Against all odds, Nasarawa women are not giving in to poverty, they are fighting for the survival of their families by daring to take on the men in the energy sapping stone crushing business that feeds the construction industry. DANJUMA JOSEPH (Lafia) had a date with some of the women and reports
Hajia Hajara Dahiru got married quite early. Before her marriage, she had dreamt of a blissful life with a rich and loving husband. She never envisaged she will for any reason engage in any task that will keep her in the sun for long. In fact, when she finally got married, everything seemed to have worked out the way she dreamt it, she was happy, she cherished the appellation ‘amaria’ (New wife), which she was called by neighbours and friends. Then she was treated like a queen, not just by her husband, but even her husband’s family members. Having got married, she also stopped her academic pursuit to settle in her new role as a housewife. She didn’t go beyond primary six.
At first, her husband provided her everything she needed. Life was good then. But soon after she had her first child, her husband decided to marry a second wife. That was the beginning of her ordeal.
“Life suddenly became difficult,” the 40 years old housewife and mother of two began her story, the story of her journey to the quarry. “My husband was no longer looking after me the way he used to. He shifted his attention to the new wife. I started suffering. Sometimes I found it difficult to get food for my little daughter.”
Hajara told this reporter that initially she wanted to go into farming, but then thought, the crops will take a long time to mature and be ready for harvesting. That wasn’t a good option, she thought.
“I had seen women at the quarry crushing stones, but I had always thought that was a tedious work and so never wanted to do it. But when it became so bad, I had no option but to join the business.
“Initially I felt angry doing it, cursing my husband who because of his neglect, I was doing the stone crushing. As days passed and as I begin to see the money coming from my efforts, I became happy. Suddenly I began to notice that this business is largely dominated by women like me.
“As we speak, I have been doing this business for almost 15 years, though the work is hard, I am not regretting anything.
It has not been all rosy for Hajara and her colleagues in the business of stone crushing. “For over 10 years the business was good, I made a lot of money, we had many people coming to patronize us, but now the market has fallen, the patronage is very poor, I cannot even afford the school fees of my two female children, due to bad market.”
She was with her nine years old niece, Ikilima Usman, a primary four pupil, who started the crushing of stone at the tender age of seven.
“I had to bring her along so she can assist me now that they are on holidays. She also helps me at weekends. Essentially, this should be a man’s work, stone crushing is not work for the lazy, it takes a lot of energy, but we have to do it to support our families.”
Like Hajara, there are many women, both young and old in the business of stone crushing in Nasarawa Eggon, Akwanga and Garaku, all in Nasarawa State.
The history of stone crushing in Nasarawa State dates back to the period after the Nigerian Civil War, when the nation experienced economic meltdown, a direct fallout of the war. Stone crushing became a major income source in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with many people engaged in it, especially women. Today, it is almost a traditional occupation of Nasarawa women.
Though there are quarrying companies that engage in large scale industrial stone crushing, indigenous and artisan stone crushers have increased over the years, and the activity has become a viable business venture for many.
A mild drama played out when this reporter got to the scene of the stone crushing in Gidan Waya, near Nasarawa Eggon town, about 25km from Lafia, the state capital, which also serves as the headquarters of Nasarawa Eggon local government area of Nasarawa State.
The women in the business had welcomed LEADERSHIP Weekend with high expectations, presuming our correspondent was a prospective customer. They were however a little disappointed when they were told he only wanted to hear their story.
But that showed the desperation of the women to make a sale. The competition is high and they almost on a daily basis fight for customers.
“It has not always been like this,” one of the women volunteered an explanation for the way they rushed the reporter. “The truth is that we no longer get many people coming to buy from us that is why you see us dragging anybody that comes close. Sometimes because everybody wants to sell, we even reduce the price just to attract a buyer.”
LEADERSHIP Weekend observed that the women were few during the visit, upon enquiry however, he was told it was a market day in Nasarawa Eggon town.
Hajara told our correspondent that one of their biggest customers was the present governor of Nasarawa state, Almakura before he became governor.
