An old but now apparent threat is sweeping through Calabar
Skolombo is a slang.
What it really is a term used to describe a dangerous and lawless band of street boys and girls that roam the streets freely. The streets is their home. The cold of the night is the blanket with which they sleep at night, because they have no parents, or even homes.
These band, mostly teenagers, are made up of people whose parents either abandoned them, or those that wandered to the city in search of a better life.
But for years, these band have gone unnoticed.
Now, the price for turning a blind eye is being paid dearly by the people of Calabar. The 'Skolombo' threat is now real.
People have also called them ‘Imoke Boys’ as a result of the Destiny Child Centre run by the wife of the governor, Mrs. Obioma Imoke. The governor’s wife, had through this pet project, gathered such abandoned street children in the past, rehabilitated and reunited them with their respective families. But it appears the number of such children is growing now as no new intake has been admitted into the centre in recent time, according to investigation.
It was learnt that the idea of gathering abandoned street children and rehabilitating them might have been hampered for two reasons. The first was that the success of the idea brought about the problem of increasing number of abandoned children who found their way to Calabar from neighbouring states and countries. Secondly, funds from international donors had reduced drastically.
Most of them have survived on the streets for over 10 years under harsh conditions and have over these years adopted strategies to cope with the harsh realities of their lives.
Fifteen-year-old Raymond Godswill from Ebonyi State said he never knew his parents. He said he grew up with his grandmother in Amasiri, who told him that his mother died shortly after giving birth to him and that she (grandmother) did not know the father.
Godswill, who currently resides in one undeveloped plot of land with a dilapidated structure behind it along the popular Atekong Street with nine others, said they have different talents and could excel in any trade if given formal training.
He said, “I have not seen my parents before. All my life, I have only known my grandmother who told me that my mother died shortly after giving birth to me. I found my way to Calabar for greener pastures. We have different talents; I play football and can achieve something great in life if I can get someone to help me. We have those among us who have interest in music as a career. We are begging for assistance.”
A visit to one of the hideouts where they lived revealed a sorry situation as one of the children was in critical health situation with no money to seek medical attention. “We do not have money to take him to hospital,” one of the angry teenagers shouted.
The situation is not different at the unkempt park opposite the Flour Mills Junction along the busy Murtala Mohammed Highway, where some of the abandoned children have been exposed to social vices caused by prostitutes who flock the area.
Over the years, Calabar and Cross River State at large has been a global destination in the tourism sector in Nigeria. In fact, the popular Calabar Carnival, which has found its way into the world map of tourism events, attracts no fewer than 2000 foreign guests. But the activities of some of these Skolombo boys have become a threat to residents of Calabar as most of them have turned into criminal gangs who rob unsuspecting pedestrians.
In January, residents of Abua Street in Calabar South aborted a robbery spree by a 20-man-gang of teenage robbers who were said to be some of the ‘Skolombo boys’. Some of them were caught after they had raided several shops and snatched valuables from residents along Edgerley Road and other adjoining streets in Calabar South.
The State Commissioner of Social Welfare in Cross River State, Mrs. Patricia Enderly, said there had been conscious efforts to reunite the abandoned street children with their families, but added that the problem seemed to be escalating as some of the teenagers find their way back to the street shortly afterwards.
She said, “Instead of leaving them out there, we try to consciously pull them off the street, do some documentation with a view to getting information on their state of origin and their parental background. We try to reunite them with their families. But some of the guardians are proving difficult in accepting them back.
“We have continued to work; that is why they are not as many as they have been in the past because we keep taking them out. The unfortunate thing is that most of them still find their way back to the state.
“In most cases, they (street boys) are mainly from neighbouring Akwa Ibom and Ebonyi states. We also had cases of others from Cameroon which we had since repatriated. We also had one from Ghana which we sent back through Lagos. So, that is what we have to do now rather than keep them here.