Campaign for Orphans in Rivers State

By Odimegwu Onwumere

The Governor Chibuike Amaechi-led administration of Rivers State recently took a make-off-with action on all the lunatics and beggars in the streets of Port Harcourt metropolis. The rescued were said to be taken to their rehabilitation centre. Many people in the city praised the governor on this single action, amongst others. They said that it is a mind sore for the sane to be rubbing shoulders with the mentally sub-normal people on the streets; an act a lot of people blamed the Nigerian government as arch-neglector of the dementias. More interesting is the hand-of-help now to be lengthened to the Orphans in the state.

According to Chief Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, Publicity Secretary, Rivers State Action Congress (AC), the force behind this event is Prince Tonye Princewill, the Rivers State AC and FOOPP leader. September 12th, 2009 at 2.00pm, the Silver Bird Cinemas in Port Harcourt plays host to some top Nollywood stars at the screening of the Adonijah Owiriwa produced movie “Nnenda”. Princewill will be in attendance at the Premiere with great hands in the Nollywood like Stephanie Okereke, Ramsey Noah, Izu Ojukwu, Uti Nwachukwu of the Big Brother Africa fame and leading Nigerian actor Francis Duru who are Nigerians. Van Vicker from Ghana, Lady Memry Savanhu from Zimbabwe, are also expected to be there.

If we can recall, in October 2000-February 2003, Rivers State Enhanced Care of Orphans was being funded by USAID. Africare, working in partnership with the Centre for Development and Population Activities, Forward Africa, and the Ogoni Youth Development Project, implemented the Enhanced Orphan Care Project in five local government areas of Rivers State (Bonny, Eleme, Khana, Obio-Akpor, and Okirika), yet the lives of our orphans are yet to be improved. Again, during the Dame Judith Amaechi' conferment as “the Lady of substance and fountain of living water to the orphans and indigent people” award in RiversState, she restated her determination to improve the well-being of the less privilege especially orphans in Rivers State. Though, represented by her Media Assistant, Dike Bekwele, Mrs. Amaechi expressed her determination to initiate measures aimed at protecting the well-being of the orphans. Reportedly, the founder of the Empowerment Support Initiative (ESI) disclosed that her love for the less privileged informed the establishment of ESI and the rural based nursery schools for the less privilege children in the 319 wards of Rivers State. We are still looking!

It is however heartening that Princewill is involved in this project. We know he has his veritable network of contacts to throw light on the unfortunate plight of orphans with the hope of mollifying their suffering. He has also mentioned the following orphanages that will be benefiting from this gesture and participate in the premiere thus: 1. The Port-Harcourt Children's Home, Borikiri 2. Seven Days Adventist Orphanage Home, Ahoada 3. Susana Orphanage Home, Oyigbo and 4. Life Time Caring Orphanage Home, Eleme Road.

In Ramsey Noah's speech, he reportedly said, “Port Harcourtis a second home to me, so I am always eager to be back to the New Garden City being discovered by Gov Chibuike Amaechi. We are very grateful to Prince Tonye Princewill whom I learnt is sponsoring the premiere of the great film (Nnenda) geared towards creating awareness for the less-privileged in Rivers State”. When reminded that he may be kidnapped, he laughed and exclaimed, “Wao! That will be fun, though I know that Amaechi has destroyed every element of kidnapping and any form of criminality in Rivers State. To me, Port Harcourt is one of the safest towns in Nigeria”.

Notwithstanding, in his article titled The crisis of Nigeria's orphans and vulnerable children, a Godswill Odeku wrote that in summation, the situation in Nigeria plays out thus: out of 126 million, 69 million are children under 18 years; orphans constitute about 10% of the 69 million children under 18 years in Nigeria; about 7 million children were orphans in 2003; number of children who are orphans from loss of parents to AIDS is 1.8 million (26% of all orphans in 2003); estimates indicate about 8.2 million children to be orphaned by 2010. These figures predict millions of our children being vulnerable to poverty, preventable diseases, physical and sexual abuse, trafficking, lack of educational opportunities, and disease. Nigeria's National Policy on Population for Sustainable Development (NPPSD) put it succinctly that "as a group, children face particular problems of child abuse, child labour, street children, exploitation of Almajiri children, malnutrition, HIV transmission, special needs of the girl-child, declining school enrolments, high drop-out rates for boys in some areas, amongst others." This implies that behind every statistics in the various issues negatively affecting OVC is the face of pain, waiting and wasting.

The Princewill's project should in earnest be to improve the quality of life of children under the age of 15 who have lost one or both parents. The project should create an awareness that would avoid stigmatizing on these children. .The project purpose should include improving the quality of life of orphans in Rivers State, even in Nigeria at large, through capacity building of community-based organizations and economic empowerment of primary caregivers of orphans.

This project should extend to networking with other nongovernmental organizations to fight against stigmatization against these children. There should be plans in addition, to enroll these orphans in schools, health care programs, and vocational training. Identify existing community support structures and strengthen their ability to care for orphans and vulnerable children.

But in a nutshell, one wonders if the Rivers State Ministry of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation is actually saddled with the responsibility of rendering services to families, juveniles, children, orphans, the handicapped and the poor that organizations in and outside the state are taking up its responsibilities more than we have read in its manifesto.

Odimegwu Onwumere is the Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), and also a Media Consultant based in Rivers State. Mobile: +2348032552855. Email: [email protected]