Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sola Oba’s bloodcurdling scream broke over the din that is associated with Oshodi during peak hours.
The tyres of the huge commercial bus popularly known as ‘molue’ had climbed over her right feet as she, and other commuters, frantically tried to board the bus that was still moving.
Traffic management personnel at the Oshodi area face an uphill task in controlling flow of traffic, especially during peak periods, due to the mass of commuters who converge at various spots along the road in wait for buses.
The commercial bus drivers often slow down along such spots, disgorging passengers inside while those outside scramble to get inside, often resulting in accidents such as befell Ms Oba.
Sina Thorpe, spokesman for the Ministry of Transport, accuses commuters of impatience and disregard for the proper use of amenities.
“There is no bus stop atop that bridge in Oshodi, yet commuters congregate at various spots there instead of moving farther down to designated bus stops,” he said. “And because they stand there, the commercial bus drivers will want to stop and pick them, thereby causing traffic congestion.”
“People will even prefer to have bus stops right in their houses; we need to start doing the right thing. Let’s take the case of pedestrian bridges where people dash right across the highways even under the bridges. It is like an endemic problem, we have to start with the reorientation of the people,” he added.
A survey reveals that most bus stops in the Lagos metropolis are either in various states of disrepair, or have been taken over by touts and derelicts who have converted them to their hangouts.
Critics have also questioned the unavailability of bus stops in the metropolis and expressed concerns over the dilapidated state, and misuse, of most of the bus stops.
“Look at how pathetic some of Lagos bus stops are,” said Ugochi Ukeje, who commutes between the mainland and the island every working day. “Some of them are so dirty that you dare not stand inside them to wait for a bus or you might catch a disease. I think the state government ought to embark on an overhaul of the bus stops and even builds more.”
Responding to this, Mr Thorpe reveals that the state government was about concluding plans to engage the private sector in the construction, and management, of more bus stops in the metropolis.
“There are plans, at an advanced stage, to redesign and build new modern bus stops,” he said. “The government will franchise out to private investors who will now recoup their adverts through adverts. We are still dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s”

Bus stop Parliaments.
Many of these bus stops have also been converted to parliamentary grounds where issues like the lingering fuel crisis, the Niger-Delta war or Yar’Adua’s state of health is vigorously debated by legislators made up of commercial motorcyclists, vendors, and touts. At the Igando bus stop, last week, tempers flared and a free for all almost developed when ‘parliamentarians disagreed on the rationality, or otherwise, of the arbitrary increase of bus fares in the wake of the fuel crisis.
“Some of the things they discuss can be quite interesting, and I must admit I have been drawn to join in the debates at times while waiting for a bus,” said Taiwo Fasuyi, an insurance marketer who resides in the area.
Mr Thorpe promises that the new bus stops would take care of this situation. “In so far as the person is not committing a crime in those bus stops, he has a right to be there. That is the reason we want to come up with new bus stops that will correct the inadequacies of the old ones, look at the BRT bus stops, they were built in such a way that people will not use them as bunks.”

Bus stop as markets.
Some bus stops are scarcely recognizable for what they originally were. The Oyingbo bus stop has evolved as a market due to the determined market women who have taken over the place. The Ijesha bus stop disappears completely in the evenings, and in its place a market is born. Score of women, and young girls, armed with makeshift tables and large umbrellas, start converging at the bus stop from 6pm and display their wares which range from oranges to designer shoes.
“I find it convenient to buy something for my dinner here on my way back from work,” said Anthonia Mbamala, a regular commuter along the route. “I know it is illegal for them to display their wares like this in this area but if other commuters, and the government, don’t seem to mind, then life must go on.”
Reacting, Mr Thorpe promised that the state government would prosecute illegal traders but warned that it would be impossible to expect a miracle.
“Will the state government police all bus stops? Of course the security organizations will continue to dislodge illegal traders whether in bus stops or anywhere, but people should start being more responsible.”

