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‘The rate at which Ebonyi youths are involved in street hawking is giving us sleepless nights’

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Andy-ChukwuThough known for his works in Nollywood, prolific director Andy Chukwu seems to have found new passion; empowering the young. Worried by the rate at which Ebonyi State indigenes engage in street hawking across the nation, the filmmaker is working with the Ebonyi State government for a skill acquisition programme tagged From Street To Skill. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, Chukwu spoke on the project and how the state governor plans to take the hawkers off the streets, train and empower them to earn a decent living.

You are known more as a filmmaker, what informed your decision to start From Street To Skill?
A recent research shows that over 60 per cent of hawkers round Nigeria are from Ebonyi State. And if you ask ten hawkers on the highway where they come from, you will discover that, at least 7 would be from Ebonyi and it has caused us a lot of embarrassment. The rate at which Ebonyi youths are involved in street hawking across the country is giving the state governor and well-meaning Ebonyi people sleepless nights. In fact, a colleague once told me, “my friend sit down there, is it because you make movies and people buy it, you think you are too much. You should be selling cotton bud in traffic.’ I was angry because this person saying this has not made one good movie in his life. But if he didn’t see those people on the streets, he wouldn’t have said that to me.

How bad is the situation for an average Ebonyian?
It deals negatively with the image of Eboyians. Aside the danger involved in street hawking, these boys die on a daily basis; one of them fell inside the water running from KAI officials on Third Mainland Bridge. Another one fell from Maryland Bridge, before he could even land, a BRT bus rammed into him; they die like. Recently, I got a call at First Gate, Festac, in respect of an accident; I was told the person is from Ebonyi State. I got there and saw the lifeless body of a boy selling chips. So, it’s a very sad situation.

Before now, did you make effort to reach out to these people, how close are you with them?
Even before we started this project, I’ve been identifying with them as an actor. Usually when I see them and ask them where they come from, they tell me Ebonyi. There is no dialect in Ebonyi that I cannot speak, at least a little. I would just chat them up and they are happy to see their brother who is an actor. Then some of them I could help on my own, I just do that.

What’s the level of involvement of the Ebonyi State government in this initiative?
Sometime in 2007/2008, I made a proposition to the then government, unfortunately, nobody gave it attention, but in November last year, the Deputy Governor sent for me and I went. He said there is a project government wants to do and they want me to coordinate it for them and I agreed. He directed me to see the Secretary to the government; I went there and he started talking about this project. When they said I should come up with something, I quickly remembered Street to Skills and we called it From Street To Skills. Like I said, it is designed to move Ebonyi youths off the streets.

How do you intend to achieve this goal?
We divided the programme into different phases. We have phase one, which is the seminar that is going on now. Ordinarily, the first stage is data collation and registration to have a comprehensive data of Eboyians in Lagos; Lagos right now is like a pilot. When they returned these forms, I discovered that most of them didn’t really know what to do; they didn’t even know what government intends to achieve. So, it became pertinent that an orientation seminar should be organised to educate them on what the government want to do and what is expected of them.

What was their response?
In one of the forms, one of them said he wants to be a pilot; you can imagine somebody becoming a pilot within six months. Another one said he wants to become a soldier and go to ECOMOG, while another said he wants to become a Mechanical Engineer; you can’t even become a roadside mechanic. So, we now brought in this seminar, invited the representative of the Deputy Governor, who is the secretary to the state government, Prof. Bernard Odo, to talk to them; we divided the seminar into three zones. In most cases, they don’t live where people live; there’s a place they call Ilaje, there’s another one I went to they said it’s Ikorodu, but God knows I passed Lagos State. So, you don’t expect them to come; we took the seminar to them. The third stage is the training and skill acquisitions that won’t take longer than six month. After the short term training, it’s empowerment, which is the final stage where the government comes in to empower them to set up their own businesses.

Are you impressed with the turn out so far?
Yes, I didn’t know I was going to have up to 500 people at the end of the day, because they initially didn’t want to register. They said government is trying to tactically put down their names so that they would deport them. Some said the Lagos state government sent us to come and masquerade under the umbrella of Ebonyi, gather them and take them to Lagos State government. I had to go out there with the liaison officer, the ICT guys and every other young men from Ebonyi that I recruited; we all moved into streets. We gathered them and even had to involve Ebonyi State development association, an umbrella body of the Ebonyi communities in Lagos. From there, we started building confidence in them and within two weeks, the turn out became encouraging.

Was there any explanation why your earlier submission in 2007 was not treated by the government?
Well, God works in mysterious ways. For instance, I was in a mechanic workshop one day in Festac and a young man walked up there with a black bandage on his big toe, with blood gushing out. I asked him what happened, he said he hit his toe on a stone. I asked if he has treated it, he said no, that he just tied it; he sells ice water. I said ok, ‘go to that pharmacy, let them treat you.’ He went there and came out and I asked him, ‘if you find any other thing to do, will you leave this hawking? He said, ‘now, now.’ I asked him what he would love to do if he is not selling ice water, he said, ‘panel beating.’ I asked the mechanic if he can train the young man, he said yes, but I will have to pay N35,000, plus a carton of beer, malt and a packet of cabin biscuit. I told him that the beer, malt and biscuit I can buy now, but the N35,000, I will pay later and he was fine with the arrangement. I bought those things but when he discovered that I met that guy there, that I didn’t know him from Adam, he removed N15,000 and asked me to pay only N20,000. The guy learnt that work and he is on his own today. So, somehow, I carried on with my project, until I was eventually invited.

How do you plan to monitor the training process?
I have no doubt in my mind that the governor will adequately empower the participants. Apart from empowering them, he has also made provision for stipends for them in the course of the training. The governor is prepared to carry this project and very ready to see that everything works according to plan.



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