For many, Abuja appears to be the El Dorado, but beneath the flashy surface, many people are practically grinding out life from the many rocky hills surrounding the Centre of Unity
By TORLUMUN SAMUEL
Naomi Zang, a 32-year-old woman, her three kids and husband reside at Kubwa Village, Bwari Area Council of Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, FCT. Theirs is a typical lower class family fighting to eke out a living in Nigeria’s new capital city, side by side with the middle and upper classes hovering to devour them. Her husband, Joseph Zang, a driver, earns only N20,000 monthly salary which is obviously not enough to sustain the family in the face of growing cost of living in a modern city like Abuja. She therefore ventured into stone cracking two years ago to help complement her husband’s effort towards ensuring that their three kids are educated. When TELL visited her local quarry site near Mobil Police Barracks at Dei-Dei recently, Naomi who spoke in Hausa bemoaned the hardship associated with her business. “We buy these stones and convey them to the road so that we can break them into smaller pieces, then heap them for sale. But as you can see, there are many of us selling crushed granite here. Customers of this product are not many and may not need much, so only few of us end up selling in a day. For instance, I have only sold a heap of “three quarter” for the last two weeks. What I realised from it was N2,000 only, though I thank God that every month I make between N5,000 to N10,000. This is what I’m using to support my husband,” explained Naomi.
At another local quarry site in Lugbe, on the ever-busy Airport Road, a crowd of predominantly women and children find this survival strategy worthwhile. Paulina Ahmed, 16, and her mother, Ladi, have been surviving by selling manually crushed granite since the death of her father, Ahmed, who left no inheritance as an artisan, popularly known as “man waka.” As the teenager told the magazine in Hausa, “My mother and I have been living on this local business, she pays my school fees and during holidays, I help her do the job. Whatever we make from the sales will be used to pay my school fees for the third term in my JSS II.”
Although Ladi is not certain the occupation will enable her sponsor her daughter’s education to university level, she vowed to do her best with an expectation of a better tomorrow. According to her, “I am confident that we will afford her university education. I’m praying for a better means of livelihood, help of course comes from God.” Ladi lost her husband when Paulina was three years, and she managed to raise her up from cracking and selling granites.
At the granite site, it’s a survival of the fittest. Many struggle to sell in order to survive; competition is stiff with customers taking undue advantage of this vulnerable group. The weaker ones among them find it difficult to sell because of their inability to reach the buyers on time. Sometimes, dealers who cannot speak English language to the prospective buyers who do not understand Hausa language lose their sales for the day because of communication barrier.
Hanatu Isah, one of the granite traders, said sometimes, for a whole week, she would be able to get only one buyer. She too feels that lack of ability to communicate in English limits the bargaining process because the buyer who could not understand Hausa moves to the next seller who could communicate in English language.
Near Ushaffa Village in Bwari Area Council, Mohammed Umar, 31, unlike other quarry dealers, counted his gain for the past seven years while expressing strong passion for the job. “This job wey you de see, na him make me marry two wives and now I’m feeding them and training my six children in the school,” he said in pidgin English.
According to Umar, the processes of crushing granite, beginning from making fire on the mountain, to chiselling out the stones and the final breakdown into smaller sizes, is quite tedious. But since there is no alternative available, he is happy doing it. Nevertheless, he wants government to help him by providing an engine for him, which can crush the stone, instead of doing it manually. How such a request would play out however remains to be seen, as many of the quarry sites are illegal while the likes of Umar hardly pay taxes. That notwithstanding, many people still seek solution to the day-to-day increase in the cost of living in the FCT through whatever means is available to them and no matter how strenuous that process may be. This, perhaps, explain why more and more people are going into the local granite quarrying business on a daily basis.
At some point, the number of new entrants into the business at a particular site may make the business completely unattractive. This, says Haruna Mohammed who spoke with the magazine at his Mpape site behind Crush Rock football field, is the reason he relocated from the Kubwa site where he used to work. “Competition was too high, it was not possible for one to sell much in a month,” he said. He lamented a situation whereby the vulnerable members of the society are at the receiving end of every economic backlash. Rough as the beat is, not minding the calloused fingers, these folks are not thinking of quitting. For them, any relief from the government is welcome.