Social worker decries increasing number of street children

Social worker decries increasing number of street children
• Wednesday, Jan 30, 2008

A social worker, Rev. Dele George has urged the various tiers of government to evolve a mechanism for the rehabilitation of street children in Nigeria.

George told newsmen in Lagos on Friday that the increasing number of street children constituted “social menace”.

According to her, such children are being exposed to hard lives, abuse, robbery and other social vices.

George, Founder of Little Saints Orphanage, regretted that government had yet to fully tackle the menace of street children decisively.

“There is the urgent need to address the increasing number of children on the streets today. Government, at all levels, should put structures in place for their rehabilitation.

“It will not be enough to say we have evacuated children from the streets, but also of importance is where to take them”, George said.

She also called for the people’s assistance in addressing the plight of street children.

“Rather than give alms to these children, we should direct such resources to their development”, George said.

Digital Diary: Nigerian street children tell their stories of life without security

Digital Diary: Nigerian street children tell their stories of life without security

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Tayo
Isaiah, 15, during the recording of ‘Voices from the Street’, a UNICEF-supported Radio Nigeria programme produced by children living in the streets in Lagos.

By Christine Jaulmes

NEW YORK, USA, 26 December 2007 – Isaiah has spent 5 of his 15 years living on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria, the second largest city of Africa. Like hundreds of other children, he spends his days and nights in this sprawling metropolis trying to fend for himself. “It is not easy living on the street but what can I do?” asks Isaiah, one of 25 children who have told their stories on Nigerian national radio through a UNICEF-supported project. “I have two sisters that I have not seen in five years, I have smoked Indian hemp like other boys of my age, got beaten by bigger boys, robbed of my money, took my bath in the canal and slept under the bridge,” Isaiah says in one broadcast. “The good thing is that I am alive!” Given the opportunity to go to school, Isaiah says he would like to become a lawyer. “I want to be defending people,” he explains.

‘Voices from the Street’ The UNICEF-supported Child-to-Child Network, a non-governmental organization, worked with Radio Nigeria to train children in radio production so they could tell their own stories. The resulting series, ‘Voices from the Street’, was broadcast to more than 60 million listeners.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Tayo
Earning $5 to $6 a day as a bus conductor, Isaiah lives on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

Some of the children in the series tell of escapes from unhappy homes, while others recall travelling to the city in search of adventure. They end up selling water packaged in plastic bags or washing the windshields of vehicles in heavy traffic. Isaiah works as a ‘bus conductor’ – collecting fares from passengers who squeeze onto the yellow commercial buses of Lagos. He earns $5 to $6 a day.

At the age of 10, Isaiah left his home in Ogun State. A friend, who turned out to be a child-labour recruiter, invited him to Lagos along with 11 other boys. “We left home without telling any of our parents,’ Isaiah says. Survival on the streets The recruiter paid the boys’ bus fare to Lagos. Then he took the boys to the city’s biggest market and motor park “to sell them,” according to Isaiah. “The more people he brings, the higher his ‘rank’ goes and the more money he gets paid,” Isaiah adds. “I was eventually sold to one man for a fee of 5,000 Naira [about $40]. The man took me to a place I do not know; my duty there was to be a housekeeper.” Isaiah decided to run away. He met up with other street children who showed him how to survive on his own. “I started to sleep under the bridge or inside any of the buses parked under the bridge,” he says. “If mosquitoes are too many, I sleep inside the boot of the vehicles.” ‘I am a big man now’

Getting the children to tell their stories was a challenge, says ‘Voices from the Street’ producer Funke Treasure Durudola. When the most taciturn of the boys finally opened up, she adds, it was the high point of her 12-year broadcasting career. “You have to be empathetic. Connect with them first and they must connect with you, too, before you can get their story,” says Ms. Durudola. UNICEF and the Child-to-Child Network also offered to help reunite the children with their families, or to find other rehabilitation possibilities. Isaiah hopes his family can hear his story on the radio. “I pray that the people of my place will listen,” he says. “They will hear that I am still alive and that I am a big man now.”

Audio

Two Nigerian children, Damilola and Isaiah, tell their stories of life on the streets of Lagos.
AUDIOlisten

