Let me take you on this pseudo-perilous long journey with Lagos street youth.
I was at an #EndSARS gathering when angry Nigerians (you call them hoodlums or government-sponsored thugs) started initiating what would have turned a riot. Fortunately, the protesters were able to chase them away, injuring a few in the process. But, I went home thinking if these significant ‘other’ understood what #EndSARS is all about.
I asked around, adding that we need these people on our side. And, everyone I spoke to agreed with me, but none answered my question: “sho ye won?” (Do they understand the cause?). That’s where the muse flew from. Though, the direction later changed.
This time, I wanted to tell the personal stories of these Lagos street youth. We only have a single story about them. I wanted to know if they were mentally interested in academic pursuits, personal growth, if they loved the alternate freedom they enjoyed, if they understood what’s happening in the country, amid a host of other questions.
I spent the following months ruminating. I had related with these people from afar. This time I had to sit with them, even dine with them.. Was I going to smoke weed? I thought about that too.
I finally arrived at a place I could find these people, and the devil’s watchword overwhelmed me.
“You can do this. You came here for this,” I kept whispering to myself. I also remembered Stacey Abrams saying in a TED Talk, “Do not allow setbacks to set you back.” However, I got to a gathering and the penetrating eyes made me increase my pace. When I turned back, I simply walked past. “These ones are wolves.”
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I was beginning to accept the terms these angry Nigerians are referred to: thugs, criminals, dangerous people, unapproachable miscreants. But, that’s not how I wanted to see them at this point.
So, I walked forward. To my delight, one of them walked up to me, hands raised. I quickly engaged him before I allowed fear set in and started a conversation.
“Se o busy?”
“Kini mo n se? Se e fe se nko ni?”
“Yes, you know who dem dey call journalist?”
Okay, too much grammar. This is the ghetto.
“I just wan ask una some questions. Help me find ten people, I go give you money.”
“Oyaaaa! Just wait here. Make I go bring them.”
He eventually came back with some other street kids and I smiled, knowing I had achieved something.
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The conversations went on. Selfies were taken. One of them even talked of snapchat. “I don’t use Snapchat,” I mentioned. “Na lie joor. Fine boy like you.” I still don’t know what that means. But that’s a good conversation to have.
Then they turned on me.
“No be all of una I wan give money oo.”
That was the lighter.
“E be like say you no know wetin you dey talk.”
“E ma da lohun. O wò gbogbo eléyì, ọ wá n so rubbish.” (Don’t mind him. He’s dressed like this yet saying rubbish).
What was I going to do? Do I continue ‘reasoning’ with them or pay them for their services.
Amid of all that, I was learning some of their other concerns.
The NGO drama in Nigeria
“E go carry our video, go sell am, come pocket the money.”
I remember a session I attended some time ago, where one of the panellists mentioned that he doesn’t believe in Nigerian NGOs because they hardly do what they are sponsored for. For him, he’d rather like to see NGOs fighting for social justice than just buying food and drinks every other week for the less privileged.
This was the concern of the street kids. They were literally tired of “people using them to make money“, while they continue to languish in poverty.
“Dem go just bring one small rice, talk, talk, talk, come waka go.”
“Na why we must collect money from your hand.”
This is a conversation for stakeholders in the NGO space.
The middle-class story
“We dey see them everyday. Dem go just dey pass like say dem no get money. But, just go club for night.”
It is no news that street kids believe the middle-class in Nigeria have surplus funds to share around. They look at working-class Nigerians and already see individuals earning lots of money that should be shared.
From another angle, they know their access to the upper-class is limited, so the middle-class suffers the sharp end of the stick.
I tried explaining to them why this idea is flawed. But, they wanted those funds I stashed in my account. “I wish I had it shaa.”
The idea that Lagos street youth are just criminals
No doubt, we have kleptomaniacs among street kids. There are those who want to wear Robinhood’s shoes, but this time, for themselves.
“We no be thief. We dey work. We get boss.”
But, how much of that do we believe? Maybe your encounters with them will tell your story better.
But, they were categorical about it: We are no criminals!
One of them hit me in the chest saying this. “I dey work morning and night, you come here come dey call me thief? No do am again oo.”
On a lighter note, the “rest” conversation
“We no dey work everyday oo. We dey rest for Sunday.”
How many Nigerians believe in the idea of rest? Take a cue from these street kids who believe that you can’t do it all.
The idea is to do your best but rest along the way. That’s the time the body is recharged to go at it again.
Pay attention to good rest. It is a no-brainer. It is unarguable.
The conversation continues with street kids. For now, see how our conversation went:
Omoleye Omoruyi… an apprentice web/game developer, novelist, sensitive to happenings in the world. Meet him @Lord_rickie on Twitter/Instagram