The atmosphere was lit with a golden glow as the sun’s strength faded into a cool, breezy evening when Lola, a resident of Ogudu, came out of her house with a faded brown wrapper wrapped around her chest to pick up her own delivery of a 25 Litre keg of water from a man pushing a cart of kegs who stopped in front of her house.
Lola had just bought water with which to bathe to enable her get ready for the Sunday night outing. For a long time in her community, they’ve had no access to clean water.
“There is no clean water here”, said Lola, who by now had finished dressing up, clad in a black top on a blue denim Jeans and is all set to set out. “In this place, there is no water, and it’s been like that for a long time. So, most people here buy water because the water we have here is not clean, and it’s not good for anything”, she added.
As Lola rightly said, she is not alone in this predicament, others within her surroundings are too. So is Mary, a resident of Akinyemi,Alapere, Agoyi Ketu Local Council Development Area of Lagos State.
Mary and her neighbours are no strangers to buying water for their daily chores, including washing of cars. BDSUNDAY found that the well in their compound, which is a major source of water in Akinyemi, is unclean, too dirty to be used for anything.
“We buy water in this place because the water we have is not clean. Maybe, it’s because of the water level.” Mary said, trying to guess why the water in their well is so brown.
But a few northern and Niger Republic youths have taken it upon themselves to bridge the gap to help residents of Alapereand Ogudu communities, and indeed, of many other parts of the state, access clean water. These youths earn a living therefrom They are called ‘Meruwa’, a Hausa term for men who sell water from door to door.
Somewhere in Majekolagbe Street, with shops lined up on both sides directly facing oneanother, sits a shop dealing in bread and egg. This shop, obviously owned by one of the Northerners popularly called “our brother” is where most of theMeruwascome to unwind after the day’s work, and Silas, one of the northern men providing residents with clean water, is not an exception.
Silas, from Nasarawa, told BDSUNDAY that he ventured into selling water three years ago, in order to make a living, feed his two wives and 10 children. “I don’t have money”, Silas said, after a delivery in the blistering sun, and looking wet from his own sweat.
“So, I sell water to make money. Out of the little money I make, I send to my wives in Nasarawa” he said, chewing on a loaf of bread and complementing it with a BIG Cola soft drink.
“I sell to anyone who needs my water. Both containers go for ₦50 to ₦80”, he further said.
Although Silas said he makes about ₦600 to ₦1000 daily, he lamented that delivering water to clients is stressful, as the market is dwindling.
“There is no money in the business because some residents have water in their houses. The business is tough. In four months, you can’t get up to ₦20, 000, and when you want to go back home, there’s no money. If I find something else to do, I’ll quit this business,” he said.
But Silas is not the only one who knows how to exploit humanity’s needs to improve his fortunes. NuruMa’andoes too.Also, employed as a security worker for a resident in Majekolagbe, Ma’an picked up his Garuwas two years ago, when he came to Lagos in search of greener pastures, leaving behind his two wives, seven children, and his farm in Jigawa State.
The Garuwas are metallic cylindrically shaped buckets used to fetch water. A rope is tied to the handles and further tied to both ends of a stick, and carried on their shoulders to areas of need.
“I started selling water two years ago. I sell to those who are having a tough time getting access to clean water. Two of my Garuwas go for ₦50 to ₦100. I make up to ₦600 a day,” he told BDSUNDAY.
“But it’s not lucrative anymore because not everyone buys water. Some have boreholes in their homes,” he adds.
How they operate
There are two groups in the Meruwa merchandise. Those that use the garuwa, and those that push cart. Mazu belongs to the former. Mazu who has spent two years in the ‘industry’ said he went into the business for the same reason as others.
Every morning, Mazu, who hails from Jigawa State, slips on his work clothes –a sky blue T-shirt which has “Here To Help You” written boldly behind it, and a pair of greyblack short jean trousers. He picks up his garuwa, hangs it on his shoulders, and sets out in search of water for his customers, some of whom may have placed orders.
Sometimes alone, or joined by his friends, Mazu goes to houses with boreholes where he buys water and resells to his clients. “I buy in the two garuwa for ₦20 and sell at ₦100,” he said, with a suspicious look in his face.
This routine is the basic operation of the two groups of Meruwa, the difference, however, is that those who push carts earn more.
But while others complained of the stress involved, and the body aches they experience in the process of distributing water on their shoulders, Mazu seems to be doing fine, BDSUNDAY was informed.
“Since I started, business has been good. There hasn’t been any problem so far, and I get up to ₦1000 a day,” he said. Asked if he gets body pains as a result of carrying the garuwa to different areas in Alapere, “carrying it on my shoulders is not a problem. I am strong,” he replied with air of confidence that debased his colleague who stood by listening.
Although these meruwas try to fill a huge gap created by the inability of government at all levels to provide pipe-borne water for the citizens, the source of the water they distribute sometimes create health hazards for the consumers.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), on World Water Day celebrated this year, said 69 million Nigerians do not have access to safe water and 19 million have to walk long distances to get water. The recent Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2016/17, also indicated that about 40 percent of households do not have access to clean water sources.
Though, Nigeria has made significant progress in developing policies and strategies for water supply and sanitation service delivery, translating these into action has been a major challenge. UNICEF further reports on its website that about 70 million people, out of a population of 171 million, lacked access to safe drinking water, and over 110 million lacked access to improved sanitation in 2013. Open defecation rates, at 28.5 percent pose grave public health risks.