“Almakura used to be one of our biggest customers before he became governor,” Hajara said. “He built his hotel in Lafia, (Ta’al Conference Hotel), with stones he bought from here. But since he became governor, he has stopped buying stones from us, we don’t know why.
“Once in a while, when we hear siren we will rush to the road side and wave at him, he will wind down his tinted glasses and wave at us also, in some occasion, he will throw money for us. We appreciate that but, we want him to go back to the olden days and buy our stones.”
Another stone crusher, Jummai Yakubu, 43, a housewife and mother of four told our correspondent that for nearly 20 years that she has been in the stone crushing business, she has not made much out of it. Attributing that to the crude method she is using, she also complained the crushers are not getting any support from government to make their work easier and more productive.
“We are not getting government patronage to serve as morale booster for us,” Jummai said. “This should be the work of men, but we are engaging in it and government does not think it is necessary for it to help us with some small machines that will help us break the stones faster to be able to have more or even buy from us the little we are able to crush.
“No government official come here to buy our product, even with plenty construction projects going on in the state under the present administration. They would rather patronize the big companies.”
She lamented that contractors travel all the way to Abuja to buy rather than patronizing the women.
According her, “Contractors bye pass us here and go to quarry sites in Abuja to buy stones crushed by machines and supply same in Lafia while we are left to keep looking at the ones we crushed with our hands. We are finding it difficult to sell and that is affecting our income.”
The women were so excited to get their voice heard by the government that even when they appointed two of their members to speak for them, intermittently they interject, supplying what they thought was missed out and often chorused ‘haka ne’, in Hausa, meaning what their colleagues were telling our correspondent was true.
LEADERSHIP Weekend also observed that as tedious and physically demanding as stone crushing is, women and children dominate the business, spending hours crushing granite and suffering exposure to harsh, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions. But the profits they make is often enough incentive for them, at least, like some of them said, they are able to pay their bills.
“This job keeps us going. It is from the proceeds we get from here that we feed our families. Some of us have built houses, and some of us are training our children to schools, even in university,” Hajara said.
The stones are crushed into different sizes, the plate stone, the foundation size, gravels, one inch, chippings and depending on the size, a 10-tyre lorry load of the crushed stones goes for N60,000, while the six-tyre lorry load is sold at the cost of N55,000 and a small pick-up van load goes for between N9,000 to N12,000, depending on the market.
LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered from the crushers that there are attendant personal risks as well as environmental hazards associated with quarrying, starting from the very first activity; rock blasting. The huge, rock first has to be broken down into smaller manageable boulders, and this is done by drilling a hole underneath the rock, setting fire to it, and leaving it to burn for as many as three days. This softens the rock, and when it is molten enough, it explodes. Workers are to completely evacuate rock blasting sites to avoid being struck by flying shrapnel.
A mining expert said even more worrisome is the direct health effect on the workers themselves. “During the quarrying activities, a lot of dust is generated, with some of the dust particles potentially carcinogenic. That means, they have the capability to induce the growth of cancerous cells.”
The expert said respiratory problems like cough, shortness of breath and chest pains are common health problems quarry workers face. As such as the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) has ordered the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Sometimes, we have cough,” Hajara admits. “But then, once we see the doctor, everything is okay. As you can see, I am fine,” she said smiling.
It was observed that decades of unregulated and unsustainable stone crushing activities also poses an environmental risk, as it rids the soil of its natural protective covering over time, exposing it to erosion and other harmful environmental effects.
So also, nature and wildlife are not spared the harmful effects of unchecked quarrying activities, as according to the mining expert, “Some of these quarry sites harbour ecosystems – flora and even fauna, and when you remove these (natural) rock formations, you lose these ecosystems. Quarrying is a form of mining. It leaves the land largely degraded.
“After the quarrying activities may have ended and the site evacuated, unsuspecting individuals may move into these locations and try to build. And because the land is depressed compared to the general surface area, it is easily flooded. Some of these lands are even geologically unstable, and they could be susceptible to vibrations once in a while.”
Although the local stone-crushing was often carried out by able bodied men and young boys, the women are now beginning to show that whatever a man can do, woman can do better.
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