Life has always been challenging for Adebayo Selim and Boxing Day of 2017 was no exception as he wanders on the Olaiya-Alekuwodo road of Osogbo, the capital of Osun State, in search of would-be-buyers for his stock of Fan ice cream.
The 15-year-old Junior Secondary School, JSS 1, student of Ifeolu Middle School is one of the many kids who dare the scorching sun to sell Fan Milk to earn a meal or two for the day, certainly never three.
Other times, their ‘hustle’ takes the form of catering for basic school needs and in extreme cases, fending for their respective family.
“I started in 2016,” the third child of a family of five told PREMIUM TIMES. “I joined because there was no money. The school uniform I used to wear was bad and my parents won’t buy me another, they don’t even have money. But the main reason why I started this business was because I wanted to buy a bicycle. The distance between my house and school is very far. I used to walk because my parent won’t give me transport fare. When I told them I wanted to buy the bicycle, they scolded me.”
His day takes a rigid routine. He arrives at the distributor’s depot as early as 7.00 a.m. and retires with day’s proceeds at alternate post-meridian hour. His profit has never been more than N700 in a day.
“I will take the goods in the morning and go back to remit the money realised at night. I will remove my own gain. I sell up to N3,000 goods in a day. Sometimes, I make up to N700 (profit) when business booms,” he says wryly
Sadly, despite being on the ‘job’ for more than a year and half, Selim has not been able to purchase his dream bicycle. Instead he opted to pay for his school fees, uniform and when there was an excess, he bought a phone.
“I haven’t bought the bicycle. I used my savings to buy phone because all my friends have phone. I won’t stop until I buy my bicycle. I still trek to school.”
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, Nigeria has 10.5 million out-of-school children, the highest rate (47 per cent) anywhere on earth. Almost one out of every three primary age children and roughly one out of four junior secondary age children are out of school.
With children under 15 years of age accounting for 45 per cent of the 171 million population, the burden on education has become overwhelming for the nation currently facing numerous social challenges.
Many of those who struggle to enrol in school, drop out early, UNESCO says.
This may be the case for Ayo Omisola, a JSS 3 student of CAC model school Gbaemu, Osogbo if things remain as they are.
Omisola, 13, joined the ‘business’ in 2016 when there seemed to be no hope of paying his JSS 2 school fees.
“I went there by myself,” he said adjusting his Ankara (fabric) dress which appears faded apparently due to regular exposure to the sun and constant use. “I used to pass through the (distributor’s) shop and I know what they do already. I told my mum and she agreed.”
“I have been doing this for up to three years. I use the money to pay my school fees. The last amount I paid was N1,400 (fees per term).”
Omisola doesn’t know when he would stop the trade as fortune still refuses to smile at the family. His highest academic aspiration is SSCE. “I wish to further a little bit more in education. At least to the SSCE level.”
Omisola’s closest friend is Ojo Segun, a resident of Popo, Osogbo, who joined the trade in March 2017.
Probably, out of ignorance or sheer willingness to sustain companionship, both friends ply the same route with their carts. Consequently, their companionship would subject them to sharing customers which would have been for one had they decided to split.
On this day, this reporter met them at the Akindeko junction of Alekuwodo. Apart from their sales strategy, these friends have many things in common; they are of the same age, take goods from the same distributor, but Segun has more to contend with apart from paying school fees.
“They use to collect money from me at home but most times, I give willingly,” he said declining to tell this reporter his family composition.
At peak periods, Segun makes about N600 profit. After feeding, keeping part for school needs, the remaining cash goes into buying food for the family.
Sales doesn’t seem satisfactory on this day as his cart still contains much of the stock he started out with.
“There is no punishment if we don’t sell all stock,” he replied to inquiry on how account is balanced at low sales periods. “We take the remaining back to distributor.”
HOW KIDS ARE RECRUITED
Located in a residential area, Oluwaseyi ventures has over the years been a fertile ground recruiting poverty-stricken children in Oke-fia, Alekuwodo, Fagbewesa and other nearby areas into the Fan Milk business.
Popularly called ‘Mummy Temi’, Afolabi Folasade, owner of the store boasts that recruiting the kids ”was a way of helping them”.
She gleefully explained the process of recruitment when this reporter, requested enrolment for a ‘sibling’ in need of support.
“It doesn’t require more than guarantor; father, mother or guardian. Someone that will assure us that he won’t run away. Then, phone number, address and we’ll trace him to the house to ascertain he truly lives there. That’s all.”
She explains how the ‘help’ brings in the prospect of making profit.
“For large, we give it out at the rate of N80; if he sells 30 or 40, all the N20 profit will go to him (the reporter’s ‘sibling’). There is one that sells for N150, we give them at N100. He’ll get N50 profit multiplied by the amount sold. We give N50 (ice cream) own at N35 and the N15 profit will still ‘enter’ his pocket.
“So, if he is very serious, before he goes home at night, he would have realised enough. That’s if he’s not like Olamide.”
