Tuesday, June 2, 2009

One tooth-full bulldog

That some networks have defined programs like “The Jetsons” and “The Flintstones” as educational, indicates that there is still plenty of work to do – extract from Zigler chapter 3.

Quite likely a grin which may result from reading the above sentence is immediately wiped off, following the revelation that after over thirty years of struggling with the television industry and federal groups to regulate the contents viewed by children, the advocacy group, Action for Children’s Television (ACT) ended its activities in 1993, following the retirement of its founder, Peggy Charen.

This only goes further to aggravates my concerns about the loose if not outright absent control of the content matter that are aired on the television, across the nation. Perhaps the reason I am yet to come to terms with the reality on ground is because indeed all the three types of government (colonial, civilian and military) that have ever functioned in Nigeria have implemented policies that have kept the media in check. The Nigerian broadcasting Corporation (NBC) which some critics have described as a paramilitary outfit is the regulator and controller of the broadcasting industry in the nation, an industry which has grown quite rapidly since its deregulation in 1992.

The most significant task of the NBC is in the form of the regulations contained in its Code. Some of the specific rules which include:to promote and uphold the sanctity of marriage and family life; not to show liquor consumption and smoking, unless it is consistent with plot and character development; to promote national cohesion, national security, respect for human dignity and values; and to broadcast with good taste and decency.

The Code also contains strict guidelines in a number of other areas such as respect for women, advertisements, the protection of children from obscene material, harmful or deceitful advertisements and exploitation. Often, a mere likelihood of the undesired result is enough to constitute a breach of the Code, even though the result does not occur.

The NBC is indeed one “tooth-full bulldog” with a range of sanctions, ranging from the revocation of licenses, immediate shut down or sealing up of the transmitter and stations, to various categories of fines.

But again with continuous backing from the government; as well as steady sources of funds which includes amongst others budgetary allocations made to the Commission in the country’s annual budget and percentage of fees and levies charged by the Commission on the annual income of all licensed broadcasting stations, no one really expects anything less.

Although the political interference in the activities of the Corporation has been criticized by some quarters, yet others have applauded the regulation of contents that are transmitted from media houses across the nation. In the meantime child advocates for the most part have one less thing to worry about – the television.

Friday, May 29, 2009

In El Dorado yet?

Today marks the tenth anniversary of that historic event - the uninterrupted democratic rule in Africa's most populous country. A significant day indeed in Nigeria's political history. For the first time since its independence in 1960, Nigeria celebrates ten years of uninterrupted democratic existence.

In his farewell speech on May 28, 1999, the then Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar declared that it was time for the military to return to its constitutional role of defending the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty. According to him,"We must subject ourselves completely to civil authority. This is a sacred duty to which we must bind ourselves. It is our best guarantee to earn and retain the respect of our people. It is also your best chance for earning the approbation of the rest of a fast, changing world, in which new political and social values are transcendent."

In his acceptance speech titled "Restoration of confidence in government" former President Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a former military administrator acknowledged, that he was well aware of the lack of confidence the people had in the government arising from the “bad faith and deceit of past administrations". He then promised to implement quickly and decisively, measures that would restore confidence in governance. He went ahead to list as his administration's priority, the issue of Food Supply, Restoration of Law and order, Education, Macro-economic policies, Supply and Distribution of Petroleum Products, and poverty alleviation amongst others. Obasanjo spent eight years before handing over to the incumbent President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua who came out with a Seven-Point Agenda listed as Power and Energy, Food Security and Agriculture, Wealth Creation and Employment, Mass Transportation, Land Reform and Security.

