They are itinerant. In their numbers, they clang their scissors to announce their presence wherever they go.
Even as the scorching afternoon sun burns with intense fury, forcing people to scurry for shade, or in the cool evening when many would-be customers are idling away, these local pedicurists, popularly referred to as ‘Mai Yankamparichi’ in Hausu, are never far from reach.
The nail-cutters, who are mostly from the northern part of the country, ply their trade in the streets, motor parks and markets. Their distinct sound stands them out; it is the sound of scissors being clicked together to attract the attention of prospective customers. They go about with their handy tools loaded into a bag usually hung loosely across the shoulder. Part of their work instruments includes a pair of scissors, which, to them is dan kira, a brownish stone for sharpening blades, pieces of rags, an aluminium cup and container of liquid detergent that acts as a shaving solution.
Ideally, having your nails groomed should not put you at risk. But, according to medical experts, patronising local pedicurists is definitely a risky venture. Even more dangerous is the business itself as a source of livelihood because of its inherent health risks. It is one business that can send an individual to an early grave through bacteria infections or other communicable diseases.
Though the hygiene and sterile condition of the instruments used remains questionable, many residents of Lagos highly court these local pedicure practitioners.
Their ingenuity with nail trimming is believed to be amazing and their craft so deft that hitherto scruffy, claw-like nails come out well groomed
Ironically, patronage is not limited to only illiterates, even educated and affluent men and women, believed to know the inherent dangers of sharing pedicure tools, sit to be groomed by these local pedicurists.
Obiamaka Ogukwe, a teacher, said patronising the nail-cutters has been the only way she could constantly keep her nails trimmed and neat. She noted that aside from her busy schedule, the nail-cutters usually do a good job of removing stubborn nails and cuticles.
For Gbenga Adio, a meat seller in Arena Market, Oshodi, nail-cutters are good craftsmen that bring out the aesthetics of the fingernails and toenails. He said the local pedicurists also do better, neater jobs shaving beards and scalps. Though he admitted that there were underlying dangers in patronising them, he explained that he always insists on certain safety measures before being groomed.
Inasmuch as dangers abound also for these local pedicurists, many, however, believe that the uncertainties and harsh realities of living in a place like Lagos, where only the fittest have the chance to survive, has made these men without any formal training on hygiene or health-related issues to embrace the trade with gusto.
The process of nail trimming, for this people, might look very simple but the sharpness of the tools employed entails mastery to avoid inflicting grievous cuts.
Daily Sun observed that liquid detergent is first applied to the toe or finger nails to have them softened. A pair of scissors is then used to cut and clean out the nails. The tools used for the job, it was noted, did not go through any certified form of sterilisation. The tools were rather ‘sterilised’ using hot water, kerosene and mentholated spirit or by passing them through the flame of a lighter repeatedly.
Medical reports emanating from tests carried out on swab samples collected from instruments used by pedicurists in Lagos revealed that about eight bacterial and five fungal species were found. The bacteria isolated include micrococcus luteus, micrococcus roseus, staphylococcus epidermidis, staphylococcus aureus, hafnia spp, shigella spp, bacillus subtilis and bacillus spp. Those of the fungal genre were identified as aspergillus niger, aspergillus flavus, mucor ssp, trichophyton spp and candida albicans.
The report further stated that the presence of the microorganisms, some of which were pathogenic, was an indication that pedicurists could be contributing towards the spread of skin and nail infections within the Lagos metropolis.
The claim was, however, disputed by some nail-cutters, as they claimed their way of sterilisation dates back to the time of their forefathers.
They explained, that to become a professional Mai yankan parichi, an intending individual must sit and observe for three months and then practise on family members and friends to hone the skills before attending to the public.
“It is a craft that is very old and does not need any special training or requirements. In our place, this is the only way we shave, cut nails and even carry out circumcision. There is nobody that has ever been infected with disease through this method,” Salisu, a nail-cutter in Ikotun Market, Lagos, said.
Musa Muhammed, a farmer and father of eight from Kastina State, moves around languidly in the same market, singing many of his native songs to attract customers. Loosely dangling a worn-out bag containing a sharpened knife, razor, old towels, scissors and a cup for mixing soapy, shaving solution over his shoulder, he claimed that he earned between N500 and N1500 at the end of each day.
He stated that, for five years, he has plied his trade as a nail cutter in Lagos streets and neighbourhoods. He said he would soon return to his village to tend to his crops. He also said he plans to employ labourers as well as take care of his immediate and extended family needs with his meagre savings made from cutting nails.
Muhammed said he was aware of the health implications associated with his job but lack of a better alternative left him no option.
On how he sterilises his work instruments, Muhammed said he washes them properly after the day’s work, makes a fire to burn them and packs them in his carry-on bag in preparation for the next day. He also performs local operations on problematic larynx with his tools.
Kawata Idris, from Niger State, is another nail-cutter that plies his trade by the First Gate Bus Stop at Festac, Lagos. Shelter for Adamu is a tiny, ramshackle space under the bridge with scruffy looking mattresses taking up half of the space. Despite being blind in one eye and walking with a limp, he has an amazing enterprising spirit. Like his kinsmen, who share the tiny space with him, and who are also into the nail business, he is not ignorant of the fact that he could get infected with HIV/AIDS and other bacteria from his customers. But the prospect of quitting the business looks heinous to him.
He admitted having to treat infections several times, but said that nail-cutting was the only menial job he could do to survive, adding that he was obligated to send money home to his mother who was suffering from stroke.
“I can’t leave the work,” he said.
And in a manner intended to discourage further questioning, Musa broke into a local song. He walked on with a wide grin on his face, clicking away his metal scissors.