The economy is not smiling on anybody, this time around. While the poor lament, the rich also cry.
Irrespective of other perceived bad policies that fuelled this hardship, the cash crunch occasioned by naira re-design, nailed the coffin.
However, the recent removal of fuel subsidies is now conducting the funeral of an otherwise deadly situation for people already impoverished.
An average Nigerian family, today, can hardly afford a good meal, let alone make it three square.
The effect is telling more about the vulnerable lot – the children.
Many parents, who can no longer meet the needs of their children, now send them out to do menial jobs, despite being underage.
Children between the ages of six to 12 years now hawk or beg. Others are seen with buckets of water washing cars in the traffic.
For these kids, life has become a gamble. While some kind vehicle owners appreciate them with little sums, others just keep their windows shut.
Some parents have also perfected the act of willingly giving out their wards to perceived rich homes in anticipation of monthly or yearly monetary remunerations.
The agonising story of these lots is that these rich homes end up turning these children into slaves.
Such is the case of Tuminu Zacheaus, a boy of nine, who washes vehicles in traffic jams, as a means of survival.
Narrating his ordeal, he said: “I used to attend a government primary school, until last year when my mother, who is the breadwinner of the house, asked that I stop schooling.
“I was idle at home, until some friends of mine, who are of the same age, introduced me to washing cars, and I am glad doing it.
“I make up to N1,000 on a lucky day. We move from place to place, especially, where and when there is traffic in a particular location.
“There are four of us in the family and I am the third child. My two eldest sisters live with a distant relative. My younger brother and I live with my mother who washes clothes for people.”
For Lukman Kamoru, a 12-year-old, who does all kinds of menial jobs for his daily bread, life has dealt a big blow to him after losing his mother at a tender age.
“I don’t have a mother. I live with my father and stepmother. My father is a money collector in the garage and hardly has time for me. He comes home thrice a week. But the recent increase in transport fare now makes him come home once a week. I haven’t gone to school in five to two years now and have been feeding from hand to mouth.
“My stepmother hawks pure water for a living and she has two kids. She feeds me once in a while.
“I started begging recently since I don’t want to die of hunger. Before I wash cars in traffic jams to survive. There are children of my age and those older than me doing it. But traffic jams do not happen every day so I decided to beg as no one will employ a young boy like me.
“Daily I make N500 to N800 per day. Now I hardly make N500 because no one is willing to give.
“I have given up on schooling and adapted to hustling on the street. Sometimes I don’t go home. I sleep in spaces in the market or on tables in front of a shop closer to this place.”
However, Eight-year-old Monsurat Adekanju has the opportunity to attend a government primary school and is forced to hawk dried fish after school every day, including weekends.
“I attend a government primary school. My elder brother and I do hawk dry fish for my mother every day after school. She said the proceeds will help support buying reading materials, clothes and feeding us.
“My mother also hawks dry fish.”
The National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, in its 2021 Nigeria Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS) and National Immunization Coverage Survey (NICS) said that 31% of children aged 5-17 years were engaged in child labour while 27 per cent of children aged 5-17 years were engaged in economic activities above their age-specific threshold.
The bureau also said that 29 per cent of children aged 5-17 years were working under hazardous working conditions, mostly reported as carrying heavy loads, exposure to extreme cold, heat or humidity, and working with dangerous tools or heavy machinery as at the time of the survey.
The International Labour Organization in a 2020 report noted that Nigeria has the highest recorded rate of child labour in West Africa estimated at 15 million.
Imagine what percentage of that lot would have increased due to the continuous deterioration of the living standards of many Nigerians.
A Human right activists and Founder, Ambassador for Peace and Enlightenment Foundation, Prince Ichie, noted that not only has child labour increased but also well-to-do persons now have to bury their shame and come out to beg.
“Child labour is on the increase on a daily basis. You will see quite a number of children who drop out of school hawking because there is nothing at home.
“Many of them have resorted to begging. Their parents are not able to make it in the present state of the economy, and most of them have turned to commercial beggars and executive beggars. It is getting so tough.
“Recently, a woman was arrested at Idumota because of child labour. This woman brings children of six to seven years as her apprentice. They carry cartons of goods on their heads to distances. This was not the issue. With all this labour, the woman hit them with any available tool. If she hits them and they don’t cry, she bites them. But I was happy when I was told that she was apprehended. That is one out of millions.
“You see some parents give out their children to people who subject them to slavery.
“We have arrested so many of them but the economic condition of Nigeria is getting worse.
“The new economic policies are not people-friendly. It makes people poorer. It is disheartening because I receive calls daily from people reporting on the increase in child labour and begging for alms. Many are dying from hunger. How many responsibilities can N30, 000 minimum wages cater for in this economy?
“The increment of fuel price has also contributed to the deterioration of living standards of people in this country. The price of every commodity has increased.
“For a family to eat one square meal, which is not even a balanced diet, is very hard.
“In fact, Nigeria is becoming so tough and people are becoming confused. We don’t really know what is happening. On a daily basis, we assume that things will be better since the eight years of the unfruitful regime of the last administration.”