In Nasarawa, scavengers strike gold turning waste to wealth

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From Abel Leonard, Lafia

There have been growing concerns and outcries over the activities of scavengers in most communities in Nigeria.

Scavenging in many areas is seen by many as a trade which people, especially youths, take up as a cover to perpetrate various crimes. But some others regard it as a business to earn a living.

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Scavenging is the act of searching for useful items among disposable materials.

In Nasarawa State, the practice of scavenging is fast becoming a trade among the unskilled young and old.

In virtually every major streets and communities across the state, it is common to see scavengers, popularly called Baban bola in Hausa (which literally means father of refuse dumps), searching through refuse dumps around residential homes and dump sites.

The question that has been on the lips of most residents of the state is, how lucrative is the business given the unrelenting spirit of these scavengers who toil day and night under the sun and in the rain searching for waste materials from places that are generally seen as unhygienic.

Saturday Sun visited the dump sites in Sabon Pegi Shabu, a suburb of Lafia, the Nasarawa State capital where waste items, especially plastic material, were procured and deposited in the area by the owners.

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It was observed that some of the scavengers were sorting out the plastic materials according to their colours, some were grinding the items with machine, even as others were seen packaging the powdered form in sacks to be transported to Kano State for processing to renewal products.

In an interview, one of the scavengers, Sani Nafarida, said he relocated from Katsina State as a commercial motorcyclist but shortly before the outbreak of the Corona virus pandemic, he joined the business of scavenging.

Nafarida said: “From this job, Baban bola, I have built a house in my village. I have procured another plot of land and I will soon start developing it. This telephone handset I am using, I bought it out of the business. I would not have been able to afford this phone if I was doing okada work.”

Another scavenger, Mr Aliyu Adam said contrary to public perception that the business is for people who indulge in criminal activities, he would choose to remain a Baban bola in his next life given the economic potential involved in the trade.

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“I am proud of my job as Baban bola. I sell a ground bag of plastic materials for between N20, 000 and N22,000, and I produce 14 bags every month. I thank God the business is going on well. As you can see us here, we scavengers here are good people,” Mr. Adam boasted.

However, a resident of Ombi 1 in Lafia Local Government Area of the state, Mr Raphael Anze explained that the activities of scavengers are beyond mere picking of waste materials from refuse dumps.

He alleged that the scavengers break into people’s houses and cart away their belongings. “Recently, one Baban bola came to my house and removed all my security light. He was arrested and handed over to the police. Government should ban activities of scavengers.”

Confirming Mr. Anze’s claim, a community leader in the area, Mallam Danladi Babangida stated that there are good scavengers and there bad ones. He called on government to set up a regulatory agency to regulate their operations. He added: “Recently, we arrested two Baban bola who broke into Nasarawa State Polytechnic and destroyed some furniture and carted them away.”

Nasarawa State Commissioner of Police, Mr Soyemi Adesina, pointed out that in the last three months, over 30 scavengers were arrested in different locations across the state for alleged involvement in various crimes.

On his part, the state Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Mr. Bappa Abbas expressed concern that some of the scavengers had graduated from robbery to vandalism and destruction of critical public infrastructure, especially the rail lines.

Mr Abbas stated that the command would continue to adopt new strategies to tackle head-on criminal elements among the scavengers.

Speaking on the impacts of the activities of scavengers on the environment, General Manager, Nasarawa State Environmental Protection Agency, Mr Iliya Yusuf Adeka said the state government had commenced close monitoring of the various dump sites owned by the scavengers.

“These heaps of waste materials gathered by the scavengers are losing environmental hazards because they emit chemicals and other toxic substances. They also harbour dangerous reptiles such as snakes,” Adeka said.

Also speaking, Director, Public Health, Nasarawa State Ministry of Health, Dr Ibrahim Adamu Alhassan noted that due to their constant contacts with discarded hospital equipment, it had been recorded that the scavengers were prone to contracting and spreading diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, coronavirus and HIV.