Segun, like every boy his age wants to be home playing video games or out in the searing Lagos heat getting sweaty and dirty with his friends on a football field. However, Segun is doing none of this things, instead Segun can be seen clutching his carton of assorted air freshener with different brand names.
He casts furtive glances through windshields of cars as they slowly grind to a halt around him; dashing through the bedlam of traffic from one end of the road to the other, thrusting his wares into cars and getting money hurled back at him or insults sometimes coupled with a shove. Sometimes, as traffic gets lighter, the cars pick up speed and Segun follows in the race of his life for his money from a customer who just purchased an item from him.
Only thirteen years of age, yet Segun is one among a thousand under-age kids eking out a dangerous living on Lagos expressways. His business takes him through the most parts of the city as he moves with traffic. Segun is scruffily clad, reeks of sweat all day long and only retires from the expressway at about midnight when the city goes to sleep around him.
Hawking in Lagos traffic is not your idea of a hazard free job. The likes of Segun are spread all over the city’s routes alongside their older peers, selling everything from beef rolls to bottled drinks. Ideally, they should be in classrooms, battling it out with test questions alongside their peers, preparing themselves for tomorrow’s challenges as the future leaders of our nation.
But as your car screeches to a halt, a few of them looking as scrawny as they come, arrive in front of the car eager like a kid in a candy shop to sell whatever they carry. A fool will ask why. But we wouldn’t we know better than that, we live in the same economy and society albeit not being dealt with by life as hard as these youngsters but all the same we face our own challenges.
One of the teenagers, who identified himself as Deji, a seasoned hawker of popcorn mixed with groundnuts crediting himself with his many years of experience disclosed that he had to embrace the trade because he had no alternative: “ My father died some years ago, and my mother could not send me to school. So, one of my friends who lives in the neighbourhood suggested that I could join him hawking on the streets. Every day, I go to the popcorn shop to pick up my quantity for the day and return the proceeds from the sales to Madam. Based on how much I was able to sell, I get a certain percentage.”
Unsurprisingly, in a city famed for some of the most bizarre driving you are ever likely to see in the country, these child hawkers are easily exposed to dangers. “ Motor don jam me before for leg”, Ekpenyong, who sells all sorts of peppermint sweets said in pidgin English as he pointed to a scar on his leg to prove his claim. “ Another day for night, as we dey go house, one area boy wan come collect my money wey I don sell. Him say he wan buy igbo( local name for a brand of marijuana). Na him I run enter one house come dey shout……….”, Ekpenyong trails off, his voice now sounding like he could use some of his own peppermint sweets.
Hawking is definitely not new in Lagos or even in the country but should children be exposed to these dangers and more importantly should they be deprived their right to education. Even the streets are littered with children as young as they come following strangers into their houses all in the bid to sell their waters thereby getting prone to the wiles of kidnappers, ritualists n the likes of them.
Yeah, there’s a law against child hawking especially during school hours but I stand to say this is not enough. Let us start with making good of our promises of free education and when I saw we, I really mean those entrusted with the responsibility. Also, when next you see a hawker don’t see a poor individual with no future, see a strong individual trying against the odds to make something out of his/her life.
Till my next post
First Image courtesy: http://www.independentngonline.com/