GOING TO SCHOOL ON EMPTY STOMACHS


To coin a phrase, teach a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it. ‘Please brother lap me (Carry me)’ a big eyed young boy appealed to me at the busy Oshodi bus stop this morning. Unfortunately I denied his request. I asked him to sit down next to me. ‘Pelumi’ that’s the boy’s name. A primary 5 student at St Francis primary school, Maryland in Lagos was on his way to school; sadly without the luxury of a school bus, worse still, no transport fare. He was on his way to school-hitch hiking.

Transport fares have more than doubled in Lagos following 3 weeks of fuel shortage. The time was 8.43 A.M, more than half an hour after the first school period had began. I asked Pelumi if this was usual. His response was disheartening. Every morning ‘uncle please lap me’ had become the bus ticket to school. The only difference today was his guardian had upset him, so without her usual hand to steer him through the traffic and her better accustomed pleading voice to ease accessing a ‘ticket’ on time, he had ‘vamoosed’ from home.

I offered Pelumi a counselling lesson on the consequences of vamoosing from his guardian. The sober lad looked at me nodding his clean shaven head. ‘But she hadn’t given me any money for food’. I look down at his lap, a withered black polythene bag held his breakfast and lunch for the day-two buns, alarmingly insufficient for pre-lunch snack. Pelumi’s is an orphan looked after by his grandmother; his surrogate parent’s income comes from petty trading, hardly enough to cater for the family. I sat still picturing living on hand-outs from childhood up-until adulthood- Rembrandt couldn’t have done a bleaker portrait. The young lad had waited at the bus stop for more than an hour before help came his way. The average Lagos resident is sadly and rapidly towing the frugal line of no charity-years of insecurity, neglect and debilitating economic conditions and superstition have dried many bowels of mercy-awoof (freebies) is sought after earnestly like the golden fleece. It’s suspicion first before consideration.

I paid for his lunch and watched him disembark from the bus; he waved over and over again, as he walked gingerly to school. I envied his enthusiasm and prayed for more blissful days for young head. Mathematics and dictation he said were his favourite subjects in school. But then I shuddered when I realised that it was indeed a thin line between juvenile delinquency and public school education in Nigeria. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic but think of the many children who flood bus-stops without transport fares, who go hungry to school. How many of us spoilt brats have cried all day long, sulking because someone forgot lunch box and water bottles were filled with water instead of coke. With no incentive and motivation, hunger and unending hitch hiking would buoy Nigeria’s 10 million children out of school population.

Lagos state is doing a momentous job in providing free Universal basic education. But it wouldn’t be too much in aping the philosophy of the Scandinavia that thrived in the 19th century-for if you feed the hungry then 90% of the job’s been taken care of. Let’s start feeding the children again, let’s give them the dignity of a bus seat for it wouldn’t be wise to let these cookies crumble uneaten

Aghogho, CONNECTAFRICA

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