Insight

How quarries exploit children for survival (2)

In this second part of the investigation, Juliana Francis reveals that children in different states in Nigeria continue to work in quarries to pay school fees and support their parents notwithstanding heart stopping injuries they sustain at these sites

Oyan Quarry in Osun State

Miss Adebayo Opeyemi (17), an SS2, has been working in the Oyan Quarry for over two years and her parents, who are farmers, are aware of it. The girl has scars on both legs, courtesy of injuries sustained at the quarry. She said: “I use this work to assist myself financially. There was a time I took ill and everyone believed it was because of the hard labour in the quarry. I was taken to hospital for treatment.

I was ill for more than a week, but after I got well, I returned to work. I try to restrict my work to Saturdays and school holidays. We resumed at 6am on a working day. If I can get assistance from the government or anyone, I will gladly quit this work because nobody understands the difficulties and how it affects me. The truth is that so many people have been here to interview us.

They promised that the government was going to assist us and we were so happy. But later, we wouldn’t hear from them.” Saberedowo Koyum, 12, has been working in the quarry for over four years.

Just like Opeyemi and Justine, he shuttles between the gravel pit and school. “I sometimes skip school to work at the quarry, especially when there is money to pay in school. I work during the weekends and the money I make is diverted to my education.

God has been sustaining me because since I started working here, I have never fallen sick. I cut these stones with a hammer, a sledge hammer, a digger or a crowbar. Although my parents are farmers, they also work in the quarries. People hire them to farm for them and owners of the farm pay them with farm produce,” he said. Koyum argued that he didn’t think the quarry posed any danger for underage workers like him.

He added: “The only thing is that when we are breaking the stones, pebbles used to enter our eyes and can also hurt our bodies, but we rub our bodies with mentholated ointment. Whenever our school is on holiday, I come to the quarry every day.

I am paid N500 per day.” Waziri Afolabi, 13, is just in Junior Secondary School (JSS1). He has been working in the quarries for more than a year and his parents, like Koyum’s, are farmers and work in quarries to supplement their income. He said it was from the quarry work he was able to raise money for his last common entrance examination.

He added: “We are all doing this work to survive. What I suffer most times after getting home is headache. By now, we are all used to the job and the body pains. We only need to use ‘pain reliever’ and we would be all right.”

Asked if he had ever sustained injuries, he said: “Yes! It’s mostly caused by hammers and stones. I am paid N500 per day for breaking stones and loading.” Afolabi said he would only quit working in the quarry if the government or someone decides to help his parents. Opeyemi, Koyum and Afolabi all work for 25-year-old Fatai Adegboye. There was a time Adegboye was like them; following his parents to quarries to work.

To everyone in the community, Adegboye was a knight in shining armour for giving the children work in the quarry. To them, he was rendering assistance to the children and, by extension, their parents.

Adegboye said he and others embraced the job because there was no alternative. He said: “We do this job because of financial challenges and because there are no jobs in Nigeria. Look at this wound here; it was caused by a hammer. Before we can cut stones to make up a truckload, it takes six hours. I can make it because I’m still very young. The older men among us find it difficult to keep up. In fact, they can’t even try it.

Before we mastered it, we used 10 hours to fill a truck, but now we can do it within six hours. I work morning and night to ensure I make a truckload. I work from 6am to 10am. And then I come in the evening to continue.”

Eyan Quarry is particularly a terrifying place to work because it is hilly and slippery. Yet, the workers have to move the stones to a satisfactory position before cutting them into bits for buyers. How do they achieve this feat? “To move the stones from the top of the hill to the lower part, where the stones can then be loaded into a truck, depends largely on God and experience.

Sometimes we fill sacks with sand and place them on the ground to make it easier for trucks to drive to a certain point. Even at that, we still have to roll the stones down to meet the drivers half way,” Adegboye said. Like other quarry workers, illness was nothing new to Adegboye. He knows how to handle it.

He stated: “I took ill three weeks ago and had to take 11 pints of drips in the hospital. Yes, it was because of the work. Whenever we fall sick, it will be like spending all the money we’ve been making.

It is usually by the grace of God that we survive. Sometimes for no reason, when we get home, we’ll be running temperature. “We don’t have any option for now than to continue to manage this work. This is how we meet up with our responsibilities as men and take care of our families. There’s no job and there is no helper. We will be happy if the government can intervene in our situation and get us a machine. My younger sister does this job too, but she fell sick.

The truth, however, is that this is the life we met and had known since we were born. This is what my family is into.” Ore Ademola, 58, is a professional driver until a situation forced him into the quarry business.

