Philip Obaji Jr. is the founder of the 1 GAME Campaigns advocating basic primary education for the over 10.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria. Obaji, who is also a Global Youth Ambassador, spoke to David Lawal on Boko Haram and it political undertone, Chibok girls and government’s role in education.
Kindly give a brief insight into your background?
I was born on August 8, 1985 in a town called Ogoja in Northern Cross River State. I am the founder of the 1 GAME Campaign, which promotes basic primary education for vulnerable kids in Nigeria. I am widely known for my activism for rights to education for Children, especially in Northeastern Nigeria. I’m a graduate of Marine Biology from the University of Calabar; a Global Youth Ambassador for United Nations critical education partner, A World at School; a member of International Network for Education in Emergencies; and a champion of Global Partnership for Education. Back home, I am an Executive Committee member of the Cross River State Football Association. I am soft spoken, a Roman Catholic and a man of peace. I believe in Nigeria and in every citizen of this country. And I want to play a role in making it a better place for all of us.
How long have you been into education advocacy?
I’ve been working for close to 5 years now in education advocacy. It all started in 2010 when 1 GAME Campaign was founded.
What informed your decision to start education advocacy?
In 2009, I traveled to Ogoja where I was born. I had not visited the town since my family moved in 1988 when I was just three years old. I wanted to learn more about the place I first lived as a child.
I have had numerous conversations with my father about Ogoja, and he would often speak about its people, and how he missed them and their culture. Once arriving in Ogoja after a six-hour journey from Calabar, where I live, I was greeted by a group of young boys and girls at the bus stop, who rushed to me, begging for money.
The children were between six and fourteen years. When I asked them where they came from, they confessed that they were ‘Almajiris’ from Northern Nigeria.
They had followed a lorry transporting goods from Maiduguri in Borno State to Ogoja. They said they jumped into the lorry without knowing the driver, and had no idea of where the vehicle was heading.
I was overwhelmed by the presence of so many out-of-school children and could not stop thinking about their plight and how to solve this crisis.
Thereafter I founded 1 GAME Campaign aiming specifically at Almajiris helping them to enroll and complete their basic education. The name ‘1 GAME’ means that anyone involved in the campaign, is asked to defeat violence, illiteracy and poverty – using education as a tool.
There is absolutely no justification for the target on children. Terrorists all over the world target children in order to strike fear and gain publicity.
Boko Haram for instance, gained global acclaim after the Chibok abductions. They got exactly what they were looking for. There are lots of similarities between Boko Haram which operates here in Nigeria, and the Taliban which operates in Pakistan.
While they both want to enforce full Sharia Law all over Nigeria and Pakistan respectively, they also want to ensure that there is no place for western education in the areas they operate.
But let’s not also forget that beyond these things, there is a political undertone to their existence.
About a year since the abduction of school girls from Chibok, what are the chances of seeing the return of these girls?
Honestly, no one is sure about the where about or wellbeing of the Chibok girls except their captors. There have been lots of rumours about them.
In fact as we speak, there’s a video circulating round Maiduguri purportedly showing Boko Haram militants raping young girls and shooting those who refused to get laid.
Many people who have seen this video say the girls in the footage are the abducted Chibok girls, but I haven’t been able to get anyone to confirm if that’s true.
I can’t really say for sure if the Chibok girls are alive or dead or if they are safe where they are. Since there hasn’t been a word for some months from Boko Haram about the girls, no one can be sure about their wellbeing, and whether or not they’ll return.
Considering the present state of education in Nigeria, where do you think we got it wrong?
It started from the attitude of government, and the trend is still continuing. The problem with Nigeria’s education has to do with poor planning, poor funding, and in some quarters, corruption. Take primary education for instance, the Universal Basic Education Scheme was designed to provide compulsory, free education up to Junior Secondary levels, to be funded by both the Federal and State Governments. The Federal Government keeps 2 percent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund into the scheme and allocates money to the states when the states contribute its matching amounts.
However, we’ve found out that most of the states never made their matching grants, denying themselves access to the funds; and in states where they had been given the grants, the education sector there is still pathetic. That tells you that these governments are not making education their priority.
The population of out-of-school children in Nigeria according to UNESCO is equal to the total population of the entire Czech Republic (10.5 million), who do you think is responsible for this?
The government has the biggest role to play in ensuring Education for All. In 2000, at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, 180 countries including Nigeria signed up to make the six goals of Education For All happen, committing to putting legal frameworks, policies and finance in place so that everyone, no matter what their circumstances, could have an education – one that is available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable.
The richest countries pledged to help make Education for All a reality by committing to principles of international cooperation towards those countries with fewer financial resources.
Commitment towards the right to education was also reflected in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, set in 2000 with a deadline for achievement by 2015.
Out of the eight Millennium Development Goals, two focus on education. Both the EFA and MDG goals are all centered on what governments should do, and not what parents or children should do to create access to education.
But as much as government has a huge role to play, we as citizens must encourage and drive our children to education. Teachers must inspire. Principals must lead. Parents must instill a thirst for learning. And students have got to do the work in school. And if we can all do this together, I assure you we will build great ideas and push this nation away from the stronghold of extremists.
What’s your advice to government on providing education for all?
Government must show more seriousness in achieving the goals of Education for All. Education is achievable if government mobilizes the political will and available resources. Government must recognize that education is a universal human right; that it is the key to poverty alleviation and sustainable human development; and of course, education is its core responsibility. In doing so, it must ensure increased provision of quality early childhood education and care; the eradication of adult illiteracy and a second chance to learn for youth and adults who miss out on formal schooling; an end to child labour; democratic participation of, and accountability to, civil society, including teachers and their unions, in education decision making at all levels; fair and regular salaries for teachers; properly equipped classrooms and a supply of quality textbooks; inclusive and non-discriminatory provision of services for all; the mobilization of political will and new resources in support of National Education plans to realize the EFA Goals, including adequate public expenditure of at least 6 per cent of GNP. Without this in place, it would be difficult to achieve Education for All.
source: The Nations