Over the years, young Nigerians, particularly children, have been subjected to hawking and begging in major cities across the country, like Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt, among others. Most of these hawkers had no option than to move to the streets due to the untold hardship and life challenging situations they find themselves in.
However, it burdens my heart that in a great country like Nigeria, there are numerous laws which, if properly enforced, would positively affect all areas of human endeavour, and Nigerian citizens will be adequately taken care of. However, it is unfortunate that all these laws exist in theory only, and not in practice.
In a democratic system, laws are meant to be enforced to the latter and not just to show that we have such laws. Relying on the above premise and proposition, may I now x-ray why the problem of Nigeria is not making laws, but emforcing them.
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides in Section 1 (1) as follows: “This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
By section 1 (2) of the Constitution, it provides: “the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitutions.”
Section 18 of the same Constitution further provides: Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels; free, compulsory and universal primary education and free university education.
In view of these, it is indisputable that the authorities saddled with the responsibility of implementing our laws are living below the expectation reposed on them, even though they are constitutionally obligated to implement the laws.
Now, considering the intent and spirit of the Child Rights Act enacted by the National Assembly on July 31, 2003, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, ratified on March 17, 1988, it will be obvious and glaring that the essence is to give effect to Section 18 of the 1999 Constitution by palliating the hardship of children and young persons owing to their vulnerable nature.
It will not be out of place to bring out the salient sections and provisions that are to the effect that the right of children and young persons shall be considered paramount and shall not be treated with levity. Section 15 of the Child Rights Act provides: “Every Child has the right to free, compulsory and universal basic education and it shall be the duty of the Government in Nigeria to provide such education.”
This provision is in pari materia and on all fours with section 18 of the Constitution. Section 30 (2) of the same Child Rights Act, which also provides that: “A child shall not be used for the purpose of begging for alms, guiding beggars, prostitution, domestic or sexual labour or for any unlawful or immoral purpose; a child shall not be used for hawking of goods or services on main cities, streets, brothels or high ways; a child shall not be used for any purpose that deprives the child of the opportunity to attend and remain in school as provided for under the compulsory, free universal basic education Act.
In line with the provisions of the Child Rights Act, every citizen of this country is to be aware that there is an Act of the National Assembly that has graciously and judiciously outlined the rights of children and young persons, and equally guaranteed the protection of such rights.
It is not in doubt in view of the Act that every Nigerian child and young person has the right of education and not the right of hawking and begging on the highways and on streets during and after school hours on the excuse of being from poor background. It is highly regrettable and an eyesore that our great country has millions of its future leaders hawking and begging in major cities across the country today.
The ages of these children range between six and 17, and even more; and these are the people who should be enjoying government welfare, which are enshrined in the constitution.
However, it is important to state that banning hawkers from the highways and streets without seeing to their welfare will only bring about an increase in criminal activities.
Consequently, I believe that the current Lagos State government policy banning hawking will bring about more harm than good. It is important that for every policy, alternatives are made available.
- Uguru, a lawyer, lives in Ibadan.