Sisters Unite for Street Children

Sisters Unite for Street Children
By Hilda Okoisor, 05.10.2007

Ibrahim Tijani, a young boy of 17 said that he used to sleep under the bridge in Oshodi sometimes under a car or a bus or inside a dry gutter. He does not know his parents as he was left alone by his parents when he was three years old.
He started attending the Foutain of Life Church, Oshodi where they took a particular interest in him because they thought he was well behaved. He worshipped with them every time especially on Fridays for the night vigils and Sundays for worship. They accomodated him and  promised to help him settle down. Eventually, after two years of which he did not run away, a member of the church took him to the  Child Life Line Centre, Ibeshe vilage, Ikorodu where he currently resides. Since he is an old boy, he is learning the art of welding while the Centre takes care of his other needs.
Seun Ajayi, also 17 years old said that he used to stay with his mother on Lagos Island, but at the age of seven she decided that she wanted him to go live with his father at Yaba which he did not like.
He said he ran away from his father’s house after about four years and went back to Lagos Island where he started sleeping under the bridge. When there was a big fight on the Island then, a lot of people were killed. This, he said, made him run back to Yaba where he started hanging around again. It was from there he decided to go to CLL. He went to the  executive director’s house and was assured of help. All these, he said, happened when he was taking his junior school certificate exams, at the time he was 11.
Since then, he said, he has been staying at the CLL centre and is currently  in his Senior Secondary class one, in Saint Anthony School.
Sadiq Jimoh, is  11 years old and Israel Rasheed is 13 years old both in primary three  at the Gbelefun Primary School. They were both found at the Kuramo Beach in 2005.
These boys all have one thing in common, they were all found on the street. The phenomenon of street children in Nigeria results mainly from family breakdown which could be as a result of marital problems or instability in the home, poverty, hunger, insecurity, abuse and violence from parents, displacement caused by clashes in the community, insufficient parental care, death of one or both parents, inadequate family income, unemployment of one or both parents, lack of (or limited) opportunities in education, abandonment by parents, housing difficulties, amongst others.
In an increasingly individualistic society, such children quickly learn to survive on their own and in the process are exploited through child labour and trafficking. Many take to the streets for refuge.
Street children are found in large numbers in urban and rural areas. They work as vendors or hawkers, beggars, shoe shiners, car washers, head-loaders, scavengers and bus conductors. The majority are boys but there are a few girls among them.
The situation of the street children is indeed pitiable but several non-governmental organisations have shown interest in rescuing, rehabilitating and returning street children and giving them the chance for a better life.
One of such NGOs is the CLL, a voluntary , charitable organisation working for the care for education and rehabilitation of street children in Lagos. According to James Efekodo, President, CLL, basically, the place  is where they are trying to take care of one of the problems facing the country today. This, he said, is taking care of boys and girls who are very vulnerable and who for one reason or the other left their homes and who are now living very rough lives in the streets. "Every child who comes in here, we register them with the police and they voluntarily come here.This unit which is the first of its type is trying to take care of the boys from about age seven to 18.
"This is a home for street boys who have decided to settle down so our work is to help them settle down and while they are here, we give them all we are able to give them within our limitations", he said.
Thus, as a person’s limitation can be stretched thus far, so also can an organisation’s. Therefore, a group known as the Sisters Unite For Children decided to come to the aid of the centre by forming a partnership with them.
They are a group of friends and professionals who have distinguished themselves in their various fields of endeavour cutting across banking, finance, pharmacy, education, diplomatic corp, public services etc. What binds them together is the burden and passion they share towards the rescue and rehabilitation of street children.
Mrs. Nkeiruka Obi, the founder of the group stated that they have considered the wide spread of child abuse in the society and that the street chidren phenomenon is gradually assuming alarming proportions. "The immediate cause of this phenomenon appears to be deeply entrenched poverty which defines lives of the vast majority of Nigerians as well as family broken homes. It is very worrisome to see this cruelty everyday. Some of these children have no homes. They live under pedestrian bridges, it is indeed a pathetic sight. Their life is hazardous and there is no way they could escape from the streets. ‘Their only hope is education", she said.
Our children, she added, are our future. "They are the hope of our existence. And if this decadence is not tackled head on and urgently, our hope is destroyed and generations yet unborn would be doomed", he said.
Consequently, Obi said, there is an urgent need for greater public enlightenment on the centres of the street children phenomenon.  Also, counselling on parenting, support and encouragement for NGOs and community-based organisations to initiate and sustain action to help families in distress whose children are potential victims of destitution is needed.
"We want to support this NGO by way of rehabilitating at least 10 indigent street children. We have a projected cost of N200,000 per month, which is N2.4m yearly for their education, general maintenance and welfare.
"We intend to sustain this sponsorship for the next 6 years and this would cost about N14.4m. We wish to assist CLL in actualising their dreams of establishing residential reception/drop in centres for street children through out Lagos through the provision of buildings or land on which to build", she stated.
In doing this, the group represented by 10 of its members went on a visit to the centre recently.  The children were paired according to their classes and each sister was asked to be a foster mother to them. The children were estastic as they started telling their ‘mothers’ what they wanted.
For instance, Mrs Chioma Onwuechekwa’s ‘children’ told her plainly that they wanted to change their schools to a private school. The children, Jimoh and Rasheed  both of the Gbelefun Primary School said that they did not like their school because the other children in the school called them names for staying at the centre. Also they said that they were not taught anything at their school.
On her reason for joining the group, Nwucheka said that her friend introduced her to the group. According to her,  this is something she has always wanted to do because she believes in the cause. "I have a special place for children in my heart and I believe that so many of us are carried away by day to day activities that we don’t know that people exist that need the little things in life that we take for granted, so this gives me so much fulfillment", she said..
On her future plans for ‘her children’ she said that they are young boys so there is hope since these are their formative years. "There is  a vacuum and so we need to fill it with the right values and beliefs. This is for them to know  that whatever they have been through, they should bear in mind that they can succeed, also t
hat they should have confidence in themselves despite  where they are coming from", she said.
The other children, each told their foster mothers that they needed shoes and other things too.

Man Sets Son Ablaze Over Watchcraft

2007/5/4

By Emma Una/Calabar

A middle aged man identified as Victor Friday Usuk of Afagha Uqua in Eket Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State has set his 10-year-old son, Jeremiah Victor Usuk, ablaze for allegedly bewitching him. P.M.News gathered that the man poured petrol on his son, struck a match and set him ablaze after a prophetess in his church, Prophetess Grace, prophesied that his failure in business and joblessness were caused by his son.

Jeremiah, who sustained third degree burns and narrowly survived the trial by ordeal, is still nursing the severe injuries.

The boy told P.M.News that Prophetess Grace wanted to extract more “confession” from him by severely beating him in the presence of his father and mother.

The boy has a sister named Victoria, who was also accused of witchcraft. She was said to have been subjected to several hours of deliverance by the prophetess.

According to Mr. Usuk, the boy’s father, Jeremiah was too deep in the act “such that bringing him out of the witchcraft world required physical torture.”

On why Victoria was not set ablaze, Mr. Usuk said the girl is now certified free from witchcraft by Prophetess Grace after she had gone for deliverance in the church several times.

