Life on the Edge 2 | Scent of the Streets

Every big city has gangs of young people on the margins… in Lagos, Nigeria, it’s the Area Boys, bands of children and teenagers who scratch a living from petty crime and the informal economy. But when you’re an Area Girl, life can be even tougher… especially in Lagos’ teeming Ajegunle ghetto.

Onyinye (18), Gift (22) are Area Girls. But what’s an Area Girl? Something cool – or just a girl without a job? And in a difficult world can they make it good too? There’s evidence everywhere if you know where to look… Ajegunle is like many big city slums – still struggling to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Neighbourhoods here are called areas – some girls are called area girls. Including Onyinye.

onyiye_posing“My name is Onyinye, my friends they have this funny name they call me, Shenkes. An area girl you can’t actually classify it into one person. It’s different ways. You have some girls that are area girls but not because they do anything, but because they are just rough, they are just rough and tough. They like trouble, they like anything trouble. Anywhere there is trouble they like to be there.

Onyinye lives the right side of the law – but knows the street slang – “runs” or paid errands and “meeting up”. She left school at 12. No qualifications. What she does have – brothers and sisters.

“I have 10 siblings altogether OK from the same mum but from different dads. My growing up wasn’t nice, we stay with our stepdad actually because my mum is married again. My mum has to carry all the responsibilities alone, school fees, clothing and all that.”

Instead of relying on boyfriends, Onyinye wants to work. “I’ve always wanted to be a model, I think I have this talent towards it and I can do it. Sometimes in my house here I try to catwalk.”


Onyinye’s off to the cybercafe to research agencies. They’re looking for jobs; they’re looking for the training and self-help courses that are on offer round here. Onyinye’s looking for a modelling agency.

Onyinye’s friend Bisayo is an Area Girl who’s graduated. This natural born leader’s become Onyinye’s Area Mother!

“I studied history and international relationships. Fine I come from a wealthy home, so my parents assisted me to go to school but for the fact that I just want to be an area girl. I see myself as a star in my area, do you feel me?!

“Everything goes on my fingertip because if I tell them to do something… they will do it. So with that I believe I am being respected in the society and I can become a leader in the future, my destiny is to help the society.”

Bisayo’s an Area Girl who reckons she’s made it as a local star. But this is a neighbourhood with girls of many talents and values. Can a hardworking girl with more modest ambitions be an Area Girl too? Gift only went to primary school. Today she’s buying ingredients for the akara or bean cakes she sells… work worth having.

bisayo_portrait“My name is Gift, in this area I’m an area girl but I don’t care what people think; I don’t get involved with the others. From my understanding, what makes me an area girl is the way I live. I don’t have their time but if you want to find my trouble I’ll give it to you but I am gentle around here but I’m not like that on the other side. Don’t look for my trouble cause I will give it back.”

This Area Girl is working a 16-hour day to help make money for her family. And running her family too. Gift has moved from selling goods from literally the top of her head to the street corner. She wants to move on to the next stage – her own stall.

Our Area Girls stay the right side of the law. Some don’t. But all have the talent and appetite for a decent day’s work – one of the Millennium Development Goals which remains elusive. Of course paid work could mean being an Area Girl no longer. But most would say – so what.

Since we filmed, all three Area Girls have completed a course on life skills, IT and leadership. Onyinye is enrolling with a fashion school, Gift is finding the backing for a stall.


‘Scent of the Streets’ was produced by tve‘s partner in Nigeria, Communicating for Change.

This programme is one of four ‘Life on the Edge’ films made as part of tve‘s ‘Five Years to Go’ project that focuses on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in sub-Saharan Africa, supported by the European Commission, Oxfam Novib, UNFPA and UN-HABITAT. Information on Nigeria’s progress in meeting these goals can be found here.

The Millennium Development Goals recognize that slums are not anomalies of an urban landscape but rather, in many countries, slums house large proportions of the urban population and cannot be ignored. UN-HABITAT’s vision for Youth is directly related to the United Nations Millennium Declaration, focusing on the goals of member States to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020 (Target 11, Goal No. 7), and Target 10 which calls for the reduction by half of the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.

Read here about UN-Habitat’s work on Environmentally sound basic urban infrastructure and services. UNFPA’sState of the World Population Report 2007 on Urban growth contains a section on Urban slums and the urban poor. UNFPA also published a 60-page Youth Supplement – Growing Up Urban.

The UN MDG Summit will take place in New York from 20-22 September 2010.

Other Life films dealing with Nigeria include Balancing Acts (about a Nigerian woman market trader), School’s Out!, about a school in a Lagos slum, and The Right to Choose, about a child bride in Northern Nigeria.

The BBC website carries an article by Steve Bradshaw on this programme.

TAGS: development people & communities urban & rural

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