REPORT: How poverty pushes boys, girls into hawking, menial jobs in Abuja
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Despite incessant clampdown on street hawking by the authorities of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, there has been a continued increase in the number of hawkers—predominantly girls and boys of school age— on the streets of Abuja.
Street hawking is outlawed in the nation’s capital but the quest to survive has pushed many under-aged children to hustle, running after motorists on the highways with their wares, YEKEEN Akinwale who encountered some of the kids, reports on their plights.
AS the car pulls over on the corridor of the express road, a small figure runs close to the front passenger door of the car.
Peeping from the window with a nylon bag of freshly baked loaf of bread in her right hand, a young girl says “uncle, please buy bread.”
Before she could finish that statement, she is joined by another person, but this time around, a much older boy. “Uncle, please buy from me too,” pleads the boy.
Out of confusion and emotion too, this reporter asks the hawkers—who are siblings— to drop two loaves of bread in the car. Each loaf of bread costs N500. They are among an army of hawkers on one of Abuja’s busiest and longest express roads —Ahmadu Bello road.
While some sell bottled peanuts, some hawk sachet water known by locals as ‘pure water, others run after fast-moving vehicles with ripe banana. They defy odds to make ends meet in the capital city where street hawking is outlawed.
The children,—aged between 7 to 18— spend between seven to eight hours every day, running up and down, chasing motorists to buy their wares which include other items such as interior decorations and cars’ spare parts like wipers. Exposing children to this dangerous living contravenes the Convention on the Rights of the Child —the convention views childhood— a period before age 18, as a special, protected time, in which children must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity.
For Gift, 11 and Emeka, 17, the current economic downturn in Nigeria casts a bleak shadow into their future—prospects of their education hangs in the balance despite their resolve to face the odds.
Despite the domestication of Child Right Act in the FCT, interest of children of the poor has not been protected, contrary to the provisions of Part 1 sections 1 and 2 of the Act that touch on interest and protection of the child.
Each day, the brother and sister go out to hawk bread to augment what their father, John Chukwuemeka, a tricycle driver brings home. They spend about seven to eight hours out hawking; otherwise, feeding at home would be hard for a family of seven. Their mother, a full-time housewife engages in a seasonal business. “My mother sells cooked corn during the raining season,” Emeka reveals. “She doesn’t have any job, but whatever the season brings, she sells.”
In spite of long hours on the road and the tedious running up and down, Emeka and Gift say their body systems have adapted to the stress as they don’t administer painkillers at the end of the day. “No, we don’t take any painkillers when we get home, we don’t even feel any pain,” Gift retorts.
While Gift, a Primary 5 pupil at LEAT Primary School, Jahi comes to the road as soon as she returns from school in the afternoon, her brother, Emeka, who could not join his peers after he had passed his entrance examination into SS1 due to paucity of funds resumes hawking right from 10am everyday.
Emeka sat for ‘Junior WAEC’ at Junior Secondary School, Kado Kuchi and was offered an admission into Maitama Model Secondary School.
But his father could not afford the entrance fee into his new school— a total of N31, 350 —so he had forfeited the first term of the 2019/2020 academic session. The real reason, he joined the legion of hawkers on Ahmadu Bello road in October 2019 to raise money to return to school.
“So in October, my father gave me and Gift N2000 to start this business of selling bread here,” he recalls.
On a day he and his sister record-high sales, they sell as many as 10 loaves of bread which means a gain of just N1000 less than a dollar per day. Out of this, Emeka whose ambition is to study law at a university says he is already saving money to be able to join his mates at Maitama Model Secondary School when schools resume for second term in January 2020. “My savings is already getting to N20, 000,”he reveals with an infectious smile.
His younger sister, Gift, hopes to be a doctor one day. But this depends on if fortune smiles on their tricycle driver father, because according to them, proceeds from their daily hustling on the expressway also go into the family upkeep. The two siblings like some of their friends may end up dropping out of school if the poverty in the country continues to bite harder.
