Child Conductors

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Sunday Ehigiator writes that many children are engaging in menial jobs to fend for themselves and their families

In a country where lack of education and economical impoverishment have occasioned a low life expectancy and living killer of the people, it’s no longer decrying children labouring to support themselves and their families’ expenses via pre-mature labour.

The thoughts of how life has been so unfair to the children encountered during the course of researching on this situation hasn’t stop to give worries and sleepless night. Most especially, that of 14 years old Rashidi Owolabi, who lost his father to the cold hands of death in a ghastly motor accident while he was just seven years old.

According to Omoba as he was nicknamed and popularly called among his peers on the street of Lagos, he narrated in Yoruba Language that he is from Osun State, and was about seven years old when his father died. His mother who later went into prostitution couldn’t take care of him and his younger sisters but instead always sent him to do menial jobs for people, from one household to the other, while she makes money off him, not minding how they maltreated him. When he was 11 years old, the son of the woman he was sent to work for at that time in Ibadan, was consistently Sodomising him. When he couldn’t take it any longer, he decided to run away from the home, and began to survive on the street since then. He hustled to get money to leave Ibadan for Lagos within a short time so as not to be discovered by his masters.

On getting to Lagos, he connected with other displaced kids in Oshodi and got accustomed with how they survived. He said he was first taught to smoke and drink, afterwards started out as a load-pusher; by helping people to carry loads to their destinations as it is noticeably done by a lot of kids in Oshodi. Thereafter, when that wasn’t too profitable, as bigger boys on the street were more preferred to those looking skinny as him, he learnt other wrong means to making money such as, phone snatching and picking pockets and bags of unsuspecting commuters. But unfortunately for him, he ran out of luck on a fateful morning while attempting to pick a woman’s hand bag without knowing a soldier man was right behind him observing his gimmicks. Just as soon as he was done removing the item, the soldier got hold of him, and bundled him to the barracks around Oshodi and was mercilessly dealt with and punished for the rest of the day. Thereafter, he was released to go at about 11p.m.

He said, after this incident, he withdrew from the business and had no other option left than helping drivers as bus conductors on a daily basis; even though he is paid less. According to him, on each completed trip he was paid a token of N100 or at most N200. He said, every morning once he is up, his first responsibility is to smoke few sticks of cigarette, and then dilute it with some locally made alcohol content, so as to make him sharp and active. And without that, he stands the risk of not being employed by any driver for that day as they would assume he is not capable if he can’t sound rugged. And on the average, he said he smokes one packet of cigarette on a daily basis due to addiction.

Asked if he has reconnected with his mother? He said no, due to the fact that he cannot afford a telephone yet. Asked how much he makes daily in the business. He said there is no certain figure. That it depends on how nice the driver he works with for that day is, but most times, he returns home with about N2,000 in his pocket, which he spends on smoking, drinking and sometimes sleeping with prostitutes.

He concluded by admitting he is not happy with the way he is living his life; especially seeing other children on a daily basis going to school, while he can’t speak English Language not to even talk about making enough money to go to school. And, pleaded for government to help them off the street in any way it can, so as to have a better life expectancy, as he hopes to become a soldier someday.

While Rashidi’s case isn’t the only one in such a situation, as there are others especially in the northern states of Nigeria, it is pertinent we begin to look into this as a very social vice.

The Nigerian Child Right Act of 2003, recognises the rights of children, restores confidence, self-esteem and improves their status. It also enables children with disabilities, to enjoy their full rights, as it provides special measures for their care and protection. All sectors of the society, including government and the people, will no doubt benefit from the production of well-rounded and self-confident future leaders.

Also, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, Nigeria has 10.5 million out-of-school children, the highest rate (47 per cent) anywhere on earth. Almost one out of every three primary age children is out of school, and roughly one out of four junior secondary age children is out of school.

In 1988, the Nigeria chapter of the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect organised three conferences with the Ministry of Justice, Health, and Social welfare respectively, in conjunction with UNICEF to produce new draft laws on protecting children in Nigeria. This draft stimulated the government to develop the current Child Right Act of 2003. The Act defines a new child rights and welfare; rights which were not present in CYPA. It created a discretionary guardian who is a legal practitioner ad litem position for representation of the child; “the court may, for the purpose of any specified proceedings, appoint a guardian ad litem for the child concerned to safeguard the interest of the child, unless it is satisfied that it is not necessary to do so.” Additionally, the court has the power “to consult the wishes of the child in considering what order ought to be made in protective proceedings”, and the child has the right to “exercise on his (or her) free choice.”

The questions to ask at this juncture are, since we have all these laws in motion, why do we still have cases of child abuses and child labour unattended? Does the judiciary processes in Nigeria really consult the wishes of a child during proceedings?

Another of such situation that never knocks off minds was on a sunny Wednesday afternoon in the ancient city of Benin; precisely under a food seller’s shelter around Lucky Way, Oba-Market, in Ring Road. Haven made a paltry N200 since 6a.m. he has been hanging on a bus for a driver, 12 years old Destiny Osarieme was seen voraciously gobbling punches of Santana (a strong and big Fufu); as it is usually called in Benin, without paying attention to onlookers.

The fear of him not shocking himself warranted the admonishment; “Oh boy! Take it easy”, with little knowledge that it was going to lead to a very heart touching conversation with THISDAY.

According to Destiny, he explained that, he had been working with a driver since the previous day as a bus conductor, but when it was time for the driver to pay him; the driver absconded pretending to have an emergency. So he went to sleep in a regular store front he normally sleeps with empty stomach. The next day, he woke up around 6a.m. and started work with a new driver and at about 10a.m. he insisted on the driver paying him for the turns he has done. The driver agreed and paid him N200. And that was what he came to buy One-man One-vote (as Santana is nicknamed in Benin) with, even without meat.

Further narrating how he became a conductor, he said his parents were separated when he was much younger. His father whom he used to stay with remarried a woman who maltreated him and his other two brothers. On a faithful day, he was sent to wash the dishes, while washing it, one of it mistakenly broke. Immediately, the step-mother rushed out, and dealt with him mercilessly, and even marked his back with pieces from the broken bottle. After being starved for about two days without food, he devised a means to run away from home to beg for food in a party. And that happened to be the last time he ever stepped his foot into his father’s compound, and instead devised means for himself to survive from working as bus conductor.

The Child Right Act of 2003 is supposed to be fully adopted and implemented by all 36 states in Nigeria. However, research shows that this is not the case. Only few states in Nigeria have noticeably adopted the full implementation of the Act, but are the system favourable?

Child abuse seems to have taken a different dimension in Nigeria. It is no longer the conventionally known cases, that is molestation, hawking, house help, sales person, but has further degenerated into children working as commercial bus conductors. This is dire to the future of Nigeria, if children are still considered as the future leaders of tomorrow. The risk it poses is immeasurable, if not curtailed with all urgency.

In September 2015, at an historical UN Summit, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; with an aim of going further to end all forms of poverty, were adopted by world leaders. Among these goals are; no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, decent work and economic growth. Unfortunately, this issue of children conductors has revealed that a lot still needs to be done by Nigeria if the UN goals must be met by 2030. These children found themselves where they are today not entirely because of the choices they made but the options the society they found themselves had provided them with.

Aside not standing a chance of gaining quality education, they are prone to several societal vices such as; hunger, threat to life, alcohol and drug addiction, child abuse, bullying by drivers or commuters, sicknesses and diseases, epidemic outbreak, truancy, ritualism, cultism, and a host of others. They likewise pose as a major threat to life, security and development of this country Nigeria. And except things are done rapidly, the society awaits another Evans.