He said: “It was a means of survival for me.” Ademola, however, gave an insight into what could afflict the underage workers sooner or later. “There was a time I could break a rock as big as that house over there (he pointed to a nearby building). I could load up to six trucks within three weeks.

It’s a job that begins to affect you, beginning with pains at your back region, spreading to other parts of your body. At a point, nobody told me before I decided to take a rest from it. If there had been a machine, like a stone crusher, it would have been easier and better. One of my children, a boy, used to join me to do the job. He’s almost 18 years now. He was less than 15 when he joined me. There was a time he fell sick and we almost lost him.

His mother and I spent a lot of money to ensure he didn’t die. We believed it was because of the job. That was the last time we ever allowed him to work in the quarry. He used to complain of body pains, headaches and the sun being too hot at the sites.

Till date I suffer backaches. I was sick for eight months and people even had to contribute money to assist me for treatment,” he said. Ademola said that although his health was failing, he would return to the job if the government provided the required machine. He said: “It’s not good for a man to wake up and be idle. Truck drivers buy stones at N6,000 and sell at N15,000.

There’s not much profit in the business for us, but it’s better than nothing. I remembered the day one of my children came home from school and needed money. I had to rush to the site, worked like a mad man and was able to fill six trucks. I used two weeks to do that job. I told him to hold on, that I would sell some stones. That was how I raised the money for him.” Ademola said that just like most families involved in quarry business, his wife used to work with him, but had to stop after she started falling sick.

Edu Quarry in Ondo State

The story of Sunday Eniola, 26, and Olumide Oluwasegun, 35, encapsulates the vicious circles of parents who take children to quarry to work with them. For these two men, their daily means of survival lies in hitting the equipment on rocks in the Edu community, Akure South Local Government Area of Ondo State.

Sunday, who is from a family of five, said he was born into the job as were his late father and mother who introduced him and his siblings to it. Sunday, who could not further his studies after secondary school, revealed that he had been working at the quarries since he was four years old, alongside his siblings.

He said: “I was born into this job! My parents started this job before my father passed away. After my father’s death, my mother continued with it in order to cater for us because we were still very young. I was about four years when my father died. It’s the only job I know because there are no other means for us to survive.” Sunday disclosed that he trained himself through primary and secondary schools from working in quarries.

He said: “I can’t deceive you! It’s a very strenuous job, but I’m used to it. Throughout my primary and secondary school, it was the job which I survived on. I still desire to further my CONTINUED FROM PAGE 23 education if anybody is willing to assist me in order to lift my family from this kind of life. After my secondary education, I went to a driving school where I learned driving skills. I did that in order to move away from the stone-breaking job because it is not a job you can do forever.

Most times I don’t get a vehicle to drive so I had to return to breaking stones in order not to be idle.” Another challenge, according to him, is that they don’t get to sell until buyers come, which sometimes takes about one or two months. He added: “We sell a truckload for between N10,000 and N13,000. Our buyers are mostly those building filling stations and communities seeking to fix their roads.” Sunday said that he had never fallen sick, but had sustained injuries in the quarry.

“If you look at my legs, you will see all sorts of scars I got while breaking stones. But for someone, who doesn’t know the techniques of the job, the injuries could be serious,” said Sunday. Olumide on the other hand was introduced to the job by his uncle when he was 16 years old. Olumide said that it was not a job anyone should do for long due to its health implications. He added: “There is no size of rock that I cannot break. To break a huge rock, we will heat it with intense fire before breaking it. My younger brother, sister and I usually work on this site. When there is a need for extra hands, we call on other people to join us and we pay them N1,500 per day. People come to buy from us because it is cheaper than the ones from a mechanised quarry.”

Ugwu Mkoume Quarry in Ebonyi State

Gloria Okoche, 16, is an orphan and a native of Ngodo in Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. She lost her father when she was 11 years old and her mum died the following year. She dropped out of school when she was in SS1 and became the breadwinner, caring for her siblings. Every day, Gloria goes to a mining site called Ugwu Mkoume in a low cost estate located between Egeburu and Ngodo communities to work for site owners as a labourer. She receives N1,500 as her daily pay.

She said: “It is better to engage in anything lawful, which can give you money than stealing, which causes your disgrace and even death.” Before she went into quarry work, she used to sell sachet water.

“However, I was not making profits that could help me to cater for my three siblings. I was selling the water after school and I had to drop out of school because I was not having enough time to make the sale and get money to feed my siblings. The sachet water business is profitable during the dry season and I was buying on credit. After paying the water factory people, we used the remaining money to buy food. At a time, those that I was buying the water from stopped giving me.”

