Bilikis Bakare- Ogunnubi
Former South African President, Nelson Mandela, once re-emphasised the power of education when he described it as the greatest engine of personal development through which the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, while the son of a mineworker can become the head of a mine and a child of a farm-worker can become the president of a great nation. A well structured educational system is one of the important factors needed for the socio-economic development of any nation. Universally, it is the duty of governments to provide enabling environment for learning to take place as well as accord top priority to education.
It is in the realization of the foregoing that governments across the universe devote a good chunk of available resources to the development of the educational sector. But despite all these efforts, a number of factors still stand as stumbling blocks in the attainment of this goal. These include insecurity, ethnic idiosyncrasies, gender discriminations and distance. But the greatest barrier to education, especially in our clime, is child labour of which street hawking is chief.
In spite of legislative measure put in place, Child labour remains a major source of concern in Nigeria. Child labour is defined as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and deprives them of opportunities for schooling and development. According to the International Labour Organization, the number of working children under the age of 14 in Nigeria is estimated at 15 million. The high level of diverse and tedious jobs that children execute in dangerous circumstances is particularly nerve-racking. These jobs include being street vendors or hawkers, beggars, car washers or watchers and shoe shiners. Others work as domestic servants and farm hands.
Traditionally, children have worked with their families, but today children are forced to work outside the home environments for their own and their family’s survival. According to current data, 30% of pupils drop out of primary school and only 54% transit to Junior Secondary Schools. The chief reason for this low completion rate is child labour. It is not uncommon to see children as young as eight years hawking on major roads and expressways. Metropolitan cities like Lagos are replete with such children and teenagers. They meander through the ever busy roads in the metropolis hawking items ranging from plantain chips, popcorns, newspapers, pastries to pepper and tomatoes. In fact it is now a butt of joke among commuters that the hawkers will soon engage in mobile grinding and blending of these peppers and tomatoes!
What are, indeed, worrisome and saddening are the usual stories of hit and run drivers killing and maiming these future leaders. In addition, these child hawkers suffer from fatigue, irregular attendance at school, lack of comprehension and motivation, improper socialization, exposure to risk of sexual abuse among the female hawkers and high likelihood of being involved in crime. Also, these children become financially independent at a very young age because the extra income they bring is needed to augment that of the parents and consequently, the value of acquiring formal education or skills become unattractive to them.
While a good number of them went into this venture under the guise of raising funds for their education or skill acquisition, but in the long run the financial gains accrued from hawking usually take their minds off the original reason for embarking on the business. And researches have shown that, children who engage in income earnings outside the home display poor educational achievements.
Although successive government at Federal and States levels in the country have accorded priority to educational and entrepreneurial development of the youths in order to empower them for future challenges, the efforts have not been yielding the desired results as a result of low school attendants by the concerned children. Only recently the State Governor, at the 4th quarterly town hall meeting held in Badagry, announced an educational development fund of N10billion.
This is in addition to the earlier N25billion Employment Trust Fund, earmarked to tackle unemployment as well as promote wealth creation through entrepreneurial development, particularly among the ever growing population of youths in the State. The employment fund initiative, applauded by all, is set up to bridge the deficit skill and policy gaps, as well as tackles inadequate financing. It provides financial support to residents for job and wealth creation and also gives equal opportunities to all citizens as part of the all inclusive governance policy of the present administration in Lagos.
Furthermore, the Lagos state government, in spite of the fact that it has the highest number of primary and secondary schools in the country, has been delivering on the promise of providing free education at these levels and has continuously engaged in the construction and rehabilitation of classrooms and conveniences in Local Government areas across the state. In order to cater for formal skill acquisition trainings, the State has additional 5 Technical Colleges.
Despite all these interventions, the menace of street hawking still continue unabated in the Lagos metropolis, particularly on major expressways such as the Ikorodu Road, Lagos –Abeokuta Expressway etc. The unfortunate incident that occurred recently in Lagos where a teenage hawker was crushed to death is an attestation of the dangers inherent in street hawking. As a result of the aforementioned incident which generated a lot of outrage from residents, the Lagos State Executive Council resolved to enforce Section One of the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law 2003 which restricts street trading and hawking in the metropolis. The law makes both the hawker and buyer liable of the offence with a punishment of N90, 000 or six months jail term for both parties.
It is believed that if effectively enforced, the menace of street hawking will be a thing of the past and education which remains the best way to empower the youths and prepare them for future challenges will take its pride of place in their lives. It is very crucial that government exerts ample political will to ensure that enforcement of the law is not in any way compromised. This is in view of the fact the talk around town is that with time government’s initial ‘gragra’ might soon fizzle out. This must not be allowed to be valid.