Godwin Tsa, Abuja
He emerged from a makeshift structure with wide smiles that exposed his kolanut-coated teeth.
With a sack slung over his shoulder and an iron hook in his hand, Bako Maigeri was set for work.
Maigeri, 25, was a scavenger who rummaged through waste bins and refuse dumps in the neighbourhood in search of valuable items.
Within a heartbeat, another lanky young man emerged from one of the numerous shacks erected on the bank of a stream.
Welcome to the scavengers’ colony situated in Karu, a satellite town in Abuja Municipal Council.
Tucked away from the ambience and aesthetics of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, with no basic facilities, the colony of more than 20 makeshift structures of various sizes is home to a population of at least 40 scavengers, popularly called mai-bolla, who have been pushed out of the city centre by the authorities.
Like most scavengers, they are loathed and despised ny the city’s people who, incidentally, also patronise them.
Pieces of rags, recyclable items such as tins, aluminium, rubber, plastics, metals, as well as iron were visible features at the colony.
Besides those items were some fierce dogs that provided security at the colony.
The environment looked unhealthy, as flies of many different species roamed the space amid the putrid odour that enveloped everything.
The shanties were made from pieces of tarpaulin, flex banners and polythene.
The mai-bola move around the neighbourhood in trying to eke a livelihood by selling items that they scavenge from garbage heaps, despite the associated health risks.
Daily Sun learnt that some residents of the camp make use of mosquito nets, many among the scavengers often fall sick from malaria.
Maigeri, the Kano State-born scavenger, is a dealer in disposed plastics, especially bottled water containers. He claimed to earn an average of N250,000 every month for sorting out waste for recycling in Kano or Lagos, where there are factories that need the recyclable items.
As chairman of the scavengers in the small settlement, he told Daily Sun that he supervised a dump site at the Pantaker market, located in the Nyanya axis of Abuja.
By his privileged position, buyers must first discuss their needs with him after which he would direct them to the dealers of such items.
After collecting these items, they are taken to a place called Gosa, which, according to him, houses the biggest dumpsite, where he works.
He said Gosa, located along Jabi-Airport road, was where most solid waste from the city is taken. It is believed that the Gosa dump site, covering about 90 hectares, is more than twice the size of the popular Olushosun dump site in Lagos.
Findings revealed that due to the inefficient management of waste, a large chunk of the waste generated by residents of Abuja is collected by scavengers.
So, today, in Abuja, is not unusual to see scavengers roaming the city for treasures hidden in refuse dumps, roadsides and drainages.
Talking with Maigeri was enlightening. For instance, he told our reporter that he does not fall sick because he has immunity against diseases.
His palms were hard and rough as we shook hands, and must have been toughened by several years of holding an iron rod to rummage through waste in search of his goods.
The father of four children told our reporter that he came to Abuja in 2001.
According to him, “Only new people fall sick here, that is normal. New people coming into this place will first fall sick before they will become normal.”
He explained that some might have stomach problems, cough, or nausea and vomiting.
Though they live a dangerous life of making wealth from waste, they said their monthly take home is worth the risk.
Yusuf Ahmed deals in recyclable plastic bottles. He is a father of two, and goes to visit his family in Zamfara State for two weeks after a month at the dump site.
He said, “I make about N5,000 daily dealing in plastic bottles. I have been on this site for about five years. I go to see my family in Zamfara for two weeks after spending one month here.”
Ahmed also employs boys who go to the dump site every day to look for plastic bottles for him. He has eight boys who work under him, and they are paid daily according to their output, ranging from N1,000 to N2,000.
The profit can even be more, depending on what is being traded, said the chairman of the scavengers, Maigeri: “Rubber goes for N25 per kilo, iron or tin goes for N20 per kilo, while aluminium is the costliest; it goes for N70 per kilo.”
According to the chairman, a truck at the site conveys 85 bags of waste each weighing not less than 100 kilogrammes, translating to about N637,500 profit (in the case of plastics) without deducting the N25,000 paid to the loaders of the truck. Meanwhile, a kilogramme of plastic bottles sells at about N45 to N50.
He also disclosed that loading a truck with recyclable plastics costs N25,000 and even more if it is iron.
“It takes about a month for a team of scavengers to produce recyclable materials that can fill a truck,” he said.
The cheery news for the scavengers and their buyers, however, was that what they are looking for is readily available as compacting trucks keep bringing waste almost on an hourly basis to the site. It means they will never run out of stock.
Scavengers may be despised, unrecognised or uncommended for what they are doing, but their activities go a long way towards fighting environmental problems that lead to global warming and climate change.