Poorly paid, abused by uncouth motorists and sometimes knocked down by reckless drivers, Abuja road sweepers recount their tales of woe
By Rebecca Amos
It is something that goes on daily but not many road users notice as long as the road is clean and free for them to ply. Not many take into cognisance the presence of the forlorn women, some with kids strapped to their back, sweeping, collecting debris and singing their jeremiads away. But they are always there doing what has been assigned to them by the job owners-those big contractors engaged by the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, to keep the ever expansive and numerous roads in the FCT clean.
Clearly, as the motorists drive away, there are hundreds of people working their hearts out to make the roads clean for everyone.
But as hard as the sweepers in Abuja work to keep the roads tidy, they receive little in return in terms of pay and respect from road users. In fact, it is as if what they get is double jeopardy in their quest to serve Nigerians in their places of work.
The hassles come from several directions and they appear helpless. Poor pay, insults, brutal attacks from road users and unfavourable working conditions with no security are some of the headaches staring them in the face.
In the streets of Abuja, there are many women, mostly old ones, who should be resting, but are passing through difficult working conditions. Cars drive perilously close to them but they seem oblivious of the danger. They inhale exhaust fumes, dust and all kinds of dangerous emissions which negative effect they have no idea of. But they plod on with hope and confidence that they are serving their country.
As most of them sing and hum along while discharging their duty of keeping the town clean, it is evident that they are merely managing to do so. It is also clear that the job does not represent their heart desires or something they ever hoped for. But apparently because they need something to make ends meet, they endanger their lives to be on the road daily, sweeping, packing dirt and looking up to God for improvement of their conditions as each day beckons.
“I am managing this job because my husband is not working,” one of the women, Magdalene Asukwo, a mother of two who sweeps Muhammed Buhari Expressway, close to the Defence Headquarters and Radio House, Abuja, lamented.
“One of the main reasons I sweep the road is because my husband is unemployed and we would starve to death if I don’t. Apart from that, I have children in school. I need to feed them and see them through school,” Nenne Agele, a mother of five, who sweeps Nelson Mandela Street, Asokoro every morning, said.
Findings show that apart from the poor pay which the road sweepers receive from the contractors who engaged them, they are also exposed to danger. Many of them have been knocked down by speeding motorists while others have been beaten by mobs while struggling to do their job. This has happened many times because some road users hardly notice them and they hit them accidentally. Beyond this, the weather beats them mercilessly daily.
A middle-aged sweeper, Nkechi Lazurus, who works near Garki Hospital Area 3 Abuja, narrates her experience thus: “Many times motorists are rude to us, telling us to get out of their way. We just overlook them, never saying anything. It’s unfair to be abused when we are keeping the streets clean and free of rubbish.”
Adding to the woes of the sweepers is the poor pay.
Findings show that even though the Federal Government has pegged minimum wage at N18,000, none of the sweepers gets up to N15,000 per month. Their take-home pay ranges between N12,000 and N14,000 per month.
One of the sweepers confessed, ‘Our families, especially our children, are not happy with the job we are doing but there is nothing we can do about it because it puts food on our table.
“My son does not want me to do this job but I have no other job and this is what I am using to pay his school fees.”
From findings, if given an alternative, many of the sweepers said they would be glad to leave sweeping the road and take to more dignified jobs because they feel a sense of inferiority when seeing their mates working in decent places while they roam the streets with brooms and packers.
“I feel bad when I see people I know passing by in their cars and it is even more painful when they don’t notice or appreciate me,” Eva Nelson, a part- time student of Nasarawa State University, who sweeps occasionally around the Eagle Square, Abuja, to raise money for her schooling, confessed.