In Africa, nothing kills as fast as poverty is. Globally, investors are often mindful of poverty indexes in countries as high poverty level in a particular country could constitute stumbling blocks to returns on investment.
Ii is in consideration of the harsh reality of poverty, if permitted to thrive, that poverty eradication is one of the integral aspects of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Indeed, the United Nations and all its vital organs have put in place various platforms with the intent of providing a global strategy that could be appropriately harnessed to effectively deal with the threat of global poverty.
In 2013, the World Bank set two major goals as a springboard through which poverty could be tackled in the world. The first is to principally impede heightened poverty, by reducing the share of people living on less than $1.25 a day to less than 3 percent of the global population by 2030. The other is to encourage shared prosperity by improving the living standards of the bottom 40 percent of the population in every country.
Currently, from all accessible indexes, there are obvious signals of severe poverty all over the world. A recent World Bank report affirms that “it is shocking to have a poverty line as low as $1.25 per day; it is even more shocking that 1/7th of the world’s population lives below this line. The levels of inequality and poverty that prevail in the world today are totally unacceptable”.
BETWEEN POVERTY AND EDUCATION
In Africa, one area where the agonizing hand of poverty is being felt is education. In view of the severe poverty situation in the continent, most parents could no longer afford to educate their wards as much as they could have loved to. Ironically, education has long been recognized as a way out of poverty and ignorance for individuals, and as a way of promoting equal opportunity. Late South African President, Dr. Nelson Mandela once reinforced the power of education when he described it as the greatest engine of personal development through which anyone could achieve his/her dreams, no matter how massive. Similarly, famous American botanist and inventor, George Washington Carver, also affirms that ‘education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom’.
Likewise, late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, once stated that he gave himself fully to studying and researching because he understood the power of education. A brilliant leader, who was raised in poverty, Awolowo rose above his environmental challenges to become a reference point in governance in Nigeria, thanks to the power of education.
As Premier of the defunct Western Nigeria, Chief Awolowo used his free education programme to advance socio-economic advancement in the region. His blazing desire to expand his accomplishment in the Western region to the whole nation was clearly spelled out in1983 when he affirmed that: “To finance free education, we are going to block wastages like the N350 Million allocated to be spent on chocolate in the Third National Development Plan. For the four years of my administration, there will be no dinner, no banquet, and no luncheon. Nobody will drink anything but water in the office, including my office if I am elected president!”
It is, therefore, in view of the universal recognition of education as a pathway to attaining a just and progressive society that governments across the world accord it the prime of place in the scheme of things. In Nigeria, for instance, the nation’s founding fathers knew that not much could be achieved without education and they consequently gave it prominent attention to education. They had the foresight to realize that desired high quality workforce, without which national development is impossible, could only be guaranteed by investing in education.
In the defunct Northern Nigeria, one time Premier of the region and famous Northern leader, late Sir Ahmadu Bello, laid a strong foundation for the region through his numerous educational initiatives. Indigent Northerners who were ready to learn were supported to go to get education through access to scholarships. Many of those who acquired western education became very successful in their various fields.
THEY HAD NO SHOES
Sadly, however, in the last few decades, the standard of education has drastically diminished in the country. No thanks to the nation’s wobbling economy, critical unemployment situation and nose- diving value system, education has obviously diminished in status in our beloved nation. Pronounced poverty, especially, has made it almost difficult for parents to invest in quality education for their wards. Across the country, many children have become hawkers and street beggars, just to make ends meet. A few of them that are interested in education could not actualize their dreams as a result of inability of their parents to make available seemingly simple school’s accessories such as shoes, bags and books.
Shoes, in particular, have historically been one major necessity that students and pupils have found very difficult, over the years, to acquire. In Nigeria, for instance, famous national figures such as late Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Pastor E.A. Adeboye, ex President Olusegun Obasanjo and former President Goodluck Jonathan have variously revealed how they spent their early years without shoes. Ex President Goodluck Jonathan in particular once made the issue a huge campaign topic in the 2015 general election. He said: “I was not born rich. I was raised by my parents with just enough money to meet our daily needs. In my early days in school, I had no shoes and school bags”.
It is, perhaps, in an attempt to contribute her own quota to the development of education in the country, Lagos State in particular, that the Wife of Lagos State Governor, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode, has come up with the initiative to provide public primary school pupils with shoes and socks. The essence of this initiative is to ensure that no pupil drops out of school or is denied access to education because of failure to obtain item as seemingly minute as shoes. Mrs. Ambode has been doing this in the past one year through the platform of her Hope for Women in Nigeria Initiative (HOFOWEM).
PROJECT BRIGHT STEPS TO THE RESCUE
It would be recalled that the Foundation had in September last year initiated “Project Bright Steps” for public school pupils in Lagos State, during which Mrs. Ambode pledged to annually dole out 175,000 school shoes and socks, to children in primary 1-3 in Lagos State public primary schools. True to her words, the First Lady fulfilled her promise last year when through the Foundation, 175,000 public primary pupils were presented with shoes and socks as necessary school’s companions.
Another milestone was recently attained in the narrative of HOFOWEM’s “Project Bright Steps” initiative when new set of 175,000 primary school pupils benefited from the scheme. Another dimension was, however, added to this year’s edition with the distribution of shoes and socks for pupils across the five Education Districts in the State. They are: Agege LGA Secretariat; St Agnes Nursery and Primary school complex, Maryland; Education District 4, Yaba; LGEA Secretariat, Ojo; and LGEA Secretariat, City Hall (Holy Cross).
At this year’s event, the First Lady admonished the pupils to listen attentively in class; dress neat and smart to school; study well; obey and respect constituted authorities and discover and fulfill their potentials. She further stressed that she conceived the project because of her love for children and desire to see them decently kitted for school to boost their self-confidence and overall performance. She said: “Properly equipping our children for school plays a great role in boosting their confidence level, morale, concentration and overall performance.” While restating that it is the responsibility of the society to guarantee that children are supported to fulfill their purpose, she accentuated that putting on shoes is not a luxury, but a necessity. Mrs. Ambode further pledged that HOFOWEM would keep on sustaining the project because “our children deserve the very best”.
Since the project is a good course that offers children better leverage in life, Mrs. Ambode and her team should be encouraged by all stakeholders in this endeavour. The reality that all children are not born equal makes the “Project Bright Steps” venture a laudable one which must be sustained. Hopefully, with the initiative and others such, our next generation of leaders won’t have to use the cliché: “I had no shoes” as campaign rhetoric.