In search for a better life, just like most migrants across the world, many Nigeriens leave their homes for neighbouring Nigeria. These hardworking men though undocumented, are making life easier for residents of Abuja suburbs by closing the gap of water scarcity.
Like most Nigerian towns and cities, lack of access to portable water supply remains a major problem for many households in FCT suburbs. In Nigeria for instance, more than 60 million people (40 per cent) are required to meet SDGs target for improved drinking water supply.
To cover this inadequacy in water provision by the government in many cities and particularly in the FCT, non-state providers of water (NSPs) such as water vendors popularly known as Mai Ruwa are coming to the rescue.
Checks by LEADERSHIP Friday showed that many homes in suburbs of Nigeria’s Federal Capital City, get their water supply from these water vendors, majority of whom are undocumented migrant workers from Niger Republic
These water vendors, though undocumented migrants, make brisk business especially during the hot season which is accompanied by scarcity of water because, not household could afford to sink boreholes.
Checks by this reporter revealed the presence of hundreds of migrant water vendors from Niger Republic and Malians in different parts of Abuja suburbs. They are seen in droves in, Kubwa, Nyanya, Lugbe, Tunga Maje, Zuba, Gwagwalada, Kuje, Gwarimpa to mention but a few.
Due to the cultural similarities with people from northern Nigeria, it is difficult to differentiate between migrants and people from northern parts of the country. With this, it often not difficult for them to blend in with the Hausa speaking communities in the suburbs. Niger Republic shares boundary with northern states in Nigeria such as Sokoto, Katsina, Kebbi and Jigawa.
One of the leaders of the migrant community in Kubwa disclosed that they are making thousands of naira which they send home to their poor family members.
Samaila Biliya, a migrant told this reporter that he is from a region called Damagaram in Niger republic. Samaila said he came to Abuja in 2013 after being invited by a brother who had migrated earlier. His brother made money pushing water truck and even managed to open a little kiosk where he sells GSM recharge cards, cigarettes and soft drinks. According to him, his dream is to own his kiosk. Though, he admits it will take a few years to save money as meeting the demand of his immediate family back home has prevented him from saving much.
A truck of water in Kubwa area where he operates, cost N250. He makes an average of N2000 daily and pays the truck owner N500. He said they hire the trucks until they are able to buy theirs. The truck cost N15,000.
He, along with his other friends, sleep in a tea shop (mai shayi) owned by his compatriot from Niger. The shop is made with aluminum and they have to sleep on a wooden table. Staying in a shanty is a price they have to pay to ensure that their families back home have a better life.
He admits that the job is not an easy one considering that they have to push the truck filled with huge cans of water for long distances sometimes even on hilly roads, to get water to their customers. “Pushing the water truck is not easy. But back home, families expect a lot from us, so we have to work hard. One day, I want to own my own kiosk like my brother. I hear there is money when you are into commercial motorcycling. But it’s not always easy finding someone to trust you with their motorcycle.”
Residents of Kubwa, who spoke to LEADERSHIP Friday said the vendors are saviors, providing relief by supplying their water need. According to them, it would have been difficult sourcing for water, especially during dry season.
“We don’t have boreholes, so you can imagine how it would be if not for these mai ruwas (the name they are called in the native Hausa language). I buy water from them and some of them have become my friends,” one of the residents, Ifeoma Sunday, said. She concluded by saying that she finds them trustworthy and has no problem patronising them.
Another resident, Julaina Okon said: “I didn’t even know they are not Nigerians. But they have indeed come to our rescue here. The borehole is far from my home, so I rely on them for my water needs, especially water to wash and cook.”
Like Samaila, other migrant water vendors who agreed to talk with us said they entered into Nigeria through the many porous borders. They however admitted it is usually not easy, explaining that sometimes they are arrested by immigration officials and kept in camps.
“At some point, it was really difficult for us to enter into Nigeria as the Nigeria immigration used to arrest and detain us and sometimes put us in a camp in Gwagwalada,” Suleiman Ahmed, said.
Another migrant, Rabiu Ibrahim said many of them come to Nigeria to make money for their families.
He said the major occupation back home is cattle rearing and farming. He even boasted that most of the beef consumed in Nigeria are imported from their country.
To send money to their families back home, he explained that they do not have bank accounts and only send money home when any of their compatriots is travelling.
“I don’t have a bank account here in Nigeria. And its same with my brothers here. We send money back home when anyone is travelling. They convert the money to CFA at the border.
Another Nigerien, (water vendor), who operates in Nyanya, Ahmad Asinki, who disclosed that he has lived in Nigeria since 2017 said, he first settled in Anambra as a cobbler but had to relocate to Abuja to join his countrymen in the lucrative water business. “Although the business is stressful, with much efforts, one can make enough money from it because people need water more than any other thing.
“Personally, I used to make up to N4000 in a day because I have some customers, who order for water before I even think of supplying to others.”
He however said the water business was seasonal and that he was only making enough money during the dry season, while he goes into farming during the raining season. He said, any moment from now, I will be traveling and will return after one year. I intend to go and assist my wife with farm work and to spend some time with my family which I have really missed
Asked if he speaks to them, he said, ‘‘yes, we communicate but through messages through any of us here that travels.’’
President Muhammadu Buhari in July, gave a six months window to undocumented migrants living in Nigeria to register with the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) or face impending consequences. Most of the migrants LEADERSHIP Friday spoke to, however, said they were unaware of such directives and expressed the fear that the government might be targeting them for deportation.