• Children’s fairy tales on how they’re surviving on Abeokuta roadsides

Laide Raheem, Abeokuta

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Anyone who is conversant with the hustle and bustle cum rugged environment of Oshodi in Lagos would not find it difficult to draw a similarity between the ever-busy Oshodi and Lanfenwa in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.
Oshodi, with its attendant commercial activities, major bus stop, motor parks, railways, bedlam and preponderance of street kids as well as urchins, so is Lanfenwa with its 24 hours activities. The rugged ambience and convergence of people from all walks of life have conferred on the two locations, image of survival-of-the-fittest.
As a result of the environment, drug abuse, prostitution, gangsterism, turf wars and other crimes thrive. Young ones who run away from their homes for one reason or the other, find such environment a “safe haven.” While some survive by working as valets in the market place, some work as scavengers of metals. Others eke out a living by being errand boys to touts. Not only that the boys sleep in sheds or in open spaces where they are susceptible to attacks and other dangerous occurrences.
These young ones, who are of school age, but without no formal education and being moulded by the streets, grow up to constitute probable threats to the larger society.
To prevent this scenario, a non-governmental organization, Childhood Advancement Response And Empowerment (CARE) Initiative, via its School-In-The-Street (SITS) project, organized a day advocacy workshop on street children for key stakeholders in Lafenwa. The programme, organized in collaboration with the Ogun State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, was aimed at bringing education to the doorsteps of street children in Lanfenwa, Abeokuta.
The event held at the Railway Corporation Hall, Lafenwa, was also to commemorate the International Street Children’s Day. It was attended by representatives of the state government, police, transport unions, market women, community leaders and Baale of Abule Otun, Lanfenwa.
Coordinator of the NGO, Olakunle Sanni, listed poverty, domestic abuse, parental neglect as some of the factors responsible for street children. He disclosed that since he started the programme, with free holiday coaching for the kids in 2013, about 174 hitherto street kids benefitted from the programme.
He stated that the event’s theme: “Education – A means for Transforming Lives of Street Children,” was to reinforce the important role education plays in the life of the people. He explained that with the backing of the NYSC and the Federal College of Education, Osiele, Abeokuta, which supply corps members and student teachers respectively, he has been able to run SITS successfully.
He called on government and well-meaning individuals, to assist the centre, to rescue more street kids from the fang of societal ills and help them back to school. He told market women to encourage the kids to attend classes, instead of using them as valets.
Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Mrs. Modupe Mujota, represented by Monsuru Adebayo of the Mass Education Department of the ministry, expressed readiness of government to support CARE Initiative, in its efforts to transform the lives of the street children, through education. She noted that the free education policy of government helped in making qualitative education available to the residents of the state.
Baale of Abule Otun, Chief Ibrahim Adeniji, recollected how he, as a young boy, was lured into street life at Lanfenwa. He disclosed that it was at the location he and his colleagues were being taught how to operate as pickpockets. Adeniji, who told the gathering that he quickly retraced his steps when he discovered that he was becoming a criminal, warned the children that living on the streets would not do them any good, except they get education.
An 80-year-old community leader, Pa Lateef Aniyalorun, said as a teenager, he was a terror in the area and its environs. He, too, narrated how as a street kid in Lafenwa, was exposed to marijuana, hard liquor and political thuggery.
He, however, advised the children to avail themselves with the opportunity for education through SITS, to unleash their potentials. He pledged to assist the NGO in any form, to ensure street children of Lanfenwa get liberated from manacles of poverty, via education.
One of the children, 16-year-old Timilehin Fanaike, told Daily Sun that he had lived in the street for seven years. According to him, Timi with a street cognomen ‘Babola’, said he was living on proceeds from selling used cartons he and his colleagues picked:
“I have been living in the open at the railway station for the past seven years. I was living in Idi Aba area of Abeokuta with my parents, but my dad sent me packing from home after the demise of my mother. I sleep among the Hausa people who cramp themselves in a shed. I survive by scavenging for used cartons, which I sell to those who buy in large quantity for recycling purpose.”
Timi, who said he decided on his volition to learn vulcanizing in the area, but was sent packing by his master for his inability to provide a crate of soft drinks, two cartons of biscuits and a bottle of schnapps, said he was in Primary Six at the NGO’s school.
He equally declared his intention to study medicine, if he could get a sponsor. Timi, however, said life on the street portends several dangers such as brawls, mugging by real urchins or touts and possibility of being hit by a stray bullets of the police in pursuit of hardened criminals in the slum:
“Life here is terrible. I have always lived in fear. In fact, there was a time I was attacked while having my bath by a thief who wanted to steal my money. We engaged in fisticuffs and when he could not subdue me, he stabbed me (pointing to the scar) with a sharp object on my cheek and blood started gushing out. I am ready to do away with this life and embrace education to become a respectable citizen tomorrow.”
For 18-year-old Akeem Adelabi a.k.a Efissy, his sojourn on the street began two years ago. He was living with his uncle in Abeokuta and was in JSS Two, when the said uncle told him he could no longer fund his education:
“I was in JSS Two at Ebenezer Grammar School, Elega, Abeokuta, when my uncle told me that I should learn barbing as he could no longer fund my education. But I preferred to learn art and become a fine artist instead of barbing. He forced me, but when I could not cope, I decided to quit and stay at home after two months. It was then he asked me to leave his house if I would not do his wish by learning barbing.
“Like several of my colleagues, I scavenged for used cartons and I make between N300 and N400 daily. I pass my nights in front of a shop inside the Lafenwa Market.” Akeem, who expressed his desire to be a fine artist, however, disclosed that he was once taken back home, but he had to return to Lafenwa when his uncle refused to send him back to school or allow him to learn fine art.
Sulaiman Soetan said he was attending a private school before he dropped out, due to his parents’ inability to pay his school fees any longer. The 16-year-old and first child in a family of five added he had spent two years living as a street child.
Sulaiman, also known as “Small,” who expressed his willingness to attend SITS alongside his colleagues, disclosed he was ready to be adopted by foster parents to actualize his dreams.