She further recalled: “One day, a friend of mine, working at a quarry pit called Elu Mkpume or Ugwu Mkpume, told me about it. She makes N1,500 daily. She took me to one of the pit owners and the woman immediately engaged me. The woman was kind to me and I worked for her for over eight months. At times, she would give me raw food which I took home to cook for my siblings.

I will never forget her. She is from Abia State, but has stayed long here in Afikpo. She later left the quarry business, but before she left, she handed me over to her friend who was also into quarry business.

But her friend did not treat me well, so I left after three months.” Gloria said that one of the challenges of working in a quarry was body pains. “At times, I spend the money I make on drugs so that I could have strength to go to work the next day.

But rather than to steal or take to prostitution, it is better I do this work,” she said. “Yes, the quarry business is good, especially if you own a pit. If you own a pit, people will be working under you and you will be making a lot of profits. Your work is just supervisory and selling the stones, which the workers had dug out and processed for sale.” She said her dream was to own a gravel pit soon and join the association of gravel pit owners.

However, to become a member, one has to register and pay certain fees. Henry Olughu, a student of Ugwuegu Community Secondary School, living in New Site on Mater Hospital Road, Afikpo, explained that he works in the quarry to support his education. Olughu disclosed that he would be sitting for his Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) next year and that his parents couldn’t afford the exam fees, so he took to the work to raise money.

He said: “I don’t intend to remain in this work for long. I’m doing it for my SSCE/WAEC which I will be sitting for next year. I have looked at the financial status of my parents and discovered that they may not be able to afford the fees, especially now that everything is becoming costly.

I have to start preparing on time so that I will join my mates in sitting the exams. I don’t want to drop out of school. If I have my SS certificate, I can enlist into any paramilitary work, especially if I’m able to make a good result. Moreover, I would really love to further my education.

I come to this quarry site on weekends and on days when we don’t have serious studies in school. If I dig a gravel pit, the owner pays me depending on my work. I can’t tell you how much I make on a daily basis, but all I know is that I’m doing well and once I get the amount I’m expecting, I will stop it because it is very tedious. I will use the money I save from this work to register for my SSCE.” Our reporter also visited Okposi Umuoghara quarry site, but the gravel pit owners were very hostile. The Chairman of the Stone Crushers Association of the Okposi Umuoghara sites, Comrade Ugo Nweze, refused to allow the reporter to speak with the quarry workers.

But he chose to speak with the reporter. Nweze said he had been into the quarry business for 18 years. He said: “Here in Okposi Umuoghara, we kick against underage workers. If you go round, you will not see underage people working. Some who look under-aged are 18 years and above. Moreover, you only noticed them during school holidays, and it is their mothers that bring them to the quarries to work. But if schools are in sessions, you wouldn’t see them here; we don’t allow them to work. We don’t allow child abuse to exist here.

You cannot come here unless you are at least 18 or 20 years old. You cannot see a child here that is between 10 or 14 years. But I believe that somebody that is 18 years or 20 years can still help himself here while he or she is in school.”

The extractive sector is an attraction for underage workers in Ebonyi State. In fact, sand mining or sand dredging is another hazardous job, which exposes workers to danger. Many children there are involved in sand dredging and just recently, Master Emmanuel Otu Egwu, 15, a primary four pupil of Nkpoghoro Primary School, Afikpo, died at his duty post. The lad always went to Ndibe Beach in Afikpo to work, to raise money to support his education.

One day, he was at the beach with colleagues when a truck, loaded with sand, crushed him. His uncle, Sunday Egwu Oko, said the boy used the opportunity of mid-term break to go to the beach for sand dredging.

Oko urged the government and relevant bodies to do everything possible to check the increase of children going into the mining sector. Oko said: “There is a need for the preservation of the lives of these children because they are underaged.

Those they work for don’t even pay them very well. You can imagine a child of that age dredging sand from the river and at the end of the day, he would be paid N200. I have spoken with the truck drivers’ association chairman, urging him to ensure that underage workers are stopped from sand dredging, but he said he couldn’t. “During mid-term break, you will see hundreds of children engaged in the business. Some as young as five years old and some are taken there by their parents. I’m pleading with the government to put a stop to it.

It is child abuse. These children are denied their rights and even the payment is not enough for the job they do. Some of them in the process of climbing the truck fall and die, others fall into the river and die.”

Investigation shows that those who engage in sand dredging are indigent women and children. Those who sell the sand per truck to the buyers are better off, while the labourers labour in vain as they usually go home with stipends. Mrs. Charity Ola Idume, a mother of six, is paid N1,000 per day. According to Charity, her work is to assist those who carry the sand from the beachside to the upland, where it would then be loaded into trucks.