Clearly none of these major undertakings of the government so far as we see from the lists above has been explicitly targeted at families. There has rather been a broad focus on strengthening the nation’s economy, maintaining civil order amongst the various ethnic groups and the alleviation of poverty. However a closer and more conscious examination of the aforementioned government’s agenda reveals relationships between government’s policies in the last decade and families. For instance the Universal basic education scheme launched by Obasanjo in 1999 was programmed to cater for a child’s education for nine years, i.e. from primary school to the end of the junior secondary school (middle school). It is free as well as compulsory. It is government’s expectation that this educational reform would enable Nigeria cater for its future professional needs and ensure national integration and development. However this policy also goes further to address family needs implicitly, since every family can now afford to educate their child for free, for the first nine years. It is noteworthy that the economic and poverty alleviation policies in the last decade have also had similar implicit impacts on family life.

So unlike in the U.S. where state legislative leaders have called child and family issues a “sure-fire vote winner” and in which “political interests in children and families ebbs and flows…and may now be at its highest peak in the last twenty years” (Bogenschnider); in Nigeria we hope we get to that point soon, where we can have Family policies with explicitly oriented family goals. This seems inevitable indeed, since social policies are sadly not keeping up with the changing circumstances of the present day families. A most troubling question is that of poverty. Never have we experienced the prevailing level of financial difficulties for individual families and whole communities, in spite of the fact that earnings in the last decade have quadrupled.

But Senate Spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze, says hey! all is not bad for the decade of democracy in Nigeria. "It has been good but that does not mean that there have been no challenges especially in the areas of infrastructure and poverty eradication. Of course, there is no country where poverty has been wiped out totally”.Yeah right... so well…we certainly are not in El Dorado yet. However there still are reasons to celebrate, there is the fact that for the first time since it became a country, Nigeria is spending its 10th uninterrupted year of civilian rule and within that stretch of time, has held three successful elections, the last being the first transition from one civilian administration to another, in the 49 - year-history of the country. Opinion leaders are also generally happy with the civilian rule on ground, acknowledging that it is the only form of governance that can guarantee an improved economy and the triumph of the will of the people through genuine representation at all tiers of government as enshrined in democratic tenets. And indeed many will conclude that the atmosphere of freedom alone, which had eluded the country for so long, is worth toasting to. So cheers!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The greatest challenge

Unlike families in the U.S. which face a number of significant challenges ( Bogenschnider chapters 1 & 2 ), poverty is the greatest challenge facing families in the developing world.

In 1960 when Nigeria gained her independence from the British and for the most part of the 60s, efforts towards eradicating poverty were centered on education, which was considered as the sure path towards the intellectual and economic advancement of the nation. The often quoted mantra by Nigeria’s first (and civilian) president at the time, Nnamdi Azikiwe was “show the light and the people will find the way”. Hence alongside agricultural extension services geared towards increased food production were, educational programs.

Then came the military regimes and the oil boom in the 70s, which changed this outlook. At the time the GNP per capita rose from $360 to over $1000, however by the time oil prices fell in the 80s GNP per capita fell to $370 (Federal Office of Statistics, 1990), at the same time the population of the poor grew from 15% to 28%. This figure has since been on the increase. Over the decades the persistence of poverty in the country has been traced to bad governance, low productivity and the lack of development of other sectors since the oil boom era, as well as unfocused government policies.

Unlike in the U.S., where the government debates on whether or not to get involved with families, successive governments in Nigeria have continuously tried their hands at the difficult task of reducing the level of poverty affecting individuals and families. The poverty alleviation measures implemented so far have focused more on growth, basic needs and rural development approaches. The first of such efforts was the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), which was launched by General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1979. This program had as its goal an increase in food production, with the assumption that the availability of cheap food would lead to higher nutritional levels, which would translate into national growth and development.

However since 1983, a lack of continuity and shift in approach has trailed the poverty alleviation programs in the country. Each military administrator came with his own distinct idea of how to approach the problem. The impacts of each program were therefore minimal owing to their brief life spans and shortcomings in their implementation. While programs have collapsed one after another, one remains till date – The National Directorate of Employment (NDE), founded by the Babangida administration has been around for 23 years.

