As the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) specified, there are over 20 million children in Nigeria who are out of school as 1.2 million alone are in Bauchi State. Here is a tale of how children had to abandon school to hawk in Alkaleri and Misau LGAs of Bauchi State.
It was 12 noon on Monday, a young girl of about 15 years, Hafsat Hamza, rushed to a commercial vehicle, which stopped at a security checkpoint at the Futuk junction in Alkaleri town of Alkaleri LGA of Bauchi State to hawk sesame cake.
Hafsat is of school age and was seen hawking during school hours, an indication that she is not in school. Young Hafsat is into selling sesame cake to commuters plying the road that passes through her hometown.
According to the young girl, she was in primary three in Kofar Marafa Primary School, Alkaleri when her mother withdrew her, and initiated her into street hawking of the local delicacy to motorists along the Gombe-Bauchi highway.
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“I was a primary three pupil when my father retired from public service. He was a supporting staff in one of the healthcare facilities. After his retirement life became unbearable for us, so I had to drop out of school in order to help my parents, especially my mother who took over the responsibility of her seven children,” Hafsat said.
She told Daily Trust that her father has 15 children from his three wives and was virtually doing nothing since his retirement.
“So, our parents rely on this hawking that we are doing to feed the family, and provide for our basic needs.”
She said she sells sesame cake worth over N4,000 daily and uses the proceeds to buy foodstuff and other items needed at home.
And as Hafsat is out of school hawking on the street to eke a living, so is Fatima Mohammed.
Fatima said she would prefer to be in school like her peers, and always felt bad when she saw her friends in their school uniforms on their way to school.
“I will like to be in school like my friends, because without going to school I cannot achieve my dream of becoming a health worker. We only attend Islamic school in the evening, but most of the time we are too tired to concentrate during the classes,” she said.
She said: “I am hawking out of no choice because my father told me that he cannot afford to keep me in school due to the harsh economic situation. In fact, I grew up seeing my elder siblings hawking on the streets. So, when I grew up, I naturally joined them, as it is the tradition in the family.”
Halima Mohammed, a food hawker also in Alkaleri, said she was not enrolled in school by her father, because he could not afford it, so, she had no choice but to sell food on the street to help feed her other younger siblings.
“Apart from feeding my family, my mother is saving part of the proceeds of the hawking to buy items for me to use when I eventually get married,” she said.
However, Daily Trust noted that girls are not the only ones challenged by the issue of being out of school in Alkaleri town, as the boys are also not spared.
A 17-year-old Salisu Mohammed said he dropped out of school when his only pair of school uniform wore out.
“I was in primary two when my only set of school uniforms wore out and I was attending the school with a tattered uniform. The school authorities directed that I must get a new uniform before I would be allowed into class,” he said.
He noted that his father then said he didn’t have money to buy him a new uniform, so from that day he dropped out and started to help his father at the farm.
According to Mohammed, his father is a subsistence farmer, who was struggling to feed their family of six.
He said: “We have nobody to help us. My elder brother got married. He works as a labourer at a local bakery here in Alkaleri town. So, he is also struggling to feed his family.”
Meanwhile, a parent told Daily Trust that their children hawked to help in the family’s upkeep.
A 55-year-old resident of Masori community in Alkaleri town, Malam Barde, said he has three wives and 30 children and almost all his children engaged in hawking to help at the home front.
“The economy is hard and I cannot fend for my large family alone, so they have to hawk, as it has become inevitable because it is from the proceeds they brought home that we survive,” he said.
Barde explained that out of no choice, they have to allow their mothers to send them on the streets to sell things to commuters and in the market, in order to compliment the little they (fathers) are bringing home.
Another resident who does not want to be named said he has eight children and two wives.
“How do you expect me to feed them, and if I cannot feed them, how do you expect me to provide uniforms and other things that will make them be in school?
You don’t expect me to starve them in the name of sending them to school. So, I have to prioritise,” he said.
However, despite the difficulties, some parents managed to make their children combine schooling and street hawking.
According to a mother, Hauwa Abdullahi, she has enrolled her children in school, but they are sponsoring their education from the proceeds of hawking.
She said: “I want my children to be educated, but due to the financial difficulties they have to hawk in order to assist the family and pay for their school needs.
“So, for me out of no choice, being a single mother, they must be on the streets to hawk and support me.”
Reacting to the development, the Director of School Services at the Bauchi State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Alhaji Karijo Buba, said there was an improvement in school enrolment from the last time.
He expressed hope that the figure will keep improving because of the partnership between the Bauchi State government and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The Bauchi Field Office of UNICEF has introduced Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) in some selected LGAs, to improve literacy skills among the pupils of primary schools in the state.
The UNICEF Education Specialist, Abdurahman Ado, explained that the approach was introduced to pupils in upper basic classes in the year 2022 in four pilot local government areas of Bauchi, Misau, Ningi and Zaki.
According to him, the TaRL approach had helped in improving the academic performance of the selected pupils in some selected schools.
During a visit to Central Primary School, Misau, Daily Trust observed that none of the classes in the school had desks for the pupils.
The chairman of the School Based Management Committee (SBMC) of the school, expressed concern over the lack of water and desks for the pupils, which he said was affecting their access to learning.
He, however, commended the state government for creating the enabling environment that enabled UNICEF and other development partners to intervene in the education sector.
In a remark at a one-day media dialogue on Out-of-School children in Bauchi State, the Chief of Field Office, UNICEF, Bauchi Office, Dr Tushar Rane, said education is a fundamental right that empowers children to reach their full potential.
He however expressed concern that, due to varying factors, a significant number of children in Bauchi State are unable to access this fundamental right, robbing them of their dreams and aspirations.
“Education plays a vital role in the development of any country. Quality education, especially at the basic level, is integral to socio-economic development; no nation can rise above its educational level. Despite the importance of education, at least, 10 million school-aged children in Nigeria are out of school. This is a major challenge to all of us,” he said.
Dr Rane, however, said UNICEF is committed to improving the lives of children and women in Nigeria, especially in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); and the Education for All (EFA) goals of educating all children at all levels and in all groups.
According to him, in this year’s enrollment drive campaign, UNICEF will be engaging traditional/religious stakeholders, SBMCs, and youths to ensure effective awareness and mobilisation of parents, guardians and communities, on the importance of enrolling all school-age children in school.
“We all have roles to play in ensuring children of school age in Bauchi State are enrolled into school at the right age. By working hand in hand, we can pave the way for a brighter and more inclusive future for children in Bauchi and beyond,” he stated.