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By  Usman Mohammed
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This piece could have been otherwise captioned 'STOLEN CHILDHOOD', for innocence is desecrated on the alter of goodwill when childhood is stolen.

Last night, I was in taxi and the driver was driving through the rustic town of Minna, along the ever busy Kpakungu Road, as the morning sun was piercing the clouds in its distant horizon, one was greeted with that usual nostalgia engendered by a cacophony of cryptic blend of early morning 'calls' from overblown loud speakers as merchants of the gospel embarked on 'soul wining, simmering with the nauseating chiming of the two stroke engines of the popular tricycle christened 'Keke NAPEP'.

In the hullabaloo, one could not but help noticing a young boy of about ten, who should be neatly tucked underneath his duvet, with the assurance of the warm embrace of a loving and caring family. Straddling a bottle of Eva water underneath his left armpit, while beholding a piece of foam soaked in acerbic detergent, he aggressively approached to wipe my windshield. Despite my protest, he went ahead to render his unsolicited 'service'. After creating a mosaic of leather and seeming cake of dust, he gently approached for a reward for his efforts. As he made his way to the drivers' side, his dentition revealed a multi-layered labyrinthine of crusted calcium and dirt that looked thoroughly weather beaten, even for his young age. I rolled my windows down and he introduced himself as John. A generous tip that could likely cater for his primordial needs for at least the next two days still left me with an equal mix of awe and trepidation.

Awe because of a certain fate that awaits such sordid take off in childhood, and trepidation in full anticipation of the indelible stigmata street dwelling would etch on the psyche of one so young. Young in age, but old enough to be thrust into the vicissitudes of fending for oneself on the streets where life is as brutish as it's unforgiving. As this boy displayed his services and skills, in between patronage he aggregates with his ilk on the kerb. His street 'colleagues' are engaged in diverse 'trades'; from selling of toothpicks through insecticides and rodent poison; from hawking used

wristwatches and second hand mobile phones through displaying windshield wipers, they graduate to more advanced and rewarding ventures. Ventures that are ventured into only at night.

For my ten year old 'friend', the street is his workplace, and his resting place, dilapidated and incomplete buildings. They live on token in the day, to our collective undermining and deception under the cover of the night. A different category of 'street children' are those that are plying their 'trade' in the company of their parents, and a cursory perusal

of their physiognomy immediately reveals their background and identity. These category are victims more of religious belief, warped cultural machinations than sheer fate. What obtains in Minna happens in virtually every urban city in Nigeria. But the salient question is; how did we get to this point? How have we so blatantly and deliberately failed these young generation?

The number of street children and urchins a nation parades is a direct reflection of her state of underdevelopment, and the meager premium placed on the wellbeing of future generations. Lagos and a few other states have taken the bold step of ridding the streets (and roads) of these children, hawkers and beggars, but such well intentioned acts still fall within the realm of rhetorics. It's tantamount to putting the cart before the horse, as some of these children take to the streets because there are no better alternatives.

Children, some at times take to the streets because of fractured family structures that offer no semblance of a home. To care for such fractious children, the government must foster a deliberate welfare system to absorb them in a loving environment. Their education should be non-negotiable. Economic penury has oftentimes driven parents to send their wards to the harsh realities of the street, where even Orwellian 'Animal Farm' offers some modicum of order, equality and fair play.

Improvement of the economic fortunes of parents translate to those of their ward, and well orchestrated and people-oriented government economic policies would go a long way in redressing the menace of street children. Religion and begging is a contentious area, but one wonders why the children of the elites are never on the streets. Could there be a deliberate policy of systematic dehumanization of the offsprings of the 'common' to consistently and perpetually lord over them? Walking through the streets of Dubai, it's pertinent to note that one never noticed the presence of street children and beggars.

Thinking of my little 'friend', John and his decrepit life on the street, silhouette of his weather beaten young body that has received the bashing of debased humanity haunts me. It's difficult to dissociate John with a certain faith that awaits him (certainly faith accompli) if his fortunes are not turned around, and quickly. John is likely to turn up a hardened criminal, armed robber, political thug, assassin than he's likely to be a consummate professional with the

promise of a certain good life.
We might blame John for his tattered looks and aggressive ways, but he's a creation of a warped society. His distorted psyche is cocooned and cast in the brutality of life on the precipice, and for my dear little friend, John, his childhood was painfully snatched from him. His innocence has been desecrated.

As John's peers prepare to go back to school, he's gradually but steadily climbing the ladders of street dwelling and survival. John is perfecting his acts and skills, and it would be most foolhardy to deny the place of John in our society. He's a ticking time bomb, waiting to explode on the society that engineered him. For the likes of John, extreme violence is only but visceral, with his young and tainted mind riveted on autopilot as he accepts the inconvenient truth that he dwells in a society that defined a creed of 'him against the world'. The bitter truth is either good fortune 'rescues' him; cultists win him over; insurgents recruit him with feeble promises of assured eternity or he goes solo to torment humanity. The later case scenarios look the more likely! John and hislikes are damning testimony of our failed society, an egregious sign of how low we have sunken.

Usman Mohammed
Department of Mass Communication, IBB Varsity, Lapai-Niger State.