Breaking stones to eke a living sounds impossible and hectic to many people, but the struggle for survival has forced a sizable population of Niger State citizens, especially almajirai, to take it up as a profession.
To the almajirai sone breakers said it was better than stealing, begging or remaining idle, explaining that even though the money realised from it was not much, there was fulfillment and assurance of being paid at the end of their job.
In Bega community in Maitumbi area of Minna, the Niger State capital, the almajirai said, “We add value to our lives and have something to fall back on at the end of our education.”
An almajiri, Ibrahim Ismail (16), said he started doing the work since after primary school.
Ismail whose parents could not afford to send or sponsor him beyond primary school enrolled in a Quranic school after which he started breaking stones to support himself and family back home in Katsina State.
He said, “I have been able to do everything I want with the money I’m making here. I clothe, feed and shelter myself and do send money to my parents in Katsina.”
However, Ismail said combining schooling and working was really taking a toll on his person, but that it wasn’t a problem because he enjoyed doing it as it made him independent and responsible.
Ismail explained that, “I have never encountered any challenge in terms of the hazards associated with the job, but the poor sales we are experiencing, as well as exposure to the sun, are worrisome.
“Don’t also forget that I am an almajiri; which means I have to shuttle between school and work. I attend Islamiyah in the morning from 6:30am after morning prayers and resume work at 8:30am and close by 2.pm and go back to Islamiyah up till 6.pm. If I’m not too tired, I go back to work more till 7.pm.”
For Buhari Umar (15), the conviction to be different from his peers who took up begging and pushing wheel barrow to survive, led him into the breaking stones business.
He is looking at becoming a successful business man as he is planning to go into selling of provision.
Umar said, “I am looking for start-up capital for a small business and as soon as I’m able to save up to N200,000, I will stop breaking stones and start a provision store.
“However, I am appealing to government to look into how they can help people like us realise our dreams by giving us small capital since we cannot all go to school.”
On the hazards of the job, Umar described them as very dangerous, but that since he had no other means of livelihood, he was forced to continue with it so as to save for his dream business.
He further said, “We charge N2,500 to break a load of stones, and this takes us three days to finish.”
Besides the almajirai, women too engage in the business of stone breaking.
Hauwa Abdullahi (39), mother of five, said she had been in the business for over 10 years to support her family.
She said, “We source and bring the stones from different locations. Some from within the state and some from Lagos. I made between N2,000 and N3,000 daily before, but now it is difficult to even sell a bag of broken stones that costs N500 despite the fact that I have even reduced the price to N400.”
Hauwa who said she was tired of the job, explained that she would not mind getting a small shop where she would be selling provision.
Despite all the challenges and stress of the job, the stone breakers said it was their goldmine and that they were happy with it.
Apart from the stone breakers, there are others who benefit from the value chain.
For Rukayah Abdulhakeem (22), mother of two, who started working at the site for breaking stones some months ago, said the struggle for survival and care for her children led her to the site.
Rukayah explained that her job at the stone breaking site was sales and that how much money she got from the sales determined her income daily, while her sales determined how much she got.
She said, “I’m being paid between N500 to N1,000 daily; depending on how good the market is. I’m doing it to get money so that I can start a business and be with my children all the time and help my young family.”