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Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Our lives on Lagos refuse sites - Scavengers

On top of large refuse sites in various parts of Lagos are wooden structures that serve as homes and business places for scavengers. These scavengers include men, women and their children. And there is no religious or tribal barrier among the numerous inhabitants of these new but fast-growing communities. What bind them together are the various heaps of refuse, from where they source the means of their livelihood on a daily basis.
From the look of things, those who live and do business on top of the different refuse dumps scattered around the metropolis are not only Nigerians. A good number of them are from the neighbouring West African countries such as Niger, Chad, Mali and Republic of Benin.
Those who scavenge for items from trucks belonging to the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) are mainly Nigeriens and Chadians while the collectors are a mixture of the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo in Nigeria.
They survive mainly on discarded items such as clothes, foods, woods and shreds of fabric, which they use in building huts on hill tops.
On a daily basis, beginning from 5am, LAWMA trucks collect garbage from different parts of the metropolis and transport them to refuse sites for onward recycling.
Some of the scavengers attach themselves to different trucks in order to make their job easier.
Standing on one of the dumpsites located close to Rosella Park on the LASU-Idimu road, with a nylon sack dangling from his shoulder, a 13-year-old boy, Ibrahim Yakub, said he ventured into scavenging from the Alaba Rago area of Ojo.
“Many of us were born inside the Alaba Rago market. We are children of beggars who now live beside the road at the Lagos State University (LASU) area. Some of my friends, their mothers and younger ones are still begging.
“I was introduced into the scavenging business by one Alhaji at Alaba Rago. I used to help him out on the weighing machine,” Yakub said, adding that the garbage site has become home to him and many others.
At the two dumpsites on the LASU-Idimu road, which is located close to the Igando General Hospital, a middle-aged couple was seen buying used plastics, metal, copper wires and aluminum from cart pushers. According to the man, who reluctantly gave his name as Dauda, each metal costs about N200 per kilogramme.
Daily Trust on Sunday observed that the canal behind the refuse site serves as the source of water for washing the items. Obviously, the scavengers ignore the health risk of the highly polluted water as they carry out their trade. 
It was said that officials of LAWMA, whose responsibility is to control activities at the different dumpsites in Lagos, are usually hostile to the scavengers.
Scrap collectors and cart pushers are made to buy tickets from local government officials before they are allowed to operate at any refuse site.
The fierce-looking local government officials also told the garbage collectors not to answer questions from reporters who visited the area.
Felix Nwokocha, 19, said he started scavenging when he was about 12 years old, adding that he once witnessed how truck drivers heaped refuse on young scavengers. He said he would wake up at 4am, go out with torchlight and not return home until 10pm. According to him, although the work is simple, it is exhausting. 
“I fill up as many bags as possible with plastic bags, aluminum cans, copper wire etc and take them to waiting buyers at Alaba Rago.  On a good day, I make as much as N10,000. However, the risk involved is very high. The dumpsite is full of toxins while broken bottles and the uneven surface pose constant danger. I have been injured several times, but I think I am lucky. I had seen some horrible things in the past,’’ Nwokocha said.
He further revealed that some scavengers were on drugs and would always get into fights over objects and at the slightest provocation, almost on a daily basis. 
He said it was more advisable to stay far away from those involved in illicit drugs. 
“Most times I have been in hot arguments with some of those rascals. You have to be tough to keep what you collected from the refuse heaps. If you don’t paint a picture of toughness, someone would pounce on you and collect what belongs to you.
“I once found a nylon bag containing N300,000 at one of the dumpsites, and I knew it belonged to one of the collectors. At first, I thought it was fake. You know that when you are poor and you see so much money, you won’t believe it. You will simply look from right to left to ensure that you have not been seen by anyone,” he said. 
Nwokocha said the money would have been enough to change his life, but he decided to hand it over to the owner when he came in tears.
“Instead of keeping the money, I generously gave it back to the owner when he came looking for it in tears. He gave me N5000 out if it, and I felt good that I had done a great thing,” he said. 
Asked how he became a scavenger, he said, “I was young and stupid. I didn’t listen to my parents; instead, I followed foolish boys like me, thinking that I was wise. I regret my actions now. But what can I do? Now, I only have eyes for metals.”
Residents who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday said the surroundings of the refuse site and the entire neighbourhood was always terrible, especially during the rainy season. The stench oozing out of the refuse is always horrible. According to them, they are forced to meander between refuse trucks and very dirty water from open drainages and heaps of scraps collected by scavengers. 
“Indeed, it is always a horrible situation during the rainy season. The unruly behaviour of LAWMA truck drivers who park their vehicles indiscriminately in the middle of the road is not helping matters at all,” one of the residents who simply identified himself as Ojo said.
The story is the same at the Ile Epo refuse site, Oke-Odo, along the Abule Egba area.
One of the scavengers who spoke with our correspondent claimed to be a journalist. Asked what lured him into the business, he said journalism was not a lucrative profession. He, however, said he would go back to journalism in a couple of months.
He told our reporter that he had practised as a journalist for about 11 years, but had to abandon the pen profession for scavenging in order to raise capital to establish a business. He said he hoped to raise at least N500,000 within five months to start his own business.
He disclosed that he had been in the scavenging business for just one month, and he believes he will achieve his aim.
He said he did not intend to continue in the scavenging business for a long time because it does not command respect in the society.
Speaking to our reporter, residents of Oke-Odo wondered why government had neglected the refuse site.
The vice chairman of Oke-Odo Mechanic Village, Mr. Diya Olu Adisa, lamented that due to negligence, the large heap of refuse has blocked the drainage system in the area. This, he said, always exposed the entire community flood anytime it rained. 
“Residents are also exposed to various sicknesses like cholera, pneumonia and malaria,” he added.
Some of the scavengers said they would not speak to journalists because they did not want their photographs published. 

Read more at http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/lagos/our-lives-on-lagos-refuse-sites-scavengers/169205.html#3iIW81WtaHLUZxVi.99

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