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A game we can’t afford to lose

Across Africa there will be millions of children who unable to watch the World Cup, for various reasons far beyond their control, ranging from poverty to war to forced labour. Consider the fates of Chibok’s girls, who should be in the comfort of their homes but will instead be spending their 64th day in captivity. While millions of Nigerians gather in homes and viewing centers to watch the Super Eagles kick off their campaign for the World Cup, these girls will not have that luxury. For all we know they do not even have any idea that the World Cup has started.

Today, on this commemoration of the Day of the African Child, we remember these girls and millions of other African children caught up against their will in the most heartbreaking of situations.

Across the continent there are an estimated 30 million children who are not in school. Nigeria alone is home to 10 million of those children. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) data for 2012, close to 18,000 children under the age of five die every day, the bulk of them in sub-Saharan Africa and south east Asia. Many of these deaths will be from preventable or easily treatable diseases, and hunger.

When the game between Nigeria and Iran kicks off, amid the excitement, we ought to remember Africa’s endangered children. Let us remember that they are also caught up in a tough game between good and evil, between hope and despair, between opportunity and the lack of it. But unlike in a game of soccer, in this one there are no half-times or substitutions, no referees to guarantee fair play.

While I am confident that the Super Eagles will claim victory today, we all know that even if they don’t, it won’t be the end of the world. But in the case of the Chibok girls and millions of traumatised African children, it is a much more serious matter. Losing to the forces of evil is a possibility we shouldn’t even dare to contemplate. Yet, as long as the Chibok girls remain unfound we will have to admit to ourselves that evil has triumphed over good. As long as Africa’s children have to contend with a present that has no education in it or a future without jobs, we are all losers.

Our children deserve and need our total commitment towards ensuring that illiteracy and hunger and war and terrorists and molesters are kept at bay perpetually. We cannot afford to rest or give up.

Yesterday the world celebrated Fathers Day. Fatherhood is all about protection and care and responsibility, the very things that children require the most in this difficult world of ours. It is perhaps no coincidence that this year, Fathers Day and the #AfricanChildDay sit next to each other, reminding us of our responsibilities as adults and parents and governments.

I join millions of Nigerians and the rest of the world to celebrate the Day of the African Child, and ask us all to remember our girls and the millions they represent. As we cheer the Super Eagles to victory today let us also actively play our part, with even greater enthusiasm, in the campaign to #BringBackOurGirls and ensure #SafeSchools and safer lives.

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