INVESTIGATION: How foremost Nigerian university encourages child labour

A typical day for 13-year-old Abdulrahman Ismail, a resident of Samaru Zaria, starts at 5 a.m. After the Muslim morning prayers, Abdulrahman sets out for his daily menial job at the gate of the main campus of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

There, he, alongside other young boys, engages in helping students and staff of the institution carry their luggage to their hostels or homes for a fee.

The young stewards are popularly called ‘Yaro boys’ in the institution.

Abdulrahman told PREMIUM TIMES that the job is organized – any new entrant must fill a form and wear a uniform approved by the school authorities.

“I was introduced to this job by one Ubandaba, who gave me this uniform I am wearing,” the teenager told PREMIUM TIMES in Hausa. “Though I have not filled the registration form provided by the ABU school authorities, with this uniform, any Yaro boy can enter and move around the university premises without harassment by the university security.”

Abdulrahman is a Junior class 3 student of Government Secondary School, Basawa. He said he does the Yaro boy job in the morning during holidays. But when his school is in session, he resumes after school hours at 2 p.m.

“We normally convey students’ luggage from the university’s main gate to their respective hostels and we are paid N20, N30 or N50, depending on weight of the load.”

The youngster said he does the job to help his poor parents.

“In fact, the day I disclosed to them that I want to start this job, they prayed for me. I make up to N500 per day from the job. I use the money for transport fare to school, books and feeding; while my father who cultivates farm land for people, struggles for my school fees.”

Abdulrahman Ismail
Abdulrahman Ismail

Typical day of a Yaro Boy

Investigation shows that both minors and adults are engaged in the menial jobs for students of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. But they are all called Yaro boys, irrespective of age.

The young boys are always in large numbers clustering around wheel barrows opposite the main gate of the university; while the adults, fewer in number, maintain their post at the school’s north gate.

Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, 15-year old Hassan Aminu said he started the job a year ago.

“It is more lucrative and less stressful than my previous job, which is dumping of refuse.”

Before joining the Yaro boys, Hassan said he first took to washing clothes and running errands for students in Suleiman Hall, a male hostel on the university’s main campus.

“I used to go to the market to purchase food stuffs for them and also carry loads in and out of the campus. But now the school security has restricted our activities on the campus. They only allow us to convey luggage now.”

Hassan said he makes up to N600 daily.

Enrollment

Muntari Sani, 19, has worked as Yaro boy for two years. A resident of Zaria, Muntari said he was introduced to the business by his brother.

One of the Yaro boys
One of the Yaro boys

“I was able to secure this job through the help of my elder brother, Lawal, who is a friend of our union chairman, Sani. He filled a form for me containing my bio data and I attached my passport.”

After his enrollment, a uniform with badge number 072 was issued to him, according to Muntari, by the university’s head of security.

The red uniform has ‘Yaro Boy’ inscribed on the university’s logo and tagged ‘Alex Hall’, an indication of his job territory.

PREMIUM TIMES sought to speak with the university’s assistant security chief about the Yaro boys. But he said he could not grant an interview without authorization from the office of the Director of Public Affairs.

The public affairs office declined to grant the authorization and would not speak on the matter either.

However, the head of the school’s security task force, identified only as Danladi O.C (or O.C Task Force), denied that the university authorities were involved in the enrolments of the Yaro boys.

In a brief telephone conversation with our reporter, Mr. Danladi said “I have not seen anything like that yet.” He declined further comments and hung up on the call.

But the chairman of the Students Representative Council, SRC, Musa Lawal, said Mr. Danladi was not truthful in his claim not to know about the activities of Yaro boys on the campus.

Mr. Musa, a 500-level student of Veterinary Medicine, told PREMIUM TIMES that the security task force and SRC were collaborating to monitor the operations of the Yaro boys.

“This issue of Yaro Boys, I met it here even though when we came they were not registered. The university, through the security got these Yaro boys registered and got their parents to sign for them as referees. They were duly registered and given numbers.

“After that, they registered with the SRC at the level of the hostel representatives in which, when you are to hire a Yaro boy, you have to go to your Hall Rep or the Hall governor.

“The activities of the Yaro boys include washing clothes, plates, sweeping and running of errands generally for students. And at the school level, they carry loads from the school gates to the respective hostel of whoever desires their service,” the student said.

The Yaro boys phenomenon is despite the Kaduna State government passing a law compelling education for all school age children and prohibiting engaging them in forced or paid labour, especially during school hours.

The Nigerian Child Rights Act also forbids the use of minors for labour.

According to the Article 3(1) of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989, and Section 1 of the UN Child’s Rights Act (CRA), which the Nigerian National Assembly domesticated on July 31, 2003, and nomenclatured Child Rights Act provides that ‘in every action concerning a child, whether undertaken by an individual, public or private body, institutions or service, court of law, or administrative or legislative authority, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.”

A lecturer at the university’s Department of Pharmacognosy and Drug Development, Umar Adam Kastayal, acknowledged that Yaro boys exist on the campus, even in the staff quarters of the university.

Mr. Kastayal, a former member of the House of Representatives, however, did not believe they go through formal recruitment in the university or that their activities constitute child labour or abuse.

“It is a normal sight. I don’t want to say they are children, but men of different ages, because you will even see old men helping and some of them are in the hostels and staff residential areas”, the university teacher stated.

“I think it is wrong to say (they are recruited), because a recruit has a process of employment, agreement and has terms and conditions. I think the word recruitment is wrong.”

The don said he was not aware that some of the boys were underage.

“I can say that claim (of recruitment) is totally wrong because I have never seen such underage boys referred to as Yaro boys being used to work either for students or for staff. If it exists, I have never seen it.”

Yaro boys helping students carry their luggage to their hostels
Yaro boys helping students carry their luggage to their hostels

CIVIC GROUPS REACT

Some child rights activists have questioned how a university like ABU, the first university in Northern Nigeria, could allow something like the Yaro boys.

Hyp Egbune, head of the International Society of the Nigerian Child, condemned the act.

“Well it is child labour, child abuse,” the lawyer said. “And for it to happen in an institution such as ABU is something that is condemnable”.

“In our constitution, it’s clear that any person below the age of 18 is a child and we have quite a lot of legislations both international and national.

“We have the child right act, which applies to that; assuming the Kaduna State government has not domesticated it, that school being a federal institution has a duty to obey the provision of the child right act.

“We also have the UN convention on the rights of the child which protects children from abuse and being subjected to manual labour.”

In her reaction, Victoria Adeayo, the Executive Director, Refreshing Waters International, said, “A child under 18 who has been exposed to menial jobs is considered a vulnerable child.”

“Every child under the age of 18 should be taken care of by their parents. So, I don’t buy the idea of children feeding for themselves especially in such manner.”


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