According to UNICEF, “one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria.”
Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school, UNICEF said.
The Fund noted further that “Only 61 percent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 percent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education.”
And like Emeka and Gift, Moses Benjamin, Haruna Hashim and Hashiru as well as 10year-old Safiu Sa’adau and several others throng the road from morning till evening making paltry N1000 or N1500 to survive.
Safiu is the last of three in the family, and he has never been to any school before even at age 10. He speaks little English and Hausa language fluently. Looking tired in the sun with dried lips from dehydration, little Safiu supports his family with hawking.
Frustrated boys and girls on the road
While they do this, they run the risk of being knocked down by reckless drivers or as it has become routine, being arrested by officials of Abuja Environmental Protection Agency (AEPB) that enforce ban on street hawking.
The youngsters, however, have resigned to fate and appear more frustrated by their daily experiences under the sun on the road. Emeka and his friends lament how men of AEPB run after them —most time arrest and confiscate their wares.
“Once the task force comes, we run and they will take our bread or we run with the bread,” says Emeka who was recently arrested by the task force men.
“If God helps you and you escape, you will go and thank God,” he says, recalling his ordeal when he was arrested.
“They took me in their vehicle, and they drove me to somewhere around Jabi park and asked me how much I had on me.
“I said there was no money on me. They took all my nine loaves of bread and asked me to go,” he narrated.
Determined to survive, Emeka says, he and others cannot stay at home despite this persecution by the government agents. “If you say you don’t want to come out because of kidnappers or AEPB people, you will be the one to suffer for it.”
In their cases, both Moses Benjamin and Hashiru are fed up with running after vehicle to make ends meet. Benjamin left Cross River State after writing Junior WAEC ‘to come and hustle in Abuja.’
“I’m just helping myself with this hawking. My mother is in the village and I stopped school after Junior WAEC because there is no money,” he said. He didn’t hide his disdain for his current condition of living when he said “I’m saying poverty is a disease. I don’t have a house, just staying in an uncompleted building.”
Hashiru is more vociferous about this: He said “wetin dey disturb me na school. I wan go back to school. We go dey inside the sun, go dey go up and down, task force, go come after us. Dem wan turn us to agbero, make we dey smoke Igbo (India Hemp). See rich people inside the car, and we dey inside sun suffering, we are sleeping inside batchers, mosquitoes dey bite us.”
Sexual abuse, abduction and other risks threaten street hawkers
In most cases, girls among them fall prey to sexual predators as is the case of 14-year-old Rejoice Philip, the first child of a single mother who was forced out of work by her husband.
Jessica Phillip, Rejoice’s mother and her husband separated after she quit her job as a marketer at Kaduna State Television Station as a result of pressing family issues. But her husband left her with the burden of raising two children when she left her job in Kaduna and relocated to Mararaba, a suburb of Abuja.
She resolved to selling soft drinks at the Orange market, Mararaba, while her daughter, Rejoice, the older of her two children hawks ‘pure water’ to complement her mother’s efforts. “If we don’t sell, we won’t eat,” Jessica says. Most days, mother and daughter are out hawking as late as 9pm.
Rejoice would, however, fall prey to sexual predators on November 28 when she got tired and sat by the roadside after hawking for long hours at the Orange market.
She narrated how she was tired and sat by the road by 9pm round the market when a young man identified as Umar, now at large, approached her and told her to follow him for a gift.
“I innocently followed him and was offered a bottle of an opened Mirinda drink which I quickly rushed and didn’t know what had happened to me later,”Rejoice recalls. That was the last she remembered until she woke up at about 2am to realise she was not only drugged but was also defiled by Umar and two other men.
She was in terrible pain from her vagina area and didn’t know when she woke up .“I noticed blood stains and water on my dress when I woke up.” The man who offered her drink and two other men had allegedly had carnal knowledge of her.
