The Hard Life of Niger Delta Children

Omena
Omena

Many Children in the Niger Delta region are out of school because their parents are so poor that they cannot buy their uniforms or pay their fees

|  By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Jun. 10, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

IRIE Oguno is not your regular 10-year-old chap. His rough hair, hooded eyes, sonorous voice and lifestyle give him away as a teenager. Unlike his counterparts in the cities, growing up in Ogbe-Ijoh, a hamlet in Warri, Delta State, offers him nothing but a hard life without toys, computer games, story books and other fantasies of a child.

The polluted river
The polluted river

On a sunny Friday afternoon when his mates are busy in their classrooms, Oguno is preoccupied with catching fish with a locally-made hook in the polluted Ogbe-Ijoh River. In the evening, he moves whatever he caught to the streets where he sells to women and other slum dwellers like himself. Even though Oguno attends a community primary school, his dream is not to become a doctor or lawyer; he wants to be a fisherman with a big boat so that he can make big catches and more money to take care of his mother and siblings.

Uvwie Omena, Ogunu’s friend and fishing mate is 12 years old. Like his buddy, he is unkempt and wanders about barefooted in the slums of Ogbe-Ijoh and neighboring communities in tattered clothes. Omena is out of school but plays football as a pastime and hopes to represent Nigeria on the global stage in the future.  “They call me ‘Jay Jay Okocha’ on the field. I will play for Nigeria one day because I am a good player and people like me”.

Although they represent less than a fraction, Uvwie and Oguno’s stories mirror the lives of many children in the Niger Delta growing up the hard way. In Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and other states in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, there are thousands of children living in squalor and poverty. They are robbed of childish innocence, denied the basic necessities of life and left to fend for themselves because their parents are poor and can’t afford to cater for them.

Oguno displaying his catch
Oguno displaying his catch

Omena for instance, has only been to school thrice since the second term began in April. He says he stopped going to school because his uniform was torn and the teachers asked him to stay back at home until he gets new ones. While waiting to get the new uniforms, he devotes a major part of his day to fishing in the community river and joins his friends to sell at the market in the evenings. His earnings are also spent on feeding and other childish exuberances. “I catch fishes in this river every day and sell them at the market in the evening. The small ones are sold for N50 and the big ones go for N100. I spend my money on feeding and buying any other thing I like. I also give money to my mother and siblings sometimes”.

Unlike Omena, Oguno goes to school but it appears he is more interested in fishing. Having spent two years in primary three because he couldn’t pass his promotion exams last session, he is on the verge of dropping out of school completely to face his fishing business. “I go to school once in a while but the subjects taught are hard for me. I was asked to repeat primary three because I failed last session. I don’t have books so I have to work with boat owners to make money in order to buy my books”.

Listening to the tales of other children in the community, it is easy to conclude that Omena and Oguno are lucky. Many of their mates who do not have the patience of fishing have become urchins and errand bearers for some rich people in the community.

Another Niger Delta kid
Another Niger Delta kid

Elah Odu, who is about the same age with Oguno, washes dishes at a canteen in the community. She is paid N100 per day and spends a chunk of the money on buying food from the same canteen. Odu is enrolled at the community primary school but she rarely goes because she has to work in the canteen every day. “I like school but I don’t have the time to go every day. My father is late and my mother is very poor. I want to go to school, but there is no money.”

Loius Eboh owns a boat and works with some of these children. He says many of them were brought to him by their parents so he can teach them the trade. “The economic situation in the Niger Delta is terrible. Many of the children you see working with me were brought here by their parents. They can’t send them to school so it is better for them to learn this trade so they can make something out of their lives.

Like their children, parents of these Niger Delta children have accepted their fate. They seem unperturbed that their children are not in school and will never be able to compete with their counterparts in the city. Uvwie’s mother, Odiri Omena, says she would have loved to see him and her other children in school but cannot afford to pay the fees. “It is not my fault that they don’t go to school; I don’t have money to pay the fees.”

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