Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Our children... and the road to Rome

THE excitement is in the air already - for children and adults alike. For once at least, we can temporarily put aside the excruciating pain of global (family) economic meltdown and other associated ills to celebrate with our children on their day, today, and later in the evening share in the joy the beautiful game has to offer in the European Champions League final in Rome. For us as a people, there are lessons we can learn from both events for our own good.

We congratulate our children on their day, so recognized globally by the United Nations. It could not have been for nothing that a significant proportion of the world's population should be celebrated with fanfare: they are the future. 'We are the world, we are the children...' they always remind us in a popular refrain. If indeed they are the world (future), do we always accord them the honour due to them except fleetingly on a day like this when they are only dressed up for parades in various states for the governors to show off again with the children at parade ground?

If they are the future, why do we easily forget in conflict situations -like in the Niger Delta - that this is a very vulnerable group and we still subject them to all forms of indignities? In some cases, many are even engaged as child soldiers during wars, as was witnessed in the Liberian conflagration a couple of years back. Why would any one in his or her right senses kidnap children for ransom or ritual purposes or even transport them across borders to be abused? Why, in spite of educational opportunities available to them would any parent, due to ignorance or sheer mentality of keeping people in perpetual servitude deny the young ones formal education - in this age of technological advancement? The why list is inexhaustible.

I am aware a child rights bill was being pushed around the National Assembly recently - as recent as the civilian dispensation that ended in 2007, but I am not aware of its passage. Should we then conclude that we only pay lip service to issues that concern the welfare of our own people? In other advanced cultures, children's matters are never treated with levity. That is why today, all you get to see is an army of children who hawk 'pure' water on the streets or run after motorists in the traffic with loaves of bread or any consumable whatever to earn some change to keep the family together or to facilitate the payment of school fees. These are the children who will grow up tomorrow, become somebody in life and start granting interviews on the pages of newspapers on how they hawked eko and akara for the parents and still managed to push through the school system, before launching into the millionaires club by dint of hard work. Must everybody be regaling his generation with this kind of rags-to-riches stuff?

The challenge is ours today as parents and leaders wherever to rise to the occasion and show the children that they deserve a better life like their counterparts in other parts of the world where the worth of a child is recognised. We are not saying all the children in this country face hardship, but majority do and this is not a good story to tell on our part. In spite of the economic hardship being forced on the family, a child is entitled to certain rights and basic protection.

The state has failed in certain respects to discharge its obligations for obvious reasons, mainly corruption for which the country is a front contender for a medal in the international community. For instance, leaders of government who fail to provide necessary educational opportunities for the children have shirked their responsibilities. Any talk of opportunities is not limited to the provision of classrooms or desks. A government that fails to pay teachers in its employ adequately or as and when due is a failure because, indirectly, the children suffer. In like manner, public officials who misappropriate votes for school or health infrastructure for the development of the child (it's a way of life here) have committed a crime against humanity.

No society is totally free of corruption, Or how do we place recent disclosure that some MPs in British parliament are helping themselves to taxpayers money amounting to £6.2 million by presenting questionable bills for payment, some for as little as £4000? But we are more concerned about our own inadequacies that have gone overboard, beyond permissible levels of human frailties. If a civil servant on Grade Level 8 or 9 is caught with properties worth millions of naira without any useful explanation of the source, we are bound to ask questions, or if an elected public official becomes a billionaire overnight. All we are saying is that children have a way of learning from the actions of parents or leaders. They should be spared the initiation into unholy alliances. They need direction but it should only be in the path of rectitude, for the sake of our nation. Congratulations again children on this occasion. The young shall grow.

The Champions League. We won't be far from the mark if tonight is tagged the night of stars - soccer stars who don't have any other job doing than entertain lovers of the beautiful game with their artistry. Tonight, billions of fans across the world will again be hooked to television screens to watch the best of football from Europe - of course from two of the best clubs around the world. Barcelona FC, champions from the Spanish League squaring up to Manchester United FC, champions from England. What can we expect from two great attacking sides than a pulsating, breathless 90 minutes (or 120 minutes) on the turf of the magnificent Stadio Olympico?

Consider for a brief moment an awesome three players in Christiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Teves/Dimitar Barbatov facing the other awesome three in Leo Messi, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry. Happily, it's not a stage for men and the boys ala Patrice Evra of Man U(apology to the Gunners fans although I am proud to be one of them).

For the two sides, the road to Rome has been rough and tough. That is why they deserve the respect as finalists. Some actually see it as a dream pairing featuring two of the very best this generation has to offer: Ronaldo versus Messi. Ronaldo is the current World Footballer of the year (see what I mean) while Messi has been variously tagged as one crafty fellow who doesn't know himself what he intends to do with the ball until he lines up for a match. Wonderful! Dimunitive former soccer great Maradona says of him: 'The whole pitch belongs to him'. Tonight will prove him right or wrong.

I cannot wait for the 7.45p.m kick off. The match duration promises to be a value for time or money. Planet football is excitedly transfixed, a colleague summed up yesterday.

The lesson in this for Nigeria? Simple. The country needs organisers who are committed and meticulous in planning a faultless competition. We're not talking about the haphazard organisation our LOC men are noted for while preparing to host ordinary cadet (Under-17) world championship. Seriously, it's not the type FIFA would be so gracious to be extending deadlines interminably to accommodate our collective inefficiency as a nation. It's not one in which two sub-seat chairmen would be assuring the nation that the astro turf or the communication room will be in place, two weeks after expiration of the third ultimatum. Thank you Mr. Jack Warner for presenting us with the picture of the way we are. You captured the situation well, even as an outsider. "Nigeria is not ready," he said emphatically.

The UEFA preparations - venue, security, etc - for the finals? Oh, it was concluded last year. Two months ago when fears were expressed over the choice of Rome (Italy) for the finals, in terms of security, UEFA chief Michel Platini was apprehensive over any change in the water tight arrangements made for Rome. He was not sure whether the organisers would be able to meet up with arranging another venue! This is food for thought for our local officials.