Children of fallen soldiers, policemen lament: Survival is a big challenge to us as orphans

AKINWALE ABOLUWADE writes that children of war veterans and others who were orphaned by their parents’ death during service to the nation, are confused about survival question amid harsh economic realities

Life, for Peter Adeeko, is a long turbulent voyage that requires courage and perseverance to sail through. His experience as a nine-year-old orphan is a story of toil wrapped with thorns and hardship. Now, everyday as an adult, he recalls the strife and sorrow that he had experienced with a determination to help orphans and widows.

Things went wrong for Peter whose father, Gabriel Adeeko, a Lance Corporal, died six years after his retirement from the army as a result of a debilitating injury that made him unfit to remain in service.

Gabriel, who was discharged from the army in 1980, suffered a serious health challenge which made him vegetate for three years from 1983 to July 31, 1986 when he passed on. Before his death, Peter said his father could no longer talk and he was always helped whenever he wanted to excrete. Peter said: “His case was so bad that we moved him to a traditional healer who was treating him as we no longer had money for his treatment at the hospital. At that time, it became difficult to access his pension, so one of his brothers was asked to collect and bring it for us but the man diverted the money for his personal use”.

Peter said that when his father eventually died, survival became a problem for his family because their kinsmen deserted them, leaving his mother alone to care for all the seven children. As the closest child to his father, Peter said he was the worst hit by his death. He said: “My father’s death marked the beginning of my family’s travails.

“My eldest brother, who was 14 at the time our father died and my elder sister, dropped out of school and took to farming in order to support the home. My mother, who was a house-wife until my father’s death, was left to fend for all of us. She took to menial labour.

“As the brightest child in the home, my mother resolved that I should continue my education but I used to join my brother in the farm when back from school. Life was difficult because we were not used to farming until my father passed on. At a point, my elder sister was taken to Lagos to work as a housemaid.”

Peter, who was an outstanding student in his school at the time, recalled the day when his principal seized his shirt (uniform) and sandals as surety to guarantee that he would pay his outstanding school fees after writing examination. “I went home half naked and bare-footed that day,”  he recalled sadly.

He also recalled another year when the entire class burst out crying as the principal sent him out of the class. One day, while working on the farm because of his inability to pay school fees, he said: “The principal sent for me to come and represent the school in a debating competition with other school. I went to school that day with the dirty farm cloth.

“My happiest year in school was the year when the Nigerian Legion gave me a scholarship. I was free from embarrassment for the whole session. I did my higher education in a most trying circumstance, but I thank God for seeing me through.”

Like Peter, Blessing Onyema also had a bitter pill in life. The young lady with a big dream, agonises as her hope of living her dream of studying Medicine crumbles daily before her as a result of her father’s death. Although she said that she has resolved to do everything possible to realise her dream, lack of funds is a big challenge. Having sat for her secondary school leaving certificate examination and the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board examination, she said that she hopes to gain admission.

Her father, late Sergeant Patrick Onyema, a native of Agbo community, Delta State, died in active service at the Oyo State Police Command on December 31, 2017. Blessing, the third child in a family of seven, disclosed that her educational journey was smooth until her father died two years ago.

Onyema said the tragedy brought setback to her life and other members of the family. She added: “I am 16 years old and I am the third child out of five children. Now, my mother is the one that single-handedly sees us through life and this comes with lot of struggle. The responsibilities on my mother’s shoulders are already too much.

“She is a petty trader. Her income is hardly ever enough for our upkeep. It has not been easy since my daddy died. We have been living from hand to mouth. I had to wait for extra year before I can write JAMB because of financial problem. I would like to become a medical doctor but the hope is dicey because of cash constraints. I seem not to understand how we would go about it.”

Just like Peter and Blessing, many other children of fallen soldiers, police and other security agents in the land are facing serious hard time and extremely bleak future due to neglect and lack of incentives and helping hands. Many of them lament that the prevailing austerity in the country, as well as poor welfarism policy, compound their fate.

Latifat Oyewole, 24-year-old daughter of a deceased police Sergeant, decried the neglect suffered by families of fallen heroes, saying adequate care should be given to affected families. Latifat, a graduate of French and International Relations from the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), said her struggle through the university was irksome due to poverty and neglect. Latifat, who is the first child of her parents, said her father, Lateef Oyewole, died in active service as a policeman. As a result of this, family responsibilities were carried solely by her mother. “After my father’s death, my mother ran into debt in an attempt to send me to school.