Jeremiah, a primary three pupil in Aunty Mercy Primary School, Afagha Ukwa, Akwa Ibom State, said: “If I were into witchcraft, I would have made sure everyone in the family becomes a member so that this torture will not take place.”

He said his problem started when his father’s business started collapsing. His father, he said, became withdrawn and when his offshore job was also taken and his vehicle broke down, he allegedly accused Jerry and Victoria as those responsible for his misfortune.

Reacting to the incident, Pastor of the church, Rev. Peters said he believes that witchcraft was responsible for the plight of Victor Usuk, but denied that his wife’s revelation made Victor to set his son ablaze.

“Society sometimes pretends that witchcraft does not exist but it is the cause of the problems of many people,” he said.

e-mail update to the above story (personal communication)

Dear ———
We just want to give you a brief detail of Jerry’s story
      Jerry is one of the many victims of child assault with regards to witchcraft.Jerry,9 was branded a witch by one prophetess in the City of Grace Mission, Eket, one of the churches notorious for child stigmatisation, since last year. His case is unique becaause he lived with both parents.
         He was often beaten, tortured, threatened to be killed by boths parents as a result of the instruction from the the prophetess. Besides, he was severally starved of food, together with his younger sister Rita, 4 years old, given nauseating and repulsive concoction to drink
       In February, second Sunday, according to Jerry his father came from a prayer session from the church only to asked him why he had to make him lost his offshore job, why he had hang him downward with rope round his neck in the witchcraft coven……! The boy unable to answer this myriads of question was then poured with petrol by the father and lit up matches which burned him the whole of his face and other part of body. He was then confined into a dark room and often without food until the the 3rd of April when he saw his father came back with a gallon of petrol hid it in the house, as the mother had warned that he has been given just a day to resign from the witchcraft business or he will be burnt to death. He new this wasn’t a mere threat, so he had to  escaped into the bush,
     He was then found by one lady who took him to a councillor of Eket Local Govt (Hon Paul). The Councillour then called CRARN and handed over the child. CRARN then took Jerry to the police, who arrested the father and detained him. The police charged the father for attempted murder and the case came up for hearing  on Monday 30th April at the magistrate court 1 Eket. He, the father was asked to remaim in custody without option of bail till the next hearing on the 14th of May,2007
      Meanwhile there are more pressure on CRARN to witdraw th suit ‘….as it will have a serious on the rest of the children and wife…..’ The case has been published in Insight Newspaper of Thursday, 26th April 2007
      Thanks Sam (CRARN)

Visit our website – http://crarn.tripod.com or call +2348026693099
CRARN: Rehabilitating and protecing the rights of a child

 

NIGERIA: Kano residents prepare to flee ahead of elections

NIGERIA: Kano residents prepare to flee ahead of elections


Photo: Nicholas Reader/IRIN
Supporters of gubernatorial candidate Garban show evidence of damage they said was caused by opposition campaigners

BICHI, 28 March 2007 (IRIN) – Outside the battered campaign headquarters of gubernatorial candidate Ahmad Garban in the village of Bichi, 20 km north of the state capital Kano, lie six cars plastered with election posters and with shattered windscreens. Yet oddly, politicians from both major parties say minor violence here a week ago is an omen that this year’s election will be peaceful.

Sitting on the carpeted floor inside the gloomy concrete building and sipping a Coke, Bello Muazu, a senior official with the Garban campaign, says 6,000 supporters from the rival campaign came into town on 13 March armed with bows and arrows, machetes and clubs.

"The opposition candidate chose to come here, right outside our headquarters, to start his campaign," Muazu said, referring to Ibrahim Shekarau of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), which currently controls the governor’s office in Kano.

Garban is the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The two parties will face off in elections for the governorship on 14 April, followed by presidential elections, scheduled for 21 April.

"Even before he got there, his supporters were throwing stones, then started fighting and then the violence spread into town," Muaza said, adding that eight bystanders were wounded, one seriously, and two policemen were hacked with machetes.

But for Muazu, it is what happened next that counts.

"We are using the philosophy of peaceful politics, there will be no retaliation," he said. "Now we see benefits because by not taking action against them for what they did, we are getting sympathy across the whole state, so it is not worth it for us to go after them."

By the standards of the almost annual violence that has ravaged Kano State and its capital, also called Kano, the third largest city in the country with 3.6 million people, this attitude – if followed through with restraint – is significant.

In the most recent major rioting in 2004, hundreds of people were killed in waves of sectarian violence, ostensibly in retribution for similar attacks Plateau State in central Nigeria.

The biggest city in northern Nigeria and a major commercial centre drawing business from all over the country, Kano has a large population of Christian southerners, mainly ethnic Igbos from with origins in the southeast, who dominate commerce, while the government is dominated by conservative Muslims who have implemented Sharia law in the state.

Kano also has large numbers of street children and unemployed young adults that people familiar with the previous violence say are easily formed into a small army of protestors.

Muazu, the politician with the PDP campaign, said: “Politicians use [the unemployed and street children] by giving them money to buy drugs or whatever, then sending them to fight against their opposition. This phenomenon isn’t really about Kano, it’s about self-centred politicians who use these social problems to get their own political ends,” he said.

Mohammed Bello, a representative of the incumbent governor, who does not deny that the party’s supporters were involved in violence in Bichi, agreed in an interview that times are changing in Kano State, and his said the ANPP campaign would not be using violence in these elections.

Bello said: "If we were really fighting, there wouldn’t be a house left standing," dismissing the violence in Bichi on 13 March as insignificant.

