By Al-Amin Ciroma
Published in LEADERSHIP on April 18, 2009
The menace caused by water vendors, popularly called 'Mai Ruwa,' in Hausa language is really astonishing. The truck pushers have invented unique ways of roaming the streets of urban settlements in the north, including Abuja, the federal capital territory. This piece focuses on their ways of operation and the atrocities and inconveniences caused by them. It has come to the notice of most people resident in the north, how these truck pushers shove their way through the main streets, including major link roads.
Very early in the morning, wherever you experience traffic jams, there is a fifty percent probability it is caused by the long queue of the water vendors. In the federal capital territory for example, the Mai Ruwas have already been banned from operating in the city centre because, according to the authorities, it is not the responsibility of the water vendors to provide water for the city's residents. The authorities on the other hand were cautioned not to shy away from their responsibility of providing clean water for the needs of the teeming populace. The water vendors were advised to seek other sources of livelihood because water vending was not in their interest, their customers or even the government, as it has serious consequences on all parties. In other parts of the north, like Kaduna, water vending is one of the most lucrative businesses that fetches desired profit.
From our investigation, many youths are now into the business of buying Kuras (Trucks) and Jerry cans to give out to the vendors on hire basis, who in return, pay back, daily or weekly, depending on the agreement reached by both parties. Very early in the morning, Mai Ruwas are seen in various streets within the metropolis shouting "Za ku sayi ruwa (“will you buy water?”)?" alerting people that they are around. Residents who are always in a hurry to get the water first, usually come out to book for one or two trucks, or may be deposit money with their neighbours to buy for them. Investigation also show that an average water vendor makes an average of N6,000 daily especially during the dry season. According to one of the vendors, “Sales usually drop during the rainy season and in some instances, a water vendor may not sell even a jerry can of water a day. He said in the dry season, sales are high and they normally give priority to customers who patronise them during the rainy season. "During this bad market season, our good customers give us money and food. When water is scarce, we usually drop some jerry cans of water for them before other interested people are considered," said Shu'abu Danbirni. The price of a jerry can is normally increased from N15 to N35.
They usually attribute the hike to bad roads. They claim they go through rigours before reaching a particular residence and that affects the price. "Even when we are supposed to fetch water for free, borehole owners sell it to us for N15 to N25 per jerry can and then, we have to add something to make our own profit." According to another vendor, “The business is quite lucrative but people see us as mere water vendors who get nothing from what they do. "We have families like every other person trying to earn a living as well. There are no job offers for us," he said.
The question of joblessness is not an issue in this regard, what matters here is what the authorities are doing to eradicate the hazards caused by this group of people. Water vendors are normally young men, who migrate to the urban areas from the neighbouring rural settlements, most of who are quite uneducated and lack skills. Most of the water vendors are examples of typical hoodlums. Many before they start their job for the day, take illegal substances or drugs. Our correspondent learnt that they, for example, drink Benylin Syrup, which is meant to treat cough for children and/or some other drugs to embolden them so as to be rude to other people who come their way. This leads them into series of altercations with people. A typical example is that they invade traffic, and if one tries to call them to order, they either make fun of you or toss their trucks on the road to cause accidents. Kaduna inhabitants experience a lot of accidents caused by these behaviours. A motorist, Alhaji Kabir, who spoke with Leadership Weekend said, he was driving from his house to the office, when suddenly a group of truck pushers emerged from nowhere, and as he tried to control his car, one of them flung his truck across the road, leaving him with no option than to crush the truck. Before he could park the car, they all surrounded him and started abusing him. It took the intervention of some good Samaritans to arrest the situation. Investigations, however, revealed, that this group of people have an organised structure; they have their president, lawmakers, state governors etc. they operate in that hierarchy. The president is the chief security officer of the group, and whoever offends him or violates the 'rules,' might be banished from operations. The superior officer normally does not hawk alone, he must be in company of others.
They may not be in a convoy, but with a little distance apart. The president enjoys absolute immunity. Now, the biggest question begging for answer is what the authorities are doing to exterminate or wipe out this problem that is now becoming unbearable to the teeming populace.
Nigeria is known to be the giant of Africa; a lot of countries within the continent have already forgotten the issue of water problem.
When other countries, even our immediate neighbours are celebrating 10 or 20 years of un-interrupted power supply, there is no state in Nigeria that can boast of stable electricity and water supply for 24 hours. Little wonder the Mai Ruwas have the audacity to stand as a formidable nation of their own. One may also applaud their valour to engage in water vending, but who knows what may happen if there were no water vendors? I think the president and governors, as a matter of urgency, should revert to only two-point agenda: Power and Water insted of their bluffing 101 agendas!