|Street children picking food from a dustbin in Calabar|
The peace and serenity of Calabar the Cross River State capital may soon be tested if the increase in the nefarious activities of street urchins and abandoned children who are now roaming major parts of the town are not nipped in the bud.
Investigations by CrossRiverWatch reveal that, these children who have either been pushed out of their homes by their parents or absconded from home for committing minor offenses have now bonded themselves into criminal gangs and are contributing to the security challenges within the city and constituting public nuisance.
Calabar is known to be very peaceful and reputed as Nigeria’s cleanest city, but if government and other stakeholders fail to stem the rising number of abandoned kids on the streets, Calabar will soon pay a costly price.
From Nelson Mandela to Mayne Avenue, close to a very popular Pentecostal church down to Cultural Center, by Etim Edem, to Aiport road by CUDA, to Iyang Asang by Access School, GSS Barrack road, up to the Open Field of 3rd Avenue in State Housing estate, the streets are littered with these children.
The street children are between age 6 and 16 years and some of them told CrossRiverWatch that they sleep wherever night fall meets them but most of the time in an open ground along Marian Road opposite NAF club.
Our findings reveal that some of them are sometimes recruited by prostitutes around Atekong Junction and other adjourning streets to commit criminal acts.
The children according to our findings have already mush-roomed a cult group with various leaders and hierarchy with a Commander popularly known as ‘Obong Owoh.’ Obong Owoh is the overall boss who sends them out to find food and other needs of the group and also ensure that he provides for them whenever they are unable to provide for themselves.
The Dustbins located in some strategic locations of the city usually serve as their last hope in search for food if there are no ceremonies in the city, while other valuables found in the debris are sold for money.
Interestingly, some of them are still dreaming of going back to school if government and society can avail them of opportunities.
|“We sleep anywhere night meet us”|
Some of the children who spoke to CrossRiverWatch expressed their willingness to abandon crime and return to school if they can get the opportunity.
Mathew Akpan, one of the children said “I’m 16years, I’m the Second-In-Command of this group because we have several groups; I attended Government Secondary School Barrack Road before I dropped out in JSS 2.
“My story is that my father is dead and my mother re-married. They lived at Anantigha in Calabar South. My father in-law doesn’t like to see me and he said the house can not contain two of us that is why I left the house. I’m a street boy I stay anywhere but my group normally sleep at Marian road opposite NAF Club. We sleep outside and fetch water to bath before the day break. I saw my mum last in December 2012 and she doesn’t worry about me. I want to go back to school if I have the means”.
Christian Ini Udoh, 9years from Akwa Ibom said “money lost in my father’s house; five thousand Naira and he said I thief the money and that I have ‘chop witch’, so I can’t stay with him and he pushed me out of the house. I joined the group from the street and we move together to look for food and play, we pick rubber from dust bin and wash plate for people. I want to go back to school and become a pastor.”
Udeme Peter is 11 years from Okoyong in Odukpani, he said he lost some money after hawking goods and the mother drove him out of the house since December 2012.
|Mathew Akpan, Second in Command to Obong Owoh|
Christian Asuquo from Akpabuyo, had brushes all over his body with a sword design tattoo which he said is a sign of danger on his arm. He told our reporter that he has no hope except “where ever God direct and want me to be.”
Some residents who spoke to CrossRiverWatch pleaded to remain anonymous. One of them said “Most of these boys ran away from far away Akamkpa and have joined band gangs. We have tried our best to locate their people but they keep telling you different stories every day.
“I told them instead of you roaming about like this, look for your relations if you know you can’t go back to your house and find something to do there”
Another concerned resident said, “They excrete everywhere and scatter refuse in this neighborhood. They even steal at will and their gang is very dangerous because they have ranks.
|Christian Asuquo wearing a tattoo of the gangs
logo on his arm
“The smallest one who’s about 6years among them stole wallet one day and when they caught him his group came and threaten to kill the boy that exposed him. It’s as bad as that”.
So when you see young poorly dressed boys along the streets in Calabar, don’t mistake their age for innocence, they might just be strategists prowling on you.
The security risk that this trend portends is very imminent and government should take the necessary steps to address this problem. On July 29, some children alleged to be members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect were apprehended by security operatives in Ogun and Oyo states.
It will be too dangerous to under estimate the risk that these street children pose to the city of Calabar. These children do not have hope; they eat from the dust bin, and excrete everywhere. They are even in the State Housing Estate which is a Government Reservation Area, GRA. It means even the crème de la crème of the town too are not shielded from the imminent risk.
A child rights activist in Calabar and founder, Basic Rights Counsel Initiative, Barrister James Ibor accuses government of not doing enough to address the plight of these street children. “A child is a child. That is the position of the law. A child has no nationality. There is nothing like Akwa Ibom child, Cross River child, Abia child. A child is child and the law makes adequate provision for how children should be protected but our state government has been shying away from their responsibility.
“The Commissioner for Social Welfare, Barrister Endeley who is saddled with the task of bringing humanity back to these children has repeatedly frustrated every effort towards the appropriate implementation of the Child Rights Law.
“The Cross River State of Nigeria, Child Rights Law, 2009, section 175 (1) (3), states aptly thus; “The state shall provide accommodation for a child in need within the state who appears to require accommodation where: (a) There is no person having parental responsibility for the child; or (b) The child is lost or has been abandoned or runs away from home; and the person who has care for the child is prevented for any reason whatever, from providing the child with accommodation or care;
(3) The state shall provide accommodation for a child within the state. Whose welfare the appropriate authority considers is likely to be seriously prejudiced if the state does not provide the child with accommodation…”
S. 176 (1) “The state shall make provision for the reception and accommodation of children who are removed or kept away from home”.
Section 274 which is the interpretation section defines commissioner to mean a person charged with the responsibility for matters relating to children in the state.
Efforts to get government’s reaction were not successful as repeated calls to the Commissioner’s phone were not answered.