According to UNICEF, every year, an estimated 124,000 children under the age of five die because of diarrhoea, mainly due to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene. Lack of adequate water and sanitation are also major causes of other diseases, including respiratory infection and under-nutrition.
The facts show that Nigeria may likely not achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 6 which stipulates that countries must achieve universal and equitable access to potable water for all, and access to adequate sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation by 2030.
So, UNICEF suggested that $8 billion needs to be invested annually in providing potable water in Nigeria, if the country must achieve Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
But while Nigerians are still expecting the government to leverage on this piece of advice, Mazu and his colleagues are ignorantly helping to solve a major problem that concerns the world, and the inscription on his blue shirt –‘Here to help you’- is where the message lies.
The Car wash: Meruwa’s business hub
At a car wash in Ori-Oke, Ogudu, is another place you will find the water dealers. As observed, no car has been seen undergoing washing at this car wash for a while. This is where the cart pushers group in the Meruwa business come to get their supplies. Coupled with the trees providing shade, this spot serves as first, a business hub, and a resting place for the Meruwas who are often seen in droves buying water and resting under a tree, mostly after a delivery.
Here, sitting under a tree conversing with a colleague is a tall, slim, and dark Niger Republic-born youth. He’s wearing a gold-tinted hair and goatee, and a brown-patterned top on a black trouser. Looking at him, you could tell he is different. More so, he speaks clearer and seems sounder than the rest. At least, his fashion sense says it all.
Abubakar’s quest for a better life drove him to Lagos in 2016. Having worked as a security personnel, and a bricklayer, the former gold dealer in Niger Republic, as he told BDSUNDAY, who later became broke, got into the water business to enable him build financial capacity.
“I started this year since I came to Lagos. The work is fine, but sometimes you won’t have customers. It’s just like a market. If it rains, we don’t have customers because they get water from the rain. Some have boreholes and they only buy from us when their machines are bad,” he told BDSUNDAY.
Abubakar’s cart can take up to 14 of the twenty-five litre yellow kegs. A conversation with BDSUNDAY reveals that he covers the entire area in Ogudu depending on where he is needed, and extends to Alapere.
“I sell based on the distance of a customer’s house, and it’s between ₦50 and ₦180. I make about ₦3,000 to ₦5,000 daily. Before now, when only a few of us were in the business, I get up to ₦10, 000 daily. But now, a lot of people have joined the business,” he said.
“A lot of people drink my water, if they don’t have pure water (sachet water)” he said, sensing it is a big deal in a community that lacks clean water. “I drink it too”, he adds.
On the other hand, just three months old into the trade, Yahaya, from Borno State, is not too happy with the business…just like Ma’an.
“I buy a 25-litre keg at ₦50, and sometimes, ₦30. About what I make a day, I can’t really say because sometimes when I come out to begin work, I don’t have much customers. So, I can’t say,” he said, refusing to speak further.
Welcome to Church Street
Moving from Akinyemi to Ketu, a signpost standing on the left side of the road reads “Church Street”, directing pedestrians and commuters alike to the entrance found on the right side of the road. This is another community in dire need of clean water. But the population of Meruwas seemed to be small, and BDSUNDAY soon found the reason for this.
At the entrance of the community, one Meruwa was spotted with his garuwa, looking for water as usual, and found where to buy. Just about a minute’s walk from the gate. “There,” he said, pointing to a turn on the left leading to another street, when asked where he buys water.
But deep inside this community, what seemed to be a hunt for water was the case. It was around 9: am, and everyone was busy. The entire street, about three minutes’ walk from the entrance to the spot this reporter stood, was flooded with people (some in groups, others using a tricycle (kekeNapep in local parlance) holding containers of different shapes, sizes and colours, and going in and out of houses to fetch water. It was quite difficult talking to a resident, but luckily, a woman with a big blue plastic basin on her head came through.
“We buy water here. We don’t have clean water”, she said trying to catch her breath. She said the situation has been so for years, but refused to speak further and directed this reporter to the chairman of Church Street and environs, oneAlhajiSarkaMemud.
The situation here
Opposite Memud’s house, another group of residents thronged, fetching water in giant bowls. “Years back”, he began, “we’ve been using the public water. But suddenly, everything went off. Though some areas are still having it till today, but the pressure (forcing water from the public utility to the area) is not up to expectation. If the pressure can be okay, then there won’t be water problem in all these communities. The pressure is not enough. Some streets have water, but they are using a pumping machine to pump it. But in areas like this, we don’t have.
“We’ve been reporting the matter to the government, because the public water is from the government and is treated. As it is now, it’s no more working,” Memud said.
To survive, he said that the community has been making efforts to make boreholes, and dig wells. “They buy pure water to drink”, he said, complaining also that some people within the community sell water that is got from the government.
In Church Street, there are philanthropic residents who give water to the needy free of charge. There are also others who commercialise their boreholes. Hence, everyone in the community engages actively in the search for water depending on the proximity, and as such, has little need for Meruwas. This explains why the population of Meruwas operating within the community is small.
But that does not mean their impact has not been felt. “The aboki people selling water have been helpful in solving our water problem. I don’t buy from them, but some of my tenants do”, Memud said.
“Though we don’t drink the water, the Meruwa people have been helping us get clean water”, Mary agreed.