“Sometimes, there’s not a better way. Sometimes, there’s only the hard way.”
No child dreams of becoming a traffic hawker. It is the uttermost horror of every parent who knows what education is, but, today, here they are, boys and girls, trying to eke out a living by hawking in traffic.
Traffic hawkers are everywhere; New Delhi, New York, Accra, Lagos, Abuja, virtually, all over the world. We see them daily and we patronise them almost unconsciously.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), as at 2012, the number of working children under the age of 14 in Nigeria was estimated at 17 million (still of children engaging in menial jobs). Of this figure, more than half have never been to school. The other percentage drop out of school to chase a living.
Where do they come from? Where do they live? How did they get here? How did we end up with such huge numbers of children and teens hawking on our streets?
This is the story of 15-year-old *Kolo Nasiru, who earns his living trying to sell tins of milk to commuters along the Kubwa-Zuba Expressway and *Obinna Njoku, 18, who sells throat lozenges to commuters who have sore throat along the Nyanya-Keffi Expressway.
Obinna left his village two years ago, to come stay with his uncle, who promised to find get him something doing in the city. Like many before him, he found out that it was far more difficult to get a job than to promise someone one.
“After sometime, I saw that he was not interested in helping me. I decided to start selling these sweets, because I need to do something for myself. I cannot depend on him for everything; I have to get myself something too,” Obinna said.
Many drop out of school to chase a living on the streets, because of a lack of fees. In Njoku’s case, he dropped out of school, because he didn’t believe all the answers laid there.
Nasiru still lives with his parents and still goes to school, but the family’s economic conditions thrust him into the streets. Of all things, why did he opt for traffic hawking?
“I see my parents every day and my younger ones. I know that we need the money. I save some from what I make every day. From the one I save, we can eat, travel and pay the fees,” disclosed Nasiru.
For Nasiru, selling tins of milk in traffic gives him an edge.
“I use the money to buy books and other things I need for school. I don’t enjoy it, but, I have to go to school. School is good for me, so I need to go to school,” he said.
“Not everyone who goes to school comes out and get a job,” Njoku countered. “Some people also do good in business. I am better than someone who has gone to school and has nothing to do to make money, no matter how small.”
Though he makes as much as N2000 on a great day [and N500 on far worse days], he does not think that is enough for him to get ahead in life.
So, when does he take a break if he is so busy chasing commuters to but his goods?
“The traffic does not last from morning till night. Sometime, it is much and other times it is not. When it reduces, I eat some chin-chin or sausage roll with water and I am okay. I don’t have money to go to ‘mama-put’”
Sometimes, the men of the task force of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) come at them with everything they have, chasing them down and impounding their goods.
“There’s just one thing we do; we run. But they do not come all the time.”
Sadly, this hasn’t made Njoku’s life easier.
“Sometimes, it rains so hard and I do not make enough, so I sleep under the bridge. I do not fear, because I am not the only one and, even if I am attacked, I have no money.” He has done this a few times.
While the rest of the world thinks Njoku, Nasiru and their kind are a menace and try to force them to regret their choice of livelihood, they rarely care. They have greater worries…after all, the natural man, according to the good book, “is of a few days, but full of trouble.”
The need to survive, for them, is greater than their care of public’s perception.
*These are not their real names.
Author: K. Jubal
Photo Credit: Nnaemeka Onwumere