Tajudeen Yekini, an automobile electrician makes his daily income working cars a small distance away from Utako Motor Park, popularly called ‘Jabi Park.’ Over the years, the park has attracted mechanics and people skilled in different areas of auto repair. He has switched parks over the years, from Wuse, Berger junction, tipper garage, Zuba and Karu, before he came to Utako.
“It’s a tradition that where a park is, we go,” he explains. Inside Utako Motor Park are vehicle spare parts dealers who sell from shops. But Yekini and his crew, a number of men that swells by the day, including young apprentices, clear an area of land and simply set-up. Not too far from them is Chukwudi Udeh. When he first came, he saw an area filled with cars and men working vehicles for a living. To hone his skill in perfecting the function of wheels, he enrolled as an apprentice.
Where Udeh works, the ground is dug and is dusty, unlike what’s found in filling stations’ lube bays. It’s enough for them to see beneath vehicles, so they get to work. The environment is shabby. All they have is a scanty shelter, but it doesn’t stop them from working. To appear professional, they wear marked blue T-shirts.
Many of the mechanics have worked there for years. Sunday Okeke has thrived as an auto electrician for about eight years. He journeyed all the way from Eastern Nigeria for greener pastures. And he thinks he has found it. With the economic recession in the country, customers are a bit scanty, but he still makes ends meet.
Sometimes they are disturbed by the Abuja environmental task force. “But since we formed a union to handle matters, there has been relative calm,” Udeh says. But Yekini is upset about how the government gives little regard to their plight. Aside the fact that they have to deal with the police and other security agencies, there is no attempt to provide a befitting place for them to work in. “They provided a place in Apo, but it is only those that are rich that run the place,” he complains.
The area where Yekini and many other mechanics work is a long dusty road with a church, an uncompleted building and a few other structures. But, generally, they dominate the territory with customers’ cars and their tools. There are shanty shops where vehicular parts, lubricants and the like are sold, while women take advantage of the population to sell food mostly in the open.
To protect their interests as a body of skilled artisans, they formed a union and presently have a chairman, Mr Joseph Ajayi. “Where there are motor parks, there are possibilities of servicing vehicles. Some of us were inside and around the motor park, but had to move away because of the developments, into what is originally known as Jabi forest. We cleared the place and made it habitable,” he says.
But how do they secure the area? Mr. Ajayi adds that since it’s a temporary place, unlike inside the park, and because it’s open, there’s no restriction to who comes in to practice his skill. “With the economic crises we have in the country, we don’t put pressure on people, but rather, monitor. We try to know who they are and their mission. We don’t tell them not to come,” he explains.
Mr. Ajayi came to Jabi Forest in 2003. “It existed before then,” he points out. The road where he and many others practice their skill is mostly on what is supposed to be a major road, while some work inside uncompleted buildings. “They usually take permission from the owners,” he says. When the owners are ready to complete or use their structures, they notify those occupying the property and they move away.