Eric Dumo

Ibrahim Bala, five, ran around the premises in company with other children as they engaged each other in a game of hide and seek. Naive and harmless, the little boy jumped about with utmost joy as the play increased in momentum. His charm was infectious.

But the toddler could have been in a different situation now if not for share luck. Last Sunday, his father, Yusuf, used him as collateral for a bag of 50 kilogram rice at a popular market in Kano after being unable to provide for his family anymore. The middle-aged man after agreeing price with the seller, Alhaji Suleiman Bagudu, had left his son behind and went away with the bag of rice to fetch the money he claimed to have forgotten at home. Six hours without a sign of him, the worried trader traced Yusuf all the way to his house in the Koki, Dala Local Government Area of the state, through the help of his little son. Bagudu arrived to the sight of the household feasting on hot plates of rice.

“I am ashamed I had to go that far to get food for my family but if I hadn’t come up with that trick that day, I don’t know what would have happened to us or how we would have been able to withstand the hunger,” Bala said earlier in the week when one of our correspondents visited the family’s home in a densely populated part of the city. “I have sold almost everything I have to sustain my family. Things are getting hard by the day; taking care of them is not easy for me anymore. It is not as if I don’t love my son or plan to do him evil, I left him at the market because I knew as a brilliant boy, he would be able to lead the owner of the rice to our house if they didn’t see me after some time. I am so sorry for committing this act, it is hunger that drove me into it,” he said, as neighbours, uncomfortable at the sight of our correspondent, prevented any further interaction.

Frightening as it sounds, Bala is not the only one to have turned to weird and unconventional methods to escape hunger and lack these days – individuals and even families across the country are embracing these new tactics to weather the storm, too.

For example, a middle-aged woman in Ibadan, Oyo State, according to unconfirmed reports, had used her seven-year-old daughter as deposit for a bowl of cassava flake known in local parlance as garri six weeks ago. Hit by pang of hunger, the woman like Bala, had tricked the seller into believing that she forgot the money at home and would rush to fetch it while her innocent child stayed back. By the time the girl led the trader to their house hours later, the widow and her two remaining children were already feasting on the item. The seller quietly walked away in shock after finding out the motive behind the strange behaviour.

Even with these almost unbelievable stories, the survival tactics adopted these days go beyond mere using of biological children as collateral – the practice appears to be assuming different and in fact scarier dimensions by the day.

A drinking joint operator in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, Ibiba Dakoru, told our correspondent during a telephone conversation in the course of the week that some customers now plead with her to convert drinks bought for them by friends into money so that they purchase food items with it.

According to her, customers in this category would only drink around one or two from about four or more bottles bought for them by buoyant friends while pleading with her to convert the rest to money. She said she started witnessing the trend among her customers three weeks ago.

“It came as a big shock to me when some of my customers started asking me to convert some bottles of beer bought for them into money so that they can use it to eat and also take care of petty responsibilities at home. If for example they are given four bottles, they would only drink one or two and beg me to please bear with them and give them the rest as cash.

Even though I want to make sales, I cannot deny any person such request

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