Driving through the streets of Lagos one cannot help but notice a growing number of able-bodied youth and young adults loitering or wandering aimlessly at all hours of the day and night, seeking those to whom they can render some service or the other.
A tout can be described as an illegal salesman or someone who attempts to sell something by a direct or persistent approach.
The word ‘toutism’ does not exist in any English dictionary but I have coined the word to describe what has long become an industry in Nigeria, where the homeless and disadvantaged youth have found what they deem to be a potential career in the absence of parental or third-party assistance.
Many of these young people grow up on the streets of Lagos, having escaped from broken or abusive homes, mingling with like-minded youth who initiate them and teach them how to survive on the streets.
Sleeping under trailers, in front of shop premises, along the perimeter of church fences or simply finding shelter under a pile of rubble or planks, these young people wake up early in the morning; just as we all do, to seek their daily wages.
A few of them with some modicum of dignity and self-worth would make extra effort to look presentable by seeking places to bathe and keep their few clothes clean. Even in abject poverty, you would see them make the effort to keep their shirts buttoned up, and their countenance pleasant and friendly.
With their meager earnings gained from street begging, some would buy some inconsequential items (like tissue packs) to peddle to commuters in traffic. Some would attempt to render some service such as parking assistance or service guides to the unsuspecting public. Others would simply lean on cars in traffic recanting some pitiable tale or the other, with the expectation that they would receive their daily ‘wages’.
This unwelcome persistent invasion into the space of the commuters is what I describe as toutism- a bane in our Nigerian society where the rich or well to do are constantly harassed to part with some of their wealth to support the livelihood of the severely disadvantaged on our streets.
The dearth of properly structured public or privately funded social assistance programs is evident in our society. The number of young adults hitting the streets on a daily basis as a result of job losses, parental abandonment or lack of job or trade opportunity is simply overwhelming.
Amongst these groups are potential leaders of Nigeria- bright, highly intelligent and trainable looking for the assistance of any kind to forge ahead and secure their future.
Toutism should not be an acceptable career. It certainly should not be an industry, if more public, private as well as not for profit organizations would invest in destroying this bane by committing resources to reunite these children and young adults with family members and then assisting with their educational development so that they can be self-sustaining through a chosen career or trade.
We should all commit to making a difference by joining one of these organizations to destroy toutism in our society.