How We Survive In Abuja – Water Vendors

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The problem of inadequate pipe borne water in Abuja would have made life very difficult for the inhabitants but for the presence of water vendors. Fatima Ahmed writes on their daily activities, the nature of their trade, how they are able to cope with the high cost of living and other challenges bedevilling their trade.

Very early in the morning every weekday, as residents begin to prepare to leave for their various places of work, you can observe that at different areas in Lugbe; Sector F Mosque, Tudun Wada Junction, Babangida Market, AMAC (Abuja Municipal Area Council) Market, down to Fruit Market, Lugbe Roundabout and, Car Wash; Hausa and Fulani men are moving from one spot to the other, in a hurry to deliver ‘precious commodities’ to their clients. Almost without turning back or looking sideways, they move on. From left, right and centre, other prospective customers call ‘Mai Ruwa! Mai Ruwa! Mai Ruwa!’ But none of them responds because they are in a hurry to deliver water to their registered customers. Until the water vendors, popularly called “Mai Ruwas”, supply their registered customers, they will not attend to other prospective customers.

The water vendors are being paid afterward by their registered customers, depending on their agreement with each other. The payment could either be daily, weekly or monthly.

Between 10:00 and 11:00 am, when these water vendors must have finished distributing water to their registered customers, they start to move up and down the streets of Lugbe in search for prospective customers. Their eyes are always hungry, yearning for the distant echo of the call ‘Mai Ruwa’, only to rush down the road to get their sweat sold for the paltry #20 a jerry can and #200 a truck, as heavy as it is and, no matter the distance from which they are coming.

At noon and evenings, they fill their kegs and park their trucks, only to pick them up as early as 5:30a.m, after they must have said their early morning prayers. More so, weekends are not left out in their trading as, they are able to sell a minimum of two to three trucks which will go a long way to serve them. Most of these water vendors do not reside in these areas they trade in. Some of them go back to their families on monthly basis, while others go back to their towns and villages during the rainy season to farm.

“At the end of the month when I want to travel, I contract another Mai Ruwa to sell to my customers till the time I come back and, my customers will pay him the same amount they pay me” said Mallam Muhammadu Samaila.

Their services are rendered in different places, ranging from houses lacking in water supply, to shops, mosques, markets and, even construction sites. These Mai Ruwas are mostly illiterates, therefore, they tend to mix Hausa and the little English language which they must have been familiar with in their course of trading.

For instance Mallam Samaila said “I tell them say, babu, sai gobe” when asked, if he has closed for the day and a customer comes to request for water.

‘Mai Ruwa’ is a Hausa word which is translated as “water owner”. The name is associated with the water vendors probably because most of them are northerners; Hausas and Fulanis to be precise.

In the words of Mallam Muhammadu Samaila, “the fixed price for the sale of water is #20 per keg and #200 for a complete truck”.  He also said that, sometimes there is either a rise or fall in the price at which they sell water to customers depending on the availability or scarcity of water in the community. In other words, if there is scarcity of water in the community, the water which is usually sold to them by the owners at the rate of #50 is increased to either #70 or #100, thereby causing them to also increase the amount from the usual #200 per truck to either #300 or #400.

In response to the question ‘how do Mai Ruwas survive despite the high cost of living in Abuja?’, Samaila, a man in his late 20s who has been involved in this trade for the past six years said I try as much as possible to manage the money I get because I have a target for every month and I also have two wives and five children to take care of”. He also said that the total amount he spends on feeding every day is #500, because he takes Kunu and Kosai in the mornings or tea and bread at the Mai shayi’s joint, while he eats indomie at noon and sometimes he and his friends contribute money to cook at the Mai shayi’s shop since they are familiar with each other. He also said that house rent is too expensive which leaves him no option than to always pass the night at a nearby mosque everyday with the belief that it’s only Allah that protects one. Although he expresses happiness for the fact that despite his inability to take his kids to school, he can provide them with food and clothing that makes them comfortable, he further buttressed that, the more customers he gets to supply in a day, the higher his profit. He said he started the business with a borrowed wheel barrow (truck) and kegs and he had to pay on monthly basis which is common among his fellow water vendors.

After he was done paying for them, the items then became his permanently and he started earning his profits. He also said that he now earns a minimum of 1500 naira daily and about #30, 000 as his profit monthly.

Often times, this is what their routine is like and at night, while some Mai Ruwas go back to the shops, mosques and, garages to pass the nights, since most of them have no place to call home in their trading cities and towns, other mai ruwas are being hired as security guards by some households or companies to watch over their gates at night, and as such, those mai ruwas spend sleepless nights guarding the gates of their employers instead of having a sound rest in preparation for the following day.

Even though people see water trading as a menial and, petty job that doesn’t fetch much, it is lucrative when one gives it his all.


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