"And after that we would have moved on and destroyed all the other villages in that area. But that’s not what happened, because this governor is not someone who condones violence," he said, adding that since the Bichi campaign there have been scores of campaigners criss-crossing the state, but no more fighting.

Professor Abubakar Sadiq at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, in neighbouring Kaduna State, said he agrees the leaders are showing restraint and a more "responsible" attitude in this election, but disagreed that violence only bubbles up when it is directed by those at the top.

"There is a lot of passion in Kano,” he said. “It is the seat of militancy when it comes to politics, and people feel very strongly. These are highly mobilised people, and clashes between different parts of the political apparatus are normal.”

Over at the city market in the traffic clogged old-town heart of the city where the streets are permanently choked with hawkers barging their way through the clouds of choking blue motorbike exhaust fumes, many of the traders, mostly southern Christians, said they were not convinced.

"There are always riots here, people will use any opportunity to vandalise property, and it’s always us the traders who are seen as having products and money who get hit first," said Hygenus Waku, 34, from Lagos, who was visiting family in Kano. "This is the first place the mobs go to."

Stanley Okoye, 40, who sells stationary, said he is planning to take his family out of the city before the elections. "I don’t know what will happen. Violence can come up at any time from anywhere, and the riots are always because of politics, even if they say it is about religion. The political leaders use religion for their own interest," he said.

Geoffrey Chinwora, 44, also a market trader, also said he would be forking out to send all six of his close family members out of the state before the elections.

"We’re not sure if it’s safe or not," he said. "There could easily be anarchy, and when that happens no-one remembers his friends."

nr/dm/dh

Nigeria: Fragments – Who Are Street Kids in Nigeria?

Nigeria: Fragments – Who Are Street Kids in Nigeria?
Daily Trust (Abuja)

OPINION
January 19, 2007

Safiya I. Dantiye

I have read a lot on children that that have no parents and are not in anybody’s care, like the orphanage in some African countries. In other words these children sleep and live in the streets, so they are called street kids. But I find it hard to connect the problem with Nigeria, and especially my State, which is Kano, until a year ago when I entered a public transport to travel to Kano and a co passenger who was going there for the first time asked some questions about Kano and revealed that he was working with an NGO and that his mission was to go and contact some people about building a house, school and other facilities for the street kids of Kano.And the school of course is boarding school.

I told him I didn’t know about street kids in Kano, despite it being my state. Then he mentioned the almajirai!

I explained to him that as far as I was concerned the almarai were not street kids since their parents entrusted them to the Mallams to learn the Qur’an, and that they sleep in their schools or in the halls of the neighboring houses. In essence their parents know where they are and some give them money and some essential items to take to school.

Then another co passenger talked about street kids in Lagos that sleep under the bridge and the person that wanted to ‘rescue’ street kids in Kano said he thought the almajirai were also like that.

Anyway, it is really about the street kids in Lagos that I want to talk about. During Christmas some street kids were interviewed on television about in Lagos on how to spend Christmas. A cheeky boy of about 11 years old cheerfully said." I don’t have a father and a mother, so I will not celebrate Christmas."

The boy’s behaviour made me doubt the authenticity of his claim of being an orphan. If he were, I don’t think he would be so happy in saying it, as if it doesn’t really matter whether he has parents or not, which is abnormal. Orphans are melancholy and depressed, even when the pain of the initial loss had subsided, any time the orphan talks about his/her pathetic condition he/she will say it in a lamentable way, may be with a tear- filled eyes.

If the boy is indeed an orphan, I don’t think he could not have anybody to take care of him among his mother’s and father’s relatives, so maybe such children, majority of which I suspect to be boys, just run away from their homes and go to the cities. In cities such as Lagos, they sleep under the bridge and scavenge to live. From there some will graduate into taking drugs and become thieves, while their parents might have looked for them for years and even gave up hope, thinking that they are dead, since they will assume that they were abducted or ‘stolen’ in the first place.

Thereafter the issue of so called ‘parentless’ children roaming towns with nobody in the world to take care of them should be looked at critically, some may just prepare to become rascals and live in the streets. Then if an opportunity presents itself they will say they are orphans with nobody to look after them.

This also indicates the nonchalant attitude of the authorities towards the well being of the citizens. A government that is concerned should gather those children, try to find their parents, and if not found, they should be put under the custody of the government. Or do whatever it can to prevent the children from roaming the streets where they will learn all sorts of vices that they will unleash on the society when they grow up.

For Street Children, What Kind of Future?

THISDAY ONLINE: For Street Children, What Kind of Future?

The problem of street children in several cities in Nigeria, especially, Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of the country, appears to have defied every solution. However, a private initiative, geared towards empowering their parents and enrolling the street kids in schools may resolve the age-long practice, if supported by the citizenry. Godwin Haruna writes:

They roam the streets from dawn to dusk searching for what to eat. In street alleys, some of their parents, who sent them out in the first place, wait for the returns. Some others are hedged in small huts where they secure the lives and properties of their masters as security guards. All around Lagos and indeed, prominent towns in Nigeria, this is the face of some children born to Shuwa Arabs.

To them, there is nothing like school. Some do not even have the benefit of attending the Koranic Islamic schools, which is so prevalent in most societies in the northern states. From day to day, week to week, months running into years, the routine is the same: Begging along highways despite the inherent risks and hazards. The Lagos scenario presents a more frightening dimension to the risks involved in this ‘trade’ essentially because of the ubiquitous ‘danfo’ driver, who has scant regard for highway ethics. In their madness to get all the money in one day, the Lagos commercial driver does not brook any hindrance on his path. It is this attitude that makes the job of the beggars more difficult as they are seldom knocked down.

