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The World Of A Growing Army Of Kid Conductors

{Last update December 2011}

He clung tightly to the door of the commercial bus, struggling not to fall off as the vehicle sped menacingly towards the ever busy Oba Ovouramwen King square (Ring Road) bus stop, it final bus stop. There was something quite unusual about him.

What caught our attention was his youthfulness, then, his demeanour. He lacked all the rough edges of a typical Benin City bus conductor. .He was quite fragile. He couldn’t have been more than 12 or 13 years. “But what is he doing on a bus when he ought to be in school, “We asked in our minds.

We were right when the boy, who identified himself simply as Ikponwosa, finally decided to open up after much pestering. He wasn’t the everyday bus conductor; he was a J.S.S 2 student of a secondary school in Evbuotubu area of Benin City until he stopped school last June because of inadequate funds.

Moreover, he said he had to work as a bus conductor to survive. ‘Can your parents not take care of you? We inquired. He was not living with his biological parent, he revealed. According to him, his father and mother parted ways when he was still an infant. He said his mother now resides in Kogi State, where she is trading, while his father stays at Evbuotubu area of Benin City. Even with the proximity of his father’s abode, he wouldn’t dare venture going to stay with him because he felt the man who abandoned him when he was a baby, most have hated him. He is living with his friend’s elder brother.

As the passengers alighted at Ebo junction at Ring Road, young Ikponwosa also jumped off and went to sit amidst about a dozen boys of his age along Ebo Street. From there, he waited for the turn of his bus to pick passengers.

This chance meeting with Ikponwosa opened the door to the stories and world of a growing army of kid bus conductors. Their stories were intriguing and some of them simply made Ikponwosa’s tale pale into child’s play.
At Ring Road bus stop, the kids come in various sizes, the very small, the medium-sized and whichever size.

Nevertheless, one thing is common with them. They are very unkempt. Though going by the universal Basic Education Law, these kids are of school age and should be in school, but they are not in school; also, a thin line runs between their stories.

Where do these boys call home? It is the corridors of the building around the Ring Road and some open kiosks,
One of the drivers who spoke to us under the condition of anonymity said “Just come here as early as 5am, in the morning, you will find them like grains of sand on the floor. Sometimes they are up to 30 in this place. When they wake up they simply wash their faces and they are off to work”, he added.

Gawky looking 15-year- old Tunde Alamu said he stopped school last year in JSS 3. He and his elder brother, Daniel, left home when their father no longer cared whether they lived or died. According to him, his predicament started when his father decided to marry a third wife, a situation that made his parent to separate. If given the chance, he said he would like to go back to school and become a lawyer.

Then, these three are chummy friends; Sule Ibrahim, Kayode Maito and Segun Adebayo from their antics, they are streetwise and wild.

Fifteen year-old Ibrahim comes from Ini Lara in Oyo State. He said he came to Benin City to live with his elder brother but had to take to the streets when he could no longer bear the maltreatment of his brother’s wife. “She dey beat me every time for any small, small mistake”, he said in pidgin English.

He disclosed that he had been on the streets for a year now and that his brother (elder) did not know his were about. Ibrahim does not have any academic ambition. He said, he ended at primary six and would like to learn a trade if he could.

Kayode gives a similar tale. However, unlike Ibrahim, it was his mother that was always beating him at “every opportunity”. “She is too wicked, she beats me every time”, he lamented. He added that his father was separated from his mother. He has been on the streets for two years. Seventeen years-old Kayode only reached JSS3.

Then Adebayo, 15, is a dark-faced stumpy boy. His gruffy voice somehow forces you to pay attention to him. It is like a man’s voice in a kid’s body. “What is making your voice crack? So you de smoke? We asked him.” No I no de smoke oh”, he retorted, offering a wry smile. But as the axiom goes, old habit hardly dies. Not quite ten minutes later, the trio was puffing a stick of cigarette as our correspondents shifted attention to one of the other kids.

As The SUNDAY OBSERVER CORRESPONDENTS learnt, smoking was not the only vice these kids had picked up while living on the streets. John pointed to Evans, a square face dark complexioned boy. “He de go meet Ashawo (prostitutes)’.

The story of Evbuomwan Osagie is somewhat strange, from his confession he was the only male child of his parents and much more the last born of the house. His disclosure would make one think Osagie should be basking in the privilege attached to being the last child of the house. Why is he a child bus-conductor then? According to him, one of his friends lured him to taking up life on the streets. And he is actually enjoying it because according to him, it affords him the freedom to do whatever he wants, With about N1500 to N1700 he gets everyday working as conductor, the world seems to be at his feet.