The NDE was launched at a time when the administration viewed unemployment as a major issue threatening the agenda of the government, since it posed as a danger to the economic and socio-political stability of the nation. The NDE was therefore designed to execute programs to curtail unemployment and articulate policies aimed at developing other work programs. Several poverty alleviation programs have come and gone with successive regimes over the years, most noticeable of these are the Better Life for Rural women and the Family Support Program (FSP). These programs incorporated a gender dimension into their strategies on the premise that women required special attention as a result of their immense contributions both as home makers and small scale entrepreneurs. These however suffered the same fate as past anti-poverty programs, i.e. coming to an end with the regime that had brought about their existence.

Taking cognizance of the tale of past programs and with the advent of the democratic rule in 1999, the administration set out a central coordination point for all its antipoverty efforts. This step was taken to avoid a duplication of agencies, which had also been blamed for past failures. The country has also subscribed to the United Nation’s millennium goals of halving global poverty by 2015, which has led to her outlining of a new poverty reduction strategy involving the Government and the poor as stakeholders working together to make progress. Many have voiced faith in this new collaboration which is believed if well managed will bear evident will fruit in the several poor families and the nation at large.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Transiting for better or worse?

As in most Western societies, families in the U.S. have undergone dra­matic changes as Zimmerman illustrates in chapters two and three. He gives an overview of family trends in the U.S. and some factors which have contributed to the present state of affairs. The readings place significant emphasis on the impact of political actions on family life, and the continuous debates on whether or not the government should be involved in family life.

The story line however differs in Nigeria, which like some other non-Western countries, experiences minimal government involvement in family life. This may be attributed to the long years of military rule characterized by a disconnect between the government and the governed, and the extended family system which serves as a form of social insurance or traditional safety net for orphans, widows ,the aged and other persons in need of support. Although this social phenomenon i.e. the extended family system has been largely successful in safeguarding family life, it is pertinent to note that it is gradually being eroded by forces of “modernization”.

As a result of urbanization, migration and associated economic factors, there has been an increase in the nuclear family type, commonly referred to as the “me, my wife and my children” structure. Although this functions slightly differently from the nuclear family in Western nations, as a result of traces of the extended family system of being “our brothers’ keepers”, nonetheless it has resulted in fundamental changes in the society. These include delayed marriages, lower rates of polygamy, growing acceptability of contraceptive use, lesser commitment to a large family size and declining incidences of co-residency between family relatives.

These transitions in the family structure, while causing a continuous disintegration of the extended family system and the communal sense of living, which is charaterized by altruism has subsequently contributed to an increase in the poverty levels. To improve the living condition of all persons and achieve the target of halving poverty by the year 2015 according to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there has indeed arisen the need for an urgent redirection and refocus on the issues of families in Nigeria and the sub-Saharan region of Africa to address the increasing changes in family structures which has brought about new challenges for society. While religious institutions, which have great influence over the populace and several non-government organizations have actively taken up this hydra-headed challenge of safeguarding family life, it seems that the present democratic government may in some way have to intervene in salvaging the situation.

(Do look up the blog posts of January to get an overview of family life in Nigeria)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Inclusion issues...

Inclusion, the philosophy and practice of educating students with disabilities in general education settings, is one concept that has gained great popularity in today’s world of special needs education. Although generating significant attention world wide as a new way of educating the special-needs population, the readiness of countries to adopt this concept varies significantly. Zigler in Chapter 11 gives a good description of the advances made so far in the U.S. in adopting the inclusive approach. A transition from no to myriad services, as provided for by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), guarantees free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment to all children with disabilities. Parents are also “given the rights to be involved in their child’s education to a degree envied by parents of children without disabilities” (p.266).Indeed the U.S. has clearly made great strides in adopting the inclusive approach.

