By Bankole Shakirudeen Adeshina
Under the scope of the Project for the Protection of Migrant Children along Abidjan-Lagos Corridor (CORAL), an international organisation, Terre des homes, in collaboration with the Association of Working Children and Youth (AWCY) recently held a workshop for the representatives of Diaspora Associations in Nigeria on their roles in the protection of vulnerable migrant children.
The parley became imperative as the 3-year-old European Union sponsored campaign winds down in few months’ time, bringing to a close an aggressive campaign on Protection, Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Migrant Children into their new host communities.
The CORAL Project campaign, according to Mrs. Olapeju Osoba, the Head of Country Office for Terre des hommes, has so far assisted over 4,000 children.
In attendance at the parley, held at the Airport Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, were the ECOWAS Citizen High Chief and Leader of Ghanaian Community in Alagbado and Ojokoro, High Chief Afebli Dunu; Nogbou Antoine and Ballo Brahima, President and Leader, Ivorian Community in Lagos Island respectively; Massobe Jean-Marie, President, Congolese Catholic Community in Lagos Island; Kanagjigu Mamadou, President Malian Community in Lagos; and Kamissoko Lamine, President, Guinea-Conakry Community in Lagos Island.
Others were Konate Micahilou, Welfare Officer, Beninese Community in Nigeria; Kannem Abubakar, Vice President, Liberian Community in Ajah, Lagos; Maduke Sene, President, Senegal Community in Lagos Island; and Matonge Alphonse, representative of the DRC Congo residents in Lagos.
Osoba stated that collaboration between the host communities and the leadership of the organized bodies of the foreign nationals can’t be overemphasized, as it would help in no small measure to drive rehabilitation, integration and avoidance of clashes with local laws by the new settlers.
She said the role of the diaspora organized groups and their leadership became important in ensuring that foreign nationals are equally supported by their bodies, hence the limitation and or outright prevention of risks or hardship or abuse should a migrant child would be exposed to.
Osoba noted that “first and foremost, a child is a child anywhere in the world, irrespective of his or her nationality, colour, religion and or academic profile. Hence such a child should be treated in accordance with the dictate of the International Charter on the Protection of the Children.
“However, in the case of Migrant Children, especially in Africa, we are well aware that there is little or nothing we can do about stopping these children from moving. As a matter of fact, when you listen to the harrowing experiences of some of these children, you will but give a nod to their migration adventure.
“But in order to reduce the risk they would be exposed to in the course of this journey, and by extension, help the process of their rehabilitation and integration in their destination countries and communities, we need to put measures in place that will support them every step of the way.
“In your case as Diaspora Organisation Actors, you will need to help us play the role of sanctuary for all the migrant children from your own countries. Not only that, you will help us work assiduously to ensure that they are properly integrated, giving them relevant vocational skills and or formal education and ensure that they are monitored after graduation,” she pleaded.
Osoba also noted that it was important to always work with the police to ensure that foreign nationals who are found wanting are properly identified and assisted during prosecution process to avoid miscarriage of justice.
Mrs. Ronke Ajala, the Officer-In-Charge (OC) of the Juvenile Welfare Center, Alakara Division of the Nigerian Police, lamented the long neglect of the center, saying the children currently domiciled in her facility need maximum care that are not available.
According to her, while the JWC is actually an establishment of the Nigeria Police as a Temporary Shelter Programme for abused, distressed and missing children, the daily needs and care of these children have always been met through compassionate contributions by the officers, good Samaritans and some faith organisations.
Ajala said, “at the moment, we have about 12 children in the center. But the number could rise to 20 or more before the day ends. However some of these children are found after missing. And some rescued from abusive parents and or guardians. And it has been a great honor to care for them while they are in transit with us.
“But to say the truth, it is very burdensome meeting their needs,” Ajala noted, explaining that “practically speaking, we beg people to assist us with meal and basic cares like medical attention for the children in the center. This is because there is no budgetary provision for their care.
“Sometimes, when some of them fall sick, we have to start begging doctors for waiver of bills. Because it is okay to squeeze out of one’s salary for their meal, but their medical bills will be too way up to bear. Thankfully, there is a private hospital at the back of our facility that has started helping us. But each case must be taken to the CMD before waiver is accepted. The whole situation is simply un-dignifying,” she laments.
