The Lagos State Government in its anti-child labour law warns kid-labourers to stay off the streets. But for 15-year-old Mustapha Abubakar, who came to Lagos from his native Katsina State last year, that law does not exist because he can neither speak nor write English language. Even the common man’s ‘pidgin English’ remained a hard try for him. Young Abubakar, one of the teeming scavengers in Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola’s Lagos State, was sent by his jobless parents to come and make money for them.
Playing the breadwinner
At a age most of his mates are in school, Abubakar, who came to Lagos with the help of his father’s friend called “Officer”, is playing his family’s breadwinner. He would have loved to be educated, but his poor father could not afford to send him to school. The young boy told Sunday Sun that the daily search for discarded iron and other commercial wastes at refuse dumps had not yielded the expected gains that will enable him support his family despite toiling from dawn to dusk. In an interview with our reporter at the Osolo dump site in Isolo, Lagos, he narrated how he had to struggle for virtually everything in life at a tender age. “There is no money now. My parents have no money to sponsor my education. My father married one wife and had four children. It is only one person that is going to school in our family.
Life as a scavenger
He said: “My father did not go to school and he does the same work that I do. But he does his own in Kastina State. He gathers irons and sells them to Arewa people. He usually buys many and loads them on trucks and distributes to the buyers. He could not send all of us to school because the money he makes is too small.”
Abubakar told Sunday Sun that on good days, he makes up to N500 profi,t part of which he saves through his guardian. Part of the savings is occasionally remitted to his parents. He was quick to add that business fortunes do change for good or bad.
He said: “In a day after going around Lagos, I could smile home with N1,500 and may be, at the end of the day, feed with N500 and then give my oga the remaining one to save for me. Every day, I give him N500 but if business is bad, I cannot give him because I have to eat.”
No love for the job
If you thought that the young boy loved his trade, you were wrong. “I don’t like the work, but I have no other choice. Sometimes the government would send policemen after us and when they catch you, they put you in the cell and you would pay N25,000 to bail yourself and the money you have made would just go like that. There are also the council people from the Lagos State government,” he said. For the young scavenger, who at a point told this reporter that, “oga, you speak as if you don’t know Lagos,” the state authorities have been unfair to people like him who are struggling to survive.
Abubakar said: “I don’t know why they are after us. They have arrested me before and my guardian paid for my bail. I did nothing wrong to warrant my arrest. My oga used part of my money to bring me out from the cell.”
Looking back, Abubakar recalled that his trip to Lagos was at the instance of his guardian who assured him that he would make good money. He said: “It is my oga that brought me to Lagos. He said that I would make money here if I came to Lagos and look for used irons to sell.”
In praise of employer
The lad, who trusts his master so much, described him as a man of integrity who would not swindle him of his little savings.
He said: “I don’t believe my oga can dupe me or seize my money because he is a rich man. It is not only me that he harbours under his care. Each morning, he would give us N1,500 each to get these irons and at the end of the day, we give him N2,000 and he would take his N1,500 and give us N500 each, which is our gain for the day. Sometimes if it was N3,000, he would take N2,000 and give me N1,000. From that amount, I would save N500.”
No time for frivolities
The scavenger, whose job entails picking and buying fairly used items across the city, explained that he does not engage in frivolities that could endanger his job and purse.
Abubakar said: “I don’t smoke because it is a waste of money, but I have friends that smoke and I don’t take beer. I don’t patronise prostitutes because they would finish all the money you have saved. That means you would not buy good things for your parents. That is why I don’t go there. Sometimes, the area boys would attack us and demand for money and if you don’t, they would beat you up.”
Encounter with women
Talking about his encounter with women, young Abubakar recounted his narrow escape from sexual abuse by a Togolese lady, who hawked food on his street in Katsina, and had the habit of seducing teenagers.
He said: “I was almost raped by a Togolese woman. She was older than me and she said that she liked me. One day, she asked me to come and shag her, but I told her that I would not, because it was bad. She promised me money if I would have sex with her but I bluntly refused.
“She had passed through our street and I called her to sell food to me. I bought food from her and when I gave her N50, she stayed and made passes at me. Then, I asked what her mission was and I told her to go, but she refused. Just then she touched me and robbed her body on mine. She begged me to have sex with her, but I ordered her out of our compound and she reluctantly stepped out.
Love for western education
Abubabar regretted his inability to go to school despite his love for western education.
He told Sunday Sun: “Honestly, I like to go to school but I don’t have money to fund my education. There is school in my place, but you need money to be admitted. One needs about N10,000 to secure admission into that school. If I spoke English very well, I would have told you all that made me stop schooling but basically, the major constraint was money.
“We are four children in my family but only one person is in school. Our father could not afford to send all of us to school. I am the family’s breadwinner and if I failed to send money, they would starve.
“I swear by Almighty God, if I had the opportunity to go to school and work after graduation, my family would no longer suffer. But if I could not get educated, I would continue with this job even though it is tough. If you were arrested, you would spend the money you saved on police bail. Sometimes they would accuse us of stealing from people’s compound all in the bid to extort money from us.
“I don’t engage myself in such evils because if I came here and stole, it automatically meant that I would not go back there again.”
I can’t join Boko Haram
Asked whether he would join the dreaded sect, Boko Haram, if offered huge money to cater for his family, Abubabar said that he preferred his life to evil money.
He said: “I don’t know about Boko Haram and I would never involve myself in it. Though I am a Muslim and we preach peace and love, nobody has introduced me to the sect and I would never be a part of it. I would not go because it is suicidal and I don’t want to die.
“Even if you give me N50 million now, I swear, I will never do such a thing. I love my parents but I would not sacrifice my life for them. For instance, if you carry the bomb, you will likely die and you will kill innocent people. It is not good at all and I cannot do it because I am not ready to die. Those who offer to be used to commit such evil have no sense at all.
“If the economy were stable, no hunger and education were free, people would not be do such things. Some of them got involved because their father could not cater for them and due to hunger, they joined to be able to fend for their families and they die in the process. But I cannot do such harm to my fellowman.”
Resolve to end illiteracy
Abubabar, who lives in a makeshift house popularly known as Batcha at the dump site, told Sunday Sun that if he came across any sponsor, he would devote his time and energy to western education.
He said: “My father would allow me to go to school if there was someone to help because he liked education but he had no money to send me to school. If he had money, he would have put me in school.
“If I make enough money or become rich tomorrow, I will ensure that everybody in my house goes to school. I am in Lagos today because in my state, you will not see this kind of job easily.”
Apparently counting the valuable time the interview had taken from his business, Abubakar suddenly begged to be excused and walked away.
“Let me go and make money. I will see you next time,” he said courteously and resumed his business.