In Nigeria, though as in many countries in Africa where the issue of providing for children with special needs still poses significant challenges, the story of inclusion differs. The wide attention given to the education of people with special needs at the policy level over the years had not adequately been reflected at the level of implementation. Some pertinent problems with special education include a lack of adequate plans for the identification of disabled children; The persistent involvement in begging by many of these children, which some perceive as an occupation for persons with disabilities, further aggravated by a poor awareness that children with disabilities can still acquire an education ;The local culture, which is also a significant determinant of the perception of disability and the subsequent attitude towards disabled persons. For instance parents may strive to hide disabled child(ren), for fear that such children may ‘tarnish the family’s image’. This is quite common in African societies where the explanation of occurrences can often be superstitious.

Beyond these, over the years government and non-governmental efforts have been more preoccupied with tackling the problem of illiteracy in the general population, which more often than not takes priority over special needs education. At those times when attention is given to special needs education, it has more often been directed towards basic education for the girl child and/or nomadic groups. Not very much consideration had been given to children with disabilities. Nontheless with the climaxing international appraisal of the inclusive schooling system, particularly by UNESCO and the Salamanca declaration of 1994, which provided the needed international and theoretical frames for inclusive education, the Nigerian education system is currently undergoing a major reform with the aim of including students with special needs in regular classrooms. This is reflected in the newly revised National Policy on Education which places emphasis on inclusive education (2008), hopefully this will have better luck at significantly impacting the movement towards inclusion in the near future.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The loss of innocence

"You refuse to do it, but in the end you have to accept reality. You can run away, but where do you run to? You want to talk, but who do you talk to? You are totally confused."
-This was the plight of a young Nigerian girl who had been trafficked to Italy. When she realized that she had been lied to and that she would have to sell sex instead of working in a restaurant, as she had been promised, she cried non-stop for 5 days.

But Nigeria is not the only country perpetrating human trafficking, nor is it the only nation suffering from its effects. Child trafficking affects children throughout the world, in both industrialized and developing countries. Estimated figures of the number of people trafficked around the world every year are placed at one to two million people —mostly women and children.

Trafficked children are subjected to prostitution, organs/body part removals, forced into marriage or illegally adopted; they provide cheap or unpaid labor, work as house servants or beggars, are recruited into armed groups, and are used for sports. These involvements, exposes them to violence, sexual abuse and HIV infection, and violates their rights to be protected, grow up in a family environment and have access to education.This is the plight of millions of children worldwide who have become silent victims in international populations, forming the very heart of an international crime for which no reliable statistics are available to determine how big the problem really is.

In a flashback of the readings on the “Social Service Systems”, Zigler defines child abuse and neglect “as any action or lack of action, resulting in imminent risk or serious harm, death, serious physical or emotional harm , sexual abuse or exploitation …of a child…” The readings go on to discuss issues of physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children, most of which are relatively familiar to us. However no mention was made of child trafficking –a subject matter which as recently as fifteen years ago was relatively nonexistent in academic study; but is becoming increasingly relevant for students who will become lawyers, doctors, legislators and policy makers.

Trafficking of children is one of the gravest violations of human rights in the world today. Children and their families are lured by the empty promises of the trafficking networks, through false promises of a better life, an escape route from poverty; and every year, hundreds of thousands of children are smuggled across borders and sold as mere commodities.

Some grim facts:
-UNICEF estimates that 1,000 to 1,500 Guatemalan babies and children are trafficked each year for adoption by couples in North America and Europe.
-Girls as young as 13 (mainly from Asia and Eastern Europe) are trafficked as “mail-order brides.” In most cases these girls are powerless and isolated and at great risk of violence.
-Large numbers of children are being trafficked in West and Central Africa, mainly for domestic work but also for sexual exploitation and to work in shops or on farms. Nearly 90 per cent of these trafficked domestic workers are girls. Some children are sent as far away as the Middle East and Europe

The role of organized crime in human trafficking must really never be underestimated, as it is a highly lucrative business, with illicit profits annually estimated at US$32 billion (ILO Global Report for 2005). It is considered to offer the third largest source of income to organized crime, after small arms (weapons) and drug smuggling which are the two most lucrative forms of organized crime internationally.

