Okwe Obi and Tunde Ezu
They look dirty, hungry, pitiable and ubiquitous. They are Abuja scavengers; comprising mostly young men, that comb the entire length and breadth of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in search of disused items, ranging from cartons, nylons, sacks, clothes, shoes, aluminium to plastics for recycling.
In their determination to feed from dustbin of wealth, they are unperturbed about the stench oozing from dumpsites and the difficulty to breathe properly, neither are they concerned about contracting diseases nor trampling on dangerous reptiles like snakes and scorpions.
They are focused, ultimately to collate disposables that help them to eke out a living. As the source of their wealth and existence, weather hostility is a secondary consideration. In fact, the harsher the weather, the more determined and tougher they become in their unhygienic trade.
The meagre amount of money they accrue is not by any means sufficient to feed them or buy protective kits like hand gloves, nose pad or protective boots to prevent injury, yet quitting the trade they have spent greater part of their lives is not an issue for consideration. In most cases, they feast on remnants already disposed.
They are negligible but like pests, they are visible that you can ignore at your own peril. The least passers-by do is to shake their heads in pity. Those with the milk of kindness throw money at them to feed or hand over used items they are looking for.
After collecting these items, they assemble them at a particular location, get a big truck and cart them to their final destination. But recently, these itinerant pests are becoming a security threat to the society; as they are deviating from what the ordinary citizens know them for to get into stealing people’s property.
Ordinarily, they resume work in the morning. But in a bid to perpetrate their nefarious act, they sneak into homes in the afternoon when most people have gone to their places of work. As soon as they gain access, anything on sight, for them becomes trash. They pack items like clothes, shoes, pots and even slaughter livestock and hide inside their big sacks. And because of the way they appear, suspecting them becomes cumbersome or impossible.
A victim, Mary John, stays in Chafuyi, Apo Mechanic Village, narrated her ordeal to Daily Sun: “Wednesday last week, at my area an incident happened precisely in the morning. I went to the farm. When I returned in the afternoon, I discovered that four of my plastic chairs were missing. When I asked my neighbours, one of them said that he saw a man carrying some plastic chairs out of the compound, but didn’t bother to accost the person, not knowing that it was a scavenger.
“Since then I hardly keep my property outside especially when I am going out. Anytime, I see them near my house, I chase them away. And when they refuse to go, I raise the alarm or threaten to call the police on them.”
Another victim, Zainab Mohammed, this time at Mararaba, stated that she washed her plates, pots and kept them outside. But before she could wake from a nap those utensils developed wings and flew away. The scavenger she suspected has never visited the area since then: “I just washed my pots in the morning to sun it. I went inside to do some work and take a rest. Coming out, I discovered that those pots were nowhere to be found.
“I have not seen the scavenger I am suspecting. Anyday I see him, I will alert the police because it is becoming too much. We cannot continue to harbour criminals or condone criminality.”
The popular saying that “99 days for the thief and one day for the owner,” actually played out when a scavenger was caught trying to dismantle an LT3600 N-4 generator at Kabusa. According to an eyewitness, Emmanuel Idu, the young man was properly dealt with by neighbours who were victims of the menace of scavengers. “The high rate of theft was getting out of hand. Neighbours laid ambush in the afternoon. When the criminal in disguise sauntered the compound, he thought nobody was watching. Even when the generator was chained, without qualms, this man was busy trying to remove the battery and fuel tank.
“To our greatest shock, he came with his complete tools. Boys in the community ran after him and gave him the beating of life. It took the intervention of two police officers to rescue him.
“Since we used him as a scapegoat he has never visited our area. Even at that, we do not allow them to near our side to avoid stories of missing items. And, as you see them, they have strength to lift anything no matter the size. If you follow them to where they offload these items, you will be shocked with the kind of items inside.”
Our correspondent also reliably gathered that these stolen items are sold to refuse collectors popularly called pan takers, who in turn, repair them and sell to other people at a higher or sometimes, cheaper rate.”
“They sell these items very cheap because they do not know the worth. All they care about is the money to enable them smoke and take hard drugs.” Idu alleged.