there have also been many attempts to address them, including the declaration of Universal Primary Education in 1976 and the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration’s construction of special Almajiri schools.

However, a major part of the challenge has been ideological, cultural and theocratic, with northern leaders like Governors Ganduje of Kano and Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna preferring to adopt a policy of ‘leave us with our problem; we will solve it our own way.’

In the same vein, several Northern NGOs and radicals who ordinarily should have been expected to raise even stronger voices in pursuit of a wholesome abolition of the practice have been boxed in with their voices being either absent or shrill.

For the likes of Sheikh Gumi and deposed Emir Mohammed Sanusi II, their strident calls for the wholesale reformation if not abolition of the system has contributed to their being pigeonholed as enemies of the North of sorts.

It is within this mix then that has now come to be introduced the alleged incidence of closet exportation of some of the almajiri to states like Abia, Edo, Cross River and Rivers?

Effect on the NYSC scheme

The pandemic has also affected the mandatory National Youth Service Corps, NYSC scheme. Noted an insider at the NYSC headquarters in Abuja, whom Business Hallmark reached to give us an inside peek into what exactly was going on with the scheme and corpers’ at the moment:

‘Like every other Nigerian, the corps members are feeling the attendant challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has brought largely all corps activities to a halt. It has been so expectedly to safeguard the lives of the NYSC members as you have to be alive to serve the nation. By God’s grace when it’s all over, corps members and other Nigerians will pick themselves up again and move on. For now, the scheme wishes that corps members stay home and stay safe.’

Indeed, with NYSC being a minimum qualification for even attempting getting one of the few elusive jobs that can still be prospected in the formal segments of the public and private sectors of the economy, the direct implication of serving and prospective corpers being stranded in the conveyor belt is that they still retain the status of economic dependants while not being at the same time in school. The psychological and related challenges that this introduces to the affected youth can best be imagined.

If the plight of the likes of Emmanuel Oluwaseun who completed his degree studies in 2019 and is currently awaiting call-up is troubling, what would you say about that of Kamorodeen Baale. The 2017 graduate of Agriculture who undertook the mandatory youth service programme in the North West has been on the streets in the past three years in search of employment.  It is doubly problematic.

When BH reached out to the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr Sunday Dare to make an input on what exactly the government was doing about the situation, he pointed us to an event that had already been convened to discuss it later in the week.

 

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