AbdulAzeez Abaja hails from Gbodofu compound in Balogun-Fulani in Ilorin South Local Government Area of Kwara State. In this interview with Daily Trust Saturday, the father of three, who happened to find himself in the building demolition business, spoke on the challenges of the job, which has spanned over 22 years, experiences and prospects.
When did you start this job?
I was a truck driver over 22 years ago but because of the incessant road crashes I was having, which gave me various facial injuries and scars, my father initially advised and later warned that I should quit driving. So I was left with no choice. Although it was difficult, I had to obey him and think of what else to do for a living. I joined labourers at the Oja-Oba station in Ilorin West Local Government and was managing with that. At least, it made my father happy and gave me peace of mind from his constant complaints. Later, I switched to demolition business, where I am till today.
How did you get into this line of work?
After I stopped driving, there was nothing else to do and I became a liability to my father as he was the one feeding me. I was not comfortable with that. Thereafter, I started working with bricklayers to make ends meet, and after several years, I switched to demolition without any prior formal skill or knowledge.
The turning point came during the demolition of the old Ilorin Juma’at Central Mosque for the new iconic structure that is there now. The white contractors who handled the project wanted to pull down a part of the old structure but the people they brought from Abuja couldn’t handle it to the extent that two casualties were recorded. I seized the opportunity to approach the people in charge and assured them that I could handle it very well. But they doubted me, especially after the fatal incidents. But I kept pushing until they agreed. I gathered three other people and the four of us took a pillar each from the part they wanted to pull down, which was a difficult job, ordinarily. We started by 9am, and by 2pm we brought it down. After that, they decided to give me the entire building to demolish. That was how I came about this line of work. Thereafter, I formed my group, populated mostly by Hausa friends, from whom I have learnt how to speak the language fluently, even without travelling to the North.
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How much did you charge for that job?
It was N300,000, but to underscore their surprise, the white contractors promised that if I did a good job they would pay me N400,000.
I saw prospects in the demolition work and decided to gather like-minds to join me. Demolition work is more lucrative compared to bricklaying, but there are equally hazards.
How difficult was it for you to switch from bricklaying to building demolition?
At first, it was difficult, but I relied on my experience as a bricklayer and the courage and determination to make a difference.
Can you recount the number of houses you have demolished so far?
I have lost count but they are well over 500, most times very difficult structures in difficult terrains. I was the person that demolished the Ilorin Central Jumaat Mosque, the huge cluster of houses around flower garden in Ilorin, the structure opposite the Kwara State Government House, a huge warehouse, 69 blocks from the floor in Jebba that is taller than a mast and a building inside the compound of late Governor AbdulKareem Adisa among numerous others in Ilorin and across the state.
Have you had any major injury?
I have had numerous injuries because this work is a dangerous work. Sometimes you can be hitting a pillar and the whole structure will come down crumbling. Sometimes you may be unknotting screws from roofing structures and the whole metal will just slide. About three weeks ago in Taiwo Isale, Ilorin nine of us were under a three storey building that caved in suddenly. We miraculously escaped, except for one of us that injured his hand which is better now. There was a day that I was cracking a wall and the tiles hit my face very close to my right eye, it would have blinded me. But in all these, we are not ready to give up the work because we believe Almighty Allah will continue to protect us.
Apart from your experience on the job, are there other efforts you have made to improve yourself and the group in the art of demolition?
We are all gifted differently. I am grateful to God for the intelligence I have. In this line of work, experience is key. Together with those working with me, we have grown on the job and are demolition masters today in Kwara State.
We have an effective communication system in the course of any demolition in order to maintain safety of everyone working at the site and avert calamity. This work is difficult, but we have learned the ropes over the years. During demolition, we don’t take our phones. And we are extremely careful and vigilant if we must pick phones to guard against distraction. A simple mistake can be fatal at times.
What other places have you visited in the course of this work, outside Kwara State?
I have been to Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Makurdi, Osogbo, Ore in Ondo State and several other places. But I am yet to travel outside the country; and I look forward to that.
This is a strenuous job; do you have a special kind of food you eat?
Not at all, but we prefer solid foods like amala, fufu, but not semovita or rice. Three cups of rice will only last me a little time. But due to exigencies at times, we make do with just soft drinks. There have been instances when we were left with no choice than to snack on garri and kulikuli to demolish structures. We are already used to it. In fact, we get sick if we don’t engage in demolition for a week.
What have been the challenges so far?
Injuries; we have also lost few hands in the process. But we are grateful to God that we are always able to pull through most of the time. No one is above mistake, so one is bound to get injured in this line of work.
How many of you do this job; do you have an association?
We are six currently working on this site; and the number could increase tomorrow. In Ilorin alone, there are over 180 of us. In my caucus, we are over 50, but we can’t be at the same place at the same time; others are working at their respective sites.
What tools do you need for this work? Is there any plan to upgrade?
We need a sledge hammer, chisel, mallets, diggers, shovels and ropes. Ropes are essential to guide the direction of the collapsed wall in order for it to fall inward rather than outward or vice versa and prevent it from falling on other structures, which may be disastrous.
But we need the state government to assist us. We are playing our part in the economic strata of the state, especially in the area of employment in the informal sector. We will also be glad to get a vehicle we can use to convey ourselves to sites , especially in this era of naira and fuel scarcity, to reduce our transportation expenses.
Do you have a template for charges?
It depends on the size of the building and the terrain we are going to work. Merely looking at the building, we already know the amount we are going to charge to pull it down. We have been contracted to pull down over 10-storey buildings and more within and outside Kwara State. Prices range from N700,000 to N1.5million. Sometimes we are paid daily if it is not a contract.
Can you leave this work for anything else?
No; at least not for now because I am very passionate about it. I am not sure there is any other work I can engage in apart from this. I am very healthy and I don’t get sick often. Even when I am slightly ill I regain strength when I go to site and start working. It will come naturally. Due to the present austerity situation and family responsibilities, I have also engaged in subsistence farming to feed the family.
Are you thinking of going back to school?
It is not that I don’t want to further my education, but how would I cater for the responsibilities of my family? I married from this job and have three children now – two boys and a girl. My first daughter will finish secondary school this year, while another one is writing her WAEC. So I will go back to school if I get a sponsor.
What is your message for other young men?
First is to thank the almighty Allah for his favours all these years. The youth especially should know that there is the need for consistency, determination and prayer. Today, I and my group are the leading demolition workers in Kwara State.
How many buildings have you demolished so far?
I have lost count of the number of structures we have demolished across the country.
I was determined to make a living for myself. The youth today should exploit boundless opportunities around them to make the difference wherever they find themselves. Nothing comes on a platter of gold.
We still solicit for state government’s support. This is not an easy job and that is why most people dread it. We are happy doing it.