During my long awaited visit to Nigeria back in 2007, I got my first dose of the nightlife on Victoria Island.
The party scene at VI felt like Africa’s version of South Beach Miami, Florida, located a few miles away from the area where I was born and raised. There were fashionable Nigerians hopping in and out of clubs. Everyone came dressed to impress. Stiletto heels clicked against the semi-tarred roads. Guys recited pick-up lines to groups of beautiful women. Inside the bars, bottles were popped and Naija hip-hop was blasting. Outside people circled the streets in expensive cars.
But within that scene of luxury were children who appeared to be homeless. They moved in groups making their way through the crowd tugging away at passersby as they begged for money. Coming from America and being away from Nigeria for 12 years, I was confused. “How could these children be out so late at night with no adult supervision,” I asked. The people who escorted me to VI told me it is the norm in Nigeria. I couldn’t wrap my brain around that.
But I discovered it was true. It’s the norm in Nigeria. It’s the stark contrast of poverty lurking alongside wealth and status. But the average Nigerian shouldn’t bare the blame or the burden. The children on the streets represent one of the many failures of the Nigerian government.
In 2007 Nigeria announced a $1.6 billion plan to tackle this issue, but after four years the problem has been virtually ignored. In 2010, president Goodluck Johnathan admitted that there are over 7 million orphans and vulnerable children in the country. The problem continues to spread, as vulnerable children have become prey for kidnappers and child traffickers.
Four years after my 2007 trip to Nigeria I heard about Joy and Ige Idris, two young adults based in Ibadan who have sacrificed their lives to care for over 30 orphans.
In 2006 their mother, Dr. Oyiza Adenuga, started the orphanage because of her love for children and her desire to help the less fortunate. One year later Dr. Adenuga died suddenly. Joy and Ige, now 25 and 27-years-old, quit school to make sure their mother’s mission didn’t go into the grave with her. Today Joy and Ige live with the children as a family, taking trips to the zoo, amusement parks, and church every Sunday. To save money on feeding the children Joy plants vegetables in the vacant land next door to their rented house. Joy has been able to return to school through the help of generous Nigerians, but studying for her nursing degree and mothering 38 children hasn’t been easy. Sometimes they are able to hire workers to help care for the children, but when donations run out they have to do the heavy lifting themselves. Ige says he hopes to return to school after Joy graduates.
The Nigerian government gives little to no funds towards repairing the issue though it relies heavily on Oyiza Orphanage and other independently run facilities to anchor the problem. When children are found wandering the streets and babies are found discarded in plastic bags on the roadside, Nigerian authorities call on Joy and Ige to either provide shelter or help find their relatives.
I made it a priority to cover Joy and Ige’s story as part of, Enter West Africa, a 5-part television series I produced on Ghana and Nigeria. Yes, I wanted to share their story with an American audience, but more importantly I wanted to share it with other Nigerians. Now more than ever, we’re seeing change in the way people react to the failures of the government. People are speaking up and demanding change. People are taking their destiny into their own hands. But what is the future of a country when a large portion of its children are discarded, left destitute, uneducated, and fighting for daily survival? On behalf of Joy and Ige, the next time you demand change in Nigeria, please remember to speak up for Nigeria’s most vulnerable children.
Abi Ishola is a multi media journalist based in New York City, and the publisher of www.CultureShockNigerians.com To find out more about Enter West Africa, please visit www.aishola.com/enterwestafrica