BY Tope Templer OLAIYA
Oke-Afa dumpsite to passersby, may just be another raised ground dedicated to warehousing human waste and refuse, but this is not the case for the hundreds of Lagosians, who have found solace, succour and shelter at the site.
Located beside the swamp that swallowed up the Ikeja bomb blast victims in 2002, the dumpsite is an enclave of ghetto dwellers and street urchins. Though mostly populated by Nigerians from the northern extraction, it is a ready home to all, especially those struggling to eke out a living in the ‘Centre of Excellence’.
Aside from this, the merchandise of recycling waste materials is the major attraction of many to the hill, which is not just the abode of refuse handcart boys. If Isaac Durojaiye, managing director of Dignified Mobile Toilets (DMT) says “shit business is serious business,” what is evident to a first time visitor to the hill is that scavenging is, indeed, a more serious business.
The site is an open dump, meaning any individual is free to enter and scavenge for any reusable item and the dump is a source of employment for close to 2,000 scavengers. The scavengers sort metal and plastics into huge piles ready for resale.
The dump is also home to many of these scavengers who build shanties among the rubbish. This may be a very harsh existence but it is a clear example of how waste can be turned to wealth.
There are several chains of businesses. A section of the site is devoted to sorting out bits and pieces of refuse. And very often, goldmine and money-spinning objects are dug up from the dung. No piece of metal and plastic is wasted. The useful plastics are thoroughly washed up and packed in bags to be sold to the highest bidder, while the damaged ones are also neatly folded to be grinded into small bits. The crushed plastics are also packaged into bags, ready to be sold off to would-be buyers.
There is a buzzing sound of iron and metal being melted into different shapes and sizes, with a standby goldsmith turning iron bits into work tools. There is also a mini spare-parts market, where every bit of machine equipment and human work tools can be purchased. This is besides a cluster of retail outlets for provision stores, food sellers and many other human consumables.
The dump is also expanding to accommodate other line of unrelated businesses, such as a ram and cow market, carpentry workshop and a general market area for women.
On the hill, there is an unwritten code of brotherhood. At once, a stranger is smelt 100 metres away and is stared at by several pairs of eyes. Huddled up in their makeshift sheds, many of the hill settlers spend much of their day idling around while living on the crumbs from the spoils of scavenging.
Like vultures, they patiently wait for you to dispose your garbage before they swarm on the dump and sieve, with bare fingers, through the decomposing, smelly rubbish. They are seemingly dead to the stench and health hazards. What get registered in their sub-consciousness are the pictures of loads of metal and copper scraps, and any such things that can be turned into cash.
They have transformed that pastime into an art. They understand scavenging like a stockbroker understands the stock market. They know what sells and what sucks. They know where to pick, what to pick and where to sell what is picked at a peak price. They are the lords of the hill, where living in Lagos is given a new meaning.
Daniel Donatus is one of the many youths who have taken up residence on Oke-Afa hill. He came from Anambra to Lagos in 2003, in search of one thing – the good life. He had grown up in his village like every other Youngman to dream about the city of Lagos, where the streets are paved with gold.