Earlier, Ajala had narrated a case of a distressed foreign national who was taken advantage of by a fraudulent Nigerian, pleading to the Diaspora Organisation to always look out for their own.
Her presentation, which attracted rapt attention amidst teary emotions, equally drew some reactions, with one Mr. Youdiowei Zikala, a representative of the Federal Ministry of Labour, also giving a jaw-dropping story of Police culpability in how an alleged rapist evaded justice in a case that happened in same Festac some years ago.
Zikala, who was speaking as an individual at the event, said the young lady was about 16 years old and about to write her Senior Secondary School Examination at the time she was also being frequently abused sexually by the husband of her aunt.
“The abuse must have been going on for long, but it was around 2015 that the young lady couldn’t take it any longer; so, she reported the story to a neighbor who in turn involved two other people and me.
“We were so angry about it and had to go straight to the Festac Police Station for the man’s arrest. And indeed, he was arrested. But shockingly, the following day, the man came back and particularly came to our compound to spit on our faces, saying there is nothing we can do about his escapade with the young lady.
“He told us categorically that he is highly connected and there is nothing the Police can do to him either, for he has paid them all off! I became so sad and powerless! So, painfully, the young lady must have continued being subjected to same abuse.
“In this wise, I would like to asi (the Police Speaker), where is the dignity and honor of service required by the Nigeria Police as an institution saddled to enforce law and seek justice for the vulnerable Nigerians?”
Ajala insisted that the Nigerian Police is an institution filled with highly trained, professional, diligent and patriotic individuals who are committed to the ethics of the job –Policing for safety and security.
She however admittedly said “sad but true however, there are few bad eggs in the Police. But Nigerians should be well educated enough to realize that if a Police Officer is trying to subvert justice in their reported cases, they can go to other division or even to the higher authority.
“While it is possible that a particular Police Officer can be compromised, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) can’t. If he or she does, the Area Commander won’t. if he/she does, the Police Commissioner would not. If he/she does, the Assistant Inspector General would not. If he or she does, the Deputy Inspector General of Police wouldn’t. If he or she does, the Inspector General of Police would never.
“So, this line of authority are always open and accessible to Nigerians to seek redress on any case they feel are not properly treated by any police officer or station,” she submitted, attracting the applauds of the audience.
Mrs. Modupeoluwa Sahid Adebambo, Representative of the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development, said the state is currently running a zero tolerance on any abuses of children.
Adebambo stressed that while it is very possible for infiltration of the justice system here and there, the Lagos State Government has provided laws and regulatory frameworks to address any kind of abuse against children, especially those suspected to be compromised by the Police, with the promise of proper intervention and adjudication, upon compliant.
“Besides reporting to the Police higher authorities, these cases can also and more importantly be reported to the Gender Unit of the Ministry of Youth and Social Development. And you can be rest assured that justice would be purposed to the logical conclusion. This is Lagos State. And here, there are laws and regulations that protect our children and those from elsewhere. All you need to do as a complainant is make a proper report at any of the Gender Unit,” she explained.
Mrs. Ngozi Okoro, the Coordinator, Child Protection Agency, Lagos Chapter, when asked while the challenge of abuse of children continue to be prevalent, especially in Lagos, in spite of the series of measures put in place by the government, said the issue needs promoting Public Consciousness, Citizenship Ownership of the Campaign and improved parenting.
“Let me tell you this, in spite of the pocket of heartbreaking stories here and there, Lagos State remains the model state on the issue of protection of the rights of children in this country. They have supported this position with the law and are sternly consolidating with enforcement.
“The truth is, if half of what is being down here (Lagos) can be replicated in Ogun State, for example, I would have been happy. Because in Ogun State, the impunity against children there is colossal; the lawlessness there poses existential threats against our innocent children.
“However, let me use this privilege to reiterate that the linkable between where we are now and the Promised Land – zero abuse of the rights of children—is in the sustained campaign for quality parenting, good neighborliness, and responsible citizenry. We all must realize that the Children are children, irrespective of their migration status, and are created vulnerable species. Hence we must protect them; nurture them; invest in them, so they blossom into greatness,” she said.