By Izunna Okafor, Awka
Mrs. Ogochukwu Osege, an Awka-based orange seller, has revealed why her 11-year-old son, Somtoo Osege, still hawks orange in the streets of Awka, the capital city of Anambra State, at night, despite having been offered a cash gift of five hundred thousand naira (N500,000) by the immediate-past Governor of the state, Chief Willie Obiano.
(I’ll be using Somtoo, instead of Mr. Osege, to refer to Mrs Osege’s son for purpose of identification, in order not to be confused with his father, Mr. Osege)
Recall that Somtoo Osege, who is known for hawking orange at night along the ever-busy Abakaliki Street in Awka, was spotted at about 12 midnight sometime in 2020 where he was sleeping in the front of a plaza, with his orange tray beside him. This made some good-spirited individuals to take on-the-spot photo and video shots of him, interview and trace him to their residence in Okpuno village, Awka, where his mother, a well-known orange seller, was also interviewed.
During the interview, the mother of seven, who cited family problem and financial problem as major challenges, revealed that her children hawking orange was a one of the ways to help her in her orange business, to be able to keep food on their table and train them in school.
To cut the long story short, those videos and pictures went viral, to the extent that they attracted the benevolence of the then Governor Obiano, who invited Somtoo and his mother to the Governor’s Lodge, Onitsha.
It is worthy to note that the Anambra Broadcasting Service, ABS, was very instrumental to making ‘Somtoo Story’ known to the world through her various means and channels, including her social media handles and flagship programs, such as Insider News, anchored by Ngozi Obileri, through which many dead hopes have been resurrected, both in the hinterland and urban areas of Anambra State and beyond.
ABS was also apparently instrumental in linking Somtoo and his mother to Chief Obiano.
At the Onitsha Governor’s Lodge, after interacting with the duo in the presence of the ABS crew, Chief Obiano made three offers to the family. The three offers were: his award of scholarship to Somtoo; his pledge of public service employment to Mrs. Esege; and finally, his gift of a whopping cash sum of five hundred thousand naira (N500,000) to Somtoo’s mother to support herself and fend for the family. The Governor also warned her to keep her children away from hawking, likewise other parents in the state who send their children to hawk.
This magnanimous gesture of Chief Obiano was widely greeted with public accolades, making many doff their hats again for him for reviving the hope of the family as he has always done. It also made the front page of some national dailies.
Some, however, misunderstood and criticized this gesture, describing it as a reward for child labour and a form of encouragement to street hawking, which they said, might cause other people to also send their children to the streets to hawk at night, so that the Governor would also extend such gesture to them.
These notwithstanding, the simple truth is that Chief Obiano apparently did what he did with the primary intent to support the poor family, and get the child off the street by providing alms to his parents. Unarguably, Chief Obiano as well as his wife, Mrs. Ebelechukwu Obiano offered several of such helps and carried out many philanthropic works, both before, during and after his administration.
It is however unimaginable to hear and discover that after all these supports and pledges by the Chief Obiano to this family; Somtoo, as at today, still hawks orange along the Abakaliki Street and other streets of Awka at night, and even sometimes, till 1.am (midnight).
He had been spotted several times by this reporter, as he was chasing after cars or pestering people who are drinking beer, eating pepper soup or having fun at the restaurants along the Abakaliki street, begging them to buy orange or cocoanut where they are drinking beer.
Some also harass him in the process by beating or pushing him aside, as he begs and pesters them to buy orange, as his is known for his insistence and annoying plead, as if it is by force to buy orange.
Somtoo had also been spotted sometime, sleeping on the bare floor of a street shop at about 11:34pm, folded in a wrapper, and seriously shivering for cold and fever, while his orange tray positioned beside him.
It was all these that inspired the quest into knowing the reason Somtoo is still ‘in the street’ despite the supports and pledges to get him off the street to concentrate on his studies.
When accosted and interviewed on why he still hawks, Somtoo revealed that his mother had the answer to the question, which made this reporter trace her to their apartment in Okpuno village, Awka, on a date scheduled via telephone interaction.
Somtoo’s mother, Mrs. Osege, when interviewed, attested of Chief Obiano’s magnanimous supports and pledges to the family when they visited him at the Onitsha Governor’s Lodge.
She however, alleged that the media crew that accompanied her to the Governor took charge of the five hundred thousand naira (500,000) cash support Chief Obiano gave her right there, and started giving her the money bit by bit after some days.
She said: “After some days, I went to their office and told them that I had stopped selling orange and was in need of some money to buy food for my children; and they gave me N30,000, which I used to go to market that day and buy foodstuffs.
Mrs. Osege said it was like that she continued receiving the money in parts, to the extent that she could not achieve any reasonable thing with it. She also alleged that the money was not completely given to her, as some parts of the money remain unaccounted for, till date.
