Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
Thirteen-year-old Ismaee Muhammad is a classic example of the growing number of street kids, swamping the streets of Jalingo, Taraba State capital, in the recent times.
He survives in the street, day in and out, collecting, selling scraps and other related items to different buyers. He also comes handy in discharging any other domestic assignment as long as it pays.
Very often, he goes for days without a normal meal and endures nights without a decent shelter, sleeping whenever and wherever he meets darkness and nightfall. When the sun shines in the day, it is certain to cast its temper on him, the same for the rain, which beats and wets him when it falls.
He told Daily Sun he is already accustomed to living a rugged life and is no longer deterred by the storm. He narrated how he left his village in Takum, full of hope to stay with an uncle in the capital city: “Now, I don’t go there anymore. I am hustling for myself and making my money from selling these scraps and working for people.
“I want to make money, start up my own shop and become an Alhaji (a wealthy person), but it is not easy. They pay us small money for plenty scraps and at times, when we are sleeping, unknown persons come over and steal all our money, forcing me to start all over again.”
He admitted he never liked the idea of going to school. He preferred to be a businessman: “When I get money plenty, I can build schools for my children but I don’t want to go to school.”
Unlike the conventional and well-known practice of “Almajiri” system, these street kids do not go about with dishes looking for food to eat or begging for alms. They set out, at a dishearteningly young age, to face some of the toughest challenges of life.
by and he interacted with other kids in the same platform, the idea of returning home everyday to render returns to his grandmother became unappealing to him. He wanted to be the master of his own fate.
The deciding moment came when he tasted the feel of a night outside. He spent it with some kids and unfortunately, on that night some older boys besieged them and carted away his days’ sales and whatever was left of his groundnuts, together with the tray. When he woke up, he resolved never to return home until he has made enough money to repay his grandmother for the groundnuts.
Ironically, Abdul, who has been in the streets for the past six months, is optimistic that no one would look for him or ask him to return home. He stressed that no one has looked for him or has lodged a formal report to the police about a missing young boy while recalling that it has been the dream of his grandmother to see him out in the street fending for himself:
“My grandmother used to send me out to sell groundnuts. Sometimes, my friends would follow me around. One day, they came and stole my money and the remaining groundnuts and went away with everything while I was sleeping with my friends on the veranda.
“So I said that I would join their business and get enough money before I will go back home. My grandmother will even be happy that I am not coming back because she used to mock me that my mates were in the streets making money and I wanted her to feed me while send me to school.”
Unlike Ismaee, Abdul had desired to go to school at some point in his life. He aspired to become an Islamic scholar but his grandmother would not hear of it:
“I wanted to go to school and study Quran and Arabic very well so that I would become an original teacher. But my grandmother said that I should be selling groundnuts so that we would get money.
“She said going to school was a waste of time. That is how I started selling groundnuts. But now that I am on my own, if I get the money, I will go to school.”
The life of a street kid is nothing good to imagine. They do not only have to face extreme hardship in search of a livelihood, they are also exploited, physically and mentally. On several occasions, most of them have lost their earnings to older boys while they are sleeping. Some also have been outrightly cheated, with no one to fight or speak for them.
An instance is the case of Abdul, who worked for a shop owner in Jalingo but was denied his pay. Abdul told Daily Sun that the shop owner recruited him to weed his shop’s environs, and clear the gutter in front of the shop, but refused to pay him at the end of the job. When he complained, the man threatened to beat him up under the guise that he did not do a good job:
“One man asked me to weed his shop and to pack the dirt in the gutter in front o his shop. He said he would pay me N700. When I finished doing everything, he gave me N200 and said that I did not do the work very well. He was there when I was doing the work and he saw everything that I did but he refused to pay me because he knew that there was nobody to fight for me.”
Apart from these bitter experiences, the kids are constantly exposed to risk of health related hazards arising from their life styles. They scavenge what they eat from dumpsites and some go about bare footed, sometimes without cloth to cover their bodies. They also spend most of their nights in front of shops or on the pedestrian walks.
“None of these is a way to a healthy living. They are therefore regular victims of pneumonia, malaria, typhoid and cholera among others,” said a medical doctor who pleaded not to be mentioned.
According Dr. Daliop Daacha, “these kids are not only exposed to psychological trauma and horrible experiences that precondition their minds towards violence and negativity, but they are also exposed to some of the worst conditions for children at their age: “Even when they don’t see clear manifestations of the danger to their health at the moment, these dangers would manifest in the latter stages of their lives.”
These kids pose even a greater danger to the society. Recently, there has been an upsurge in violent criminal activities within Jalingo metropolis orchestrated by the very youngsters in their teens. It is not out of place to believe that these kids roaming about the streets are partly responsible for the rise in crime wave in the state and the country.