Scared to go home because it was late and worried about what her mother would do, Rejoice revealed that she slept in an uncompleted building near her house.
Withdrawn, devastated and terrified, she couldn’t go home even the next day. Her mother’s friend saw her and came to her rescue. She reported the incident at the Police Out Post in the market.
While Umar’s whereabouts are unknown and the police advised Jessica to let the matter die a natural death, Wanda Adu Foundation (WAF) that takes care of vulnerable is already handling Rejoice’ defilement matter.
Another street hawker identified by his colleagues as Auwal was said to have been run over by a vehicle along Ahmadu Bello way while running with loaves of bread after another motorist. His present location is unknown, he was said to have one of his legs fractured due to the accident. Eyewitnesses said his condition was bad that he was turned back at the Maitama General Hospital.
Nigeria yet to eradicate poverty —still world’s poverty headquarters
Poverty is driving more and more children in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja into street hawking and other menial jobs, exposing them to dangers and risks of being kidnapped by ritualists.
Nigeria in June 2018 was declared the headquarters of poverty, taking over from India that used to be the world’s poverty headquarters.
“Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, with an estimated 87 million Nigerians, or around half of the country’s population, thought to be living on less than $1.90 a day,” CNN reported.
The findings, based on a projection by the World Poverty Clock and compiled by the Brookings Institute, show that more than 643 million people across the world live in extreme poverty, with Africans accounting for about two-thirds of the total number. Nigeria has the largest share of the Africa’s poverty quotient.
While the numbers of Nigerians falling into extreme poverty grows by roughly six people every minute, poverty in India continues to decrease.
“At present, an estimated 5.3 per cent of Indians or 71.5 million people live below the poverty line,” the report said.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo whose party, All Progressives Congress (APC) promised poverty eradication in the country during electioneering also admitted that the government has failed to address the challenge of poverty.
Osinbajo warned that Nigeria despite being referred to as the giant of Africa is far behind other countries in the eradication of poverty.
The vice president while speaking at an event to mark the 70th birthday of a former governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi, said Nigeria is yet to make any reasonable progress in stomping poverty out.
“It’s very obvious that we are behind the race in eradicating poverty. The reason being that, before now, there were no systematic and focused approach to eradicating poverty in our country.”
“This is why from 2014-2015, the APC decided to write social investment into our manifestos. So, the social investment we are talking about is not by accident. It’s a comprehensive programme to tackle poverty,” the vice president said.
Child rights advocates blame government
“Hawkers are at risk of being kidnapped and opened to sexual abuse,” Wanda says.
She describes hawking as a form of child labour for which according to her Nigerian government is culpable.
There are so many unemployed people in the country leaving them without income and are forced to do anything to make a living, Wanda argues. “The government has no incentives for women and children. No access to health or basic education. No housing scheme for the common citizen, I worry about the future of the Nigerian child,” she retorts.
As a way out, Wanda suggests that the government can give free education to children up to secondary school level and provide ad-hoc support to vulnerable women and children and the aged.
“The government need to raise and care for her citizens. Invest in young people for a better country,” she advises.
Mudashiru Josie, also child right advocate says hawking is a form of child labour which is prohibited and should not be encouraged. The kids, she notes, are exposed to activities of kidnappers, ritualists, rapists and other vices.
“I understand that some families need all the help they can get, but children should not be exposed to conditions that put them at risk,” Josie states, adding, “Parents should try as much as possible to avoid this.”
“The street especially red spots like Banex area is nowhere for children to be found hawking.”
On her part, Josie opines that more and more parents should embrace planned parenthood also known as child spacing.
“And this where the thorny issue of child spacing comes even though we do not like talking about it here because of our so-called cultural and religious inclinations. It is better to have the number of children you are able to cater for,” she says.
When contacted, Halima Oyelade, spokesperson for the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development was not readily available for comments on what the newly created Ministry is doing to address the menace. Calls put across to her mobile phone were not answered and messages sent were not replied.