A Demographic Health Survey (DHS) conducted in 2015 by UNICEF and the Nigerian government revealed that 13.2 million children were out of school in Nigeria – the highest in the world. International child rights advocacy group Street Child, says over 18 million children are currently out of school and this number continues to increase. “Many live on the streets. A greater percentage of these young people will live in crushing poverty for the rest of their lives.”
In Nigeria’s federal capital city, Abuja, the abysmal socio-economic push factors pummelling the country and its citizens, are birthing a generation of children making a living on the expansive streets of the well-heeled city.
While Abuja is known as one of the wealthiest cities in the continent, poverty is ubiquitous on its outskirts as well as in the countryside. Vast inequality of income is highly visible in the capital city.
According to SOS Children’s Village Gwagwalada, “Children as young as two or three begging in the streets are a common sight in Abuja; often entire family makes a living this way. These children do not attend school and will most likely continue their lives in the streets once they have a family of their own.”
“The street children hawking and begging all over Abuja now is alarming. They are all over the place by the traffic light, begging and trying to clean the windscreen of passing vehicles who stop to obey the traffic light. If your windscreen is not wound down, they put their faces into your vehicle, begging and pleading with you to give them money for food. Looks like these children from about 10 to 14 years old work as a group. Right before my eyes, one of them was sharing money around, of course, the money they made; I can’t tell if it’s for the day or for one traffic stop. These kids are almost all over the junctions of Abuja begging and selling wares. The Minister of the FCT and the people who manage the city have quietly ignored the influx of street kids into Abuja begging for alms and hawking. Some of these children are supposed to be in school and it is the duty of the FCT administration to make laws to keep children in school,” George Onmonya Daniel noted in 2020.
Sixty-three (63) percent of Nigerians – 133 million Nigerians – are multidimensionally poor. The Nigeria Multidimensional Poverty Index (2022) is reported with a linked child MPI which provides an additional focus on child poverty in Nigeria. Two-thirds (68 percent) of children (0–17) are multidimensionally poor according to the Nigeria MPI. When measured by the linked child MPI, which adds specific indicators for children under 5, this rises to 84 percent.
As Nigeria’s poverty rate expands and access to employment opportunities diminishes, families tend to live hand-to-mouth, barely have enough money to cover rents and food, with adults working in menial jobs for a daily wage. If something happens to disrupt this fragile source of income, desperation and hunger often force children to the streets as a means to survival.
Socio-politically and economically invisible and often overlooked by governments, policymakers, and the society in general, Abuja’s Street children seldom end up on the street due to one event. There are multiple causal factors — economic, social, psychological and political issues — which combine in a process of increasing vulnerability.
The World Bank calls the upsurge in family stress leading to separation of children from their families the ‘spiral of vulnerability’. This spiral often interacts gradually with other push-and-pull factors. Vulnerable families lack the resilience to cope with additional shocks such as the unyielding debilitating economic trauma and its attendant job losses Nigerians have been persistently faced with over the past eight years and the devastating insecurity in the country.
The terror attacks in the north have created a clan of hapless children who are growing in number to populate the beggar colonies in different parts of Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of government, and no one seems to be bothered about it. Many of them are growing to become delinquent children who now operate as pick pockets, traffic robbers and street thieves in the neighbourhood.
Aliyu said he was from Zamfara in the extreme northwest of the country. In fast-paced Hausa, he said he was seventeen and came to Abuja four years ago to seek his fortune in the city. He has never attended a school aside the local Islamiya in his natal birth place, Maradun.
Banditry in Zamfara State has continued to cost lives and displace thousands of families from their towns and villages. Illegal mining of huge gold deposits has been identified as one of the underlying causes of the region’s conflict. Security officials insist that a strong and glaring nexus has been established between the activities of bandits and illicit mining.
Aliyu ekes out a living by washing cars alongside hundreds of other street kids in the city. He says he works under an ‘Oga,’ and makes an average of one thousand naira a day.
“Wallahi, I sleep outside somewhere in Dei Dei. There are many of us that sleep outside like that. It doesn’t bother me. I am used to it,” he said.
In difficult circumstances, children often see living on the streets as a better way to exist. The bright lights of big cities appeal to those living in hardship in rural areas and many flee to the urban areas looking for work, opportunities, or simply adventure.
Abuja’s street children work as car-washers or scavengers. They beg for money to buy food, and when there is none, they eat leftovers from restaurants and passers-by or scavenge from bins. Many inundate car drivers at varied stops to solicit for money to subsist.
They can be found sleeping on pavements, cardboard boxes or bare ground. They come together under bridges and trees, their belongings in plastic bags or broken retail trolleys, symbolising lives on the move.
Majority lack basic education. They also have no access to school so fall behind in their studies, meaning they have little or no chance of ever improving their situations and finding new opportunities. Many children are keen to gain an education, but have no way to do so.
“In the streets, there are no skills, no talent and no compassion; you had to fight for everything—and most importantly, there are no books. Our daily education was survival, since eating once a day was a daunting challenge, Ayomide Olawale, a former street child noted in a World Bank report.
11-year-old Musa Bala, who hails from Dutse, told a national daily in June that he escaped from the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Zamfara.
“I am from Zamfara, I left the camp in Gummi after our village was attacked and we were forced to leave. Begging here in Dutse market is more profitable than staying in the training school at Dawaki, no adequate feeding for all of us in the school,” he said.
Damaraya Idris, 10, in Dawaki, also told the daily that he was one of 60 children apprehended by the Social Welfare Department of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), but he left the school to be on the street.
“In Islamiya, we are not allowed to go outside and make money. I had to find an escape route. My father chased us out of the house in Kano, and my four brothers went to fend for themselves,” he said.
Another child in Bwari, who simply identified himself as Abubakar also said: “I am from Jigawa. I don’t know my age. A relative took us away from our parents with a promise of taking us to school, but when we came to Abuja we were subjected to begging.”
In April, the Street Children Parliament warned that the continued neglect of the country’s over 20 million out-of-school children would make them soft targets for criminals to recruit as child soldiers, bandits and criminals that will constitute threat to society.