For some time now, many indigenes of Ibadan have become worried by what many have termed to be a time bomb ticking away by the day and getting set to explode in the near future. The sight of school age children between the ages of 8 and 11 roaming the streets when they should be in schools where they would be prepared ahead for challenges that would come their ways later in life has caused many residents of the Oyo State capital a lot of worry.
Street Journal’s investigations showed that these children sleep in street corners, under sheds and sometimes in kiosks in the Mokola-Sabo axis. At times, they capitalise on loopholes to sleep in front of shops and at a point in time, they had to be driven away from the Recreation Club where a number of them had sneaked in and were almost making the place a home.
Incidentally, the children are all boys and they make a living for themselves by doing odd jobs just like the almajiris in the North. These boys have strategically divided themselves into groups. A group operates from Mokola Roundabout while another one operates from the junction leading to the Cultural Centre from Elizabeth Road.
Most times, they capitalize on the functioning of the traffic lights or wait for a traffic jam before swinging into operation. They wipe car windscreens for no definite price. The small boys arm themselves with a bottle of dissolved detergent which they spray on the windscreen and subsequently use their other implement to wipe it off. Telling them not to touch your car does not in any way affect their hope of getting money from you as they simply come to your window side and ask in Yoruba, “e joo e fun wa l’ówo ka fi jeun” (please give us money so that we can have some food to eat).
Investigations have shown that none of the boys goes to school. Attempts to communicate with them in English language failed as they were just looking, unable to respond to any of the questions asked. Some of them disclosed that their parents were not able to send them to school as they had no money to do so. Some others said they resorted to fending for themselves as their parents were not willing to cater for them.
Apart from cleaning windshields and begging for alms, some of them fish in the “Dandaruu” pond in Mokola and sell the day’s catch by the roadside. The unsold are apparently consumed when they retire to their dens. The boys are on the road for the better part of the day and they eat only for fuel, caring less about nutritional value. They feed on poff poff, buns and when the market is good, they buy soft drinks, on normal days, pure water is okay.
While it is obvious that the kids took to the streets because their parents do not care, they don’t seem to feature in the plans of the state government either. These abandoned street kids operate on roads that are frequented by government officials, yet nothing has been done to either take them off the roads, compel them to go to school or learn trades that can make them stand at par with their mates in the future.
In the Second Republic, the Government of Oyo State made education free. Some of the children that benefitted from the scheme when Chief Bola Ige was the Governor of Oyo State now occupy top positions thus making the state the better for it. Quite unfortunately, the story has not remained the same as successive administrations in the state have changed focus as there is less focus on child development. Gone are those days when school age children found on the roadsides were apprehended and their parents questioned.
These days, government policies are not what they used to be, the efficiency of the Government is no longer felt in all sectors as it used to be the case in the past. Where good policies are formulated, lip service is paid to the implementation of such policies. The present Government is harping on an empowerment scheme for the youths; meanwhile children who will eventually become youths in the near future are neglected.
Such children could end up security risks in a time to come. Most people have already opined that it might not augur well for the society if those street children around Mokola are left unchecked and allowed to grow up together in that state. Some observers noted that already the children are building themselves up into a clan and if care is not taken, they might embrace a life of crime. The capital city of Oyo State is already feeling their impact as investigations have revealed that some of the older ones among them have grown and no longer stay on the roadside to beg. They have since gone into other forms of business including okada (commercial motorcycling), luggage carrying in markets and stealing.
Not a few people have been dispossessed of their belongings including bags, phones and money by motorcyclists in Ibadan. While some take advantage of the solitude and quietness of some areas to rob their passengers, some others simply snatch bags from their bikes and move on.
With time too, they could become willing tools in the hands of politicians and who knows, in these days of suicide bombings, they could easily be lured by perpetrators of terrorist activities.