A diminutive 17-year-old Inoto Sunday is better at heart. He said he ran from his home in Akwa Ibom with his elder brother, because he could no longer endure the constant bickering between his parents. He said at such times, his father refused to provide money for their upkeep. So, he ran to Benin City to fend for himself.

At some point during the interview, his face was contorted in a mast of anger, as he fought back haunting memories of his past. Inoto revealed that he stopped school at SS3 though he could write his SSS Examination. He vowed vehemently never to return home to his parents.

The case of the pint size 12-year-old Friday Edosa is quite pathetic. His yellowish eyes and skin tell stories of years of severe malnutrition.

According to him, he has never been to school all his life as his parents broke up when he was barely four years. He said he grew under the care of his mother until he was six. His mother later relocated to Delta State, her state of origin, when she took ill. She has never returned to Benin City since them, he revealed.

Edosa further revealed that he used to sell sachet water for a woman at Murtala Mohammed Way (3rd Junction) until he had problem with his madam two months ago.

He said he relocated to Ring Road because of the disagreement with his madam and that the bigger boys, had been acting as big brothers to him.

“Na Ejiro dash me the N60 weh I take start pure water business”, he said, pointing to Ejiro. “When I finish to sell, I dey use the N40 gain on top take eat in the morning and for night”. However, he said he had spent his initial (start up) capital on food when he could no longer sell iced sachet water popularly called pure water because of the power outage in the area.

“Now that you have spent your start up capital, what are you going to do. How will you feed?” he was asked.
He simply beat his right palm with the left, as if to say- I have been in similar positions before. I will survive it one way or the other. As he received a token, he simply laid prostrate on the floor in a show of appreciation.

One of the commercial drivers at the park, Mr. Eghosa Ogbemudia, said parents should be blamed for the boys on the street. He argued that if parents and family members had cared for their kids, they wouldn’t have come under bad influence that got them lured to the street. Eghosa said he was against the kids being used as bus conductors as the job was not only strenuous but also dangerous.

Another driver who never wanted his name in print, who had a kid conductor in his bus said that drivers engaged under-aged boys as conductors to keep them so that they would not take to crime. “Some of these boys come from as far as Calabar, Akwa Ibom and Ogoja. Most times, they join themselves to the buses coming to Benin City”, apparently referring to young Ubom Bassey, the kid conductor in his bus. “You know government alone cannot take them off the streets, it is a collective responsibility of all in the society, he posited.

Another respondent who pleaded for anonymity, disclosed that the Driver’s Union had pegged the age of conductors, the drivers could engaged to 18yrs, but noted that in spite of the enlightenment campaign to dissuade drivers from using underage kids, it had not been easy enforcing the Union’s directive. “if a boy says he is 18 years when he is not, what can we do? We don’t have access to his birth certificate? He stated. He urged the government to re-introduce afternoon schools to meet the goal of educating these kids.

However, we called this phenomenon of street children in the country a national calamity and a reflection of how crises-ridden we have become as a nation. It all points to the collapse of the “core values of our society”, which among other things, make it mandatory for parents and family members to take care of their young ones.

Another reason attributed for his sad scenario was the socio-economic policies and programmes that were implemented over the years by successive governments in the country. This has reduced the place of the family to a level of mere existence.

Consequently, many of these children ended up on the streets at the instance of their parents or guardians because that was the only way they could survive. Some of these kids’ conductors ended up being crushed by moving vehicles while many others end up as victims of ritual murderers. This is where all governments at all levels must come in. we must be ready as government to put in place socio-political and programmes that will be able to liberate our people from poverty.

Paradoxically, some children also run from homes as a conscious effort to run away from seemingly abuse. Indeed, there is so much child and spousal abuses in the homes, which the social welfare departments in states and the federal levels have not been able to address.

Meanwhile, solving this scourge of kid bus conductors and destitution in Nigeria had been Herculean because of its huge number in the country. Successive governments though have tried to address the problem of destitution. These streets kids should be taken into rehabilitation homes, where they would learn vocations or continue with their education in the state’s approved schools.. Others should be united with their families.

At this juncture these writers are calling on the private sector to assist government by funding social service programmes because “it cost government so much to keep them in the homes, feed them three times daily and help them psychologically.

Source:Nigerian Observer

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