It appears there is a silver lining on the wall for these otherwise forgotten children through a private initiative of some Nigerians spear-headed by Mrs. Doris Yaro. A presidential award winner after her national service in Kaduna State, Yaro refused to be enticed with an offer of employment in the federal civil service in order to have enough time to work for the poor.

With the balance of the house keeping allowance she gets from her husband monthly and support of some public-spirited Nigerians, this humanist from Borno State caters to the needs of these neglected children and women so that they can have a future. For this objective, she told Thisday in an interview recently that the Gabasawa Women and Children Initiative (GWCI) was set up.

She said the GWCI is a non-governmental organisation dedicated to bringing marginalised and fringe families into the mainstream of society with a view to giving them hope.

"We are active in providing educational opportunities for children, mental and financial empowerment for their mothers. We also provide greater access to medicine and reproductive health. We spread the message of cross-religious tribal harmony through love", Yaro said in an interview.

According to her, the objectives of the non-governmental organisation is to give access to education to the children of fringe and marginalised families; train their women in economically viable skills as well as assisting them financially to start small businesses; and empowering them mentally to accept that God created them with equal opportunities to succeed just like other human beings.
Others, Yaro stated, are providing them access to healthcare, reproductive health education, and HIV/AIDS awareness and to bridge the dangerous gulf dividing the peoples of Nigeria along tribal and religious lines through the administration of love services without discrimination.

She said she has introduced soap making to the women in order to productively engage them and make them self-reliant. "Basically, we teach them how to improve on their lives. How to take care of their children. We also teach them pomade-making and sowing. We add adult education and nutrition to the training because their children are mal-nourished", she said.
She said the women are also being organised into groups where they contribute a pittance, which is given to needy members as a revolving loan.

"My passion is to touch women. I’m from the north and I’m not happy to see how women are suffering. They depend on their husbands, who earn meagre pay or nothing at all, a situation which creates disharmony among families. I grew up with some hardship personally and I don’t want these children and women to suffer similar deprivation. That’s why I decided on this course because I thought over it and reached a conclusion that one person can touch lives and make a difference", she said.

She had started the project during her national service in Kaduna State. She said when she moved to Lagos four years ago, she noticed in her neighbourhood in Ogudu G.R.A. that scores of the children of the night guards do not attend school. She said on enquiry, she was told that the parents are night guards, who usually live in the uncompleted buildings in the area. She said further that it pricked her conscience that somebody on a salary of N6000.00 per month has up to six or more children to cater for. Soon, Yaro started inviting them to her house and offering food and playing video films for the young lads. Having got used to them, they disclosed to him that they were not attending school because their parents could not afford the bills.

"Coming from the north, I was worried that such children of school age should be going to the dustbin looking for God knows what. I was not happy seeing my people do that and even people around me too felt bad about the sordid practice. So, I gathered them and asked if they would like their children to go to school and they said yes, but they don’t have the means. I decided to bring a lesson teacher and on the first day we got 25 children. As the number increased, we were able to categorise the children from age four to 14, they had never seen the four walls of a primary school. They go around picking from the dustbin and begging, which is a source of embarrassment. We later took them to school and they are up to 60 now", Yaro said.

She said they are so happy attending school and most of them are doing well. When asked if they want to do the job their parents are doing, their response is usually no. She said the idea of the various professions is gradually building up in them.
Yaro affirmed that her dream is not restricted to the Lagos area alone, she plans to touch all marginalised peoples across the country.
"We want to touch families all over Nigeria. We don’t care what tribe you belong to, we don’t care about your religion, we only care about needy and marginalised people wherever they may be. Ogudu is just the starting point. Our vision is broad and wide as long as resources can carry us", she said.

However, Yaro stated that she could not do all these alone since she does not earn extra income apart from the balance of her house keeping and wardrobe allowance, which her magnanimous husband offers. She said she will rather go about in Nigerian wax dresses than buy the expensive wrappers and see many more people suffer.

She said her biological children were in Chrisland School, but they were withdrawn to a less fee-paying school so that, the balance from there could augment her pet project. She also stated that her good neighbours like Mrs. Priscilia Eneji, have been assisting with paying the school fees of the less privileged kids she enrolled in school. She said the support she receives from these people have always boosted her morale to continue. She looks at Mother Theresa of the Catholic Church, who devoted her life to the poor, as her role model.

"I pray every day of my life, God make me like Mother Theresa. It took Mother Theresa years before people came to her aid and even today, people are still
helping the project she started", she said.

Also speaking at the interview, Mrs. Esther Otuya, a member of the board of Trustees of GWCI said she was attracted to the project because of the determination of Mrs. Yaro to the idea. Otuya said she felt duty bound to see the success of the project because of her own past, which was not rosy.

She commended Yaro for being a special breed for coming out of her comfort zone to assist the poor and marginalised. She said they would attract support to the project once their deeds started speaking for them in the society.

Yaro added her voice that she was not out to make money, but primarily to assist the poor. "I want my work to speak for me. By the grace of God, I’m comfortable, I have food to eat and I have shelter. We want people to know that we are not like others seeking for money for ulterior motives, but we need money to expand the scope of our project. We want to touch lives", she added.

She said because of stigmitisation, the children are sent to private school where there is close monitoring of the kids. She commended the proprietress of the school she sends the children for slashing their fees by half.

Yaro said her projection is that in the next few years, she will be able to establish a colony for the Shuwa Arabs in Lagos, where they will be schools and a vocational centre to teach the various trades."

PCF: Giving succour to street children

PCF: Giving succour to street children


Pupils of Precious Childcare Foundation
during an anniversary.
Pic By DARE ALESHINLOYE

Princess Adetokunbo Abimbola is the wife of the popular Professor Wande Abimbola. Kunle OlayenI, in this piece, writes on her concen for abandoned and neglected children and how her non-governmental organisation ( NGO) is striving to end the menace through various training and programmes.

