Suleiman Haruna

A smile is always amazing, even though sometimes it masks a lot of pain. It is wonderful when a smile exudes the happiness of the heart. It is wonderful when the cause to smile is the solution to a seemingly endless problem.

The human kind yearns to satisfy some basic needs; food, shelter, self-esteem, security and a few others. Whenever any of these needs or a combination of them is unmet, the heart is submerged in melancholic stupor. Often times such a heart loses it’s sense of balance and judgement and ends up depressed and sometimes much, much worse.

Such is the story of a young secondary school leaver, who lost his parental care early in life, without funds to rewrite his failed examination, without a job to fend for himself and with no one to turn to. He cannot buy himself lunch, let alone a new pair of trousers; he is still sharing the parents’ one-bedroom flat. He had encountered a whiff of the opportunities of the big city, he had seen youths he had known made it big; he too will have his day.

He had eventually gotten to know how these youths made their money;  through Internet scams, kidnappings, robberies and even assassinations. Some however were just ‘boys’ to big men. He had considered this a safer option and joined the band of a reigning politician, a job which, even though it does not offer a regular salary, provides perks and gifts from the man himself, his friends and even his visitors. When occasion demands, his group scares people who pose a threat to their boss, sometimes a fight ensues and someone got hurt. He had been accustomed to using the ‘tools of the trade’ now – machetes and other handy weapons, and to oil the operations, some unconventional drugs.

He had done this for years now and he had only succeeded in assuring for himself meals from the man’s residence, money for the drugs, and nothing more that is serious. He cannot dream of owning anything. He had still not moved beyond where he was when he failed his exams, and deep down, he had contemplated quitting – but to what? His fear had been that it might get worse and he could end up in prison.

There was this media announcement that government is employing 10,000 youths in every state, which his father told him about, that the opportunities are targeted at people like him and they’ll be paid 10,000 Naira a month! that is money that can change his life! He could afford to save and pay to rewrite his examination, he could rent a room, buy some neat clothes and start thinking of having a regular girlfriend. His description as a thug could change and he too could start dreaming of having his own family.

He had told his boss about it, and the boss, knowing he did not have to make any payments, agreed and introduced him to the committee handling the project. He filled their form and opened a bank account. He was detailed to work in a clinic, where he is to help with the sanitation. He did conscientiously till the end of the month, when he went to the bank to withdraw his first pay.

For someone who had spent the best part of his life without a smile, the muscles of his face experienced a new sensation when he smiled from ear to ear after receiving the first pay. This was his first earning; the seed he needed to germinate a new life, the weapon he needed to fight poverty, and the leverage that he had to obtain an education, the only platform that could propel him to live a better life. This first pay was what he used to seek his parents blessing, start a monthly contribution and change his outlook.

This story is about Abdu James, one of the 100,000 beneficiaries of the SURE-P’s Community Services Scheme. There are slots for 270,000 more.