Fourteen-year-old Zainab Idris leaves home early in the morning daily to a junction at the outskirt of Biu town, where she sales groundnut cake to motorists that ply the road on their way to either Biu or other towns in southern Borno state.
She maneuveres through line of vehicles at a security check point near the junction, advertising the groundnut cake stylishly arranged in a big bowl well balanced on her head, to the passengers of the waiting vehicles.
Zainab sells groundnut cake worth N5000 daily, from which she gets N800 as profit. Part of the profit is being used to sustain her family, while the remaining is saved for her marriage ceremony.
She was not enrolled in any western school, as such she only attends Islamiyya school in the evening, that is if she is not too tired from roaming the street and manoeuvring in between vehicles hawking the groundnut cake.
Young Zainab’s dream is to go to school like her peers, but her parents could not afford to send her to school as they also depend on her little trade for the daily running of the household.
“I will love to also attend school like my friends but my parents are poor and couldn’t afford to send me to school. In fact, they also rely on this groundnut cake business to feed my other siblings and save money for my marriage,” she lamented.
According to Zainab, when they started the business some months ago, her mother got the groundnut on credit, they were able to pay back and now have N5000 as their capital.
The story of Zainab is similar to numerous other young girls selling groundnut cake and other petty commodities, like sachet water, tiger nuts and other local snacks at the junction which linked Adamawa, Taraba and Gombe states to Borno state.
While their peers are inside the comfort of classrooms, the girls, who are mostly below the age of 20 are hawking various commodities during school hours under the scorching sun.
Fifteen-year-old Aisha Ibrahim also said she has been hawking bean cake for three years now.
“This is my third year hawking groundnut cake here. I grew up seeing my elder sisters doing same, they are all married off and it is my turn now to continue from where they stopped,” she said.
Aisha said her capital is about N7000 and she feeds, clothes and sustains her family from hawking.
“When I started we got three measures of groundnut on credit but now we have N7000 as our capital and my mother uses it to assist my father in catering for my younger siblings.
She is also not attending school like her other co-hawkers. “Enrolling in school requires money which obviously our parents couldn’t afford,” she said.
Biu town, a Local Government Area in southern part of Borno State, is popular with groundnut cake as people from far and near places passing through the town buy it as souvenir to their families and friends back home.
It is a big commercial town in southern part of Borno state which links travellers from Adamawa, Taraba and Gombe states with the ancient town of Maiduguri. It also links some part of Yobe state with Maiduguri and other neighbouring local government areas .
However, due to insurgency in the North East for about 10 years now, the town is now a shadow of its former self. Motorists and other travellers passing through the town to Maiduguri no longer do so as the road from Biu to Maiduguri via Damboa is no longer safe. It is said that the road is infested by the insurgents which makes plying through it very dangerous.
As such, now travellers from Adamawa and Taraba have to take a long detour through Gombe, Potiskum and Damaturu.
The situation has significantly affected commercial activities, thereby crippling many businesses rendering hundreds of people jobless. As a result, many families now depend heavily on their children to eke a living. Often it is the girl-child who is sent out hawking to supplement the little income for the family.
But this also poses a grave danger to the hawkers as they are not only exposed to the dangers of likely being knocked down by moving vehicles they also represent a future of children who are not exposed to education.
They also run risks from predators who can capitalise on their situation to lure them into deviant behaviour.
But for Biu young hawkers they are oblivious of their situation. The said the only assistance they may need from government is to help them with more capital and free interest loans to enable them sustain and improve their businesses.
And as the interview was coming to an end the hawkers rushed out, as another set of vehicles arrived the check point waiting for clearance to move on, hoping to cash in for another sale.