Two of her children, Bernard Oko Idume, 16, and Eze Udume, 11, are also in the business. Bernard makes N1,000 in a day, while Eze makes 400. But she finds it difficult to care for the six children and called for a review of her pay in the business. Incidentally, Charity has a husband, who is the father of her children, but he is unemployed. But he is not helping out in the sand business. Charity said it was tough for her to meet up with the children’s school fees.

“The N1,000 I receive daily as payment is not enough for me. My children are schooling and this amount is not enough to care for all six children. One of my children was able to sit this year’s common entrance examinations because I went to the school and pleaded for him to be allowed to sit for the exam, while I hustle to raise the exam fees. Things are really very hard for us in this sand business because we are not adequately paid. My children assist me in this work,” she lamented. Bernard said he decided to join his mother in the work to enable them to make more money, which would sustain them for feeding.

He said: “We find it very difficult to eat two meals daily. At times, we eat once in a day. We only eat twice a day when we have money. My mother, one of my younger brothers and I are into this work and we don’t make up to N3,000, daily. We make between N2,400 and N2,500 daily; that is if we work very hard.

It is from this that we feed and also pay for what they ask us to pay in school. At times, our teachers will send us home if we don’t pay fees we are asked to pay. If they send us home, we go to the beach and hustle with our mother to raise the money.” Oko Franklin Kelechi, 18, an SS3 student of Ugwuegu Community Secondary School, Afikpo, said he used the little proceeds from the job to support his education. He added that he was preparing for his SSCE, and needed to raise money to pay for it. Kelechi promised to quit after his examinations.

He said: “I make N1,000 in a day and it is very tedious. I am usually tired at the end of the day. I don’t do this work every day. I only do it every Saturday and after school from Mondays to Fridays. I started it when I was in SS1. I want to study Civil Engineering.” The Chairman, Ebonyi State Tipper Drivers Association, Afikpo branch, Benjamin Ukor, explained that it would be difficult to stop children from sand-dredging business, because it enables them to get money to solve their pressing needs.

Ukor described the business as very lucrative, but full of risks. He added: “The truth of the matter is that it is child labour to use these children. It is also child labour to recruit them and use them as labourers, but what can these children do? They are helpless because they are the ones catering for themselves. A woman is living at this beach with her children and doing this business just for them to earn a living. Many children feed from this business.

If you go up this beach, you will see a lot of them carrying sand from the beach to the upland. We buy the sand from people that dredge it from the beach, we don’t dredge the sand in the river or beach, there are people who do that and that is why we have division of labour. We are not the ones paying the children and women labourers. We only buy the sand that is usually heaped on the ground at the upland, pay for it and load it into our tippers.

“The truth of the matter is that the labourers are paid according to their earnings. The dredgers use boats to excavate the sand from the beach while the women and children labourers use head pans to carry the sand from the boat and heap it by river side. A boat of sand goes for N90, somebody can carry sand from the boat up to 20 times in a day and if you multiply N90 by 20, you will know it is not small money, although the work is very hazardous.”

Rafinseyi Quarry in Niger State

Musa Danjuma, 12, a primary three pupil, is the fourth son of his mother and the 11th child of his father. The man has two wives and 17 children. Musa was sighted at Rafinseyi Quarry in Niger State, breaking stones. He said: “My parents are alive. It was my mother who brought me to this work because we were having a feeding challenge. I have been working here now for four years. My father didn’t send me to school because of money. I do this work with my mum, so that we will use the money to feed and buy clothes.

We have to pay for our school fees and also buy books, for myself and siblings. If we break stones for two weeks and are able to get a truckload, we sell it for between N9,000 and N10,000. There was a time I wanted to stop, but I thought of my mother.

If I stop, it means she would be doing the work alone and she may not be able to take care of us. She will suffer more.” Musa, who limps, said he sustained the injury after a stone cut him.

He added stoically: “But it will heal just like others.” Another worker, Usman, 16, is in JSS1 and just like Musa, his parents are alive. His parents have 15 children and he is the fourth. He said: “My parents can’t take care of us as my father has three wives. It’s my mother who is taking care of me and my siblings. I’m doing this work to raise money for my school fees, books, school uniforms and to assist my mother to be able to feed us.

My father is not paying for our school fees. We sell a truckload of chippings for N9,500. Yes, the work disturbs me from concentrating on my studies, but I can’t stop it because there is no other way I can raise money to help with my education.”

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