Operation Skolombo & the plight of the street child
In January of 2017, I headed for Cross River State to serve my country, Nigeria. I was sent to the General Hospital in Calabar, by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and working in the Family Planning/Youth Friendly Center, it has helped me understand the problems facing youth in Calabar and how the knowledge of family planning could help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 1 (i.e No Poverty) in the state.
Come And Live And Be At Rest (CALABAR)
When you hear ‘Calabar’ the first thing you relate it to is ‘Beauty’, ‘Second London’, ‘Tourism’, ‘Canaan City’. It has two major local government areas — Calabar Municipal and Calabar South. It’s beyond doubt a place to come and live and be at rest or so I thought.
By the time I arrived Calabar, the romance I had with this lovely city had ended when a native of Cross River state volunteered to give me an ‘On-boarding training’ on life in this beautiful place I would call home for the next one year. He told me how wonderful night life in the city could be and how Calabar Municipal was the place to be. How Marian — one of the finest places in the city — is the melting pot of anyone who wants to have fun. Then he talked about Calabar-South and then reality set in.
Have you been in a place that’s relatively dangerous and when you call the name it strikes fear in people? Saying you live in Calabar-South — a Local Government Area — is like saying you live in Bundu which is one of the slums in Rivers state. He talked about the crime rate, how I should avoid coming home late (i.e 9pm), “Guy! keep your phone well oh make Skolombo boys no tif am for you” he said. It struck a cord then I had to ask “wetn Skolombo mean”
‘Skolombo’ and ‘Lakasara’ are names given to street kids in Calabar. Skolombo which is for the boys and Lakasara for the girls. Nigerians are religious people and at some points they could be religious extremists. I’m not talking about Islam or Boko Haram, I’m talking about Christian extremists who go as far as dumping a baby on the street because their pastor said “it’s a witch” kind of extremists. From the little research I made these children who have been thought to be witches or wizards by their biological parents and thrown out on the cold street. Some were thrown into dumps due to lack of finance or shelter to train these children. Without proper family planning knowledge and common sense, children have been neglected by society and sent to fend for themselves. They enter into crime, they feel vulnerable and are exploited by people, they beg at Watt Market, Marian and Gbogobiri (Zoo Garden) — where most of them convene to rest and discuss about whatever has conspired throughout the day. They are just kids.
Nigerians who were glued to their seats for 90 days watching Big Brother Nigeria and were happy to see ‘Efe’ win, with the mantra that he was ‘real’ and he is from the streets. I laughed because we see the real street kids and do nothing. Everyday when I see them, I wish they had their 25 Million Naira moment but would it come?
On July 10, 2015 the Governor of Cross River State, His Excelency Benedict Ayade inaugurated the Security Task Force tagged ‘Operation Skolombo’ to check mate criminal activities in the state because of the unrest in the state spanning a duration of 3 years. This was a great move by the state as it reduced crime rate but these kids that were trained by the harsh conditions of the streets who ventured into crime were killed. When I pass by ‘Efu-ote’ junction and see the police vans with ‘operation skolombo’ written , I ask myself “If the government invested in rehabilitating these children would it cost the state much as it is now?”
“… they just found a baby in the trash can”
Mrs. Obioma Imoke — past first lady of the state — said “My first experience was when one of my staff said they just found a baby in the trash can. I was a bit confused. I had never experienced that before. And I said bring the baby to my house. She called me back and said the baby was dead. I made investigations and found out that it was something that was common and that some of the girls that got pregnant hide it from their parents for fear of being kicked out. So, once they have those babies, they throw them away so that nobody knows. I don’t think that any child is a mistake. I don’t believe that God made a mistake by bringing a child into the world. So I thought of how to stop people from killing children because if you don’t get to the children in time, they die.” (Guardian Nigeria, Sunday Magazine 10 October 2015).
She made an effort to intervene through her NGO; Mothers Against Child Abandonment (MACA) and Partnership Opportunities for Women Empowerment Realisation (POWER). According to an article by Guardian newspaper, Today, over 200 of such abandoned children have been rescued and sent to schools. Some have even graduated from skill acquisition programmes and are working decently. Single mothers among them are not left out. Among the heroes is a woman called Dr. Esther Victoria Ita who has a home for street children at ‘Edgerly’ — a place in Calabar-South — amongst other brave people.
My name is Daniel and you can call me Skolombo since that’s what society loves to call me. I was abandoned by my parents early in life for reasons I don’t know and I won’t be able to ask them because they don’t want anything to do with me. I go out every morning to beg at Watt Market then I go to the rich side of town (Marian) to get food anyway I can.
On Wednesday the 16th of September, 2016 I went out to Atu to swim in a deep gutter. We do that regularly and it’s fun. I did not mention that I couldn’t swim and with the way everyone was having fun I did not think twice. What was there to lose. I have no family, no money, just a miserable life which I love. Suddenly I started drowning. Memories of my few years on earth flashed by in seconds, nothing felt so quick as that. Soon I left this cruel world I knew nothing about. I wish my family found me. I pray God forgives them for their sins If there’s a God because I never knew the Man, I only heard that my parents thought I was a ‘witch’ that’s why I am on the streets and I died with out an evidence of God talk less of my right as a Nigerian Child.
Look at the picture above and see me being carried by my brothers who roamed the streets with me. Like comrades after war, they take me back to Gbogobiri where we loved talking, where everything slowed down at the end of a stressful day. They take me there so they can plan on how to bury me but how do they want to bury me when we all are just kids. Let me receive the last act of kindness and not be thrown into the bush like my comrades who have gone before me.
Long Live Life, Death and all it’s friends who hunt me.