It was midday on Sunday; just after the 10am service. A lady was trying to make a lunch appointment with her daughter and her prospective husband.
But first, she needed to buy some fruits at the open Sunday market near her church. She was still trying to pack well when she heard a thud and a scream. This was followed by shouts from a fast gathering crowd.
Her immediate thought was that she must have hit someone as she was trying to park. A confused and nervous lady rushed out of her car – an SUV -not even bothering to switch off the ignition.
‘Helpful hands’ had carried a young boy from under the car by the front tyre. The choruses were ‘where is the nearest hospital’ and ‘take him to an hospital quickly’.
The boy – about ten – was lying comatose by the car where those ‘helpful hands’ had put him for all to see. There was a fresh-looking wound on one leg as he lay still, too still. It was as if bones had been broken or a concussion had occurred.
A fellow parishioner who recognised the lady told her to switch off the engine and lock the car before attending to the motley crowd of youths and beggars demanding for an urgent medical aid. Just as well. The same ‘helpful hands’ had again lifted the boy and were trying to open the back door to put the kid in.
Another parishioner approached her. On no account must she allow them enter her car was his advice. It was at this point that the ‘helpful hands’ put the boy down. A stern voice among them asked the boy to ‘stand up and be a man’.
At this point, the boy stood up holding his leg and sobbing to the relief of those who genuinely felt the situation was really bad.
More parishioners gathered round the lady lending support. Sensing they might lose the battle, this collection of youths and beggars asked for a sum to take the kid to a hospital themselves. The amount was slashed by the parishioners. Drastically. The grateful lady quickly paid, entered her car and zoomed off while she could.
Nobody noticed that there was no bloodstain on the floor. None was on the car. This lady got away with one because she was not outnumbered. Thanks to the parishioners who came to her rescue. Many are not so lucky.
Everywhere and every time, there is always this motley crowd of youths and beggars at street corners and shades. The more populated or poorer the neighbourhood, the more you find them. You also find them around construction sites and warehouses – places where brawn is preferred to brain.
It is not a pretty sight to behold. But it is a common sight these days. Some will undress to their boxers to play football as early as 7 am if there is any little space to play. If not, they play cards or bet at the ever present betting booths.
But whatever game they might be seen to be engaged in, it is just to while away the time until the real game surfaces like the one that involved the lady.
This real game is the game of survival. It is the difference between going to bed hungry and having something to hold the belly. Food stalls are never too far away with their cheap, badly prepared food to prise money from these idling youths.
This game of survival goes far into the night. Some in fact become more active at the coming of dusk. Their instincts are honed; always looking for game. Always looking for victims. This is the life to which many of our teeming youths now belong. The numbers are rising every day no thanks to the economy. They live rough. They sleep rough. They are rough. This is the Street Life.
Talk to them and you will find that they don’t have the dreams you and I had in our youthful years. They don’t aspire to be medical doctors or engineers. They just want to be rich; to live large. They don’t believe in the rigours that will make them professionals either.
After all, the rich Nigerians are not the professors. They are not the doctors. In our days, those who could not go to school learnt a trade. In our time, it took four to five years for a trainee to become a printing machine operator for example.
Three years of which to undergo the tutelage of serving before being paid for their services during the last two or so years. Different trades have different years of apprenticeship. But at the end, the ‘graduates’ would always find work and be able to fend for themselves.
The youths of today don’t have that kind of patience when there is money to be made on the streets. I was stunned when trainees were leaving the printing business when I still owned a printing press to become ‘gatekeepers’ for danfo drivers. Some opted out to become Okada riders. The effect is in the dearth and quality of artisans and machine operators we have today in the country.
The need to be rich at the expense of education or apprenticeship has led many to cultism, money rituals and scams. But really, they are just misguided youths who have been misled by the values society holds dear.
The politicians who should take them off the street and re-orientate them are actually happy that they have a cheap army of thugs and enforcers at their disposal. The kind of money and impunity that politicians display during the electioneering season is enough to turn the head of anybody who is not well-grounded.
These youths, many of them dropouts, are exposed within a short time, to the kind of power and impunity that only money could have wrought. No wonder they are prepared to kill for money. To them, having money is the bottom line; the end game – whether you are a pastor, a politician or a professor.
They may not be enough, but there are some jobs out there as farmers, artisans and machine operators and repairers. They involve skills. And skills require hard work and years of apprenticeship. Our youths need to be taught the dignity of labour. To do that effectively, our system needs to be retooled to reward the application of hard work. Of labour. Right now, the system is teaching the opposite while the society itself is leaning towards unexplained wealth.
The youths are our future. We cannot afford them idling away or worse, being picked up to be indoctrinated as terrorists and ritualists.