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Tumbling fortunes of ‘Kasuwar Kanwa’ traders

The potassium is brought raw to the market and is sold without any form of processing. It is sourced from areas like Gashua, Geidam and…

The potassium is brought raw to the market and is sold without any form of processing. It is sourced from areas like Gashua, Geidam and Nguru in Yobe State where it is said to be found in abundance. But it was also gathered that some of the raw potassium are brought from parts of Chad Republic. Interestingly, the operators of the market say they have buyers from all over the country, and in neighbouring African cities like Lome in Togo, as well as parts of Ghana where they are processed and utilized in the manufacturing industry.

Potash is a white-like or colourless crystalline salt which comes in moulds of different shapes and sizes, depending on the composition of the segment and the formation processes. It has a wide range uses both domestically and industrially. Aside that it is medicinal and used as a mild laxative; it is also used as food ingredient in cooking and as preservative in the manufacturing industry. Just as well, it is used as a component in the production of electronics, cosmetics and glass. In the agro-allied industry, it is also used to manufacture fertilizer. Available research evidence has also shown that it can be used as coolant for nuclear reactors in the case of nuclear power development.

Medical evidence indicates that potassium is a very important mineral for the proper function of all cells, tissues and organs in the human body. It is crucial to heart function and plays a key role in skeletal and smooth muscle contraction, making it an important component for normal digestive and muscular function, thus helping to reduce the risk of high blood pressures. Most foods, including meat and fish, as well as fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy products are all rich in potassium.

Like every mineral, it is found in the soil and excavated. A hole is dug and the sand is removed therein. Rain water is allowed to naturally wash the salt-like particles into the dug hole before the water is removed, leaving behind the potash, which is scooped out in different shapes and allowed to dry out before it is transported.

Strikingly, the quantity of potassium in the market is overwhelming. They are stacked in huge piles. According to the Chairman of the Potash Sellers Association, Alhaji Modu Makinta who is in his late 60s, the market has been in operation for over 30 years and has the capacity to deliver not less than 20 trailer-loads daily. “Everyday, when patronage is high, three to five 30-tonnes trailers are loaded from this market with each trailer containing not less than 300 bags of potassium.

Every bag is conveyed at not less than N700 to far destinations. But most times, we end up without a single trailer loaded at the market. This is when local consumption counts and we have to rely on other traders in smaller markets who buy in small quantities. This category are conveyed in pickup trucks and circulated in small wholesale sizes and in turn retailed to households, individuals, petty traders and hoteliers who cannot afford to come to the main market,” he said.

For industrialists in search of quality raw materials to maximize profit, the market boasts of opportunities. According to current market survey, 100 kilogram bag can range between N1,700 to N10,000, depending on quality and period of purchase. But the cheapest is the one which has been ground to flour form and costs between N800 and N900 per 50 kilogram bag.

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The huge potential of the market, coupled with its turnover expectation could no doubt (if utilized) generate huge revenue for both the local and state governments. Musa Usman who is the Secretary of the Potash Sellers, says despite remitting tax to the local and state authorities, the traders have not enjoyed any benefits from the taxes they have paid. “As an association, we pay our taxes and levies regularly. We ensure that every operator who trades here in the market pays the N2000 yearly levy as prescribed by the state Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism.

We also pay for the state and local governments’ revenue, amounting to about N7000 yearly. This is not inclusive of payment for the market stalls, usually made to the local government and in some few cases, individuals who have built temporary sheds. But we have not in any way reaped from the taxes and levies we pay,” he complained.

Despite complying with tax laws, the market is engulfed in an annual nightmare of flood because every time the rainy season comes, the market becomes water logged and the kanwa traders incur huge losses. “Lack of drainages within and around the market is one of our greatest problems. During the rainy season, it becomes extremely difficult to move around. The whole area becomes flooded like a river and messy. We do not have the capacity to build drainages to evacuate the water. Because of its delicate nature, potassium and water are like enemies that must not come into contact. This has been the major cause for incurring heavy losses in this business. This is why we are calling on government to please come to our aid and help us to construct drainages as tax-paying citizens and entrepreneurs who have been contributing to the economic development of the state. Over there (he points to a huge pile) are losses from last year’s rainfall. The owners lost more than a trailer load,” Alhaji Makinta lamented.

One would assume that with the quantity of potassium available at the market, and its abundant domestic and industrial uses, the potassium sellers would be smiling to the banks. Because as a raw material with huge economic potentials and a range of applications in varying industries (as earlier mentioned), potassium related processing and manufacturing industries would be springing up in Borno and neighbouring states. But as it is, no single processing plant or related industry exists and hence, no readily available market for the traders.

Kanem Trust gathered that the need to harness such abundant potentials and create job opportunities led the administration of late Alhaji Mala Kachalla, to seek partnership with stakeholders in the potassium business in 2002. In order to provide large-scale ready market for the abundant potassium resources, a soda-ash plant was proposed and built around Bulumkutu area in the outskirts of Maiduguri. A generating set was installed to forestall the anticipated power outage but the processing equipment didn’t arrive before that administration lost out in its second term bid. That project is now abandoned despite the huge public investment and its economic potentials.

It is also a pity that when sales are low, most of the labourers are left unproductive with little or nothing to take home. To worsen their dwindling fortunes, when they leave the trade after tiring out, they retire to nothing because they are not formally employed and are not entitled to pension after retirement. And because they do not have the strength to toil in hard labour anymore, which in most cases, is their only source of income, they become dependent.

Our correspondent was told that on the average, when trade is at its peak, the daily take home pay of a labourer is never less than two thousand naira. But as it now, it is just a fraction. Jibrin Ahmadu, one of the pioneers of the market who proudly claims to have been in the profession for close to 40 years, after migrating from Sade in Bauchi State, has risen from an ordinary labourer who just loads and offloads bags of potash to becoming the leader of all labourers in the market. Due to the dwindling fortunes of the market now, he can only boast of making two hundred naira as daily income. To think that a man like Ahmadu, who proudly affirmed that he caters for 10 persons, including his wife, children and some dependents would have to cater for all these people with only about ten percent of his normal earnings, could be daunting.

But he was quick to add, “have two wives and two children and six dependents. All my children and wards are in secondary schools now, acquiring both western and Islamic education. I used this trade to cater for them that far. Even my two wives were married with proceeds from here. And I am very grateful to God Almighty for his infinite mercies in bringing me this far. But I hope that things would change so that we can go back to the good old days.”

The challenges and requirements are enormous. But what seemed obvious is the fact that there is an urgent need for government to revive and complete the soda-ash project in the state which will not only create market for potassium traders to regain their fortunes, but to also help create gainful employment and revive the comatose industrial sector in Borno. This, observers say, would greatly impact on the internal revenue generation drive of the state government and empower its citizenry.

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