By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
Wonder, it is said never ends; and this was repeated in Lagos when Olanusi Boluwatife, a 14-year-old orphan picked up at Okomala in Oshodi and sent to the Special Correctional Centre for Boys in Oregun, emerged from a Spelling Bee competition to become a one-day chairman of a local council in Lagos.
He had strode in unannounced on March 17 into the Adeyemi Bero Auditorium, Alausa neatly dressed in his school uniform for the annual Spelling Bee competition that would produce the One-Day Governor of Lagos State. There was no reason for any of the children to be spotlighted since it was a gathering of champions, with participants emerging winners and runners-up of a similar contest at their various local councils.
Unknown to many, Boluwatife was not one of the also-rans among the five pupils selected to represent Onigbongbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), but had, in fact, emerged winner of the Spelling Bee competition at the local government level. Not one to flaunt his stuff, he maintained his unassuming calmness until the results were announced and he emerged third in the primary school category.
From that moment on, he became the cynosure of all eyes alongside Master Olabanji Edun of Army Children Senior Secondary School in Onigbongbo LCDA, who won the fierce intellectual contest to automatically become the next One-Day governor of Lagos State.
While Edun awaits his day in the sun to act as governor of Lagos for 24 hours, Boluwatife, last weekend, got his reward as the One-Day Chairman of Onigbongbo LCDA. Though young, now he is old enough to understand the popular axiom that success has many parents but failure is an orphan.
Expectedly, he was swarmed on all sides by parents, council workers, well-wishers and officials of the Office of Youth and Social Development, which oversees the Special Correctional Centre for Boys.
A brief ceremony was held at the council secretariat, where the chairman, Hon. Babatunde Oke, temporarily handed over power to Boluwatife. This was followed by scheduled visits made by Boluwatife and his entourage to Galaxy Television, Honeywell Noodles, and palace of the Awise of Onigbongboland, Oba Muniru Olatunji Yusuf, among other locations of interest.
For the hundreds of citizens, who came to receive the One-Day Chairman, they were regaled by the tale of the boy who ran away from home and later found his way to Oshodi, where he integrated himself with other street urchins in Okomala.
With the honour he has brought to himself and his school, there is a frantic search to locate his paternal grandmother. According to the boy, he doesn’t know his parents. “All I remember is that my parents fought and my father took me to my grandmother’s place in Mowe area of Ogun State,” he told The Guardian.
Recounting his street life experience, Boluwatife said he ran away from his grandmother’s home after committing an offence. As a street boy, life has been very tough and brutish. He was forced to fend for himself and be street smart to avoid being caught in some dirty pranks.
However, his life changed when the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) officials combed the area and picked him with others.
He said: “Life on the street was difficult. Before I could eat, I would work as a factory worker where they produce sachet water. I had gone from one home to another but today, the centre has changed me.”
Boluwatife, who desires to go to any good university for higher learning wants to be a footballer and a film actor.
He implored other street children to return home. At the moment, he is learning screen processing with special attention on photography at the vocational training centre located inside the school.
Special Adviser, Office of Youth and Social Development, Dr. Dolapo Badru, said Boluwatife’s case is a success story of street boys. “He was rescued at Oshodi on the streets in 2013. There was a talent out there about to be lost but now rescued and his life has changed. If we don’t do it, we won’t know he is talented. He is an orphan, thrown out by the father’s family. He is a brilliant boy. His case is the success story of those boys on the street.
“Ours was just to take care of him. The court put him under government to care for him. His studies go on as he attends classes and trade acquisition training. Some children find themselves in situation they can’t control. When parents are not alive, those that take care of the children abuse them but it is the responsibility of government to intervene by rescuing them from the streets and placing them in our facility,” he said.
Permanent Secretary, Office of Youth and Social Development, Dr. Adesegun Oshinyimika (left); Boluwatife and Special Adviser to the governor on Youth and Social Development, Dr. Dolapo Badru at a reception for Boluwatife
Expressing his delight on the boy’s performance at the competition, Principal, Special Correctional Centre for Boys, Mr. Oluwatoyin Kotun, said parents should show love to their children for them to maximize their potential. “Every child has his own talent. It is just for parents to identify it. Many children have potentials but they lack parental care, love and support.
“At the centre, we give them psychosocial therapy, which helps to identify potentials in them. Other children at the centre are also doing well. We have always been participating in this competition every year and preparing hard for it. We are happy our efforts have been rewarded. This is the first time a student has brought honour to our school, which is good for us because of the problem of poor public perception.
“Children in the school are tainted with a wrong perception by members of the public. It is not all of them that committed crime. Some of the children are in the facility because they are going through abuse, some of them are orphans, who lack care and protection, and some are street children because their parents were fighting over their custody. So, the perception that all of them are hardened criminals and can’t be reformed is incorrect,” he said.
“There is hope for the street children. When you wear the toga of a street child, there is no hope, but when you take off the toga, there is hope. A child that wants to learn will definitely progress in life,” Badru said, adding that as part of efforts to empower youths in the state, the Office of Youth and Social Development in the Ministry of Sports, Youth and Social Development has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with 7up Bottling Company Plc to train some of the youths in many fields. He said that after graduation, those who do well would be employed in the company. The training runs between six to 12 months.
“Presently, 22 youths are undergoing training in fleet management, engineering, production as well as various fields in which 7up operates. If the youths excel in the pilot case, there is tendency that the company can employ them. If the company is encouraged with their performance, it will make them to do more in the area of training.”
He added that the ministry does a lot of skill acquisition for youths in the state and there is a short-term course in hairdressing, baking, shoemaking and other areas.