Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal capital territory is remarkably beautiful. Aesthetically, it ranks as one of the most glamourous cities in Africa.
The city is rated as one of the best planned settlements in West Africa.
The idea of creating a new federal capital for Nigeria came about when it was discovered that the then federal capital of Lagos was too congested and that in terms of infrastructure, the huge population of Lagos had overstretched those facilities just as it was reasoned that the only way to avoid man-made disasters was for Lagos to be decongested.
One way of decongesting Lagos was to relocate the political capital from Lagos.
This was the overriding reason for which the then military government of General Ibrahim Babangida actually implemented the movement of the capital from Lagos to Abuja in the early 1990’s which was mooted as far back as the late 1970’s by another military tyrant General Murtallah Mohammed.
However, the urban planning and enforcement of the actual development of the new Federal Capital Territory have so far been afflicted by the teething problem of lack of vision and foresight to adequately make strategic plans for the expected influx of people.
This lacuna was compounded too by the concentration of physical infrastructure only around the Abuja Municipal Area Council and the consequent neglect of the other five area councils which are still treated as mere settlements for the poor and the original inhabitants all of whom were not compensated and resettled in strict compliance with the statutory and legal frameworks setting up the Federal Capital Territory. Only some were resettled.
There was indeed an agreement that those who populated all the areas that were taken over and made the Federal Capital Territory were to be compensated and resettled.
However, these resettlement and compensation became a cesspool of corruption for government bureaucrats who could not effectively discharge this obligation because of pecuniary reasons and for the fact that there was widespread corruption.
This is how the constitution sees the Federal Capital Territory in chapter viii, part 1 of the specific chapter of the constitution.
297:- 1) there shall be a Federal Capital Territory, Abuja the boundaries of which are as defined in Part II of the First Schedule to this Constitution.
2) The ownership of all lands comprised in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja shall vest in the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
298:- The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja shall be the capital of the federation and seat of the Government of the Federation.
299:- the provisions of this Constitution shall apply to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as if it were one of the State of the Federation; and accordingly –
a) All the legislative powers, the executive powers and the judicial powers vested in the House of Assembly, the Governor of a state and in the courts of a State President of the Federation and in the courts which by virtue of the foregoing provisions are courts established for the federal Capital Territory, Abuja;
b) All the powers referred to in paragraph (a) off this section shall be exercised in accordance with the provisions of this constitution; and
c) The provisions of this constitution pertaining to the matters aforesaid shall be read with such modifications and adaptations as may be reasonably necessary to bring them into conformity with the provisions of this section.
However, the bureaucratic bottlenecks tearing down Abuja are not the focus of this piece.
This piece is about the lack of any form of publicly maintained neighborhood play grounds for the Federal Capital Territory for the benefit of Children in Abuja.
In virtually all developed societies, planning human settlements is not complete if there is no provision whereby children are provided safe places to play around their residences. Abuja is an exception to these global best practices.
About two decades ago when this writer arrived at the Federal Capital Territory, there were a few public play grounds within the Abuja Municipal Area Councils. These play grounds have all been sold to commercial businesses.
The only way Abuja children can play around is in their school premises and at some of these shopping centers that charge exorbitant fees from the parents of these babies. My investigation from the Abuja agency for parks and recreation shows that the people controlling land allocations took away these play grounds.
Also, there are green areas that were sold out to beer sellers and religious houses of both two dominant religions.
This means that the fundamental rights of children to play are denied by the government.
This stark reality became disturbingly obvious recently when a global report emerged from the United Nations which recommended the setting up of publicly funded children play grounds as a necessity for the growth and advancement of the children. As stated earlier, it is only in Nigeria that the well-being of children is not a priority for government.
The new World Health Organisation guideline on physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep for children under five years has come at the right time.
Children under five must spend less time sitting watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats, get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up healthy, according to new guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people’s lives,” says WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains.”
The new guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep for children under five years were developed by a WHO panel of experts. They assessed the effects on young children of inadequate sleep, and time spent sitting watching screens or restrained in chairs and prams. They also reviewed evidence around the benefits of increased activity levels.
“Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and wellbeing, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life,” says Dr. Fiona Bull, programme manager for surveillance and population-based prevention of non-communicable diseases, at WHO.
Failure to meet current physical activity recommendations is responsible for more than 5 million deaths globally each year across all age groups. Currently, over 23% of adults and 80% of adolescents are not sufficiently physically active. If healthy physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep habits are established early in life, this helps shape habits through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.
“What we really need to do is bring back play for children,” says Dr. Juana Willumsen, WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity. “This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep. “
The pattern of overall 24-hour activity is key: replacing prolonged restrained or sedentary screen time with more active play, while making sure young children get enough good-quality sleep. Quality sedentary time spent in interactive non-screen-based activities with a caregiver, such as reading, storytelling, singing and puzzles, is very important for child development.
The important interactions between physical activity, sedentary behavior and adequate sleep time, and their impact on physical and mental health and wellbeing, were recognized by the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, which called for clear guidance on physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep in young children.
Applying the recommendations in these guidelines during the first five years of life will contribute to children’s motor and cognitive development and lifelong health.
Infants (less than 1 year) should be physically active several times a day in a variety of ways, particularly through interactive floor-based play; more is better. For those not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes in prone position (tummy time) spread throughout the day while awake.
The report also said not to be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g. prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back). Screen time is not recommended. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
Have 14–17h (0–3 months of age) or 12–16h (4–11 months of age) of good quality sleep, including naps.
Children 1-2 years of age should spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, including moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.
Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back) or sit for extended periods of time. For 1-year-olds, sedentary screen time (such as watching TV or videos, playing computer games) is not recommended. For those aged 2 years, sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
Have 11-14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps, with regular sleep and wake-up times.
Children 3-4 years of age should spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, of which at least 60 minutes is moderate- to vigorous intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.
Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers) or sit for extended periods of time. Sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
Have 10–13h of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with regular sleep and wake-up times. These are the basic guidelines as issued by the World Health Organisation. Abuja as a political entity is basically not friendly to Children.
Apart from the lack of play grounds for children in Abuja, the rising crime wave constitutes grave threats to the lives of Abuja residents including young mothers and their children.
These crimes range from the one that is known as 1-chance in which thieves pretending to be commercial cab operators rob their unsuspecting passengers of their cash and some women are sexually molested and violated.
The high rate of crime has indeed become the most problematic threat to the lives of children and adults in Abuja just as the deliberate absence of publicly funded play grounds for children has just been ruled as a violation of their human rights going by the recommendations that have just come from the United Nations affiliated World Health organisation.
The Nigerian government must do the needful to give back to the children their play grounds.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko heads HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and email@example.com; www.emmanuelonwubiko.com;firstname.lastname@example.org; www.huriwanigeria.com.