Today, 20/5/2011, at 7am Nigerian time, I paid a visit to the Security Village in Uyo Akwa Ibom state.
My mission there was simple; to confirm the status of the over 100 children picked from CRARN to the facility. I was hoping against all hopes that the children will be fine, and indeed one of them said “I LIKE IT HERE”. Now let’s follow the event chronologically.
By about 7.02am, I was blaring the horn at the gate of the facility. After a while, it was obvious nobody was getting the gate opened for me. I had to help myself into the compound. There were over 100 kids loitering within the compound, some were brushing their mouth, some queued in front of a building to the extreme end of the compound others engaged in tidying the compound.
I approached the queue and was greeted by some familiar smiling faces on the line. At the head of the line was a lady in her mid thirties, handing out some cards of Cabin biscuits to the children, four cards per child, sometimes five. I approached her, and she beamed a welcoming smile. We got introduced and shared some small talk generally about the facility and the children.
I then observed something was amiss, I asked for her assistants and she said she was alone. I asked her where the children eat their meals and she gestured towards an empty sitting room ‘here’ she said. Candidly speaking, she saw nothing wrong with the almost empty hall with stacks of brand new six spring mattresses and pillows at one corner.
I then asked her why the kids were having biscuits instead of real food this morning and she replied that there was no firewood yet for her to cook, if there was, she would have had food on fire about then. Who else works with you in this facility, she said NOBODY. Who hired you? She said the Permanent Secretary brought her in from Oron, but she hopes other people will be joining her later. How late that later is, she wouldn’t know. Not one staff from the Ministry of Women Affairs was deployed to work with her.
Obviously, to my greatest consternation, this very nice and honest lady (name withheld) functions as the
8. Security guard and lest I forget
9. Cook etc. and she is not an Octopus!
I have just narrated a story that seems from a horror fiction novel, but it is sadly true. This one woman superintending over about 120 kids? With little or no formal training in children welfare etc.
I further questioned her on the educational needs of these children, she said it is impossible for them to go to school right now as school is already in session, but that by next term efforts will be made towards enrolling them in school. Now, we must not forget that this is a promotional term; it means all the kids will have their academic program delayed for another year, as they must repeat their present class.
I went further to inspect the boy’s accommodation, the floors were all properly tiled as expected, but the plumbing was not connected. I asked if there is a source of water within the facility, she pointed at three (3) GP tanks, and she said water is brought in and stored there for the kids use, my first thought was how these very fragile ones will have to go fetch water from the tank each time the intend to visit the toilet.
Besides that, there was just two-toileting facility in each house that now occupies not less than fifty children. Every available space including the kitchen and storerooms having been converted to sleeping rooms.
There were no boreholes in the compound; their lighting was powered by very old looking Elemax generating sets (I pass my neighbor). One per house, non was less than 3 years old, most likely to be privately owned and each as new would not go for more than N18, 000. (Eighteen Thousand naira only) current market price. The center cannot provide the very basic necessities other than new buildings and new beddings.
I confirmed there were no medical facility (infirmaries), no playground and recreational facilities, nothing on the checklist that was brought to assess CRARN facility was at the Security Village. And just before you are deceived by the name Security, there was nothing secured about the center, the children are just lame ducks to traffickers
Whilst in the house full of Chandeliers and fancy lights, two boys began to fight over a missing tube of Maclean’s toothpaste. I was surprised that despite my presence, the boys could care less. Then it dawn on me, some street kids were picked directly from Qua River hotel, and mixed with this kids from CRARN, an organized facility who had some measure of control and discipline, there will definitely be a measure of corruption, especially with a total lack of care providers at the Center.
Remember what I said at the beginning? Some kid said he liked it here, why wouldn’t he, when they have their entire world to themselves, no rules, no elders, no security. I am sure some of the kids from Qua River Hotel may have already identified joy spots within the large, barely lighted compound.
I have a feeling that this whole process of emergency transfer of the kids from CRARN is not only selfishly motivated by political lust but also greed. How can one explain such lack of investment at the facility if not that somebody decided to create a subhead, a perfect conduit pipe to clear out the treasury as time runs out on her.
She is not interested how the programme will fare after now, just how healthy her account will be at the end of the exercise. She brought these kids without any provision. What if the Permanent Secretary did not go to Oron to bring the lady staying with those children? Or were they hoping to bring the kids before recruitment? Talk about the cart before the horse.
I am convinced she knows exactly what she is doing. But this, my friends, is BLOOD MONEY!!!
Ebuk is Legal Practiner in Akwa Ibom State.