We recall with pain the 2015 Global Nutrition Report which revealed that as many as 52% of Nigerian children are stunted, wasted and malnourished. Beside the predicament of helpless Nigerian children who suffer various forms of violence in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents, the report was an open reminder that if government authorities, public spirited Nigerians and well-meaning international organizations do not successfully address the situation of children, another albatross of socio-economic dimension may well be on the way.
This is a tragedy that should prick the conscience of the nation and our policy makers, implementers and their superintendents. Nigerians must think out solutions to address this national shame. The 2015 report; the second in an annual series, covers nutrition status and underlying determinants such as food security, water, hygiene and sanitation; resource allocation and institutional and policy changes globally in 193 countries.
As if to add insult to the already festering injury, the latest edition of the report, published last month in New York, USA stated unequivocally that to combat malnutrition in Nigeria, an estimated N188.3 billion ($837 million) investment is needed. This according to the report, would save 180,000 lives, and avert three million cases of stunting a year. A break down showed the cost of averting each case of stunting is a mere N65,700 ($292).
Childhood stunting and wasting remain serious problems and the numbers are simply mind-boggling. About six out of ten Nigerian children under five years old are too short for their age (stunted), while more than half do not weigh enough for their height (wasted). Among the report’s key findings, one in three children of the global population is malnourished, and the problem exists in every country on the planet – yet, the strategies or high-impact interventions to resolve it are not being implemented due to lack of money, or political will. That Nigeria cannot adequately feed its children is unacceptable.
Good enough, officials of the Federal Ministry of Health who should know agree with the report and its take on the Nigerian child.
The bleak fate of Nigerian children is symptomatic of the gory lot of their counterparts worldwide. Those who do not directly suffer hunger and malnutrition are not spared the calamities of violence as millions have been kidnapped from their schools or on their way to school. Others have been recruited or used by armed forces and groups. Over 200 Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists and till now, forlorn is the hope of their rescue. Equally revolting is the enslavement of teenage girls with its attendant sex slavery while some are used as suicide bombers; others live on the streets.
Children in any clime can only grow to their fullest potential when an enabling environment is provided. Hence, when you nurture a child today, you are indirectly creating a better tomorrow. Owing to their precarious situation, Nigerian children, from infants to those of school age, are beginning to witness in frightful clarity the bleakness of their future. Many of these children are orphaned, while some are born in filthy, disease-prone, unhealthy environments, where sanitary facilities (even in their crudest state) are a luxury. An unsavoury corollary of the danger posed by hunger and malnutrition apart from their direct, tragic consequences is that the future of those children not killed in conflict like others is bleak.
While the incredible benevolence of volunteers who have been giving some hope to these children should be commended, the government must, as a matter of priority, pay special attention to children. Although civil society groups have been encouraging in this regard, by way of social responsibility, all relevant government agencies should embark upon long-term and immediate responses to the plight of these innocent ones.
As an immediate response, government should strive to take care of them by providing food, shelter and schools. In the long-term, government must plan for them, by giving priority to education as one of the most veritable factors that ultimately define Nigeria and facilitate leadership; and the absence of which would retard the country’s progress.
Considering the challenges, deprivation, psychological trauma and emotional distress that the children in Nigeria, but especially of the northeast have passed through and are still going through, the situation also calls for a lot of trauma management and counselling services to enable them make the journey back to normal life. Now, upon the unpleasant realization of this intractable socio-economic crisis, the government and all stakeholders should wean themselves of the hollow rhetoric and advance plans to concretely address the fundamental issues of hunger, malnutrition and social dislocation, by paying detailed attention to the nutritional and health care needs of children.
There is therefore urgent need for the Buhari administration to sincerely consider how children have fared in the war-ravaged northeast and take decisive steps to break the horrendous cycle of misery in which they are now trapped. Nigeria should enact or strengthen existing laws that mete out appropriate sanctions to abusers of children through rape, abduction and recruitment as child soldiers. The security of the future of the nation represented by these children should be one victory Nigeria must score. Nigeria cannot look forward to a rewarding future without ensuring robust investments in human capital and capacity building in the nation’s children.