By Joseph Chinenyeze Ibekwe

The family is the heart of society. The family is also the smallest unit of society. It is indeed the foundation upon society rests and draws existential relevance. The prosperity, health, resilience or stability of the family unit is what determines the prosperity, health, resilience and stability of any society. Without stable families there cannot be stable society. In simple terms, societies or cultures that give proper attention to family life are generally much more stable than those that are loose and uncommitted to family life. In other words, stable families translate to stable society and vice versa.

This fact had long been recognized in many societies around the world, from ancient times till date. It is also in recognition of the importance of the family in national development that the United Nations declared May15 every year as the International Day of Families – IDF. The Day is marked in all the Members States of the United Nations. The primary purpose of the celebration is to encourage governments to bring to the front burner, challenges that affect families, and to urge countries to become more sensitive and responsive to issues militating against quality family life in their own societies. Similarly, civil society and faith-based organizations are expected to raise awareness on the importance of family life to human development. Governments and other organized groups are also expected to work together in providing supports to families, particularly those in distressed and vulnerable circumstances, to enable them cope and to survive.

It is against this background that Graced Family Chapel (aka Chapel of Grace Transformation Ministry) Abuja joined the United Nations System and the global community to mark the 2020 International Day of Families with the theme: “Families in Development”. This year’s celebration comes in the midst of the most challenging global health and social crises in recent history: the COVID-19 pandemic which has impacted families in diverse ways. This year’s event also coincideed with the 25th year anniversary of Copenhagen Declaration and Beijing Platform for Action, both of which make strong cases for the support of family as an important part of society.

Essentially, the COCID-19 has brought into sharp focus the importance of investing in social policies that protect the most vulnerable individuals and families. From what we have seen, it is clear families bear the brunt of the crises in different fronts, including loss of economic opportunities, re-adjusting to become home tutors, and in some cases, continuing work responsibilities at home.

However, the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have opened up new vistas for families to explore. It has created opportunity for families to re-evaluate their relationship among themselves. As a Church Family, we recognize the role of parents in family life development and sustenance. We believe that family bonding is very important and should be encouraged because of its immediate and long-term benefits in the life of the children, the parents, and the society in general. We believe that the major role of families is the education of their children; and that the family is the foundation of all forms of educational pursuits and activities for children. We have also observed that many parents have contracted out this foundational responsibility of educating their children to formal educational institutions and organized religious institutions. Parents are constrained to do this because they have to work outside of the home. A major consequence of this is that family bonding has been lost.

Many parents no longer have time to share moonlight stories of adventure with their children. They don’t have time to read stories to their children that arouse their curiosity to learn about life and to appreciate nature. There is no time to sit together and share family values and play games together. Because of this lack of family bonding, you can see what parents have given to society today – children that have nor parental roots, no value for life, disrespectful, and wild.

While the United Nations believes that COVID-19 crises present a real opportunity to rethink and transform the way our economies and societies function to foster greater equality for all, we believe it is an opportunity for families to re-think their role in societal development, particularly in the inculcation of human values to their children. Since we recognize that stable societies are a product of stable families, it means that if we desire to see a stable society today and in the future, we must return to building family life. It means also that Governments must take proactive steps in supporting families to take back their roles.

We believe that the formal educational and religious institutions are not the primary places for the education and training of children in values and lifelong-learning; the family is. Essentially, there are five main branches of education that prepares children for independent living and survival in life. In no specific order, this includes religious education – to get children grounded in the knowledge of God, understand humanity and appreciate value for human life; academic education – to develop their minds and worldview and arouse special interests in any field of human development; entrepreneurship education – to teach children how to create businesses out of things, create wealth and know how money works; vocational/technical education – to train their hands to solve problems, build things from ground zero, repair things and earn money; and leadership education – to teach children how to cast visions, think big, and commit to community and national service. In all these forms of education, the curiosity to pursue them must be aroused from the home. This is why family life is very important. And this is why children that grow without parental and family guidance lack motivation to learn and are therefore a burden to society.

Therefore, if governments do not refocus and create environment that enables families to grow and survive, all other physical infrastructural developments will end in nothing. If governments build railroads that transverse the length and breadth of the country; install street lights in the nooks and crannies of our communities; build motor-roads that take you anywhere; except there are properly groomed citizens to use and mange these provisions, they will soon degenerate into disrepair.

On the other hand, families must cease from contracting out their fundamental role of values cultivation in their children to organized religious institutions. Today, Governments around the world are fighting to contain a health pandemic – the COVID-19. The general governmental responses have been to lockdown citizens and deprive them of their rights to move and to associate. This is possible because government has the power to do so. But another type of pandemic is forming in Nigeria’s horizon; it is the ‘Pandemic of Social Confusion’. This pandemic will be beyond the grips of governmental control as children and young people that have been neglected, abandoned by parents and society will come after society and hold the sway. If children are allowed to continue to roam the streets as beggars and as almajaris, and they are not immediately taken off the streets and re-habilitated and re-integrated with their families; a greater social catastrophe is in the offing. Postponing the evil day won’t help. Re-distributing almajiris across the country won’t solve the problem. Governments must be decisive and hold parents accountable for their children.

As the world marked the 2020 International Day of Families without open ceremonies, we urge parents to use this opportunity to strengthen family bonding. We also urge our governments at all levels in Nigeria to see the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to empower families to enable them with this crisis situations. Governments should initiate new policies to support and compel parents to take responsibility for their children. Governments must also review the current educational system and consider the introduction of Home-schooling through the use of ICT. In the world we live, nothing is cast on stone. Everything is subject to change. If we truly desire to create stronger, stable society in Nigeria for today and the future, then we must review, re-adjust and re-position the family institution.

We commiserate with families that have lost their loved ones in this pandemic and pray for quick recovery for those undergoing treatment.

            Joseph Chinenyeze Ibekwe is the lead Pastor at Graced Family Chapel, Abuja and
 CEO, Fled International Leadership Institute


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