opinionBy Muazu Elazeh
If hard labour is indeed the secret to great wealth, Mallam Ibrahim Abu would be one of the richest men but that is not so. Instead, he remains a poor old man struggling to cut stones in order to feed his family. Muazu Elazeh met him recently, and now reports.
At the Kayauki stone crushing site which is few metres away from Kayauki village of Batagarawa local Government in Katsina state, one man who readily captures the attention of many is 60 -year -old Ibrahim Abu. He stands out in his black T-shirt which, as should be expected, has seen better days and a tattered hat as he does what he knows how to do best- crushing granite stones for sale to prospective builders.
"I have been in this business for the past 30 years, sold gravels to many builders but still do not have a house to really call my own."
He continued further saying, "Time was when the business was moving but at the moment, we appear to be experiencing the worst of times as the market is at its lowest" Mallam Abu enthused.
Determined to fend for his large family which he declined to disclose, Abu said he defied all odds and the temptation to take to the streets begging but rather settled for the arduous job of crushing stones for a living.
When our correspondent visited the stone crushing site which is located along Katsina-Daura road at Kayauki village, the old man was seen digging hard inside a burrowed pit in company of a teenager whom it was discovered, was digging to source money for school fees.
Pausing to wipe dust and sweat from his face, Abu explained that he has been crushing stones in Kayauki for the past twenty five years and noted that he uses the little he gets to send his children to school and also cater for their feedings.
"With this work, I earn little money which I use in buying maize and other food stuffs for my family as well as providing for their schools" he enthused.
A visibly disturbed Abu told our correspondent at the site that his ability to continue with the stone crushing business was gradually waning and noted that he may be compelled to look else where for survival.
"Unless urgent assistance is rendered to us, I may be compelled to resort to begging as my strength is waning and I can no longer crush the stones as I do when I was still bubbling with energy."
Checks by our correspondent revealed that the Kayauki stone crushing site has continued to provide source of livelihood to not fewer than twenty households who are engaged in manual blasting and crushing of the rock for sale to prospective builders and other construction companies.
Although the business is reportedly old and has continued to serve the needs of construction companies, those doing it are still caught in the web of manual labour at an age where machines have taken over virtually everything including less tasking jobs.
Abu told LEADERSHIP Sunday that it takes him one month to crush a lorry load of stone which sells for a paltry twelve thousand naira (N12, 000).
"Sometimes, when I am not lucky, I stay for months without sales, but when we are lucky and this does not happen very often, we make N12000" he enthused.
Abu, like scores of others like him at the site, spend their days breaking down hard granite to sell to builders at relatively low prize and it appears these prospective buyers do not give a hoof about the fact that the work is really hard and fraught with health hazards.
"We use diggers and iron rods to break the rock, use smaller shrivels to blast them and make them into smaller and finer particles depending on the needs of the prospective buyers before moving them to the road side for ease of conveyance by the lorry."
"These crushed stones are used for the making of house interlockings, concrete decking, constructing slabs for hand pumps, slabs for pit toilet and septic tank. Some of the stones are finely crushed to decorate the walls of residential buildings" Abu added.
Sixty year old Abu who appears pale with a blistered hand, due solely to the tasking nature of his job said "the government and other organizations have repeatedly promised us assistance but we still have not got any help from any corner."
"Some years back, some people came here and pledged to donate a stone blasting machine to us so that rather than use our energy to crush the stone manually, we could use machines and do it more with relative ease. But, up till now, we have neither seen the machine as pledged nor heard from them again" he added.
Abu who admitted that he never paid tax to government however, appealed for financial and material support from the state government. "We are appealing to the government to kindly help us with machines and other equipments like wheel barrow and little start up capital so that we can do this business in a big and better way since a lot of people rely on this to survive" he stressed.
He insisted that the state government's much touted economic empowerment initiatives rarely gets to people that matters and enjoined the state government to "find a way of making sure the assistance gets to people who really need it so as to help reduce poverty.