by Remi Adeoye
– Nigeria –
As early as 5am, a very young boy named Tunji is awake. At eleven years old he knows what it means when one says, “no work – no pay”. Searching under the two shirts he uses as a pillow, he pulls out a sachet of pure water and uses it to rinse out his mouth quickly. He uses the rest to wash his face and he is ready to go. Even without a wristwatch, Tunji instinctively knows he hasn’t spent more than 10 minutes getting ready for work.
From under the Ikeja bridge, which serves as his home, he walks as quickly as his little legs will carry him to the park hoping to find work for the day. He gets there just in time to displace another boy two years older than him. Lucky once again, Tunji has secured money for the day as a contracted conductor on a commercial bus. After a whole day’s work, he is only entitled to 500 Naira (US $3.99). But for Tunji, the meager amount makes his portion of daily bread and survival possible.
As he stands by the bus calling out to passengers, he wishes he could go to school just to have a roof over his head. Reflecting on what made him a street-boy, Tunji is no longer interested in apportioning blame because this always gets him nowhere. Should he blame his father for taking a second wife who made sure that his mother was sent packing? Or should he blame his mother for leaving and not taking him with her? Or maybe still, he should blame his stepmother for making sure that his father always had reasons to beat him on a daily basis until he decided to run away.
Smiling sadly, Tunji has heard that in developed countries, governments take adequate care of children, especially
if a child has irresponsible parents. But in Nigeria, children like Tunji don’t feel the presence of the government, contrary to its claims and promises to care for the people.
Tunji has always known Ahmed Bola Tinubu as the governor of Lagos state, Tinubu came to power in 1999 when Tunji was only seven years old. After eight years of governance, Tunji hasn’t really noticed any improvement – to him, all the essential amenities for survival were either not effective or not available at all.
Tunji listened to adults in the motor garage, where he spends most of his time, argue about the political candidates in the days leading up to the state’s election. Despite the insistence of the chairman of the garage, many were skeptical that Tinubu’s handpicked successor and security officer, Babtunde Fashola, would win in the election. They were more confident in the ability of the ruling party’s (PDP) candidate, Musiliu Obanikoro, to clinch the post of Lagos State Governor. But the chairman of the garage was right – Babatunde Fashola won.
All this made little or no difference to Tunji because to him, each of the leaders have only their selfish interests to protect and certainly not the interests of a homeless little boy like him. And regardless of the changes of politicians in power or political parties, even he can see that the roads are bad and hardly maintained, the electricity is sporadic at best and most other amenities are not within the reach of the common man.
Ask Tunji what he thinks of adults and he is quick to say that they are the most selfish people on earth. Tunji has been beaten by traffic policemen who want to collect N20 at their check-point; his only offense is his slight hesitation as he waits for his boss, the driver, to hand over the payment. And out of the N500 he makes on a daily basis, at the end of the day he has to pay one hundred of it to the “big boss” under the bridge. The money is considered a “protection fee” that guarantees little Tunji some security. But if he fails to pay, he gets beaten up and his hard earned savings are inevitably taken from him by his attackers. So as young as he is, he knows that he must pay up for survival.
Today Tunji has about a thousand Naira (US $7.98) saved and hopes to open a savings account soon so he can save enough to get out from under the bridge and live in a rented room.
His dream is to one day be a “big man” and have the confidence that only money can bring. He dreams of looking for his parents and having them proudly hug him. He knows it will take years, but he is prepared to wait and to work.
Even as Tunji mulls over all these and other things, he is busy calling out to passengers, hopeful that soon his bus will fill up and he will start another day’s job, providing him with food to eat. For now, that is all Tunji lives for. To him, the future is very far and adulthood remote.
About the Author
Remi Adeoye has been a journalist in Nigeria for over 10 years. She started as a freelance scriptwriter for Wale Adenuga Productions, after which she joined Vanguard Newspapers, a national daily in Nigeria. She covered fashion until she became the children’s page editor in 2000. She then wrote for Newswatch Magazine, a national weekly publication until 2004 followed by a brief stint with the Leadership Newspapers.
In 2006, Remi started Tweenys Magazine, a Nigerian monthly publication for youth that helps young people identify and realize their goals. She is Tweenys‘ Editor-in-Chief.
A graduate of Alliance Francaise Lagos, and the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Remi has also studied community journalism through the African Virtual University. She has participated in cyber-training for reporting on HIV/AIDS and women in Africa by the now-defunct, Dakar based African Women’s Media Center as well as the Carole Simpson Leadership Institute sponsored by the International Women’s Media Foundation held in Accra, Ghana in 2004.