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Coronavirus: Children hawk facemasks in Lagos while schools remain closed

Though Lagos State government has ordered that schools should be closed down as a means of keeping schoolchildren safe from contracting  COVID-19 virus, there are children who cannot afford to stay at home because they have to earn income for their parents, even during the lockdown. Many of these children could be seen on Lagos streets hawking facemasks. Lukman ABOLADE reports about some of those children he met. 

ON Wednesday, May 27th, when the Children’s Day was being celebrated worldwide, Ramon, a nine-year-old boy and primary five pupil of Saviour Primary School, Lagos was seen at Igando market with a handful of facemasks made with local fabric, seeking customers for his goods.

While his mother and sister who are tailors produce the facemask, he hawks the products at major bus stops in Lagos to make income for the family. It is a kind of division of labour,  said the boy.

Ramon, a nine year old boy who hawks facemasks
Lukman Abolade/The ICIR

Unlike Ramon whose mother and sister are tailors, Joseph Olayanju, a junior secondary school two (JSS2) student in Ajegunle sells facemasks produced by a company located in Ajegunle area in Lagos. He and his friend, Abraham Ishola, who attends the same school as Olayanju, purchase facemasks in bulk at the company at discounted prices .

“We buy 12 pieces at 1000, and sell each at N100,” said Abraham.

Abraham Ishola hawking facemasks Lukman Abolade/The ICIR

So from every dozen they sell, they each make a profit of N200.

In Lagos markets and on the major bus stops, it is common to see many children selling facemasks.

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Apart from Ramon, Olanyaju and Ishola, The ICIR also met Rasheedat, Ayomikun, Adi and Stephen,  all students of public schools, according to them.

A young girl selling facemask in traffic

The ICIR attempted to speak to their parents, but they declined for the fear of being identified and sanctioned by the government authorities for violating child rights act. Not that they know about the law though, but speaking to the press could mean trouble. In fact, one of the women chastised her son for speaking to a stranger who is not a customer.

But Esther Ajewole, a tailor and mother of Ayomikun, a 14-year-old boy told The ICIR that asking her son to hawk facemasks is a matter of survival for the family. She said the child has been sitting at home idly for weeks before she finally decided to ask him to help.

Since there is no provision for an online class for children in public schools, there is no point keeping the boy at home doing nothing, she added.

There is also Damilola, mother of two,  who sells facemasks with her children in the market. She said she had to bring them with her because the facemask market has become very competitive.

Esther Ajewole, a mother who gave facemasks to her son to sell
Lukman Abolade/The ICIR

“We sell it together to make enough profit because people selling it are now too many,” she said.

She added that living has been hard for the family, and that is why she brings them to the market to hawk.

Although she is aware that some schools have made provisions for e-learning, she said her children attend public school and the school does not operate online classes.

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An offence overlooked

The Lagos State government during the administration of Babatunde Raji Fashola adopted the Child Right Act on May 27, 2007, to protect the rights of children in the state.

The act, however, is hardly implemented since it has been adopted three years ago. For example, there is no taskforce charged with the responsibility of enforcing the law.

Damilola, a mother of two who hawks facemasks with her children

Children hawking facemasks are not only found in Lagos state, but there are also reports of a similar trend in Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti and Abuja.

Only a few attend digital classes in Nigeria

Though Nigeria ranks 6th among countries with most internet users in the world, the country lacks online infrastructure to provide quality education for children

According to the internet world statistics , as of the first quarter of 2020 (Q1,2020), Nigeria has an estimated population of 206,139, 689 out of which 126,078,999 are internet users.

Infographic on Internet users in Nigeria

This represents that 61 per cent of Nigerians are active internet users, but this is not reflected in the Nigerian students’ access to online education.

Out of 36 states in the country, only five states have been able to provide minimum digital learning for their citizens, according to report by the federal ministry of education. The states include Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, Edo and Ondo state

The Federal Government has announced provision for e-learning by collaborating with privately-owned digital learning platforms including Mobile Classroom application and, but checks by The ICIR revealed many inadequacies of the government to actualise the plan.

Picture collage of some children selling facemasks

During the announcement, Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba said the website and applications are free for Airtel users while arrangements were being made to bring other network providers on board.

Speaking to the Chief Executive Officer of Mobile Classroom, Akeem Salami, one of the partners with the FG on online classes, he said although there has been an increase of about 45,000 new registrants on the Mobile Classroom platform. This is less than 1 per cent of the 41.9 million students enrolled in public and private schools across the nation.

Salami, however said students are unaware of the digital platforms, despite collaborating with the FG, hence there is still a long way to go.

He said before the pandemic he had approached the FG, Osun, and Lagos to key into the idea of online classes but did not get a buy in of the government.

“We approached some states including the FG at the inception of our platform but we received a letter of appreciation but it was not supported,” Salami said.

According to him, the government’s failure to embrace the idea of digital classes before COVID-19 is partly responsible for mass failure in Nigerian schools.

Salami urged the government to provide community e-library with internet access in collaboration with private sectors so that students in or out of school could easily learn.

This would give room for revision for learners as videos and tutorials are available at any time for them, unlike the conventional classroom setting, he said.

Ogunmola Makanju, the CEO of Schoolgate, another partner with the FG on digital classes,  also told The ICIR that he had approached the FG before the pandemic but the idea was not embraced because of funding.

Apart from this, he noted there is no national policy on  digital education in Nigeria.

In spite of the initial difficulty,  the platform can be accessed  by students in Nigeria without internet charges, and  nearly 100,000 students already have registered.

According to UBEC, Nigeria has a figure of 31,236,624 students/pupils enrolled in public schools across the federation, but less than one per cent of these children are currently engaged in online education.



    The country’s inability to have a workable national policy on digital learning triggered a call from the House of Representatives recently.

    On Tuesday, May 19, a member of the Green  Chamber, Aniekan Umanah representing Abak/Etim Ekpo/Ika Federal Constituency moved a motion that was eventually adopted by the house to urge the FG to urgently develop a national framework for schools at all level.

    The Director of the press, Federal ministry of education, Ben Goong while responding to questions from The ICIR on Thursday, 4th May also acknowledged that the nation’s ministry of education does not have a national policy on digital education.

    Until Nigeria provides opportunities for children to learn both in the physical and digital classrooms, parents of children like Rahmon, Joseph and Abraham will continue to find reason to send them to the streets to hawk  facemasks during lockdown while other children stay safe at home.



    Lukman Abolade is an Investigative reporter with The ICIR. Reach out to him via [email protected], on twitter @AboladeLAA and FB @Correction94

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