They call them ‘Skolombo boys’, which literally means, a dangerous and mindless gang constituted by destitute or street boys and girls that roam the streets freely. They are without father or mother and homes. These gangs of homeless street children, comprising mainly of teenagers, were obviously abandoned to fend for themselves by their unknown parents.
They have roamed various parts of Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, with little attention from the public for some years.
These street children have become a major threat to residents of Calabar. The growing menace stems from the obvious signs of criminal tendencies they exhibit.
People have also called them ‘Imoke Boys’ as a result of the Destiny Child Centre run by the wife of the governor, Mrs. Obioma Imoke. The governor’s wife, had through this pet project, gathered such abandoned street children in the past, rehabilitated and reunited them with their respective families. But it appears the number of such children is growing now as no new intake has been admitted into the centre in recent time, according to investigation.
It was learnt that the idea of gathering abandoned street children and rehabilitating them might have been hampered for two reasons. The first was that the success of the idea brought about the problem of increasing number of abandoned children who found their way to Calabar from neighbouring states and countries. Secondly, funds from international donors had reduced drastically.
Most of them have survived on the streets for over 10 years under harsh conditions and have over these years adopted strategies to cope with the harsh realities of their lives.
Fifteen-year-old Raymond Godswill from Ebonyi State said he never knew his parents. He said he grew up with his grandmother in Amasiri, who told him that his mother died shortly after giving birth to him and that she (grandmother) did not know the father.
Godswill, who currently resides in one undeveloped plot of land with a dilapidated structure behind it along the popular Atekong Street with nine others, said they have different talents and could excel in any trade if given formal training.
He said, “I have not seen my parents before. All my life, I have only known my grandmother who told me that my mother died shortly after giving birth to me. I found my way to Calabar for greener pastures. We have different talents; I play football and can achieve something great in life if I can get someone to help me. We have those among us who have interest in music as a career. We are begging for assistance.”
Also, 25-year-old John Eteh from Akwa Ibom State told Southern City News at the same hideout where Godswill resides that they roamed the streets of Calabar for months before 10 of them finally came together, discovered and occupied the undeveloped site.
He said, “We were roaming the streets looking for plastics when we identified this place. We are 10 in number. We got to know each other in the course of roaming the streets and we scavenge for plastics and other materials, which we sell to make ends meet. We always warn one another other against being involved in crime.”
A visit to one of the hideouts revealed a sorry situation as one of the children was in critical health situation with no money to seek medical attention. “We do not have money to take him to hospital,” one of the angry teenagers shouted.
The situation is not different at the unkempt park opposite the Flour Mills Junction along the busy Murtala Mohammed Highway, where some of the abandoned children have been exposed to social vices caused by prostitutes who flock the area.
A teenager, who was rather unfriendly during an interaction with our correspondent, shouted that he would not wish to speak, insisting that he would smash any mobile phone or camera that was used to either take his picture or that of his colleagues.
Over the years, Calabar and Cross River State at large has been a global destination in the tourism sector in Nigeria. In fact, the popular Calabar Carnival, which has found its way into the world map of tourism events, attracts no fewer than 2000 foreign guests. But the activities of some of these Skolombo boys have become a threat to residents of Calabar as most of them have turned into criminal gangs who rob unsuspecting pedestrians.
In January, residents of Abua Street in Calabar South aborted a robbery spree by a 20-man-gang of teenage robbers who were said to be some of the ‘Skolombo boys’. Some of them were caught after they had raided several shops and snatched valuables from residents along Edgerley Road and other adjoining streets in Calabar South.
The State Commissioner of Social Welfare in Cross River State, Mrs. Patricia Enderly, said there had been conscious efforts to reunite the abandoned street children with their families, but added that the problem seemed to be escalating as some of the teenagers find their way back to the street shortly afterwards.
She said, “Instead of leaving them out there, we try to consciously pull them off the street, do some documentation with a view to getting information on their state of origin and their parental background. We try to reunite them with their families. But some of the guardians are proving difficult in accepting them back.
“We have continued to work; that is why they are not as many as they have been in the past because we keep taking them out. The unfortunate thing is that most of them still find their way back to the state.
“In most cases, they (street boys) are mainly from neighbouring Akwa Ibom and Ebonyi states. We also had cases of others from Cameroon which we had since repatriated. We also had one from Ghana which we sent back through Lagos. So, that is what we have to do now rather than keep them here.