Rector of St. Catherine’s the Salesian House of Theology, Maynooth University Archdiocese of Dublin, Ireland, Dr. Cyril Odia has expressed worry over increasing number of street children in Nigeria, saying it is a national embarrassment.
Odia who is the Executive Producer of the movie, The Oratory, recently premiered in Lagos spoke at a press conference in Lagos yesterday, where he answered questions from journalists on the movie.
The movie which is an enculturation of the spirituality of Saint John Bosco, in a contemporary African youth pastoral situation is to be aired in Abuja on Saturday 27th November. The movie is also said to be the first Nigerian catholic movie in global cinema.
“This movie project is something very dear to us because at the Salesian of Don Bosco, we strongly believe in reading and social communications in carrying out our mission and service to young people,” Odia said.
Stating further, he said, “The young people in Nigeria make up the highest number of our population and we feel that a lot still needs to be done to bring out the plight of these young people of Nigeria.
“This movie is not only entertaining or to bring out what is happening but it is to bring out a lot of awareness about many children who are abandoned in the streets.
“We see them every day and it is becoming a ticking time bomb. What is going to happen when we have an explosion of these young people abandoned on our streets who have no hope and future?” He asked.
According to Odia, “The movie is just about a very simple story, a humble project we started with zero budget. It is not only about young people in the streets but those that are abandoned.
“We are very open to work with the government and with people to see how we can remove these young people from the streets and train them,” he said.
He however enjoined Nigerians to watch the movie and take decision.
“The movie is not something you just watch and walk out of the cinema without taking a decision, after watching the movie. You would want to take a decision on what side of the bridge you belong,” he said.
He continued that, “The country has failed young people. It is an open wound, we are just seeing it, the number of school children that are not in school in Nigeria is in millions,” he said, adding that, “The attempt of this movie is to see it as a call for action. We have a very strong ethos, we believe in faith in action, too much preaching, extorting money from people, throwing up entertainment and at the end of the day, if you don’t get more partners to get involved if we don’t get more support to expand what we are doing now, we can foresee that it is going to be disastrous.
“I am not being prophetic, this is just common sense to all of us, more of these children are in prisons, they are in the streets, not in schools with nobody taking care of them the day they will be a disaster. This movie is to make people say I want to be part of it, he said.
When the movie was unveiled in Lagos, Odia said his organization ensured that street children were invited to watch.
“We deliberately make sure that these youths come to Surulere to see these films they were represented to see that we are talking about their situation, standing for them,” he said asking people to participate in supporting the organisation to support street children.
In his own remark, Rev. Fr. Mark Anthony Okpala who is the Director of Don Bosco Child Protection Centre, Lagos, said, the streets children are vulnerable must be helped out of the street.
“These children have friends who always introduces them to drugs and give them excitement to destroy their lives. We are very familiar with this and we are also reaching out to many of them who are drug addicts.
“We have experts in various fields we relate with. We have moment we refer them to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), we work with psychiatric hospitals and other outfits help to rehabilitate these young people.
“We give hope to young people who have no hope and who have nothing to excite them, we make them go through training that puts things in their hands. This is what Don Dosco has been doing silently,” he said.
Relaying the success story of the organisation, Okpala said, “We are in the business of transforming lives and there are many success stories.
“We have in our technical schools some people who have been rescued from the streets; boys sleeping in motor parks, pushing wheel barrows and have nowhere to go in the night. They sleep under the bridges, motor packs, on wheel barrows and they are vulnerable to vices we approached some of them and we encourage them to acquire some skills in our technical schools.”
According to him, some of them ended up working with the organisation as the technical schools as teachers and instructors, telling their stories to encourage other boys.
He added that the organisation has nine centres across the country including a newly established boarding school.
Talking about the Almajiri boys in the north, he said, it is difficult to take them out of the streets. “As for the Almajiris, we cannot take them off the streets without talking with their teachers and that is why we are having some difficulties.
“We have technical schools in Onitsha and in Ondo State at the moment, taking them off the streets is not easy, the technical education is also not easy for some of them who cannot read and write so we need something more practical,” he said.
Still on the success story, he said the organisation has been in partnership with some companies.
“You can go to Nigerian brewers, 60 percent of their workers are our students, most of them started as technicians some of them have moved on as managers. Some of them have had their masters and are HODs,” he relayed.
“We are very happy to be here as UNICEF. In the last few years we have been doing this. I first met with Don Bosco three years ago when I was taken to the centre and I was interested in the children,” Onoise said.
Explaining how UNICEF works, he said the global organisation does not work in isolation in communities without collaboration.
“At UNICEF, we don’t work directly with the communities; we work in partnership and for instance with Don Bosco, we work with ministries and governments of Lagos State and why this work is particularly interesting for us is because of the work we do,” he said.
“Sometime ago there was the issue of Almajiri in the north and some states said they should be returned to their states. In Kano state they don’t want to have children from Bauchi and other states who are Almajiris in their state, so they decided to return these children and UNICEF was involved. I was in Kaduna to work with my colleagues and other partners, in Kaduna State, 16,000 children were received in one day from Sokoto and Jigawa States. The following week, we were in Kano and 20,000 children were returned from other states. In Bauchi, we had about 19,000 returned,” he said, concluding that, “What Don Bosco is doing is not well talked about, that is why UNICEF is in support of the project,” he said.
Earlier at the event, Chairman of the Organising Committee of The Oratory movie, Mr. Gbenga Adebija, addressing the press, said, The Oratory movie is one that seeks to raise awareness amongst key stakeholder publics on the plight of homeless and street children throughout Nigeria.
“The movie features an impressive array of both Nigerian and international movie stars and was filmed at various locations in Rome, Atlanta, Lagos and Turin,” he said.
Adebija stated further that, “The Oratory is an internationally acclaimed movie which has received rave reviews all over the world where it has premiered in places such as Dublin, London, Turin and Venice.
“Indeed, just on Saturday 20th November 2021, we held the first leg of the Nigerian premiere at the Filmhouse Cinemas in Surulere, Lagos. Feedback from broad-ranging stakeholders confirm that it was indeed an excellent outing, comparable to other premieres held around the world.
He however announced that the second premiere in Nigeria will hold Saturday, 27th November 2021 at the Genesis Deluxe Cinema, Ceddi Plaza Abuja. According to him, “Just as with the Lagos Premiere, tickets sold out within a short time and we expect packed halls and an exciting experience for all those who attend the Abuja premiere.
“The Oratory is not just a movie, it is actually an integral aspect of a broader multi-dimensional initiative which not only reminds us individually and as a collective of our civic responsibilities towards street children but also creates an inclusionary framework for the uplift of homeless, delinquent and juvenile youths who are at risk of negative societal issues such as violence, sexual abuse, trafficking and crime,” he said.