140 scavengers slain in Borno by terrorists

By Ndahi Marama, Maiduguri & Musa Annabi, Sokoto

THEY are boisterous and ubiquitous as they move from street to street, from one corner in a community to the other. They can be seen with their pointed sticks and carry-on bags that contain various materials: anything considered valuable. They are daring and can hardly be restrained from any place they consider important for their business. They are known as “Yan Ajaokuta” in Hausa and scavengers in English. They usually make their presence felt anywhere people are living and freely dispose refuse.

As a result, refuse dumps are their primary places of operations and they take delight in scooping refuse bags, bins and heaps in search of their daily bread.But as useful as the demeaning trade may appear to some of those who depend on it for survival, it has become a death trap in some parts of Borno State as no fewer than 80 men have been slaughtered while scavenging in some local government areas of the state, courtesy of Boko Haram terrorists who are still active there.

These are areas that were initially sacked by the terrorists and their inhabitants fled after some were killed and the communities burnt by the marauders.

But after the Borno State Government provided some form of assistance to enable some of the displaced persons to return to their communities, many energetic men began to come around refuse dumps and abandoned buildings and work sites in search of valuable items they could scavenge and sell to enable them raise funds to restart their lives. But this has angered the terrorists, who see them as a threat to their operations. The bandits accused those scavenging for used items in the communities of acting as informants to security agencies and as such kill them anywhere they are found.  On May 22, 2020 no fewer than 50 scavengers who were also farmers were slaughtered by Boko Haram elements in Rann, the headquarters of Kala Balge Local Government Area of the state under the suspicions that they were passing information to security agents and working against their interest. As if that was not enough, on June 8, this year, another set of 25 scavengers were slain by the terrorists in Mukdala Village in Dikwa Local Government Area. That was in addition to the 43 farmers they had earlier shot dead in a rice plantation in Zabarmari in Jere Local Government Area of the state.

But the good news at the moment is that the Borno State Governor Professor Babagana Zulum, has begun taking some steps to halt the  escalating spate of killing of farmers and scavengers who are simply sourcing for their means of livelihood. The first in the series of efforts involved the convocation of a meeting with security agencies and the profiling of those engaged in scavenging to determine their true identities.

Following a security council meeting hosted by Governor Zulum last week, security agencies in Borno State have swung into action to halt wanton killings of scrap metal scavengers by suspected Boko Haram terrorists in two local government areas. On their part, security operatives in the state have launched a detailed investigation into activities of the scrap metal dealers with a view of finding out if they are involved in criminal activities such as vandalising private and government properties across the state. The Borno State Commissioner of Police, Abdu Umar, told Arewa Voice that the recent spate of killing of scavengers have prompted the profiling of those engaged in the business with a view to ending the orgy of violence. The police commissioner expressed concern that after going through the trucks loaded with scrap metals no incriminating item was found to warrant the instant killing of scavengers.

Umar said that the increasing killings targeting scrap metal scavengers had become worrisome, prompting the need to carry out a thorough investigation to fish out perpetrators of the crime. “We are interrogating the whole issue with a view to coming up with concrete report to serve the government so that the government will in turn come up with a policy that will regulate scrap metal businesses in the state, “ Umar said. The Borno Police boss noted that the security situation surrounding the reported killing of scrap metal dealers, popularly known as Ajaokuta, became more worrisome when the leader of the scrap dealers’ association in the state revealed that none of their members were killed. “To our greatest surprise, the Chairman of the Scrap Dealers Association said none of the scavengers killed in Kalabalge and Dikwa local government areas are their members. This is the reason why we must investigate matter thoroughly. “

Most shocking, however, is the confession by the chairman of the Scrap Dealers Association in Borno State, Alhaj Umar Usman, who said that those being killed by terrorists were not his members but internally displaced persons scavenging for scrap metals in Kalabalge and Dikwa. “As far as I am concerned as the Chairman of Scrap Dealers Association with over 3000 members here in Borno State, none of my members was killed in Kalabalge and Dikwa. Those killed were IDPs scavenging for scrap metals to sell and feed their families,” Usman said.

Scavengers in Sokoto smile to the bank

But while scavengers are being killed in Borno, their counterparts in Sokoto State are happily smiling to the banks as scavenging has become a lucrative business for them. Indeed for most of them, after desperation for survival led them to venture into it, they soon discovered it was a gold mine and have stuck to it.  That is why it is very common in Sokoto to see established camps by scavengers with scales for weighing items brought by the young ones who scoop refuse dumps for anything meaningful to sell and eke a living out of it. Areas where these businessmen are frequently found in Sokoto include Old Market, Old Airport, Gusain Road, Usman Farouk Secretariat, Eastern and Western bye passes, Kara Market and Runjin Sambo.

Aliyu Bala, a 20-year-old man who is a scavenger in the state, said he has been able to use the trade to buy a bicycle and assist his aged mother with feeding money on a regular basis. According to him, it is better for him to engage in the low grade, demeaning trade and earn a decent living instead of going about begging for survival. “This is a clean and lawful business; I do not have to put too much money in it. My only investment are my two legs and the iron I use for searching items at refuse sites, and by the time I take my bath and put on new clothes you will not recognise me as a scavenger,” Aliyu informed. “I am telling you, we are more than 1000 engaged in this our lucrative business called Jari Bola in Hausa. All the IDPs in Sokoto are part of us and we are proud of what we are doing,” he added.

Some of the items scavengers in Sokoto mostly collect are empty water and minerals bottles, empty biscuits cartons, aluminium scraps, copper wire, used vehicles spare  parts, rubber shoes, plastics, refrigerator parts as well as used and unwanted clothing materials. In a bid to stake more advantageous claim, some of the scavengers leave their homes as early as 5:30 am for areas they believe better things are dumped, especially construction sites and restaurants to get more items for their operations.  Malama Rabi whose husband Malam Idris  was killed by bandits in Gundumi, said her husband left her with three kids and nothing to take care of the family; but with the job of scavenging she has been able to take care of her children and make some savings after being introduced to a female friend into the business. 

She said: “Anyday I go out for scavenging with three of my children and we are able to scout for 400 empty water bottles; we can sell them for N2000 and buy food for that day and save a little for the rainy day, and we thank God for that.

“ I remain very grateful to God for keeping me alive and providing me with what I do to take care of my three children through scavenging business,” Rabi said. 

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