…Sustain families with meagre stipends from their masters
Storis by ROMANUS UGWU, (Asst. News Editor)
At the age they left home to learn the trade and join the race for survival, most of their mates were still enjoying the warmth of parents.
Spurred by the resolve to make it in a profession forced on them by their humble backgrounds, the boys aged between 10 and 13 years are giving a good account of themselves as auto mechanics in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Welcome into the world of 12-year-old Bashiru and Shedrack Luka, who became auto mechanic apprentices at ages 10 and 13 years respectively.
Young ‘Bashiru Igala language’ as he shyly introduced himself, could neither tell his surname nor his exact village in Kogi State. Born into a polygamous family and of very poor parents who could only see him through primary school, life became so brutish and Bashiru had to sacrifice his education when, according to him, his elder sister took him to Idah at the age of 10 to become an auto mechanic apprentice.
Learning his trade at the auto mechanic village in Apo, a suburb of the FCT, Bashiru, who is 12 hopes to become a medical doctor and soldier. In an interview with Abuja Metro, the apprentice who spoke in pidgin English, told the touching story of how he found himself in a profession dominated by the strong and the mature.
Journey into apprenticeship
I started learning the job at Idah in Kogi State when I was just 10. One day, while I was staying with my parents in our village, my elder sister visited us from Idah, where she lived, and convinced them to allow her take me to Idah to learn auto mechanic.
There was no objection from my parents because long after my primary education at St. Boniface Primary School, I could not further my education. Our parents were too poor and could not afford to sponsor me through secondary school.
I understood the situation because I am from a polygamous family with 12 siblings, 10 from my mother and two other male children from my father’s second wife. From my mother’s side, we are six males and I am the fourth born.
Things were really very difficult for us because my father was not doing any other thing to sustain the family apart from farming. He was an auto mechanic, but abandoned the job and returned to the village to become a peasant.
My mother is a petty trader. One of my brothers works in bakery, while one is learning tailoring. The others are either in primary school elsewhere or doing nothing meaningful. I really want to go to school, but my parents have no money to pay my school fees. In fact, I had to give up when my elder sister suffered the same fate due to our parents’ inability to send her to school.
Coming to Abuja
After spending two years as an auto mechanic apprentice in Idah, my brother who is a vulcaniser, brought me to Abuja recently to enable me improve on my knowledge and skill on the job. I accepted it because he also promised that I would combine the apprenticeship with schooling.
Experience as an apprentice
Having spent two years learning the job, I have acquired some professional skill. I have learnt so much and have almost specialised in fixing the mechanical problems of cars like Toyota Corolla and Carina II. I have been involved in fixing the engine block. I must confess that I face challenges trying to loosen the gear box of cars because of my age and height. I am however, coming of age because I can jack and change the tyres.
Going back to school
For now, I want to continue with my mechanic apprenticeship. I want to go back to school when the new academic session starts this year. Although, my condition has compelled me to become an auto mechanic, I would be happier to return to school and graduate as a medical doctor. My ultimate aim, however, is to join the military. I really want to be a soldier because I want to fight and defend my country.
Means of survival
I survive on the stipend my master gives me at the close of work every evening. He gives me between N100 and N500 depending on the number of customers we had each day. Sometimes, some of our customers also give me money out of pity because they see me as too young to be in the trade.
I do not know when my apprenticeship will end because there was no formal written agreement on how long I will stay, maybe because I am just 12 years old. The good thing is that I am learning the job very fast and if God touches my brother’s heart to send me to school, I will be very happy.
I dropped out in elementary three – Luka
Like Bashiru, the story of 16-year-old Shedrack Luka, an indigene of Vom Local Government Area of Plateau State is pathetic. He recalled how he dropped out of school in primary three, when the suffering became unbearable and left his town, Vom, for Abuja to become an auto mechanic apprentice.
Looking back now, ‘Nwanti’ as his master and admirers fondly call him, told Abuja Metro that his decision paid off, especially now that he has become the breadwinner of the family with the stipends he gets from his master.
Becoming an apprentice
I spent my childhood and early school age in the village, but somewhere along the line, my parents could no longer afford my schooling and that was how I was forced out of school at Primary three when I was only 10.
I waited in the village for three years after dropping out of school to see if things would improve, but they were wasted years because things got worse. I was left with no option than to accept my father’s offer to travel to Abuja and become an, auto mechanic.
I was 13years old when I became an auto mechanic apprentice. Looking back after three years, my only regret was that I wasted those three years doing nothing in the village. I would have been six years into the apprenticeship.
As the first child of my mother in a polygamous family, I accepted to drop out of school, to take care of my other siblings because my parents are too poor.
These past three years are not wasted because it has turned out to be a wise decision because I am the one taking care of my family. I send money to them from the little I could save from what my master gives to me. They need the money to feed. Unfortunately, I do not have enough to sponsor my siblings in school.
Duration of apprenticeship
There is no formal agreement on how long I will learn the job. I have spent three years with no formal agreement on the duration, terms and conditions for my apprenticeship. However, the good thing is that I am improving, learning fast and growing up.
Accommodation and feeding
I live inside Apo auto mechanic village workshop. I sleep inside any of the cars we work on. I do not have any other shelter in Abuja. As for feeding, I divide the N500 my master usually pays me after work every day into two and keep one part for myself and the other for my family back home.
My prayers have always been for God to help me get a source of steady income to enable me complete my primary education and study further to become a lawyer if I have my way. But, if things fail to work out as I am planning and praying, I will stay and establish my own workshop in Abuja.