The scruffy looking children moved in groups of fours and fives or even more. Their dishevelled appearance gave them away as street children. They hopped from one end to the other with their eyes roving impatiently like a predator awaiting a prey. They moved stealthily towards their target and with speed of lighting they snatched a plate of leftover from a guest and dashed off to either hurriedly eat the food or empty it into a polythene bag and the cyclic activities continues. This sorry scenario played out at the venue of a wedding ceremony I attended at Oloje, Ilorin, Kwara State. Attempts by the seemingly embarrassed hosts to keep the ‘uninvited and unwanted guests’ off the party, proved abortive. Even after I had left the venue the images of the unsightly kids kept flashing back. I see in them the face of hunger and social neglect.
Sadly, these kids are seen at most ceremonies nowadays in large numbers. They are a common denominator at parties. I wonder when this menace associated with the core north crept into our state. I could recall vivid my days as a corps member serving in Bauchi State in year 2000. In the course of the long drudgery journey to and from my place of primary assignment the commercial drivers stopped over at Tegina, a place in Niger State where passengers disembark to eat at a particular canteen. At the canteen were preponderance of street children popularly known as Almajiri armed with plastic plates, who kept watch like hawk for leftovers. There was a particular hilarious incident that played out on one of such journeys. A man had ordered for Amala meal and set it on the table, he turned around to wash his hands and in a twinkle of an eye his food had disappeared. The man watched helplessly in shock as the Almajiri kids ran off with his sumptuous food. The other customers were wiser for it.
It is unfortunate that this social misnomer is fast becoming lot of children in Ilorin. Aside that these kids struggle for left overs, some of them beg and pick pockets, reason this development calls for concern.
Dishearteningly, the harsh economic situation has aggravated sufferings in many households living from hand to mouth. Poverty has continued to define lives of the vast majority of the citizens. Invariably, providing basic needs has become Herculean task for breadwinners.
Thus, the affected children experience obnoxious and unbearable frustration which push them to the street. They are victims of circumstances created by various factors which may also include lackadaisical attitudes of parents or guardians to their wellbeing, poor parental upbringing and maltreatment, among others. Surprisingly some have chosen such inglorious path in defiance. This is a very sad and unfortunate development; a monster that need to be tamed.
The challenges posed by these children both to the government and the society at large cannot be overemphasised. These minors, later in life may become ready tools employed by unscrupulous elements in the society to carry out their nefarious activities, and be constituting nuisance. Consequently, some of them become irredeemable. The further neglect of these kids will be at the peril of the society. It is high time this unwholesome trend was nipped in the bud. The Islamic clerics in Ilorin, the cradle of Islam have a role to play in this. As religious leaders they can entrench the Islamic moral instructions on proper upbringing of children. These religious leaders should champion campaign against street children.
It is also incumbent on the state government to address the menace of street children before it exacerbates because it is presently assuming an alarming proportion. Measurable steps have to be taken to address the issue. The wellbeing of these future leaders should be of concern. They are to be nurtured and protected.
It is necessary that governments at all levels including non-governmental organisations, should collectively be involved in combating this social ill.