By Helen Ovbiagele
Two scantily-clothed malnourished-looking young girls stood outside a Guest House, patiently waiting for someone to answer to their knock on the gate. At last a burly guard opened the gate and in a gruff voice asked them what they wanted. One of them pointed to the signboard on the wall. It was a job advertisement for bar boys and girls.
“My goodness! Don’t tell me that those little girls want to work as bar girls.” exclaimed a relation who was with me in a nearby store. “They can’t be more than twelve years old! They’re children, for goodness’ sake!”
“They do look young, but they may be actually be as old as fifteen. Maybe they’re stunted in growth, due to malnutrition. However, they seem wide-awake and streetwise. They may even be eighteen or nineteen years old.” I remarked.
“These ones? No way. At most they would be thirteen. They look homeless to me. Can you see the cake of mud on the soles of their feet?”
“I can. But they’re too young to be homeless in a place like Lagos. They may look poor and hungry, but they must be living with someone. They can’t be on their own.”
Just then we heard the guard telling them that the hotel manager was out, and that they should report back late at night to see him. The positions were still vacant, he added.
“Hm!” sighed the shop man, hissing under his breath. “Bad man! He’s telling lies. He just wants to useless the girls. The manager no go anywhere. He just came in now.”
“Do you know these people at the hotel?” my relation asked him.
“Yes, madam. I dey run this shop for four years now. I know them well well. The owner of the hotel dey live abroad. The manager is his brother. That guard there is not a good man. He didn’t tell the girls the truth that they employed two girls already yesterday, and so, no more vacancy.”
“So, what will he do with the girls when they return later in the night, as he had told them to?
“Madam dey ask that?” sniggered the shop man. “He’s a man, now.”
‘Oh dear! Another set of vulnerable girls caught in a net of lust,’ groaned my relation.
As we left the shop, she suddenly suggested that we should go talk to the girls, who were still hanging around on the road nearby, and discourage them from going to work as as bar girls, as they were far too young for that. They could get lured into a world of prostitution.
I didn’t think it was a good idea, but I went with her to speak to the girls. I left the talking to her. The girls listening attentively, thanked her, and then said it was the ideal job for them, and it was what they wanted to do.
“What about your parents?” I asked. “Are they aware that you want to be bar girls?”
“Madam, we look after ourselves,” said one of them. “Our people dey village. They don’t choose for us what to do. My daddy is no more, and my friend here, be orphan. We know what we want. We want hotel job.”
“Why?” my relation asked.
“Ah, we go get where to stay, and dem will feed us. We won’t have problem. We will meet many men who will help us. They will take care of us.”
“What do you mean, take care of you? Who told you that a hotel is the place for you to get men who will help you?”
“We get friends who do hotel work, and them tell us everything.”
“ What help do you expect men to give you there?”
Silence. “Where do you live and with whom?” Silence. “How old are you?”
“Madam, we old enough to look after ourselves. I be 15; my friend here na 14. We no be little children.”
In the face of such resistance and declaration of freedom and independence, I nudged my relation, indicating that we should leave them alone. They had already begun to walk off, anyway; convinced that the line of job they wanted was the best for them; and they had the right to make choices for themselves.
Who can stop them embracing a profession which will surely be laced with prostitution; with all the attendant danger? No-one; except governments at all levels make it a point to look beyond helping only the young persons in the cities and towns, and run programmes which will take care of the needs of young Nigerians in this category in the rural areas.
Usually, vocational courses run by the various governments are given much publicity in the media. Any direction you look, you’re being assured that the governments are busy taking care of the needs of young people; giving them free training which would give them a means of livelihood, and possibly, free equipment/start-off loans to set up their own businesses.
But this is merely scratching the top of the unemployment problem among our young people, as only those in the urban areas profit from these programmes, and not all of them at that. Their counterparts in the rural areas then migrate to the cities in an attempt to eke out a living. In desperation after fruitless search for work, they abandon all the morals values they’ve imbibed at home (if any), and they embrace criminal activities, prostitution, etc, in order to survive. Returning empty to their villages is seen as a disgrace and an indication that they are a failure.
State and local governments should wake up and take care of young persons at grassroot level if they want to bring down the current high level of criminal activities. They should compile lists of graduands of the primary and secondary schools in their areas before they leave school, interact with the schools in order to find out what the individual child is going to do afterwards. This may seem a mammoth task, but it isn’t if it’s done ward by ward by the local governments. They have departments of Education which should take care of this, helped by the councillors of the various wards.
Suitable programmes would then be run in the villages for those who need them, and at the end of these courses, they should be helped to set up in their environment.
This would help reduce, not only criminal activities, but also mass migration to the urban areas.
In addition to this, there should be even development of infrastructures and social services throughout every State in the country, so that young persons would be encouraged to stay back home and develop themselves.