Bus stops as homes.
Just like the motor parks and uncompleted buildings, bus stops are also a favourite of touts and derelicts who convert them to homes at night. Early morning commuters, especially bankers, who congregate at the bus stops to wait for their staff buses confirm that the bus stops are turned into dormitories by touts.
“We usually have to be at the Igando bus stop as early as 6am to able to meet our staff bus,” said Ms Ukeje, a banker. “You will see some of the ‘agberos’ (touts) still sleeping inside the bus stop. At times we even have to stand in the rain because they occupied the shelter. If not that we usually come in groups, it can be frightening.”
Indeed some of her colleagues were recently scared out of their wits when they fell victim of armed robbers while waiting for their bus at the Motorways bus stop, Alausa.
“A colleague of mine was robbed of her phones and cash when armed robbers accosted them while they were waiting for the bus at Motorways,” said Ms Ukeje. “I wish the government would make these bus stops more secure.”
Luckily for Ms Oba, her leather sandals got the worse of the brush with the tires of the bus, and she hurriedly limped on board the next ‘molue’ that rumbled along when someone suggested taking her to the orthopaedic hospital at Igbobi.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Child hawkers

Chibuike Ibe jumped nimbly aboard the large bus that was just rolling to a stop at Oshodi, managing to precariously balance a tray of beef rolls in one hand and hang on for dear life to the doors as passengers struggled to alight from the bus. He is nine years old, and the time was few minutes shy of 10pm.

Reacting to the queries of a couple of incredulous passengers on the Mile 2 bound bus, the youngster retorted, “Even my junior brother dey sell for Cele (bus stop on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway), and proceeded to hawk his wares at the top of his voice while striding the length of the 50-seater bus.

“Look at how such a small boy is selling things by this time of the night that he should be in bed, what kind of parents will send such young children out to the streets to sell? What will he even sell?” asked a Shola Akanbi, a passenger aboard the bus.

Not all passengers, however, shared Ms. Akanbi’s concerns, as the wad of cash that Chibuike clutched in his dirty hands showed sufficient proof that business was good.

As the massive population of Lagos state continues to swell considerably, the activities of child hawkers have continued to increase, despite the efforts made by the Lagos state government’s at curtailing this development.

What the government did

Concerned with the trend, the Lagos state government rolled out series of sensitization programmes last year, and warned that parents whose children were caught in the streets, especially during school hours, would be issue a ‘yellow card’ for first offenders, and a ‘red card’ for repeat offences.

Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, the commissioner for women affairs and poverty alleviation, subsequently instructed law enforcement agents to sweep the streets and apprehend defaulters, specially targeting the arrest and prosecution of parents whose children were caught.

“Education and proper upbringing of our children is the only way to eradicate poverty,” she said. “The law forbids the use of under-aged children for domestic labour, negligence and maltreatment on the part of parents and guardians as it negates the tenets of the Child Rights law.

“The Lagos state government through the various agencies of government will ensure the survival, development and protection of all the children in the state, the laws will be enforced to the letter in order to ensure that all the rights of our children are protected.

Parents, scared of finding themselves on the wrong side of the law reigned in their children, and they subsequently stayed off the streets. However, the child hawkers simply came out at night, when law enforcement officials are scarce. And their numbers have continued to swell considerably.

Spots like Oshodi, Ojuelegba, Obalende, Cele bus stop, and Mile 2 are their favourite haunts due to the high number of commuters that pass through these places, and their bustling night life.

‘We make money to support’

Another child hawker at Oshodi, who gave her name as Toun, said she had to make sure that she sold out her oranges before going home, often as late as midnight. She gave her age as 14, but looked 10.

“Our house no far, so if I finish this one, I will go and take more from my mother who is peeling them there,” she said, while expertly balancing a tray of oranges on her head and darting in between the buses at Oshodi. “Why my mama say make we help am sell na to support am.”

Not all of them, however, are trading to supplement family incomes; some, like 16-year-old immigrant Sherrif Adebisi, have no family to take care of them, and simply have to live off the streets.

“Before I used to beg (for alms), but one Good Samaritan gave me N5000 and I started with pure (sachet) water business before I went into the soft drinks that I am doing (selling) now,” he said.

Bad economy

Oluyemisi Wada, founder of Haven for the Nigerian Child Foundation, an Lagos-based NGO that rehabilitates street children, is not comfortable with the government’s efforts so far, and blames parents for contributing to the increasing population of street children across the metropolis.

“The economy is so bad now even in urban areas, not to talk of rural areas that majority of these children come from, so parents often end up subjecting these children to street hawking,” she said.

“Often, these children run away to the cities in search of better lives. I think parents should pay more attention to children, and strive not to put them in situations were running away from home becomes attractive,” added Mrs. Wada.

For some of these children, like Chibuike, it is simply a question of survival.

“If I finish selling, I go follow big bus go Cele and help my mama pack for where she dey sell before we go begin go house,” he said.

This feature was published in NEXTonSunday.