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At a glance: Nigeria

Digital Diary: Nigerian street children tell their stories of life without security

© UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Tayo
Isaiah, 15, during the recording of ‘Voices from the Street’, a UNICEF-supported Radio Nigeria programme produced by children living in the streets in Lagos.

By Christine Jaulmes

NEW YORK, USA, 26 December 2007 – Isaiah has spent 5 of his 15 years living on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria, the second largest city of Africa. Like hundreds of other children, he spends his days and nights in this sprawling metropolis trying to fend for himself.

“It is not easy living on the street but what can I do?” asks Isaiah, one of 25 children who have told their stories on Nigerian national radio through a UNICEF-supported project.

“I have two sisters that I have not seen in five years, I have smoked Indian hemp like other boys of my age, got beaten by bigger boys, robbed of my money, took my bath in the canal and slept under the bridge,” Isaiah says in one broadcast. “The good thing is that I am alive!” 

Given the opportunity to go to school, Isaiah says he would like to become a lawyer. “I want to be defending people,” he explains.

‘Voices from the Street’

The UNICEF-supported Child-to-Child Network, a non-governmental organization, worked with Radio Nigeria to train children in radio production so they could tell their own stories. The resulting series, ‘Voices from the Street’, was broadcast to more than 60 million listeners.

© UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Tayo
Earning $5 to $6 a day as a bus conductor, Isaiah lives on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

Some of the children in the series tell of escapes from unhappy homes, while others recall travelling to the city in search of adventure. They end up selling water packaged in plastic bags or washing the windshields of vehicles in heavy traffic.

Isaiah works as a ‘bus conductor’ – collecting fares from passengers who squeeze onto the yellow commercial buses of Lagos. He earns $5 to $6 a day.

At the age of 10, Isaiah left his home in Ogun State. A friend, who turned out to be a child-labour recruiter, invited him to Lagos along with 11 other boys. “We left home without telling any of our parents,’ Isaiah says.

Survival on the streets

The recruiter paid the boys’ bus fare to Lagos. Then he took the boys to the city’s biggest market and motor park “to sell them,” according to Isaiah.

“The more people he brings, the higher his ‘rank’ goes and the more money he gets paid,” Isaiah adds. “I was eventually sold to one man for a fee of 5,000 Naira [about $40]. The man took me to a place I do not know; my duty there was to be a housekeeper.”

Isaiah decided to run away. He met up with other street children who showed him how to survive on his own. 

“I started to sleep under the bridge or inside any of the buses parked under the bridge,” he says. “If mosquitoes are too many, I sleep inside the boot of the vehicles.”

‘I am a big man now’

Getting the children to tell their stories was a challenge, says ‘Voices from the Street’ producer Funke Treasure Durudola. When the most taciturn of the boys finally opened up, she adds, it was the high point of her 12-year broadcasting career.
“You have to be empathetic. Connect with them first and they must connect with you, too, before you can get their story,” says Ms. Durudola.

UNICEF and the Child-to-Child Network also offered to help reunite the children with their families, or to find other rehabilitation possibilities.

Isaiah hopes his family can hear his story on the radio. “I pray that the people of my place will listen,” he says. “They will hear that I am still alive and that I am a big man now.”




Two Nigerian children, Damilola and Isaiah, tell their stories of life on the streets of Lagos.
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