By Chioma Okezie -Okeh
‘Ina kwana’, a young unkempt young man greeted while he dropped a sack suspected to be filled with scraps beside a tenth. Limping, Musa as we later got to know is his name, quickly washed his face and legs while he shifted to the side of his tent to offer prayers.
Obviously tired, he cleared his tent, brought out a loaf of bread with a sachet of water and starting eating aggressively. “Don’t worry if they do not agree to your price, I will take you to my brother. Although I am tired and wanted to sleep but I will do that first,” he said in Hausa language.
Saturday Sun reporter bumped into him during a visit to the Agege ram market when she drifted towards some of the tents where she was directed to meet the owners of a particular ram for better negotiation.
“Sleep? Sleep where,” he was asked. Bursting into laughter, Musa claimed that he had lived at the site for more than three years. “Walahi, this is my house, I sleep, eat and even my girlfriends come to spend the night here with me. I am a scrap dealer, if I leave my market (scraps) and go, others will steal it. We rarely sleep more than three hours at night and this is between 4am and 6am.”
Community of filth
Pointing to some other tents further inside the dumpsite area, Musa said the place is a small community. “We are so many here and some are even living with their wives and children. I relocated from Zamfara to Lagos more than three years ago. Bandits overtook our village and my people gathered all the young men in my compound and asked us to proceed to Lagos.
“We were about nine of us that boarded a truck that was bringing onions to Lagos. We paid N3000 each and it took us about four days before we get to Mile 12. Already our people in Lagos knew that we were coming, so we only spent two day at Mile 12 before relocating to Agege. This is the easiest type of job that one can do without going to school and you do not need capital to start it. Just pick scraps and sell. I am proud of my business although if God gives me an alternative, I will quickly grab it without thinking twice.”
Just like every other man, Musa has an active love life. “I am married with a daughter before I came down to Lagos. I have stayed here for more than three years and have not travelled to Zamfara. I make sure that I send money to them every month, in fact with the money that I generated, I have been able to build a house for my family. I have a three-bedroom flat where my mother and my wife are staying. If they did not allow me to travel all these good things will not happen to us.”
Love without borders
“As a man, I have to also take care of myself, that is why I have a girlfriend who normally visits me. Her name is Zainab and she sells yoghurt, if you wait a bit, she will soon come. I gave her money to start the business. She lives with her aunty in Agege, but when I need her, she will come,” he said and giggled.
On how he copes with the stench oozing out from the dumpsite, Musa said that they were already used to it. “If you keep visiting here regularly, you will get used to it. For us, it is normal and does not affect us. Even mosquito does not bite us here because of the chemical that we pour around and rob some on our body. We rarely go to the hospital; I only went to clinic because of my hand. I slept off close to the rail track and when I heard the sound of the train, I jumped without looking. This was how I broke my arm and it was swelling so I had to go to the hospital.”
Raising a family on the dumpsite
Few meters away from Musa’s tent is that of another man whose name is Ahmed. Unlike Musa, Ahmed is living with his wife and a daughter in the same area. “My child was born at the general hospital and all the immunization that she needs were given as at when due. I went to my village in Kaduna and married her and we both came down together. This is my life and my wife promised to stay by my side. There is nothing that she wants that is not in this my small hut and this is just for sometime before things get back to normal. When she gave birth, she stayed with our family members who are living in a proper house till my baby turned nine months. What she normally does is to come around during the day and at night she will go back to the house.
“She is the one cooking and selling food to our people in this area. It was when our daughter was nine months that she decided to come and stay with me. She is the love of my life and she does not want to leave me alone because some of these northern girls hanging around here might take me away from her,” he said laughing.
On how they manage to control mosquito bites, Ahmed said that no mosquito would survive in the area. “They are looking for fresh blood, and most importantly we rob oil on our skin at night that even if they come near, the oil will kill them. I am proud to tell you that even my baby who is now two years has never been admitted in the hospital over malaria or typhoid. We have even registered her in the school nearby.”
On why he opted for such an accommodation, Ahmed said it was to save cost and to stay close to his work place. “Apart from buying and selling scraps, my main job is to watch and sell these rams for Alhaji. Although we have vigilante here, we still stay closer in case anyone tries to steal from us. It is of no use to rent house far away where you will spend your entire money on transportation. We all came to Lagos to make money and finally return home when all is well. I am a farmer but the clash in southern Kaduna was too much, this was why I left six years ago. Initially, I started from Igando dumpsite but when Alhaji who is a relative called me to come to Agege and handle his ram business, I decided to relocate to this axis. He is paying me commission for every ram I sell and I still make extra money by buying and selling scrap.
I intend to save every little kobo that I make and send back home. I am saving money because I know that one day I will return to my village. Lagos is not my home, I only came to make small money and return and hopefully by that time peace must have returned.”
Safe and secure
On the possibility of being attacked by hoodlums, Ahmed insists that they had never had such experience. “Money made from the ram is given to the owner immediately. No one sleeps here with reasonable money and besides people think that we might be crazy to come and stay in an open place like this. There is nothing to steal and if they dare to enter, we will defend ourselves. We only pray that all these ethnic clashes between Hausa and Yoruba do not happen, because that no one can control the outcome. The most recent one, I ran to the barracks with my wife and child for fear that they might spread to our area. This was the only time I became scared of sleeping in the open because all these hoodlums can kill you with the excuse that they are angry. Luckily, they did not come to our area and we returned.”
On how they bath or defecate, Ahmed said it is not an issue. “This is already a dump site, so if you want to defecate, you get a waterproof, and tie it up and throw away. Because we are all living here, we are all conscious of moving further away from where we live. It is the women that are concerned with bathing themselves and their children. For us men, we can spend days without bathing and still be clean. As long as you do your ablution whenever you want to pray or done with using the toilet. For the women, they wake up very early in the morning or very late at night if it is necessary. Like I said as a Moslem, before you pray you must keep certain areas clean. The only time we suffer a lot is during raining season, if the rain is much it might enter our room. This is why my own is elevated and I do not encourage my wife to sleep here during the raining season.”
Even on the dumpsite, accommodation is not free
Ahmed who admitted that he knows what Coronavirus is said none of them at the dumpsite area is afraid of contracting it. Waving an old table water bottle with stuffs suspected to be herbs, Ahmed said that they are all taking precautions to stay alive. “We know that all kinds of diseases can be contracted by staying in this environment including Coronavirus, that is why I drink this. It will cleanse our body. Even health officials have come to preach to us but since there is no free accommodation anywhere for us then they have to go back. Government officials have come to drive us away severally but we still come back at the end of the day. Madam, accommodation here is not even free. The locals or the touts in charge of this area normally collect N500 from us every month. If you want to be picking scraps at the dumpsite, you will still pay them. Nothing is free in this world but it is very cheap to live here.”
When asked if he has any plan to relocate from the site, Ahmed said yes. “I do not want my child to grow up in this type of environment. We are managing it for now because she cannot remember for now. But I must get a normal room so that my wife and child can stay there while I stay closer to my business. I am better than most of these people dressing well and condemning me. I know what I have achieved by staying in this area,” Ahmed stated.