New hope for future of ostracised Nigerian children

July 24, 2017

Just recently, in a development highlighting Boko Haram’s infiltration of the teeming youth in the continent’s most populous country, the Nigerian army arrested two boys, aged 12 and 13, on suspicion of spying on troops on behalf of the terror group.

Upon investigation, the youngsters claimed to have been in the ranks of the Islamic militants in the north-east of the country since 2014.

The use of children by the terror group is a grave dimension of the insurgency that has claimed the lives of over 20 000 civilians and the displacement of more than 2million others in the crisis-torn region.

Boko Haram, involved in an almost decade-long campaign to establish an Islamist state in the country which is equally divided between Muslims and Christians, is notorious for luring disillusioned youth through financial inducement, promise of business support and better status.

Apart from spying for the terror group, some radicalised youths, voluntarily recruited or forced into joining the sect, have been at the forefront of a vicious wave of suicide bomb attacks that are the hallmarks of the violent campaign.

With Nigeria, a country of 190 million people (with a median age of about 18 years), enduring the twin evils of corruption and terrorism, it has become imperative for government to empower the country’s youth population which, because of economic and societal challenges, has become vulnerable to such vices.

Corruption is also ubiqitious in Africa’s biggest economy, which is going through a severe recession that has left millions of youth unemployed and schoolchildren facing a dire future.

With a poorly-equipped education sector impatient with unruly schoolchildren, the country is experiencing a vicious cycle.

It is against this background that Efeturi Odele, 29, has embarked on a mission to reform ostracised schoolchildren, give them a new lease of life and eventually safeguard the country from this cycle of ills.

Born in one of the country’s volatile regions, the Niger Delta, southern Nigeria, he has a passion for youth and a desire for sustainable peace.

Among the most prominent initiatives is the One Young World Nigeria Transformation Award.

It embraces public secondary school pupils previously involved in misdeeds such as fighting, theft and examination malpractice among other vices.

Such is the impact of the programme that within one academic year, the previously outcast children, who would have added to the unenviable statistics of youngsters relegated to a hopeless future and left at the mercy of recruitment and radicalisation by terror groups, have been transformed into exemplary pupils.

Some 120 pupils, including eight that have been awarded scholarships, have been transformed.

“The aim of this project is to prevent the release of students who are morally bankrupt into society,” Odele said.

“While in high school I noticed most of the troublesome and poorly performing students had family issues.

“I embarked on this project to help encourage such students.

“Our society’s future will depend a lot on the retrogression or improvement of human character.

“One Young World (a global youth empowerment group of which he is an ambassador) has taught me that every day we fail to better our world, imposes greater risks on our children and our children’s children.”

Apart from the transformation initiative, Efeturi is also involved in the Adolescent Track Talent Hunt Project, a project scouting for talented athletes in rural communities in Nigeria.

The Niger Delta University-schooled Efeturi, driven by a passion for environmental sustainability, human rights, human capacity development, grassroots development and international relations, has duly been awarded scholarships to pursue his mission.

He is a recipient of the Chevron International REACH (Recognising Excellence and Achievement) Scholarship and a Russian Ministry of Education Scholarship for brilliant international students.

This has enabled him to attend key human capacity development conferences in Germany, Ghana, Russia, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Switzerland.

The fourth child in a polygamous family of four wives and 10 children, Efeturi recounted it was not easy growing up after his parents separated.

“The circumstances of my birth made me quite headstrong,” he said.

“No doubt, the conflicting family issues of a polygamous family are capable of affecting a child’s social approach to life.

“Fortunately for me I had teachers in primary and high school who saw potential in me and encouraged me to channel my doggedness to success in academics and sports.”

Efeturi, who also held promise as a talented athlete, said growing up in the countryside, he noticed it was not lack of ability that limited most underprivileged African youths but a lack of an encouraging environment.

“Education and international exposure made the difference in my life,” he said.

He bemoaned the quality of higher education in Nigeria which was relatively poor although there were outstanding lecturers and students.

“The government needs to develop infrastructure and provide state-of-the-art facilities in tertiary institutions. It also needs to promote co-operation between the different stakeholders to help curb the worrisome brain and talent drain,” he concluded. – CAJ News