Maryam selling sachet water to keep her family

On the occasion of International Youth Day 2016, Chineme Okafor, through Maryam’s story, examines Nigeria’s road to 2030 and what role any youth like her can play in eradicating poverty and attaining sustainable development

“I sell pure water, which is what I use to feed my family. I started selling it when I was in Lagos, in Malu Bridge that is where I sold it in Lagos before I moved back to Abuja and continued,” said Maryam.

“I leave home by six in the morning because of those who eat in the morning, and I come back around 5.30pm,” she added.

Maryam said she would have preferred to engage in any other economic activities to make a living but Nigeria has very limited jobs or access to economic opportunities for young people like her.
“If it was my own wish I would want to be selling shoes, veils, wrappers, I really want this if I can get it,” she added.

Her story lends credence to a 2012 survey of the National Bureau of Statistics which stated that unemployment amongst Nigeria’s young people between ages 15 and 35 was 54 per cent. This group was about 70 million when the survey was conducted.

The survey showed that young people were hugely shut out from economic activities and opportunities in Nigeria. Today in 2016, four years after, the situation has not really changed because the numbers from indications may have spiked, making it obvious that the economic energies of people like Maryam are left untapped through a broken-down system that invests little or nothing in building the capacity of its youths to play a leading role in ensuring poverty eradication and achieving sustainable development through sustainable consumption and production.

This is more especially so when the youth in question does not have any access to the structures of formal education. Maryam depicts such.

“I once went for training. I learnt knitting, using machine, when I was doing it, unfortunately the woman’s husband died, so I stopped going there, then my father said since I wasn’t going to school that I should go and learn sewing in a man’s shop I agreed, and you know some men always want you to be naughty with them so after observing him and I discovered he was like that I decided to leave his shop,” she said.

So, left with little or no built capacity to generate a productive livelihood, youths like Maryam are condemned to hard choices. Maryam took one of these hard choices, daily she has to make a 14 kilometre trip from her home in Karmo, a poor suburb in Nigeria’s hugely affluent federal capital city, Abuja, to Wuse Market in the city centre where she sells sachet water to thirsty people.

“I take public transport and I drop at Berger, and carry water from there, there is a woman’s shop (a wholesaler), she stays there, I enter her house first and she makes me sweep, mop and other little things in the house, before giving me pure water, if I buy N200 worth she gives me N300 worth because of those little things I do for her and she also gives me food to eat then I leave Berger to that bus stop after bridge and sell it there. If it finishes fine, if it doesn’t finish then I go to Wuse, from there I go to a filling station at Berger,” she explained.

If Maryam fails to meet up with the early morning demands of sachet water from people taking their breakfasts, she could forfeit a huge portion of what would complete her meal ticket for that day.

But apart from losing out on that early morning sales and its bounties, the young lady who wears a chocolate complexioned skin over a slim moderate height physique also risks routine clampdown and detention by ambitious wardens of the city’s environmental protection agency.

She said: “Sometimes we get caught by task force, they once caught me and took me to a rehabilitation camp located in an orphanage. I was there for three weeks, I was there and then by God’s grace the day they were going to free people I was released, after I was released then I came back home and sat doing nothing, but then I realised that there was nothing I was going to do, I have to continue selling the pure water, so I continued with selling pure water.”
According to her, the wardens resume their enforcement of government’s ban on street trading from 10am every day; and she has to be smart to beat them to their game like all street hawkers in Abuja.

She said the uncertainty is almost palpable, and the danger endless. She will often ‘fly’ with the environmental wardens in hot pursuit most times throwing away everything on her head, or ‘roast’ if caught by them.

Dressed in a matching yellow and blue patterned traditional skirt and blouse fabric with a matching black veil over her shoulders when she met THISDAY for this interaction, Maryam told a story that related with most of Nigeria’s young people, her words laced with discontent for the Nigerian system.

The meeting with her was brokered by the Centre for Media Information and Narrative Development (MIND), an NGO which works with a small select team of community documentary journalists including THISDAY, to embed in and report the everyday lives of ordinary citizens living in the suburbs of Abuja. The team seeks to strengthen the voices of groups who rarely have a chance to air their views in public – mostly women and girls

During most of her conversation with THISDAY, Maryam calmly clunked her slim fingers on the desk as if to drive home her point. She is inherently endowed with a strong and expressive personality. Calmly she disclosed that she is responsible for raising a nine-year-old son named Abba, whom she got from a rape incident, and who even though his father accepts paternity but has refused to take responsibility for his upkeep. She told the paper that whenever she was up and about, she thought about nothing but surviving through the challenges that stood between her and the N500 needed every day to keep her family alive

“Honestly, we just manage because it is better than staying at home. If you stay at home, you will just waste your time gossiping. It is better you go out and do business.”
Even though Nigeria has a national youth policy 2009 with a five-year action plan – 2009 to 2015 – centered on providing a wide range of vocational skills; flexible employment opportunities; decent working conditions; and life skills to guarantee gainful employment and sustainable livelihood for her young people, its implementation has largely not attracted the government’s attention, this suggests that Maryam, like other young Nigerians are not considered relevant to Nigeria’s economic development.

While the deviations in making this plan work persist, the options available to active young people like Maryam to access economic opportunities are increasingly shrinking. This equally indicates that in line with findings from a survey conducted by the British Council in Nigeria, the country may not be ready to benefit from the values her young people should bring into her economy by 2030 when their population would have become dominant in the country.
One of the key findings of the British Council survey in 2010 was that by 2030, Nigeria’s youth, not her oil will be her most valuable resource. It however added that the country risks a huge economic catastrophe with her failure to rapidly improve the capacity of this young people to deeply participate in all aspects of her economic development.