By Talemoh Wycliffe Dah MD
‘’Alhaji, Alhaji, may Allah bless you’’.
I ignored him.
‘’May Allah grant you everything you wish for’’.
I tapped to raise the glass on my (driver’s) side.
‘’You will be a governor’’.
This is becoming amusing.
‘’God will grant you paradise’’.
‘’Alhaji, buy a plastic bucket for me so I can sell sachet water’’.
‘’How much is that?’’
‘’Seven hundred Naira’’
‘’Where is it sold?’’
‘’At the market over there’’, he pointed at the opposite direction.
‘’Here, have it’’, I gave him one thousand Naira and off he ran away towards the market after saying ‘’thank you’’.
Then the musings and cogitations began in my mind.
Did I just encourage child labour? This thirteen or so year old ought to be at school by now. No, it’s holiday period. Even at that, it’s still child labour. No, I just recognize an entrepreneurial spirit and encouraged it. Didn’t you notice his entrepreneurial arch? He will purchase the bucket and a bag of pure (sachet) water costing 250 Naira. He will make 200 Naira probably five times today. All his. If he feeds with 300 Naira daily, he could save 700 Naira daily and 21,000 Naira monthly, much more that the 5,000 Naira I told one head of an institution the other day it was very wicked of him to pay as salary. He told me to come to his house at seven and see the number of people who come to beg him for the 5,000 Naira monthly job. Kai!
What led to this? This urchin would have come to the conclusion that he will make more money by selling pure water than by begging. The economy has been tough of late and the giving spirit in us has not been persuasive enough. We have cut on so many things, including the religious duty of giving to the less privileged, a category into which we ourselves are almost falling. Or the beggars are increasing in numbers while the givers’ capacity is reducing. Either way, the boy had to do something if not he may not survive. Even petty thievery is not an option because everybody holds tenaciously to his belongings nowadays.
What led to the boy coming here? Either almajiranci or hijranci. He spoke Bagobiri’s Hausa so I know he is not from here. If it was the quest for scholarship, it was probably wrongly done for no fault of his. His parents do not know the tutor and do not pay him for their ward’s upkeep. And his cultural neglect is no scholarship. Escaping from bandits’ danger to a place he has to prematurely fend for himself is a violation of child rights of some sort and a squandering of a vital future human resource. Here is a brilliant and dutiful boy failed by his country or, at best, victimized by his circumstances.
What will his future be like? Well, fast going are the days when you do not go to school and still become a billionaire. The minimum qualification for becoming a federal legislator or a president or governor is a school certificate, even when you been a general and head of state in the past. And, yes, to be enrolled in the military and paramilitary service nowadays you will need a secondary school certificate. So are the civil service, the private companies, etc. His entrepreneurial drive notwithstanding, he needs to be literate to transact many businesses, sign cheques and read balance sheets. He can, however, be an actor, an athlete, a musician, etc and make it big, even though these too may soon demand the school certificate. So, his future? Your guess is close to mine.
What dangers lie ahead of him? Those of lure, compulsion and choices, all occasioning theft or robbery, drug abuse, thuggery, sexual immorality and rape, for which the gates of prisons, infirmaries and the morgues are ever open. He may lose the sense of patriotism and think (perhaps rightly) that the country has cheated him and then decide to take it on society. We use to dread robbers and burglars, and now bandits, kidnappers and insurgents, but then he may be worse. I also fear for him that with no literacy (defined as the ability to read and write and drive/operate the computer), he will be one of the ‘’hewers of wood and drawers of water’’ for his peers (in Nigerian parlance, the ‘’gateman, shoe shiner and yaro boy’’).
What hope has he? He may grow to be a big businessman. He may settle and become the ward head of wherever he decides to settle. By dint of luck, some seriousness may be put into the present noise about abolishing or remodeling almajiranci and that may resettle and relocate him to his parents where he can resume school and normal family life; again that is if by luck again, we (sorry, I mean our police and military) get truly on top of the banditry/kidnapping/insurgency situation.
I wanted to make a plea on his behalf but where do I start from? Job creation? Schools? Legislation against child neglect? Elimination of kidnapping, banditry and insurgency? Curbing of drug abuse? Improvement of the economy? Fighting corruption? Putting seriousness into the promise to end almajiranci?
My prayer for him? God have mercy on Tanimu Dahiru (allow me to so give him this cognomen, the closest to my own names). He is not a rapscallion, but a victim of circumstances.
▪︎ Dah sent this from Abuja through email@example.com