At 10-year-old, Olamide is the youngest of the kids patronising Oluwaseyi Stores. His ‘unseriousness’ lies in his ‘way of life’, Mrs. Folasade would later explain.
“He is the youngest but he is very stubborn, he has one small girl he gives money. He will say ‘my wife come and take.’ (laughter). I don’t use to care anyway, for me, my money must be complete.”
A 20-minute trek on the Gbongan-Ibadan expressway soon brought this reporter in contact with Olamide.
He won’t agree that Mariam, a Primary 5 pupil is his ‘official girlfriend’ but he says he constantly gives the 5-year-old ice cream from daily stock and ‘small change’ occasionally.
However, the life of Sikiru Olamide, 10, is more interesting than his early introduction to relationships. Of all the kids, he is the most industrious, known by all for his audacity to trek longer distances, he takes larger stock than others and will never return until he sells the last ice cream.
Although the youngest, Olamide is the oldest in the trade, having started in 2015 at the age of 8. His audacity earned him a nick name among his peers; ‘Mo fe lo pa yoku’, literarily meaning ‘I want to go and make the remaining money.’
“He is fond of saying this,” Omisola chipped in taunting his little friend.
The goal four of the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, of the United Nations aims to ensure that by 2030, all girls and boys complete free, equitable, and quality primary and secondary education. But this aim seems far-reaching for young Olamide who at the age of 10 had dropped out of CAC Primary School, Gbodofon, Osogbo.
Unlike his colleagues who spend their earning on school financial obligations, Olamide has other plans.
“I give my parents money every day, except on days I don’t make enough. I also make daily contributions and I want to use the return to buy clothes.”
On this day, December 31 2017, Olamide claims to have N7,000 which he plans to use in buying cloth for New Year celebration.
Olamide doesn’t have any professional ambition but he says he would like to be ‘the chairman of the whole Nigeria’ so that he ‘can give orders to people.’
He doesn’t have a plan to stop the business. “Until I make it. Until I buy a car,” he said of his ambition smug confidence.
David Sadiq, an SSS 3 student of Osogbo High School didn’t remember what month he started selling Fan Milk in 2017, but he remembers why. “I joined because I needed money for my upkeep and school,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
Despite constantly sacrificing Sunday church services to make enough cash, Sadiq, an indigene of Osogbo has not been able to save enough for his forthcoming Senior Secondary School Examination, SSCE.
“I don’t know how I will pay for my WAEC yet. I am working towards getting a part of the fund so that my parent can help me add to it.”
Without the hope of furthering beyond secondary school level, Sadiq relishes the hope of being a lawyer ‘one day.’
NO BICYCLE FOR CHILDREN
Even though the likes of Olamide, Segun and others would prefer to ride bicycles to sell their goods, their distributors’ insistence on the use of carts has denied them reality of their dreams.
Faramade Opeyemi who attended to this reporter at Kemiaj ventures, a distribution point along the Gbongan-Osogbo road explained why she may not be able to provide a bicycle for this reporter’s ‘12-year-old sibling.’
“You need to come with him whenever he wants to start. We don’t have bicycles for now. If we do, we don’t just give it out. We will consider your age and height. Bicycles are not meant for ‘small children’ and we don’t give it to them,” she said.
All efforts to seek audience with the management of Fan Milk were unsuccessful. When this reporter visited the Head Office located at Eleyele Industrial Layout, Ibadan, none of the officials agreed to speak. After being passed from one office to another, the relentless reporter leaves exasperated.
VIOLATING THE LAW
Meanwhile, an education expert says the development is a violation of the Child Rights Act.
Hassan Soweto, who coordinates the Education Right Campaign, blamed the Osun State Government for the development.
“It is child abuse and a violation of the Child Rights Act,” he said. “Every child has a right to appropriate care which includes shelter, food, clothing, education, health care and recreation and if the parents are incapable of providing this, the state must take charge.
“That we have this phenomenon in Osun State is an indictment on the Governor Aregbesola administration, whose anti-poor policies of paying half salaries has rendered many working class parents incapable of fulfilling their core responsibility to their children.”
A STATE OFFICIAL REACTS
Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary, Osun Education Quality Assurance and Morality Enforcement Agency, Lawrence Oyeniran, said the state government ‘machinery’ is effective enough in tackling the violation of these children.
“Our purview is to ensure that no student is found on the street within the hours of 8.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. when they should be in classroom. We have Education Marshall Officers whose responsibility is to ensure students are kept away from the streets.
“When a student is found on the street, they (marshalls) accost such student and ask why he or she is not in school. If their responses are that my ‘parent has not done this, my parent has not done that,’ they will lead such students to their homes. They will educate the parent on the need to provide for the student.”
He said state officers have ”never seen any child selling Fan Milk in Osogbo, especially during school hours.”
“There is no report to us either officially or unofficially,” he said.
In the midst of the official helplessness to curb the social anomaly and a cut-throat business environment, kids like Omisola, Segun, Olamide and a host of others will continue to pound the streets in search of their daily bread, in a hostile terrain.