By Nick Dugba,
Passing through the Danbaba Suntai Way or rather the Mile Six Bypass dual carriageway and precisely the Jalingo suburb of Dinyavoh, one is attracted by the presence of a quarry of sorts. Present on this quarry are young and middle aged women breaking rocks to earn a living under the hot scorching sun of Jalingo.
Correspondent, Victor Gai, went to the scene to find out why they chose this occupation and how they have coped despite the harsh conditions they are subjected to. Ultimately too, I tried to find out how government, charity organisations and concerned individuals could support these entrepreneurs in their area of needs.
Getting to speak with some of these women was met with some degree of resistance because as most of them claim, journalists usually come, get information from them and use it for their selfish purposes, while their plight remains the same. Initially, they thought I was one of those customers who came to buy gravels. When they realised I was a journalist, the welcome turned into open hostility. One can indeed understand the reason for such resistance and frustration; hunger, thirst, failing health, and the nature of the work which is stressful are the lot of these women. One can physically observe these in them!
In fact, while interviewing one of the young workers, a seemingly frustrated elderly woman approached us wielding a hammer in her hand and lamenting loudly and issuing out threats that could send shivers down the spines of a stranger to the scene. From her lamentations, I could hear her complaining of the fact that journalists usually visited them and nothing comes out of such visits.
I had to explain to the aggrieved women that we (journalists) are partners and in solidarity with every development objective and not the cunning merchants who try to exploit such situation to their advantage.
However, this reporter learnt some lessons about this group of women. One was that they work in groups or clusters. They are fairly organised on a less sustainable and purposeful basis. For instance, they obtain large rocks from suppliers, pay certain men to break them manually into workable pieces and then go on breaking them into gravels for commercial use which they sell to the end user.
According to Margaret Ajasco, a worker, “we buy the rocks for N13,000 per truck. We pay N3000 for breaking of the rock. In a day, I can’t say precisely how much I get because the market fluctuates. Sometimes, per truck, they pay N25,000, sometimes N21,000. But on the average, we get N2000 to N3000 per day”.
Ordinarily, when one looks at these earnings, one might conclude that the business is lucrative because, by local standards, that should be enough to feed a family in a day. But the bad news is that business fluctuates, and it is not always rosy as Margaret puts it.
The young married woman, who attributed joblessness and family pressure as factors that pushed her into the business, claimed that such earnings did not come daily. “The stones could remain for up to a month without anyone coming to buy. But when there is market, we sell a bag of gravels for N500 and N600”, she boasted.
Apart from these business realities they are confronted with, there is also the health and physical challenges that the work face. Sharing her experience, Margaret disclosed that, “it becomes difficult to wake up in the morning because of fatigue. We consume a lot of water because of exhaustion. Sometimes, during work, we get injured with the hammer”.
Also, Jennifer Garba, a young orphan engaged in the business, corroborated Margaret’s claim saying, “sometimes, we get sick and have to go to the hospital where we spend money and out of the little we get, we use it to treat ourselves”.
Regrettably, most of these women are poorly educated and lack the will to organise themselves into an association or cooperative that could advance their interest. Thus, they remain a loose association who cooperate for the sake of running the business and sharing profit at the end of the day.
Our passionate appeal….
A closer look at this group of citizens shows that they need empowerment to go beyond their subsistence level. And a way of doing so is to improve their stone crushing business to make it more profitable. In fact, when they are empowered, it would create room for employment as well as better their lot.
According to Margaret, customers usually take advantage of their condition to exploit them after all the stress they passed through. She then mentioned ways government or concerned bodies could deploy to ameliorate their sufferings.
“Government should please assist us with stone crushing machines and soft loans to complement our business, because our starting capital was borrowed and when we get we repay our creditors”.
On her part, Jennifer was of the view that government could patronise them because poor sales happen to be one of the impediments in the business. “ For instance, if they wish to embark on a building project, they can assist us by patronising us because we have low sales most times which affects our income flow. They can also provide stone crushing machines for us or provide us with jobs such as cleaners or any other because this work is stressful”, she concluded.