Tough way to earn living, but rewarding, say illegal quarry operators
By Amaka Agu
For most of them, paper qualification has neither meaning nor worth. At least, not as long as they are involved in their present vocation. Not for them also, the dress code of white collar office workers. All that one needs to be in reckoning in the business is raw strength that is often expressed in bulging and well-rounded muscles of the men, and the will to survive by both the men and their female colleagues.
Armed with these basic ‘credentials’, as well as hammers, chisels and diggers, they head for the mountainous parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to battle the rocks. These are men and women who eke out a living breaking and selling rocks.
They are not employed in modern quarries with the modern equipment and machinery necessary for such tedious task. On the contrary, they are loosely organised individuals who set out daily to reduce rocks into moveable pieces for sale.
Abuja Metro learnt that this group has no government licence to operate. Their only enabling ground is the sheer will to stay afloat, law or no law.
Hard way to make money
At Katampe extension, Wushafa and some other suburbs of Abuja, these men and their few female co-workers toil under rain and shine to make ends meet.
Watching them on duty, soaked in their own sweat, one could easily mistake them for people caught up in a heavy rainfall. With unalloyed determination written all over their faces, they barely take a break once they set out to work, constantly chipping off at the rocks, with their diggers, hammers and chisels. Their skillful handling of the equipment leaves no one in doubt that they had, indeed, invented and mastered the necessary methodologies for rock breaking.
Duty starts every morning with setting up a serious fire on the rock surface they intend to work on. Reason: the fire usually serves the purpose of softening the rocks for easy attack with the hammer and chisels. Never known to resist fire for too long, the rock eventually succumbs to the superior ‘firepower’ and therefore, become easier to break.
As soon as the burning is over, the men begin to attack the rough surface with their sledge hammers, first, breaking them into huge lumps. These are thereafter, further broken into smaller moveable sizes.
Tough work, no regrets
Much as this is a very strenuous work, time has indeed, blurred the lines between fatigue and work for these men. It was noticed that they no longer feel any trepidation towards their self-assigned jobs. For most of them, their constant motivation as they face the rocks is their daily income. The men of the rocks would readily tell whoever cares to ask, that the business, though demanding, is worth the efforts put in every day.
One of them, Adamu Mohamed, revealed to Abuja Metro, that breaking of rocks as a means of livelihood requires a lot of energy. He said: “I have been in this business for eight years now. I depend on it to feed my family. Also, I have built a house in my village from this business. We all know that making money comes from different sources. This is the source of my money and I am proud of it.’’
Also, his colleague, Tanko Abubakar, said breaking of rock with hammer is “a very difficult task” that is not for a lazy person. His words: “I was into selling of water in carts before now, then I realised that my friends who were into this business were doing well; so, I begged them to teach me and they did.
“I have no cause to regret joining the business because I have used part of the money I made from it to marry two wives and God has blessed me with children. It is not easy, but I have managed to do so many things out of it.”
Also speaking on life as a rock breaker, Bello Isa emphasised that it is not a profession you rush into unprepared, pointing out that anyone wishing to join the trade must be ready to bear the pains.
Isa stated: “I take pain relievers every day because of my work. When I started, I had body pains but now, my body is used to the job. The pains seldom come. Breaking of rock is my only source of income. I have been in this business for 10 years. I got into it at the age of 38, and now, I am 48. I feed my family and meet other basic needs with the money I make from the job. I do not think it is very hard to hit hammer on rock and the rock will obey. It takes a lot of energy.”
Isa said he eats a lot every day, just to re-gain the energy he expends on his job.
Checks by Abuja Metro also revealed that a worker could amass a truckload of rocks worth N15, 000 in three days. This explains why most of the operators readily insist that their game was worth the candle. To them, the relatively good income is more than enough justification for their hard labour.
Less care for safety
However, it was observed that these men exercise little or no safety precaution at work. They depend mainly on “God and good luck” for protection against the hazards of their work. Without safety boots, helmets and thick gloves, they are often exposed to avoidable injuries and other forms of danger. Although they stated that sometimes, members of the FCT Environmental Task Force do harass them, and even try to chase them away from the illegal quarries, this is of very little consequence to them because such raids are rare as opposed to the steady flow of income to them.