Friday, September 08, 2006


3 prominent images registered in my mind that morning. They were (not in any order): Street traders, petrol stations, and churches. They were everywhere. Street traders hugging every street and main road with a semblance of slow moving traffic. Petrol stations lined up on every motorway, in some cases three or four in a row. And churches littered, literally, everywhere else. A five minute drive down one road, I counted more churches than residential homes. All these had positive and negative aspects. On the positive, they were good, industrious ideas. But the negatives far outweighed any positives. These ideas were individually minded, with the sole goal of making money. I will try to explain further on this, but first I need to give an insight to the value of money to the Nigerian people:

Every Nigerian is undergoing one project or another. The value of these projects are not measured by their importance or worth, but rather how much profit you can make from it in the shortest space of time. This is not a criticism, just a statement of fact. For instance, it seems that there’s a surge in the property market especially in the southern Delta region which is experiencing regenerative growth due to the arrival of foreign companies with invested interests in Nigeria’s oil. With the emergence of this property market, we see a rise in property agents. We see individuals with no prior education, qualification or training in the field who basically operate on word of mouth. And it goes like this: an agent finds someone to buy your house and you give him a percentage of the price. Sounds simple, and it is, this formula is widely adopted around the world. But this is where things get complicated: agents can now hire ‘sub-agents’ to spread this news, making his job easier but also reducing his cut percentage as there are more agents involved. You could find yourself in a situation where the buyer has an agent looking for a property and the seller has 2 or 3 agents trying to sell his property, all of them vying for the spoils.

One lesser note -but one which I think just as effectively touches on Nigerians’ value of money- journeys are measured by their fare and not by distance or even the duration of the journey. But this might have more to do with the precious nature of currency than any common desire for wealth.

Child Labour
The issue of child labour in Nigeria, and indeed Africa as a whole is an issue that needs to be treaded carefully and with great attention. There are two ways of explaining what I saw on the streets and I believe that these points of view are distinctive in their own right. The problem arises when each viewpoint is taken exclusively without any regard of the other.

I strongly believe that the term ‘child labour’ represents different meanings in the ‘developed world’ and ‘developing world’. Most people tend to look at it from a European/ Western point of view, which is understandable; after all it offers better human rights for children. But this view can be misconstrued if implied in Africa without any prior knowledge of background ie family history, tradition etc. The west and Africa are two different worlds, with cultures as far apart as, their GDPs per se. Europe has come a long way to where it presently finds itself. Our infrastructure is in decay. We have no water, electricity.

Homelessness is widespread among the majority. The children have to eat. It is that simple. It is not like the African parents are chilling in their comfy living rooms, furnished with Ikea sofas, living it up while their poor children slave their guts out on the streets. Africa is living in an age where the family has to work hard all day, everyday to put food on the table for the next day, and the next, and so on. The children work because there is no other alternative. Dad is out all day working as an ‘okada’ man (motorbike taxi) earning the equivalent of £5 a day. Mum is sweating all day in the heat in the market, trying to sell the fruit & veg she got up at four in the morning to buy from the wholesalers and any second hand items she is lucky to get her hands on. If she makes as much as dad, Christmas has come early for her. The children are at home. There is no money to send them to school or buy them clothes, just to feed them. To make ends meet the family needs extra funds. And that is the other way child labour can be view. As a way of making the family system in the townships and villages of Africa work. A necessity for the survival of the most valuable of all systems, the family. Of course there are circumstances where people have taken advantage of this and abused the system to the point of slavery (Victoria Climbe and other cases to name but a few), but these problems are generic problems endemic in the rest of the world and not exclusively to Africa. It is sad, and yes it is child labour. But simply putting a stop to it will not solve one thing. It will rather make things worse. The problem lies much deeper within.


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