By Gboyega Adeoye
Moji, 15, is the eldest of the six children of Mr. and Mrs. Adeyanju who reside in Ipaja, a Lagos suburb. Both parents lost their jobs to the hurried liquidation of Nigeria’s flag carrier, Nigeria Airways, which finally kissed the dust at the twilight of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. It was a fierce battle between government and the resilient workers. But the battle was eventually won by government.
The family was living happily at the G.R.A. end of Ikeja until tragedy struck one chilly morning when some miscreants, supported by a handful of armed men, stormed their residence with a bulldozer and leveled their abode.
The Adeyanjus happened to be among the few lucky ones to be allocated a flat in a GRA property of the moribund airline in its hey days. But when this tragedy struck, life was no longer the same for this family who at a time had tasted the juicy side of life.
All they managed to do after their ordeal was to gather all they had, including selling off some of their valuables, to secure a room and parlour apartment in Ipaja, a Lagos suburb, where they live to this moment. It was not too unbearable at the start.
When their G.R.A. abode was mowed down, Mrs. Adeyanju was running a fast growing canteen at the car park of the local airport.
The opportunity to secure a space in such business friendly environment was as a result of her husband’s connection at the Lagos gateway, where he worked for about thirty years before he was shoddily thrown out of the system.
Coping with life, however, became almost impossible when that same government again decided to close the car park to create more business space for the concessionaire that was awarded the building of the MMA2. He was to build a hotel, which to date, is still under construction.
When arrangements were concluded to use the section to build the four-star hotel, it was glaring that those transacting business around there should quit. Mrs. Adeyanju was a victim and there the sad tale began.
At the initial stage, the pride in men would not allow Mr. Adeyanju to accept the reality of his situation, as he insisted that the children should be kept in a private school despite his wife’s wise counsel that their realistic place was in the public school system.
However, when the capital base of the family began to nosedive, reality struck in the father of six. Another means and style had to be fashioned out to, at least, guarantee survival.
One of these was to withdraw the children from their school to a public school. With the lingering economic downturn, it took no time for the living standard of the Adeyanjus to further dwindle.
To cope with the school fees, even in the public school became difficult while feeding the children was by the day becoming a Herculean task. To device another means to forge ahead became inevitable, meaning a further drop in their living standard. At this point, it had dawned on the family that the Business Centre they jointly ran could no longer pay their bills.
Moulded to obedience by poverty and want, it took no time before the Adeyanjus prevailed on their children to engage in the business of selling chilled sachet water, (pure water) after school hours.
Their mother would buy ice block and chill the sachet water (pure water) which the children, including four year old Tola, would hawk at points of traffic gridlock and at bus stops.
Because Tola is young, she is not allowed to go as far as the older ones who sometimes trek as far as Cement Bus Stop (a distance of about 20 kilometers) or Iyana Ipaja (about 15 kilometers) as the case may be, to hawk their wares.
Tola was a pathetic sight when this reporter accosted her at the Low Cost Estate gate at Abesan, along Ipaja in Mosan Okunola Local Council Development Area (LCDA), of Lagos State. Holding firmly to a sizable plastic bowl on her head with water dripping profusely from her soaked dress, she moved from one commercial bus to the other. Her fragile, yet sonorous voice pierced through the rowdiness of the environment as she cajoled fagged out workers returning home in the commercial buses to “buy cold pure water.”
And she seems to be popular. Majority of the bus drivers and passengers call her by her nick name, “LARONDO” (Yoruba for short or diminutive) which she answers to with pride. Many of the passersby who spoke about the commercial activity of Larondo in that vicinity gave the impression that she is a kid with a business sense that transcends her little frame and age. “One interesting thing about her is that she gets to this point at exactly 3:00pm and she would not leave until around 8:00pm.
On weekends, be sure to see her here from 8am to 8pm,” an eyewitness testified. “Daddy has no money and mummy said we should be doing this so that we can pay our school fees and buy good dresses like our friends,” was the tacit response this reporter got when Idowu, 8, Tola’s elder brother was asked what led them to hawking.
“Our senior ones hawk their wares at a far place where they make better sales. But we can’t go too far because we are still young,” he quipped. The travail of the Adeyanju children is one of the many cases of seemingly unavoidable child labour cases in Lagos and other cities across Nigeria.
Battered and bruised by the collapsing economy, Lagos families are daily devising one strategy or the other to keep afloat in the face of the lingering instabilities. Being tormented by skyrocketing prices of essential commodities and the terrible housing problem in Lagos, many families have been forced to throw decorum to the winds and engage t in whatever could keep body and soul apiece, not minding the level of degradation and risk.
Even when the children have inalienable rights to education and basic parental care, such laws seem to have been naturally subdued by the prevailing poverty in the land. Not long ago, there was a report of a thirteen year old orange hawker that was raped by three adults to a state of coma, at Itele area of Ogun State. The young girl would have passed out but for the timely intervention of a Good Samaritan who saw her wriggling in a pool of her own blood and decided to whisk her to a nearby hospital.
Many state governments have taken steps to curb the exposure of children and minors to the risky business of hawking on the highways. In Lagos State for instance, government officials go on periodic patrol of the highways to rid them of hawkers. But trust Lagosians, the more government tries to curb the menace, the more they come up with ingenious ways to outwit the law.
Government officials who are burdened with the task of ensuring that Lagos streets are rid of child hawkers often wonder why each time they think they have achieved some measure of success, before they know it, these minors are back on the streets, trading their futures away!