By Prisca Sam-Duru
In 2008, Mazi Amaechi paid a woman (names withheld) from Ebonyi State but married to an Imo State indigene, the sum of N8,000 and a teenage boy named Onukwube was brought to live with them as a house-help. Initially, there was communication problem because they couldn’t understand each other’s dialect.
The worst of it all was that Onukwube was 15 years and yet had never been in school. Nevertheless, because of his passion for education, having retired as a teacher, Mazi Amaechi enrolled the boy at the Central School Umuozu to begin primary one with a promise to train him up to secondary school if he did well.
In 2010, Onukwube was sent back to Ebonyi for exhibiting traits and character of a vagabond. Not long after, several other teenagers were brought into other families in the same community by the same woman who brought Onukwube to Imo State. She confessed she has made a fortune out of the trade.
Onukwube is just one out of so many Ebonyi State indigenes who are today, not privileged to have basic education. In the rural areas, most of them join their parents in the farms, while outside Ebonyi State, they serve in homes as house-helps and as street hawkers especially in Lagos metropolis.
Just like there are human traffickers who transport Nigerian girls to foreign countries where they are introduced to sex trade, these young boys are brought to Lagos by merchants. The level of timidity amongst these youths is alarming. Some who are as old as 20 years and even more said they saw electric bulbs for the first time in the city and marvelled at the sight which is one reason they are easily deceived by the rich who promise them fortunes prior to migrating to Lagos.
From investigations, they serve their bosses by hawking bottled water and drinks, pop corn, sausage rolls, plantain chips and ice cream on the roads . They are set free after three years of serving their masters and with the little money they saved, they continue life by hawking puff puff , phone accessories, glasses and frames on the streets or begin food-stuff business while others buy motorcycles on hire purchase for Okada business.
Azubuike,27, has been serving his master whose name he refused to disclose, for close to three years. He sells cold drinks and water and according to him, “I make gain of N100 from each pack which is 12 bottles and I make more gain when the weather is hot and there is traffic. I would have loved to buy Okada when I am free but because of what Fashola has done to Okada business, maybe I will look for another trade that will fetch me more gain”.
The major reason for urban drift is no doubt, lack of amenities such as electricity, pipe-borne water, roads, schools that offer quality education and of course, industries that can keep the labour force positively busy. It is sad to discover that most of these amenities are lacking in most Ebonyi communities. Also, one of the reasons for the creation of the state is for grassroots development but regrettably, since Ebonyi State was carved out of Enugu and Abia States on October 1st, 1996, most of these amenities are yet to be made available in most of the communities in the state with the exception of the capital city, Abakaliki.
Mr Chukwu Emeka who hails from Ndiokeishieke village in Ebonyi State is one of the few exceptions of Ebonyi indigenes who are fortunate to have attended school. He holds SSCE, courtesy of his uncle, a primary six graduate who brought him to Lagos and saw him through both primary and secondary schools. He is presently into production of electricity poles in Ikorodu, Lagos.
Commenting on the state of his community, Emeka said that “Ndiokeishioke village in terms of development is very backward.There is no electricity, no motorable roads and no pipe-borne water. It is sad that my people who are mostly farmers, cannot access the town easily because even when they struggle to produce large quantity of farm produce, they find it almost impossible to travel to the cities to sell them. It is surprising that the major means of movement within the villages is still bicycle and it is even more surprising that not all can afford one. The people can best be described as living far below poverty level and this is the major reason the youths fall into the trap of traffickers who promise to turn their lives around for good but end up using them as slaves”.
According to Emeka, as it is in his village, so it is in so many other communities. It was discovered, however, that there are several reasons why most Ebonyi youths who are supposed to be in school are hawking on the streets of Lagos. The State has vast lands and one school is usually located in a village that is several miles away from other villages, and one single school is meant to serve not less than 15 communities.
This Emeka noted, “makes it difficult for indigenes to access education and even when it is free education, in most cases, parents end up paying so much through levies. Most of the teachers are not diligent and the students themselves do not help matters either. You will discover that most often, during school hours, students play and fight or work in the teachers’ farms which span several acres, until closing time”.
Mr Alex is another Ebonyi indigene who sells foodstuffs. He has about four teenagers who instead of being in school, are helping him out in his shop located at Gberigbe, Ikorodu, Lagos. When he was asked his reasons for bringing them, he said that, “Things are not easy with people in the village and my bringing them to assist in my shop is a way of helping them and their parents. As soon as they have mastered the trade, I will assist them to start their own businesses.”
Considering the level of neglect explained by Emeka, one wonders if these communities have representatives at the state and federal levels and if they are doing anything to alleviate the sufferings of their people.
Explaining further, Emeka said that “you may not have a single graduate in a whole community which is why my people do not have enough representatives at the state level. There are no rural development projects, no single government presence in the communities, no bridges and most times, a small stream, can cut off a whole community from the others, especially, when the river is in full capacity during rainy season.”
Continuing, he disclosed that “there are reported cases of people who were swept away with their bicycles by Okpokpo river which is between Ekebeligwe and NdiokeIshieke where there is no bridge. They were reported missing until their bodies were seen floating on another river in a neighbouring village. Some, who were lucky to have escaped carried their bicycles on their heads while crossing. Also, it is surprising that what some of these communities refer to as roads are actually worse than bush paths because, two people coming from opposite directions with their bicycles, cannot go through except one waits for the other.”
On health matters, Chukwu Emeka said that, “You will hardly find a single Primary Health Care in communities in Ebonyi except in Abakaliki. A single auxiliary nurse attends to so many patients from various communities. Ebonyi indigenes are hard-working people and yet, from year to year, they remain poor.”
Another heart-breaking issue is the issue of male youth corps members posted to complement the teachers but rather than teach, they end up impregnating the girls.
“Because of the girls’ naivety, a single youth corps member ends up impregnating between eight to ten girls who are later married off to old men and that ends their education. Friday Nwokpoku, an ex-student of Ndiokeishieke Grammer school is an example of secondary school graduates produced in this area. In 2012, Friday took SSCE and after paying N30,000, scored F9 in all subjects just like most of his mates.”
Sadly Emeka said, “They place no value on education. These are part of the reasons for the mass urban drift by Ebonyi state youths to the cities and the resultant effect has been detrimental.