When asked what she achieved with the little given to her, as she claimed, she cited feeding of her seven children and paying their school fees, among other expenses, as the things that gulped the portion of the money she was given; adding that she temporarily suspended her orange business during the period.
Concerning the job Chief Obiano promised her and her son’s scholarship, Mrs Esege summarized that she didn’t see the fulfilment of any of them till today, as all her move towards processing and facilitating the implementation of each of them proved abortive, partially because the people who could have assisted her were angry with her.
“Sometimes, when I went to their office to see them for that, I would be delayed till eventide, which at a point, I stopped going. If God says that my son will go to school, he will go; and if he says I will get work or make money, He will also do it,” she said.
She added that “Some people had recently offered to help me take a step for that, but I told them no, that they should leave it, because I know that my God will surely fight my battle or create another way for me.”
On why four of her children are still hawking orange and at very late hours of the night despite the security and other risks associated with it, and after which they would still go to school the in the morning; Mrs. Osege said they are doing so to help her, but, however, remarked that she is not the one sending them to go and hawk at night, as many people wrongly assume.
“I always get the oranges ready for each of them early enough everyday, but they would always deliberately delay till night before they would go out to sell them probably because they would want to go together with other children in this compound who also hawk orange at night.
“I have punished and beaten my children severally about going out to hawk at late hour, especially Somtoo; but they keep doing it. I have also repeatedly warned them against coming back late or staying too long on the street, because I understand the risk involved in it. But these children are very stubborn. Nna, I am tired my brother,” she said.
Mrs. Osege, when asked the kind of assistance she wants from any individual or group willing to help, said she does not like begging for alms or depending on people for assistance, which, she said, is one of the reasons she feels reluctant to make more move towards the implementation of the remaining portion of the support ex-governor Obiano gave the family.
She, however, also noted that she has intention of opening a fruit shop in front of her house in Okpuno.
In her reaction, the anchor and presenter of ABS Insider News, Mrs. Ngozi Obileri described Mrs. Osege’s claims as false and shocking.
She explained that she was given her money completely (though in three batches), and further stressed that she can attest to that anywhere, anyday, as she was fully involved in everything that transpired throughout the period, from the beginning till the end.
“The last amount given to her was a cheque of ₦250,000, after having initially given her ₦30,000 and ₦220,000 respectively. So, how could she come now to say that we did not completely give her her money? Is this how ungrateful people can be?” she wondered.
On the employment offer and scholarship Chief Obiano pledged to Mrs. Osege and her son respectively, Mrs. Obileri said she (Mrs. Osege) never brought her child for the formal processing of the scholarship, nor brought any of her credentials requested for the processing of her employment offer, despite being repeatedly called for that, and despite all efforts she (Mrs. Obileri) made to assist her process them.
“This unimaginable reluctance on the side of the woman made me to even get tired of everything at a point; and she never came as requested nor brought any of her documents till today,” she said.
Mrs. Obileri, while emphasizing that everything done for Mrs. Osege was selflessly done with good intentions, regretted that she could come this last to say unimaginable things against them.
She went further to say that they even helped Mrs Osege procure a container shop where she would start a mini business, which today, is unaccounted for; as she never used the shop, despite gladly accepting to use it for her business, so she won’t send her children out to hawk again, which, she said, she never did till today.
While maintaining that how and what Mrs Osege used the money given to her to do and how she continues sending her children to hawk on the street despite the support, are no longer of interest and concern to her; she, however, said her claims against the crew are unwarranted and a show of ingratitude.
“Even the first day she was given money, I still saw her children hawking along that same street at night. So, what she used the money to do is not of interest and concern to me, but she should stop leveling allegations against us. We did not do bad thing to promote her son and bring their plights to the attention of the Governor,” she said.
In an interview, some denizens who know Somtoo’s family and the story of Chief Obiano’s intervention in the family, contributed their voices to urge Mrs. Osege to stop sending her children on hawking, especially the night hawking, due to many dangers associated with that.
While noting that Mrs. Osege has seven children, out of which four hawk orange and coconut at night till dawn break, after which they would still go to school in the morning; another source close to the family revealed that she had repeatedly made her see the reason to ‘stop suffering and endangering and frustrating the future of those children’; but to no avail.
The source, who noted that about 15 to 20 children hawk orange and other fruits or commodities commodities along the Abakaliki Street and other parts of Awka metropolis at night, further called on the Anambra State government and the security agencies to look into the worsening and ever-increasing rate of child labour in the state and arrest those behind or involved in it, to serve as deterrent to others.
Recall that Anambra State government, in March, 2018, banned all forms of hawking and street trading, the flouting of which attracts a fine of N10,000 and two weeks imprisonment for each offence on conviction. There also exists the Anambra state street trading Restricting Law 2004, No: ANHA/Law/2004/08, which also makes street hawking litigable and punishable in the state.
“These should be fully implemented,” the source added.