There is a very popular but quite ancient, rustic bicycle repair/rental shop in a street around the Works/By-pass bus-stop area, in the general vicinity of Oyemekun, Akure. It seems to be the only one of its kind for miles because in just a little under one year, I have scoured the nooks of the town and not heard off or seen another. Either this or the owner of this particular establishment is so darn good, competitors aren’t worth consideration.
After school hours, the kids in the neighborhood flock here to rent and ride bicycles, of course, for a token fee. Some of them still clad in their school uniforms, bare-feet, covered from head to toe in red dust, scars, bruises and sores all over their bodies…but they ride seemingly happily till late into the evening until you begin to question if they really have homes and families to return to.
This neighbourhood is far from the sunniest you will find in the sunshine state, I dare say not the very worst the city or Naija as a whole can offer but certainly bad enough to provide an apt enough illustration of the state ‘sorry’.
Around here, one is more prone to hear very frightening threats and verbal abuse like (excuse my attempt at Yoruba writing) oti ku leni, ma gba ori e or tin ba fun e igba’ju hurled at the children at such a rate that strangers unfamiliar with the native tongue would have little choice but to mistake them for compliments.
The environment is filthy and unkempt; some of the buildings, short of falling apart any minute, are barely fit for occupation and so crammed together there is barely room to stretch… and it doesn’t take a certification in HSE to spot scores of hazards visible at every rise and fall in the extremely rough, bumpy patch of the street road just waiting to become recordable incidents or worse, fatality.
In the face of this apparent desolation, to see the children’s happy carefree laughter as they ride back and forth, is a cheery sight but more disheartening are the many disturbing questions that accompany the cheer…what if they get hurt? who is watching over them and tending to their needs? Where are their parents or guardians? Do they not see the dangers that this little ones are being exposed to? Inwardly, I shudder because I know something unpleasant is going to happen someday (probably already has) and will recur…but who seems to care!? With all the fear, uncertainty and insecurity that surround them, I cannot help but dread for the present and future health/safety of these children!
I am also very saddened by the fact that I did or can do little to improve their lot…as a slogan in my workplace goes with regards to unsafe or hazardous conditions, “you see it, you own it.” I didn’t particularly own this situation or even try to and am not proud of that.
As at the time I was drafting this, one of ’em was peering over my shoulder at my Blackberry phone, sheer wonderment in his curious eyes…I wonder if he could tell I was writing about them!?