In the U.S. Contrary to common assumptions, of the lack of the prevalence of child trafficking, cases have been reported in all 50 states and Washington D.C. , as well as in some U.S. territories. Victims include, U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. Children are trafficked to the United States for the purposes of sexual and labor exploitation; and an unknown number of U.S. citizens and legal residents are trafficked within the country primarily for sexual servitude and, to a lesser extent, forced labor.

Click on the links and watch the two brief videos:



So as unimaginable as it seems, slavery and bondage still persist in the 21st century. With the millions of children involved , trafficking in persons is clearly one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time-[The U.S Department trafficking in persons report, June 2003]

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

...and a 3rd power house.

The readings for this week really challenges anyone who even as much as glances at them. It was really inspirational to realize the many fronts on which we can make a difference, not to mention a reminder of the definition of the word profession (a calling, work that has meaning in and of itself outside the profit it brings – Bogenschnider p.225) a word which sadly has become synonymous with the concept of a job or a career, inadvertently draining the passion from the promising field of Family studies.

Here in the U.S., politicians and intellectuals are obviously the two basic groups who have to joggle ideas, knowledge and resources to propose, enact, implement and evaluate policies. As I sat back to reflect on the discussions in the text, it seemed quite “simplified”. I couldn’t quite directly reconcile this process with the scenario back home. Why? Then I gasped, but of course! The Third power house is missing.

Any guesses on what that might be?
Answer: Local traditional and/or religious leaders!

Yep, they are that third and crucial foot of the tripod in most parts of Africa, without which policies often come crashing down. This group is widely accorded more trust than the political or intellectual group. They achieve this feat, by shaping opinions and influencing decisions in communities right through to individual families. They live with the people and often make substantial contributions to promote the well-being of families and communities.

A look at the continuous process of promoting school attendance of the girl child in Nigeria, gives us a glimpse of how policies can be facilitated by these leaders. Figures show that more boys than girls are in school. This disparity is brought about particularly, by the low value accorded by some local beliefs to girls’ education and poverty.

National awareness of the prevalence of this problem has led to several political and financial commitments through advocacy and sensitization of policy makers. Programs have been planned and implemented, and while some have failed, others have gone on to record impressive successes. Over and again one key characteristic of succeeding programs has been an involvement of the leading traditional and/or religious leaders in local host communities. When these leaders in their regular interactions with the people use and consistently reinforce key messages, which favorably link proposed policies to the local tradition/religion success is assured. For instance proclaiming that educating all children is a cultural duty and drawing up inferences from the local context, has been shown to make many parents take their children to school, including girls.

On the other hand in situations where local leaders have been indifferent or worse still, spoken against policies/programs, doom has inevitably been the outcome. A quick reference was the recent boycott of the polio immunization campaign in parts of the country in 2003. The immunization campaign was literally brought to a halt by local and religious leaders upon calling on parents not to allow their children get immunized. These leaders argued that the vaccines were contaminated. Responding to the rumors about the vaccine, the federal government set up a committee to access the safety of the vaccines and samples were sent abroad to be tested. The results of the committee were rejected still by these leaders; and even though the truth of the rumor that the vaccines were contaminated were never established all efforts by the federal government to dispel them failed.

After about a year of boycott, the deadlock was finally settled with the local leaders playing the significant role in the process. Shortly after this occurrence, a meeting was hosted by WHO and UNICEF in the West African sub-region. The aim? To inform traditional and religious leaders (in the wake of the recent polio crises) about issues that affect children, to ensure that the right messages were passed down to the people.

In one sentence, the federal government having lost the public trust of one state became handicapped in providing health services. While the local leaders unfortunately disrupted national and global health plans, they believed they were acting to protect the interests of their people.

These experiences serve to illustrate the prevalence of communitarianism in most parts of the continent, where the transmission of information and authority flow downward from community leaders who are the gate keepers and decision makers-a crucial power house which can neither be ignored or excluded from social policy issues.