Youth Media and Communication Initiative (YMCI)
Empowering Tomorrow's Leaders




Different strokes for different children 
*Street kids do not celebrate Children's Day, they do not know what it means 

By Regina Akpabio, Seye Olumide, Lekan Okusan, Nerissa Esokawu and Uche Nwankwo (The Guardian Thursday, May 27, 2004),

FOR Michael Francis and Victor Emele, both 15 years old, the only things they understand about Children's Day are the "march past" and the "party" they watch every year on television. The two lads celebrate their own Children's Day working as bus conductors at Ojuelegba, Lagos.

Francis, who hails from Akwa Ibom State said he was enrolled at Holy Child Primary School, Ikot Ekpene before fleeing home in 1997 to Lagos with a friend who he now stays with at Idi-Oro, Mushin, a suburb of Lagos. He said he left home without his parent's knowledge and that his brother came to look for him last year. "When I was coming to Lagos, I thought I will work and go to school but I have to survive before talking about school. I will like to continue my education but in Lagos, it is not easy for young persons like me," Francis said.

For Emele, he left his parents' home two years ago over a misunderstanding following an alleged maltreatment. According to him, he is the last child in a family of five. He now stays with his brothers at Alausa in Ikeja and that he stopped going to school last year after he complained to his siblings that he would like to change school from Oregun High School following his dislike of some of the students in that school. He related his survival odyssey since running away from home:

"Before, we slept under the bridge after working late but we do not sleep there any more because of police raid. We are usually arrested whenever they find us sleeping there," he said, adding that he stays with a friend who is also a conductor at Empire in Moshalasi Bus Stop.

May 27 every year was proclaimed by Nigeria as a day set aside each year to pay greater attention to children and the issues they represent. The children who are exposed to such hardships are legion. Worst hit, are the victims of kerosene explosion and those displaced or have lost contact with their parents and guardians during the various ethic clashes. They have no choice but to fend for themselves.

That was how little Kemi Adelaja became a breadwinner. Everyday, she trudges from one street of Lagos to another, eking out a living through the selling of sachet water.

Her typical day begins at 5.00 a.m. when she wakes up and fetches water for the family. Hardly remembering to take her bathe, the next routine is to hawk the sachet water from street to street until she gets enough money to feed herself and the aged grandmother, as her parents had died long ago.

Sometimes, she covers long distances before returning home. Many a times, the miscreants for the usual extortion at the parks and market places would harass her. There were some days she made some profit and at other times, miscreants violently seize all the "market" if you failed to give them money.

Asked if she would like to go back to school if she had an opportunity, she said "yes," adding that it is hard to get "free assistance." It is either you are made a "housemaid or sent to sell things on the street," she bemoaned. Ten-year-old Qudri Ajao, a primary four pupil, hawks sachet water at Ladipo market everyday after school. According to him he realises about N200 that pays his school bills.

Ajao does not even know the significance of children's day, in other words, he will still be found hawking sachet water today. For Temitope Odukoya, he gets his income from selling sweets and chewing gums on the luxury Labour Mass Transit commuter buses. His coaxed slogan in soliciting for buyers sounds thus: "I was begging but you say I should go and sell. Now I have started selling, you must buy from me," as he goes from one row to another enticing people to buy.

Fourteen years old Kazeem Badmus sells garden eggs at Ikeja Bus Stop in Bariga. According to him, he is still in primary four, although he hardly attends classes nowadays.

For two years now, he has been selling garden eggs and he makes a lot of money from it. The proceeds he uses to fend for myself, he said. His parents are divorced. He now lives with his mother at Gbagada. "Because of my trade, I do not attend school regularly since what I got here is what I use in taking care of myself. My mother is a trader and I do not often see my father," he said. Sidat Sowemimo, a Senior Secondary School II pupil of Ajumoni Secondary School, has never participated in the celebration of Children's Day.

All Sowemimo knows is that there is going to be a public holiday, of which she will not go to school, but come out to hawk snacks. Jide, who does not know his age, but is assumed to be below nine, does not go to school, let alone know what Children's Day is all about. All his life, he has been under the bridge at Oshodi with his mother begging for alms.

Azeez does not know anything about Children's Day from his response when he was asked whether he knew the significance of May 27. "What is Children's day ? " He shot back. However, Azeez said he is willing to go to school if he has an opportunity. "I love education, I want to become somebody in future," he said. At Oshodi bus stop at about 7.30 p.m., 11-years old Fausat Adepoju, was still hawking sweets from one commuter bus to another. According to her, Children's Day does not have any meaning, as it does not affect her life positively. "I hawk sweats everyday after school," though it is not her desire to do so, she said. Her mother, according to her, wanted her to do it because "other girls in my area do so."

Mrs. Ope Ifelodun, a primary school teacher said the government needs to do a lot to improve the on the lives of Nigerian children, as they are totally neglected, particularly the less-privileged ones. The condition under which some of them live is absolutely bad. Even at school some of them often sleep-off due to exhaustion.

Also an official of the Oshodi Motor Park said the issue of kid traders and others needs a serious attention. Sometimes, it was discovered that some young boys turned Oshodi Car Park to their homes. All efforts to force them to go home were in vain, as majority of them do not have homes. Some were alleged to come from other states to stay at Oshodi.

There are cases of children whose parents abuse them. The parents take them along on a begging run. A few child are used as guides for physically challenged beggar-parents or guardians.

For many Lagosians who reminisce on the good old days, Children's Day is fast loosing its meaning. It used to be a day set aside to reflect on how children fared in the past and what should be done to better their lives. They bemoaned that the exciting activities of "March Past" and the cultural activities at the stadia or public places are nowhere to be found.`



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