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Tradition that turns grandmums to breadwinners

However, in Plateau State today, the reverse is the case as women are into various kinds of hard labour just to make sure their families…

However, in Plateau State today, the reverse is the case as women are into various kinds of hard labour just to make sure their families get one square meal a day. They engage in cultivation, breaking of stones, carrying of blocks and sand at building sites and a host of other hard jobs. The women range from the young to the aged. Some of them told Weekly Trust that they have spent between 10 and 60 years in the business, adding that even now that they’re old, they have not stopped doing these jobs and most of them are illiterate and poor.

Apart from being the breadwinners of their families, they are not exempted from their traditional cooking and child care roles at home. Some of them carry their babies on their backs to do the hard jobs.  

In many instances, one will see women aged 50 and above still hawking, cultivating, breaking stones and carrying sand on their heads. If asked why they are doing all that, their reply is usually, “I have to feed my family”. The question here is: what roles are their husbands playing as heads of the family?

Some of the sites where they break stones in Jos are Tudun Wada, Ring Road, Anguwan Rukuba and Mungel Bukuru. In Mungel. It was observed that there were more women, including seven-year-olds, than men at the site. Most of the workers told Weekly Trust that they receive between N2,500 and N3,000 as monthly wages.

Mrs Hadiza Adamu narrated her story thus: “I am 60 years old now. My husband is alive but weak. He was a launderer but is now sick and weak. So for more than five years now, I have been the one feeding him and our five children. I started breaking these stones so that I can feed my family and pay the house rent.”

Hadiza said all her children do stop their education at primary six since she cannot pay their school fees due to the situation. She said she gets just N300 or N400 which she complained is not enough to feed the family and sustain education. She said her house rent for a year is N22,000 and some of her children push wheelbarrows while she saves money from her own labour and pays the rent at the end of the year.   

The wear and tear of hard labour are boldly written over their faces. Most of them lamented that at the end of the day, their bodies give way as they have no means of proper medication than hot water bath and balm as painkillers.

Seventy-year-old Aishatu Saleh is one of the oldest women. She said she lacks words to express her predicament. She lamented that at her age, she still goes out every day to break stones just to get what to eat. “I am not talking about savings. How can I say this is what I earn in a month when I cannot save as I am doing the work and eating from it?”

But for Jummai Isa who is also 75 years old and a widow who breaks stones in Bukuru and Mungel, she has been doing the hard labour for the past four years to keep body and soul together. “Though my husband is late now, I started this job two years before he died.” She added that there is no job in Plateau as the only available job for their men here is security and that does not pay enough to feed the family

That was the situation until recently when the slogan of what a man can do, a woman can do even better became widely used. The slogan will be proved right when one observes the situation of these women and the way they are working like horses or engines.

A 90-year-old woman called Kaka said she has been in the business for over 50 years. She said she always experience aches on her back, legs, neck and all over body pains, adding that they trek far into the bush to break stones and carry them in different containers on their neck. They take them to a field near the roadside. She said they suffer a lot while trekking from the bush to the nearest place. Kaka appealed to the government to assist them with machines that they can use to break stones and vehicles to transport the rocks from the bush to the main road, because, according to her, she doesn’t want her children and grandchildren to suffer the way she is suffering.

Mrs Eshter Audu and Halima Danjuma told Weekly Trust that they have spent between 40 and 50 years in the business. Esther is married and has four children. She said it’s the money she gets from breaking stones that she pays for the education of her children and also the house rent while at the same time, taking care of other responsibilities.

Halima on her part said she is married and has five children. She said she sponsors her children’s education and two of them are now in the university. She also pays the rent and feeds the whole family from the money. She told Weekly Trust that her parents and children oppose the job, “but they can’t stop me since they were not able to provide an alternative.”

They appealed to the Plateau State government to assist them with other jobs even if it’s sweeping or a N15,000 short-term loans to enable them buy the stones for the development of their business.

Weekly Trust met Yop Dauda. She said she is 30 years old and also breaks stones with her five children. After a hard day’s job, she buys drugs with the money she makes to treat joint pains. She said she cannot remember the last time she bought clothes. For 20-year-old Damsel Sarah Moses, she breaks the stones herself so that she can help her mum who is too old. She said she uses the money to pay for her school fees.

In Mungel, Weekly Trust observed that there were only five men among the 40 women breaking stones at the site. The leader of the site is Malam Garba Musa who is 82 years old. He said he has been breaking stones for more than 20 years to earn a living and sustain his family of two wives and many children.  

Garba expressed fear that one day, government may evacuate them from the site, while lamenting the way government has abandoned them because they are poor. He, however, appealed to the government to give them land close to the main road where they can stay and break stones and people will see and patronise them as there is no job in Nigeria.

The Plateau State Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Dan Manjang, when contacted, expressed sympathy for the women, saying it is quite unfortunate that they engage in that kind of hard labour just to make ends meet.

Manjang said the government has removed 5,000 of these women and sanitation employment at the various local government areas, adding that the government is trying to enlighten the women so that they can unite and form cooperative societies through which government will assist them with loans under its poverty alleviation programmes to reduce their hardship and boost their businesses.