BY OSA AMADI
At Alaba Rago in Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos State, nothing goes to waste. Every discarded object –pieces of iron, paper, plastic, wood, bottle, just name it – comes into use. There is no recycling bank there, but all kinds of condemned objects find a role to play in the economic life of not only the people (especially Hausas generally referred to as Aboki, an Housa word for friend) who run the place, but also outsiders who throw away those objects in the first place.
It may be that VCD player which your electronics repairer has pronounced ‘dead forever’ or the iron or aluminum cooking pots of which many years of heat from flames has drilled multiple holes on the bottom. It could also be those newspapers you read everyday which have piled up and now occupy valuable spaces in your apartment. Condemned will help you evacuate them all, and even pay you a token for it!
A family which was relocating had a battered Thermocool refrigerator which they didn’t want to carry to their new house. When they called in condemned, he offered N600 for the refrigerator. For the family, it was a good deal. After all, the fridge had not been used for many years, and the compressor and other vital parts were dead.
Back at Alaba Rago, all the squeezed iron rods and pipes of different sizes and lengths brought in by condemned are straightened and displayed for sale to people who may be doing minor repairs or other little projects and do not want to spend too much money buying new iron rods. Sometimes, the ingenious hands of the Alaba Rago artisans revive some of the gadgets previously certified ‘dead’ by the first repairers. These, they put out again for sale at incredibly low prices.
Items made of metal which cannot be repaired are loaded into trailers and transported to foundries and steel companies where they are melted and transformed into new iron rods and pipes. Discarded mattresses and upholstery chairs are rebuilt and covered again with new fabrics, ready to adorn the sitting and bed rooms of those who want to save money or cannot afford brand new ones.
At a different section of the enclave, some Hausa women are busy washing remnants of paint off mountains of discarded house paint containers. Later, they’d sell those containers to people who use them as buckets and containers for drawing water out from wells.
A part of Alaba International Market, Alaba Rago (rago means ram in Hausa) is primarily a livestock market which receives perhaps the largest of rams and goats transported from northern Nigeria into Lagos. While the Alaba International, also known as Alaba Electronics, is dominated by the highly enterprising and resilient Igbos, the Alaba Rago is a sort of economic community of Hausas in Lagos. The abokis not only do business in Alaba Rago, they also live there.
What makes Alaba Rago special and significant to Lagos State? The answer to this question is located in the problem of waste generation and waste management, which is not just a regional or continental problem, but a global environmental headache.
Alan Durning in his book How much is enough? throws up stunning statistics. He records that the world throws away at least 200 billion bottles, cans, plastic cartons, paper and plastic cups each year. This throwaway culture is fed by a deliberate manufacturing policy of some modern firms called planned obsolescence. This is a manufacturing policy that makes machines and other gadgets impossible to repair once they are damaged. Sometimes, the cost of repair, when weighed with the cost of buying new one, makes little or no economic sense. Some formerly recyclable stuff like papers and plastics can no longer be recycled due to some deliberately in-built components.
The result is diminishing sources of raw materials and mountains of wastes at dump sites of our cities. Imagine the size of mountains of waste those junks would have created and added to the existing ones in Lagos if they had not been so handled by aboki. For this alone, Lagosians and humanity generally owe some gratitude to the Aboki at Alaba Rago.
In addition, the jobs created by those activities at Alaba Rago are quite impressive. On average, a hardworking Aboki there earns about N3000 daily. This amount may be dismissed as nothing by the well-to-do but it is much to those who would have ended up jobless. The average aboki at Alaba Rago is candid, straightforward, friendly and honest. Moreover, aboki does not bargain too hard or haggle too much over prices. They sell at minimum profit, and render their services at fair prices
Where the scraps go
Muntai is in charge of loading scraps into some trucks at Alaba Rago, but does not have accurate information about where the scraps are taken to or how much a truckload is sold, so he directed Vanguard to the Oga, Alhaji Abdul Rahman, who revealed that Indians and Chinese, who have steel mills at Ogun, Ikeja, and Ikorodu, buy the truckloads of the condemned irons from them.
Some of the steel companies are Universal Steel Company at Ikeja; Federated Steel Industry, Otta; African Steel Mill Limited and Mayor Engineering Company at Ikorodu. About 11 such steel companies, says Abdul Rahman, exist in Ikorodu alone, relying on pieces of condemned irons and scraps collected by scavengers for their raw materials.
A truckload of scraps, which weighs about 23 tons, is sold to the Indians and Chinese who take them to their furnaces where they are melted and used to produce new iron rods, sheets, and pipes. They also gather and sell aluminums and copper, but there is no copper mill in Nigeria, says Abdul Rahman, so they take the coppers to Benin Republic where they have a copper mill. He lamented the closure of Ajaokuta Rolling Mills, saying it’s a big shame to Nigeria.
Regardless of who makes the money from the scraps and condemned pieces of iron that litter Nigeria, the fact is it’s a huge solution to a huge environmental problem – waste management. The fact that steel is still being imported into Nigeria regardless of the existence of over 20 steel companies in the country may be a testimony to insufficient availability of raw materials for these steel companies. And yet, our streets are littered with scraps and abandoned vehicles!