A scavenger’s world
Category: Star feature
Derided by many, treated with scorn by the society, this group nevertheless makes wealth out of garbage.
The three youngsters who for a few minutes had been chatting in a friendly manner as they trundled towards the huge piles of garbage a few meters away from their position, had suddenly become sworn enemies in a matter of minutes. Their grimy attire was complemented fully by blackened faces, even as they pushed the massive carts containing their priced finds along in the stifling afternoon blaze. The bone of contention appears to be a used radio set which no doubt had seen better days, but to these street urchins still represents a measure of wealth if handled carefully. The three jostled one another in an attempt to lay hands on the ‘prize.’ In the end sheer brawn and strength overcomes as the burliest of them eventually wins the prize after a chilling combat. But they are still friends after all as they scatter over the massive piles of garbage in a unifying convergence searching for other precious items. Welcome to the world of the Abuja scavenger.
Tomisin, one of the scavengers says the profession they have found themselves in is not of their making. He adds that if given a choice they would choose a more dignifying job. “Many of us you see walking the streets looking for garbage to sift through, are actually doing it because they have no other choice. Left to a vast majority they would choose a more dignifying job, but where are the jobs,” he queries as he raises another find, this time, used chinaware.
For Henry, another scavenger who daily trudges through the streets of Abuja with his massive cart in tow, though the dividends of the trade are attractive at times, the look of derision on the faces of people they meet on a daily basis puts blight on whatever satisfaction they get. “Of course, we make some money through this trade but it is not much. Only at times when you are able to get a very precious item you can resell on the garbage grounds, then you may be lucky to make a lot of money. But people tend to look down on us unfortunately. But we are in this trade because we have no other job,” he enthuses.
A group that profits from the waste business in the city appears to be the scavengers who have cashed in on what they call wealth in waste. Findings reveal that many of the dishevelled and usually dirty scavengers that daily throng refuse site across the city, may actually be making more cash than even those who pride themselves at having ‘regular’ jobs and white collar jobs. Articles which usually sell for these people are metal wastes, plastic, glasses, rubbers, iron, coppers which are sold to other vendors who recycle them for further use by people. Although the advanced merchants of these waste products pay stipends for such articles from the scavengers, more commercial savvy scavengers hold the jugular of such merchants for higher prices, before parting with their hoard. In some cases also, fairly used items disposed by wealthy homes find their way into the grimy hands of these scavengers which could then be repaired and resold to willing buyers. It is not unheard of to find groups of scavenger engaging in fisticuffs in the murky piles over the discovery of priced items in the garbage piles.
Abdullai Lalloki, chairman of the Association of Fairly Used Building Material Dealers of Nigeria agrees that there is wealth in waste as he says they deal with many of these scavengers. “We only ensure that we know the source of their finds before we procure some of these items from them so as to avoid buying stolen materials, but apart from that there is great gain in waste if properly managed,” he enthuses in a recent interaction.
But a few residents frown at the antics of some of them who pilfer items from households, under the pretext that they are looking for items designated as waste by families. “Many of them walk into compounds and steal items that are still in use. When you catch them at it they simply tell you that they thought it was a used item,” complains a resident.
But for housewives like Emilia Asuquo, the scavengers also come in handy in other respects. “At times I exchange used household items which my family does not need any more for items like plastics buckets and bowls which they willingly give out, in order to get these items from us. So in the end it is a win-win situation for all concerned,” she says.
Despite the growing number of scavengers around the city vis-a-vis the rising garbage levels, other residents frown at the mounting level of filth. ‘There was a time that there were garbage trucks coming every three or four days to pick up trash and garbage bags, but after some time the whole thing stooped. It is an eyesore what we have on some of the major streets in Abuja which is supposed to be the capital of the nation. I think they should concentrate on clearing the filth on the streets of Abuja than concentrate on demolition,” says a resident, Jonathan Anthony.
Dr. Tukur Ahmed a doctor with one of the general hospitals in Abuja says “the consequences of filth on our streets are enormous as they clog up waterways, especially during the rainy season thereby causing sewage problems and clogging which in turn breeds mosquitoes and in the long run affects our health. The burden of cleanliness still falls back on us the citizens, but with a huge effort from the government.”
Joe Ukairo, head, Information department, Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB says the board is not relenting in its efforts to make Abuja clean and habitable for all. In a brief chat with the reporter he says that the removal of filth from the roads has always been contracted out to reputable firms, and the board always endeavours to keep such companies on their toes so that they can carry out their duties of removing waste from the city. He also added that the board was currently mapping out new strategies to reduce the amount of waste in the city. He however maintained that the issue of keeping Abuja clean was the collective responsibility of all residents.
However if there is a set of people who do not look forward to a time when the city will be refuse free, it is perhaps the scavengers.