PRINCESS Adetokunbo Wande Abimbola was alarmed by the growing number of children roaming the streets, especially of Lagos, where she operates a nursery and primary school. And being a person whose job involves constant interaction with children, she knew a lot of things about them; their needs, their problems and so on.

She used to wonder how those children abandoned, neglected and orphaned as a result of various circumstances would fare on the streets, where their well-being and future were left to fate.

“Anytime you go out, you see these children carrying trays, hawking, living practically on the streets and each time I see them, I do interview them. They give me various reasons, some of which are very sad to narrate. Some of them are orphans, some of them abandoned, some of them were on the streets due to poverty.

“In some cases, their parents sent them out to go and bring money in; in fact, they had become bread winners for their parents and some are just abandoned children right from childhood. So I went through these experiences and I felt that something should be done to take care of this category of children,” she explained in an interview with the Nigerian Tribune.

Therefore, Princess Adetokunbo Wande Abimbola established a non-governmental organisation called Precious Childcare Foundation (PCF) in 1995 with the objective of educating and empowering the abandoned and neglected children as well as highlighting the social and health problems facing this group with a view to finding solutions to them.

Consequently, the foundation started organising series of awareness programmes and other sensitization activities in various states of the federation, all geared towards putting an end to the social malaise.

And on July 29, 2004, the foundation brought to limelight its first project, which was the Precious Home for street children and orphans of HIV/AIDS victims. The home is located in Alagbon, Oyo town in Oyo State. It was commissioned by the wife of the former governor of Oyo State, Alhaja Mutiat Olayinka Ladoja.

Two years after the home was declared open, the PCF received a boost from the Oyo State government. Precisely Saturday July 29, 2006 at the Aruna De Plaza Hotel in Oyo which marked the home’s second anniversary, Oyo State First Lady, Chief (Mrs.) Kemi Alao-Akala, confirmed government’s recognition of the activities of the foundation and its executive director, Princess Adetokunbo.

Represented at the occasion by the wife of the Speaker of Oyo State House of Assembly, Chief (Mrs.) Funke Atilola, the First Lady in her address stated that caring for orphans and vulnerable children requires immediate and sustained action at all levels of government.

According to her, over two million children are orphaned by AIDS in Nigeria and the rapid increase in the number of orphans is posing greater danger to the nation.

The governor’s wife commended Princess Adetokunbo and urged her not to relent in her “good job to humanity.” She donated, on behalf of the state government, mattresses, several bags of foodstuff, household items and a sum of N100,000 for the upkeep of children of the home.

Alhaja Sherifat Oyenike Amuda, Alhaja Khadijat Okunlola Oba-bi and Mrs. Funmilola Odunewu, wives of chairmen of Oyo East, Oyo West and Afijio local government areas respectively present at the ceremony, also pledged their continuous support to the foundation.

A keynote address by the Registrar of Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, Dr. (Mrs.) Josephine Oyebanji, highlighted the consequences of failure to rescue the less privileged children on the society.

Delivering the address titled: “NGOs to the rescue,” Dr. Oyebanji noted that the abandoned children of today are the threats to the security of tomorrow.

“The government at the federal, state and local levels should have social welfare packages to cater for the poor. The NGOs could be assisted from such packages,” Dr. Oyebanji further urged.

The ceremony, which was attended by Professor Wande Abimbola, Professor Bade Ajuwon and Senator Adebiyi Adekeye among other dignitaries, also witnessed the dedication of vocational training tools, commissioning of a computer set and exhibition of various works of art done by children of the home.

The children also entertained the audience with beautiful cultural performances and choveography which earned them encomiums from the audience.

However, the PCF executive director pointed out hat inadequate fund has been the major constraint to the effort of the foundation.

She called on various governments, corporate bodies and endowed well-meaning individuals to assist the foundation, saying such was necessary for PCF to realise its objective.

SORRY STORY OF NIGERIA’S STREET KIDS: Wasted by poverty in the land

SORRY STORY OF NIGERIA’S STREET KIDS: Wasted by poverty in the land
By Chioma Anyagafu, Assistant Editor and Fred Iwenjora

Posted to the Web: Saturday, February 04, 2006

The best way to make children good is to make them happy — Oscar Wilde.

IN Nigeria, there is a class of children who neither feel good, nor are happy.

Their outlook paints a vivid picture of their state of helplessness.
They appear unkempt and totally hopeless of what the future holds.
In their tattered clothes, they find homes in the most filthy and awkward places like abandoned buildings, under overhead bridges and school premises. Usually, they retire to these “abodes” at dusk and dash out early in the morning before the prying eyes of security agents or the rightful owners of the structures turn out for business.

With a bottle of water mixed with little soap or another detergent in one hand and an improvised brush in the other, he walks to a car in a traffic uninvited and begins to wash his windscreen, hoping that the car owner or driver would show compassion and give them whatever pleases him or her. At the other end, you see a teenage girl of school age hawking oranges at a time she should have been in the classroom. She does not attend any school.
Yet, there are others whose only source of livelihood is begging for alms. These ones approach you with words that will soften any heart. In that brief encounter of less than one minute, they will tell you the grief they have been passing through.

Welcome to the lives of Nigeria’s street kids! They seem not covered by the Nigerian constitution which clearly spells out in Section 34, sub-section 1c that “no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.” Many of them, indeed, are “forced” to perform “compulsory labour.”
And because “pretty much all the honest truth telling there is in this world is done by children” as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, these needy children make no pretences about their poor state nor would they conceal the hardship they had been made to endure.

