Armed with a nylon sack, broom and long stick picker, Janet Sunday walks along the long airport road in Abuja to ensure that her portion of the highway stays clean on a daily basis.
The 45-year-old mother of one told our reporter on Wednesday that she had spent 13 years on this job of keeping the streets of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) clean.
Apart from the long trek under the scorching sun or during the rainy season, Janet often goes into the drainages to remove debris, as well as the middle of the highway, where vehicles move at very high speed, to pick dirt.
Janet is just one of the hundreds of women who ensure that the streets of the city are clean.
Our reporter observed that, not minding the stench at most parts of the road, especially beside the pedestrian bridges that produce offensive odour, Janet and five others, without hand gloves, covered their noses as they picked used tissues, nylons and sachets of water. And this makes them vulnerable to contagious diseases.
“I felt bad when I started this job, but there is nothing I can do. Many of the women you see doing this job were forced into it by their lazy husbands. It is the only option for us,” she lamented.
However, despite providing a healthy environment for residents and putting their lives at risk on a daily basis, their work often goes unnoticed.
Although they were all clad in green reflective jackets with the logo of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, Janet said they were engaged by Cosmopolitan Sanitation Company under a monthly salary of N20,000, Janet, who does not have formal education, also said she did not have a better option; hence she would continue to endure the challenge associated with the job in order to give her daughter good education.
“I will not allow my daughter to repeat the same mistake I made. Last week, I was asked to pay her West African Examinations Council (WAEC) fee of N35,000, so I am looking for a loan, to repay in installments, even if it is with interest. It is a very difficult situation for me. I will be paying N5,000 monthly for eight months.
“I spend N500 to and from Kuje to this place (airport road) everyday, that is N8,000 per month. I will, therefore, be left with less than N7,000 to feed the family,” she said, amidst tears.
Asked if she is covered by any life insurance, Janet said she was not aware of any.
Another woman, Ms Ruth, who sweeps the street of Utako District, told Daily Trust that she was satisfied with the job.
“I met a colleague and complained to her that I was jobless and needed something to help cater for my three children. She tabled this offer to me and I quickly grabbed it.
“I am just doing my job, regardless of its challenges. I am comfortable with it as you can’t compare it with idleness,’’ she said.
Ruth said she never experienced any delay in the payment of her wages (N20,000) per month. She, however, complained of spending a lot of money on transportation to and from Life Camp village, around Gwarinpa Estate.
“On a daily basis, I must wake up very early in the morning and set out around 5am. I reach my duty post by 6am and remain there until the afternoon.
“The transport fare is taking a toll on me because I spend N400 to and fro. If you calculate this, it amounts to more than N10,000 a month, which is half of my salary,’’ she said.
Clad in the sanitation company’s uniform, Ruth said she provided all the necessary equipment needed to carry out her duty, such as packers, brooms, sticks and hand gloves.
Asked if she has health or life insurance, she said that’s the first time she was hearing the word in her entire life.
Also, Blessing Sunday, 38, who operates around First Avenue, Gwarinpa, told our reporter that her employer, Global Green, a sanitation company, paid her salaries promptly.
“In the company where I formerly worked, we suffered because we were short of manpower, so were overworked; and they paid us on a pro-rata basis. And whenever one fell sick they would have one’s wages deducted. We suffered other inefficiencies.
“Our former employer was inconsiderate to our plight. Our daily wage was less than N1,000, but the same amount would be deducted if one was sick and didn’t report for work.
“But in this company, such a thing would only attract N600 deduction; that is if you failed to convince them on the reason you failed to report. Once they are satisfied, there won’t be any deduction. Honestly, we are contented with this company; they are trying for us,’’ she added.
She also said that for the five years she had been on the job she had not encountered any calamity or injury associated with it. Her only concern is the condition attached to the job, which is that one must show up even if one has a mild illness. And we work six days in a week. It is only on Sundays that we don’t work.
Blessing said they worked from 7am to1pm.
She said the company provided the necessary working materials but some of them rejected them because they were not used to such things.
Asked how she spends her wages, Blessing said she supported her husband and their five children.
“This N20,000 is small compared to the situation of things nowadays. We need food, which is going up almost daily, as well as clothing and school fees for our children. I use part of it to pay for transportation from Jahi II to my workplace at the rate of N200. I do that six times a week.
“After work, I trade in sweet potatoes in front of our residence. I am just managing the work,’’ she said.
For life or health insurance, Blessing said the sanitation company did not have anything like that.
For Ms Augustine, whose duty post is on 5th Avenue, Gwarinpa, in her three years of active service as a street cleaner in the FCT, she never had an issue of backlog of salaries.
She said her employer paid from 28th to 30th of the month, unlike her former company, which delayed their salaries till the following month.
She also said she worked for more than 40 hours a week, from Monday to Saturday.
She also said they had not enjoyed any health/life insurance. “They may take you to a hospital only if a vehicle hits you while on duty. I can recall that when a car hit me on December 12, 2020 while I was beside the road and I fell in a coma for almost two hours, they took me to a hospital, where I regained consciousness.
“The company settled the initial medical bill, but I had to cater for the remaining things. They expected the owner of the car that hit me to take care of the bill since it happened when I was off duty,’’ she added.
She said the company just helped her out of generosity.
When contacted, the director, Abuja Environmental Protection Board, Kaka Ali, said the sweepers were not their staff but under contractors they supervised.
“Every district has a contractor in charge of sweeping, waste evacuation and other sanitation activities, our own is to assess the contractor and pay him,” he said.
On the issue of insurance, he said, “All the sweepers are supposed to be covered by insurance by the contracting firms because it is part of what we pay them.”