“Honestly, it has not been easy for my mother to cope as a single parent with four children. My siblings’ education has not been going on smoothly due to financial constraint.”

The situation became compounded as Lateefat found it difficult to get a job after graduating from the university barely two years ago. She said that after a long search for job, she was employed in a small private company where she was paid a meager salary. However, she said that their situation did not improve because, “our financial needs to pay school fees and for survival far outweighs the available resources.

“I got the job just to be able to support my mother. The job is so exhaustive but I don’t have any other choice because the first thing that matters is survival. During my undergraduate years, I trained as a fashion designer and I was also able to learn textile designing (kampala). I intend to set up; maybe this will fetch me a better income to finance my siblings’ education but it is difficult to get the start-up capita.

“Everyday, I pray that I am able to help my mother solve some of the financial needs.”

Aramide Kolapo, a 17-year-old orphan of a dead Police Sergeant, was worried about what she called the unfriendly disposition of families and friends of dead soldiers and policemen. Relaying her experience she said that her extended family members and her father’s friends and associates failed to assist her as promised when her father died in the course of duty.

Kolapo, who intended to study Mass Communication, said: My major challenge since the death of my father is family abandonment. It has a serious impact on my education. I wrote my final examination in secondary school and I failed English Language and Literature in English. The fund to rewrite my papers is not available and that will determine my educational progress. The death of my father is a big problem for me because I lack financial support. If I can’t pursue my dream of becoming a journalist I would be left with the option of going for fashion designing.”

Also, Maureen John said she is having problem to raise funds for her higher education. She said: “My father, Mr Lawani John, was a Sergeant with the Nigerian Police before he passed on. After his death, my mother, Mrs Esther John, started bearing the whole burden alone.

“My major challenge now is how to fund my education. Although I have written JAMB this year, I still have to face my O’level examination. This is a big problem for me because of lack of financial support. My ambition is to be an actress and a film producer.”

Emmanuel Abayomi, 12-year-old son of late Lance corporal Moses Abayomi, has been distressed since his father was killed on the line of duty by Boko Haram on the 4th December 2014. The young boy is still yet to come to terms with the reality of his father’s death. Wumi, his mother, said that they have been deserted by family members and friends since the death of her husband.

Recalling the challenges that hallmarked his growing years, Peter Adeeko, Chief Executive Officer, Soulace Africa, said it is sad that millions of children that were orphaned as a result of their parent’s death while in active service are abandoned. He stated, however, that rather than leaving them to suffer, government should rise to their aid.

Peter observed that the dreams of most of the orphans of the fallen heroes had crumbled due to lack of care. While a few of them were able to take the bull by the horn by striving hard for success, he lamented that many of the orphans had taken to crime.

“When arrested for criminal activities, these children, who went into crime because they were neglected by the state and extended family members and friends, are treated as enemies of the state regardless of what led them into the evil act in the first place. Orphans should be assisted and not neglected,” Peter said.

He said: “Soulace Africa, a non-governmental organisation, based in Lagos and Ibadan, is positioned to advocate for the social inclusion and welfare support of war orphans and widows of the police and armed forces in Nigeria. Our work is best described by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16. Our solution is closely knitted wit SDGs that address poverty, hunger, health and wellness, quality education, decent employment and gender equality.

“Apparently, the orphans and the widows need help. We provide capacity building and vocational training for the veterans’ orphans and widows with the view to rescue them from abysmal poverty.”

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and global partners defined an orphan as a child under 18 years of age who has lost one or both parents to any cause of death. By this definition, there were nearly 140 million orphans globally in 2015, including 61 million in Asia, 52 million in Africa, 10 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 7.3 million in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Of the nearly 140 million children classified as orphans, 15.1 million have lost both parents. Evidence clearly shows that the vast majority of orphans are living with a surviving parent, grandparent or other family member. 95 per cent of all orphans are over the age of five.

In Nigeria, there is no clear record of number of children who were orpaned due to the death of their parents in the course of service to the nation. However, available statistics shows that the number of orphans and vulnerable children in Nigeria is estimated at 17.5 million. Out of this number, 7.3 million are orphaned by HIV/AIDS, particularly in states with high prevalence, former Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs. Salamatu Suleiman, has said in 2008.