However, there are some among them who go into the odd jobs and use the proceeds to train themselves in schools or to start off a trade.
Their reasons for resorting to living off the street are common: abject poverty, battle to survive, being deceived to come to the cities for non-existent jobs and/or househelps pushed to hawk or into the streets by their host families.

For Sa’adatu Ibrahim, she had lived in the street since she was five. She is now 16 and says that it is her child that now does the job more.

“This (begging) is what I have been doing from when I was very young, maybe about five years. I was living with my mother in the Quarters in Oyingbo. At that time, I was giving my mother whatever I made. We also had an overall head. Even my mother went to deliver daily account to him.”
The more pathetic story is that Sa’a (as she prefers to call herself) married a cripple who himself was a beggar. “When I grew up, I married,” she says, rather proudly. “I used to carry my husband around to beg. Now, he is sick and I’m doing the begging with my child.

“It is not nice to beg. I know it but what do I do? Some become sick and die. Others run back to the North. Some of us (girls) marry beggars like us who have no homes. Some just get belle (pregnant) and they give them husbands.
“The girls don’t go far because there is always someone watching them. The boys, at times, go back to the North. Some get jobs as mai guard (security guards) or mai suya (meat sellers) in Lagos.”
Is there anything that can persuade Ibrahim to stop begging? “I don’t like it. Many of us don’t like to beg. We do it because we don’t have anything (with which) to feed ourselves. If the government gives me a job as a cleaner today, I will stop this work.”

Okechukwu Chibueze, 14, is an Ebonyi State indigene. He was lured by his uncle to join the latter’s retail business. He knew he ought to be at school rather than on the streets. But poverty drove him out of home to an uncertain future.
“It was my uncle who brought me to Lagos,” he told Saturday Vanguard. “We were selling air freshner, dryer, key holders and other things for him. I found out that one had to trek all over Lagos to sell these things. Sometimes, we would trek to many places without food and without sales. And we were only allowed to take pure water.
“One day, a friend of mine told me we should go to where there’s always traffic (jam) and where there is traffic light so that when the light shows red, we could wash people’s windscreens. He told me that the kind ones would give us money.
“That is what I have been doing instead of going up and down without food. I didn’t want to starve to death. I must not deny what God has done to me. At the end of the day, one makes up to N500 or more sometimes. On a very bad day, you can make less.

“But the trouble now is that many other children are getting into the business. You see small small boys of about seven, eight years doing the same work. I may soon quit or change location.”

Though he prefers what he does today to life in the past, he is far from recommending it to other young people. “No, I don’t support any child from a good (wealthy) background to do it. I’m doing it because I have no choice. I would have loved to continue with my education and not drop out. But there was nobody to help me.
“Again. there are some car owners and drivers who are very wicked. That they won’t give you money is not the problem. The way they would shout at you and talk to you would make you cry when you get home. Such people should know that if we had the opportunity, we would want to be like their own children, going to good schools and not lacking anything.”

The job of cleaning people’s windshields without invitation comes with its own hazards, as Chibueze learnt one day. It was a bitter lesson and an experience he says he will not forget.

Hear him: “One day, in the process of lifting someone’s wiper, I broke it. I have never cried like I did on that day because the man actually told me not to wash his windscreen. He just parked his car and arrested me. As I was crying, other people continued begging him to forgive me. When he released me, I felt like going back to my village. But what will I be doing if I decide to go home tomorrow?”

Olufemi Lawal, 15, shares the same feelings with Chibueze. “I have done all kinds of jobs since I came to Lagos from Abeokuta. I have hawked pure water, sweets and biscuits. But how many people buy sweets and biscuits? And it’s like everybody is now hawking pure water.

“So, I decided to join those who clean car windscreens when there is go slow (traffic jam). You don’t need much capital to start off. Just a bucket, detergent, water and a brush and that’s it. I have done this in many parts of lagos, from Apapa to Ijora and sometimes Ojuelegba bridge. But it is frustrating. Some people don’t want you to even touch their vehicles. Some will not give you anything after you had finished washing their windscreen. Some people will even shout at you when you come close as if you are a thief.”

What are his ambitions? “Ah, ambition ke! If I have money, I’ll get a shop and start something. I’m also not too old to return to school. I left school when I was in JSS II because my father and mother separated. My mother said she could not train three of us at the same time and I decided to come and see what I could do in L
agos.”
Isa Abubakar (8) and Idris Salihu (10) spoke to us through an interpreter in Abuja. Hear Abubakar: “I’m not in school because I don’t have anybody to train me. My father is dead and only my mother can’t send four of us to school. That’s why we beg.”

Asked if he would prefer to go to school or to continue to beg, Isa replied: “If I see somebody to help me, I’ll like to go to school.” And what about his other siblings? “Three of us are doing the same thing with our mother, but we don’t know where Shehu (first son) is. He left the house since last year.”

Salihu’s case is not different. “I like to work if you can give me one,” said the ten-year old. “Yes, I like to work than to beg. But there is no job for me to do. I live with my family.” Asked who his father is, and where they live, Idris looked a bit agitated. “I don’t know. Why do you want to know?” “Just to go and beg your father to send a find boy like you to school,” he was told. “Will you give him money?” “Yes,” he was told. “Then, give it to me to take it to him,” he hit back. He smiled and walked away.

Tina Mordi, 13, hawks oranges in Port Harcourt. She told Saturday Vanguard: “I was brought here by one of my relations to live with one family. My parents were told that I would help my madam (who’s nursing a baby) to take care of the child when she gets to work and to learn a trade in the evening. This is my second year and I’ve not started anything. I’m not happy doing this but I know that one day, I’ll find a way to go home.”

