Hope rising for vulnerable children, IDPs in Northern Nigeria

Current reality

The year 2019 brought with it a lot to be thankful for, one of that being the Federal Government report that following various interventions by state governments and their partners, the number of out-of-school children reduced from 13.2 million to 10.2 million.
The numbers came from a survey by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which noted that most of these children are from Nigeria’s northern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, where Boko Haram insurgency has disrupted daily activities for years.
The poverty rate in the world’s most populous black nation is dire, reported by The World Poverty Clock to have surpassed India as the country with the most extremely poor people in the world. With more than half the number of poor people in the country living in the northern region, this further increases the severity of the out-of-school-children crisis in the region.
According to reports published by UNICEF, one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria. In North-Eastern Nigeria, 2.8 million children are in need of education-in-emergencies support in three conflict-affected States (Borno, Yobe, Adamawa). In these States, at least 802 schools remain closed and 497 classrooms are listed as destroyed, with another 1,392 damaged but repairable.
2007 and the entrance of hope
In remaining true to its pioneering spirit with a singular drive to become Africa’s gateway to the world, Access Bank entered into an initiative with UNICEF in 2007 which has seen the bank raise no less than 3,000,000 Dollars in cash and pledges over the years.  The partnership birthed the biggest charity Polo Tournament in the continent; The Access Bank UNICEF Charity Shield Tournament, held annually in the north-western state of Kaduna.
As an extension of its Corporate Social Responsibility, the Bank entered into a partnership with Fifth Chukker to support UNICEF in its anti-poverty and anti-HIV/AIDS campaigns in Northern Nigeria. Access Bank’s conscious engagement with local communities aims to facilitate socio-economic development through responsible business practices and deliberate charitable investments in the sore points of individual communities.
Escalating in 2009 into an armed conflict against the Nigerian government that has since birthed a protracted insurgency, the Boko Haram crisis caused a spike in the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in northern Nigeria.
As the country works to contain its IDPs crisis that has since swelled to over 2million, with 60% being minors, external intervention in addition to the efforts by federal and state government remains a pressing need. The internal displacement crisis takes a heavy toll on children, as they are the most vulnerable among susceptible groups in any crisis. The others being women and the elderly. The implication of being displaced internally is more far-reaching than loss of homes.
Uprooted from the places these children have called home all their lives, most of them face along with shelter, nutrition, and safety crisis, an absence of educational and recreational facilities. This means that even for the children who were enrolled in schools before displacement, access to education becomes impossible once they are extricated.
Education is a recognized fundamental human right in several international conventions.  According to article 26 of the International Convention on Economic and Cultural Rights, children have a right to free, compulsory primary education. While increased access to education can contribute to poverty reduction, acquired basic skills such as reading, writing, and numeracy, have been found to have positive effects on the incomes of marginalized populations.
Even as the Federal and State governments intensify efforts in re-enrolling the displaced children in northern Nigeria, the numbers remain overwhelming. This is especially so because of the prevailing poverty in the region. Despite economic empowerment and infrastructural development serving as key drivers to poverty alleviation, education may yet hold the key to permanently solving the issues faced in Nigeria’s northern region.
Access Bank’s focus on education has been to support the government in achieving SDG 4 by 2030 through improved planning and by addressing some of the systemic barriers that hinder the implementation of an effective education strategy.
Access Bank and its partners advocate for education to be prioritised, targeting children who are least likely to receive an education. The expected outcome of the programme is that all children access and complete quality education, within a safe learning environment, gaining the skills and knowledge for lifelong learning.
In the 12 years of the Access-UNICEF fundraising tournament, the Bank has focused mainly on the most in-need communities and IDPs in the region. Over the years, the Bank has completely rebuilt schools in Kaduna to sustain over 8000 students in continuous education across the region. For the 2019 Access Bank UNICEF Charity Shield Tournament, it upped its ante and raised 350 million Naira (USD970,000) in pledges to build new classrooms for an estimated 2400 children. This is in addition to the support it gives to the communities surrounding these schools, with boreholes for accessibility to clean water, sewing and grinding machines to secure employment and stimulate economic and social development.
200 hundred children, 150 of which are underprivileged hand-picked by UNICEF were part of the grand tournament in a special Children’s Day program, in a move the Bank said was aimed at providing a mentally stimulating outlet for the kids.
Access Bank has over the years, through various schemes and projects, showcased its commitment to being more than a banking group. The Group head, Corporate Communications, Access Bank Plc, Amaechi Okobi, who spoke on the essence of the polo charity event, highlighted this.
“Access Bank is very interested in giving back. We are well aware of the importance of children and what catering to them will do for the future of our country. So, as often as we can, through the support of organizations like UNICEF, Fifth Chukker and the media, we will continue to let Nigeria and the world know that Nigerian children and their education will not be ignored,” Okobi said.
In a move that adds to the already tested and proven impact of Access Bank’s initiative,  the Kaduna State government under Governor Nasir El-Rufai, pledged to match Access Bank's investment dollar for dollar, making the impact of the Access Bank UNICEF Charity Shield Tournament powerful for the year 2019, and the expectation for the year in view more promising still.
Remarking on this, The Executive Director, Retail Banking, Access Bank Plc, Etuokwu said, “We are happy that we are not working alone and our hope is that other banks can join us in our crusade.” It is safe to say that there is hope for the vulnerable and displaced people of Northern Nigeria as corporate brands like Access Bank step in to invest in these communities and in so doing, stir action from government and other stakeholders.