Temitope Mudashiru from Badagry, Lagos State ran away from his grandmother under whose custody he had been for years. His mother re-married and now lives with her husband in Osun State. What bothers Mudashiru more is that he does not know his father or how to trace him. Neither does he know his mother very well because he had always lived with his grandmother who is now old.

“I have lived under the bridges for a long time,” Tope reveals. “I have been a bus conductor and sometimes, my friends and I stay at the bus-stops to carry loads. There are some lorries that bring in big loads from the North to Lagos. I mean trailers and even containers for some big companies around the market. We do the off-loading and at the close of the day, they pay us and I go to where I usually sleep. Sometimes, we sleep inside the vehicles which are no longer in good condition and use them as our house.

“There are days too that there is no business at all. For instance, since Christmas, business has not been good because some of these companies that bring in the goods opened not too long ago. So, we just hang around, looking for small businesses to do. Sometimes too, I join vehicles plying Ojuelegba and do the conductor job but not all the time. There are even days I don’t do anything and I sleep throughout the day.

“But I want you to know that I don’t do drugs. I don’t steal. Many Nigerians think that those of us who sleep under the bridges are Igbo (Indian hemp) smokers or that we are all thieves. It is not true. Some people do this, I agree but it’s not everybody. Some of us are there because we have nobody to support us.”

Mudashiru’s big dream is to meet his father. “My greatest desire is to meet my mother so that she will tell me who my father is. I’d asked my grandmother but she said she doesn’t know. I want to learn a job or to start a business but I don’t have the money. Maybe, if I meet my father one day, he will be able to help me. I am not happy the way I’m living because sometimes, policemen come to arrest us. I don’t want this kind of life.”

Emmanuel Inyang hails from Ugep in Cross River State but hawks oranges at the age of ten. “I live with one auntie who is Igbo,” he says. “My cousin brought me to Lagos and handed me to her. I don’t know whether I’m paid any money (salary) because it was my cousin who discussed with her.

“Her (the woman’s) kids go to school but I don’t. I don’t like how I am treated. I am always the last to sleep. I don’t eat when they are eating. I’ve told my cousin (that) I want to go home but he says I should wait small (a little).”
Inyang knows that things would not dramatically change for the better when he returns home. But he prefers to endure whatever deprivations than to be enslaved. “The other day, a bus hit one boy who was selling groundnut and I don’t know whether he died or not. I don’t want that kind of thing to happen to me.

“If government makes education free at all levels, it will help many of us from poor families. I am ready to return to school if I see someone who can train me. I am not happy that my madam’s children go to school and I only wash clothes, sell anything they give to me and do all the works in the house.”

However, there are some teenagers who utilise what they get from doing menial jobs to pursue their goals in life. They vow that there is no giving up because there is no fall-back situation.

Ayuba Okosage is a secondary school student but works in a car wash company. At the close of school and during weekends, he comes around like some others to make some money with which to support their education.
Said Okosage: “I’ve been into this for four years. The owner of this pit has another one in Ikotun area. When he told me he has built another one in Ejigbo (in Lagos State), I moved. Every morning I am here from the Ikotun area where I live with my parents. My father has six children and I am the fourth. I come from Agenebode in Edo State.”

Asked why he was not in school on this day, he said: “we’ve resumed but nothing is serious yet. You see, I discovered that the car wash business is very lucrative. I started it when I found out that my parents could not provide for what all of us needed. They (parents) do their best but I told myself that we needed to help them.
“Yes, they always pay our school fees but you don’t expect them to take care of everything. So, the money I make helps a lot. During holidays, I come here as early as 8.30 a.m. and do not go home until 6 p.m. or 6.30 depending on how the customers arrive.

“I would love to study engineering if I ever have the opportunity to go to the university. I pray to God everyday to give me the chance. But let me tell you something: if government makes education free, those of us whose parents are not wealthy, can go to the university.

“From the little I make from this job, I also give something to my other brothers and sisters. My appeal is that those in government should make the suffering less for the poor families. It is so painful to see young girls and boys who should be in the classrooms going around selling oranges, apples and pure (satchet) water.
“I say so because most of the armed robbers we have in Nigeria are those who did not have the chance to go to school or to learn a trade. We appeal to President (Olusegun) Obasanjo to do something now to help the youths.”

Emmanuel Omosun from Irrua, Edo State told this paper that he dropped out of school almost at the time he was about to write his junior secondary school examinations. He is, indeed, blunt. “I came to this place (car wash) to help myself. I live with my elder sister who sells petty things. My mother lives at home just as my daddy and it was extremely difficult to make ends meet until my friend introduced me to this place. I have been here for the past four months.
“My brother, poverty is a big sin. My age mates have everything they need while I am here struggling to survive. That is h
ow cruel life is.”

Asked if he would love to go to the university and what course he would love to study, Emmanuel says: “Abeg, beg make man chop first. I wan(t) save the money before I know what to do with am. Poor man dey dream say im wan chop rice?

Sola Ladipo is in SSS III who took his destiny into his own hands. “My family is extremely poor. I pay my fees from the return I get from what I do. My family members do not even know what I do. I am the one training myself. I take nothing away from my parents. The simple truth is that they don’t have and the government doesn’t care.

“Since I am in SSS III, it means our school certificate examination is coming soon and I need more money to register for the exam. I would work extra hard to make that amount. After that, I’ll decide what to do next. It’s one thing at a time. But the Federal Government must be ashamed that her youths have to go through all these to be educated. What is the future for the little ones that are not in school and cannot train themselves? It’s a shame.”
But will the Nigerian government, please, listen and do something to lessen the burden and set the kids on the right path than having her tomorrow’s leaders to live on the streets?