•Ebonyi hirelings groan, say they’re neglected, only remembered during elections

From Wilson Okereke, Afikpo

 They are commonly called labourers; they eke a living by carrying out menial jobs on a daily basis. While some of these people have semi-skills, especially in the construction sector, others are merely “hewers of wood and drawers of water.”

This group of people have various clusters in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, where they converge every morning, even in the rain, in search of those that require their services.

Daily Sun sought their views about what they do for a living at their clusters opposite the Pa Ngele Oruta Stadium, Ukwansi, Ebebe Junction, Vanco, and Tipper Garage.

Many of them expressed displeasure over their neglect by successive governments in Ebonyi State, particularly politicians whom they accused of only remembering them during elections. In fact, some of them disclosed that they were not keen about participating in the just-concluded general election because of the neglect they had suffered over the years.

The menial workers said life has been tough for them, as several of them could only survive through hard labour.

 A former restraint operator, Monday Igwe, who has been ‘pit master’ in the past 17 years, said he “joined the bandwagon” in 2004 after his shop and all the valuables therein were damaged during the demolition of illegal structures by the administration of that period. 

“After I had encountered the problem, coupled with other family issues, I resorted to digging of soakaway, foundations of buildings and other related work to enable me take care of my children and wife,” he said.

The 36-year-old father of five disclosed that his situation had been hellish as he finds it difficult to cope with his family requirements, including paying for the educational pursuits of his younger siblings. 

Igwe added that, because of the harsh economy in the country, he hardly gets work and, in most cases, in order not to go home empty handed, he engages in some work where payment is not worth the service.

“You can imagine where an able-bodied man of my type will dig pits from morning to evening and at the end of the day I go home with N2,500,” he said, adding that if given grant by government, “I can go back to my fast-food business.”

A bricklayer, Ona John, also said making ends meet had not been easy for him. The father of eight disclosed that he had managed to see one of his children through senior secondary school, courtesy of menial work.

“Any day that I get work, at times, I will go home with about N4,000 or N5,000; but my major challenge is that the activity usually comes either once or twice in a week. That is where the problem lies and our politicians are not helping matters as they only empower their immediate family members rather than the downtrodden who deserve the gesture.

“Politicians normally use and dump us; they use us as voting instrument, which can only be remembered during election period, and, thereafter, no one will think about us any longer,” John lamented.

He added that, before now, many of them had undergone series of empowerment tests and exercises all to no avail, as they could not benefit from such opportunities.

A mason, Ojebe Chidi, who holds a National Certificate of Education (NCE) in English Language and Political Science from Ebonyi State College of Education, Ikwo, told Daily Sun that he resorted to daily labour because he was not able to secure any white-collar job after he graduated from the institution in 2011.

He said: “Aside from Hon. Chinedu Ogah, representing Ezza South/Ikwo Federal Constituency, who  provides us with various gift items and cash periodically, none of us has received any assistance from other politician in the state. But just before the recently general election, some of them came here to beg for our support.”

At Ebebe Junction, Eze Martin, 65, from Onueke in Ezza South LGA, said he operated a tools rental service in the area. He equally lamented that the economic crunch was not allowing people to build new structures, so it had become difficult for people to hire their services.    

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Martin said: “My petty business is hiring of tools such as hammer, trowel, shovel, spade, digger, pickaxe, head pan and other materials. Through the trade, I have been caring for my family for over two years that I ventured into the trade.

“Though my problem presently is scarcity of job and, based on the situation, artisans do not patronize me as before. I believe that the condition was caused by the high cost of building materials, which has discouraged many people from embarking on building projects.” 

 At the Ukwansi cluster along Water Works Road, Abakaliki, Mrs. Nkechi Nweke, a mother of four from Okpuitumo in Ikwo LGA, said the little support she used to give her husband for the upkeep of the home was receding.

“I did not attend school and I don’t have any skill; this is why, since 2016, I joined other women who come out in search of menial work and making provision for my children. This is why I joined other women rather than idling away,” she said.

Mrs. Nnenna Eze, an indigene of Ngbo in Ohaukwu LGA, is not much different. She told us that it was through her daily earnings, in addition to her husband’s efforts, that their 12 children are being catered for.

The woman, who has been a daily labourer for over 10 years, said, with experience, she could mix cement and concrete appropriately without being supervised. 

“Mixing of aggregates for casting of pillars is no longer a new thing to me. At times, after mixing, I will still serve a mason at third, fourth or fifth floor of a building.

“However, after each day’s work, I usually face the pains associated with the hard labour. I do not look my real age, I have grown old quickly because of hard labour,” she said.

The woman also requested for financial help of N200,000 to enable her venture into garri and donkey meat businesses or any other commercial activity in her home town.

A 65-year-old woman, Mrs. Rose Nwofe, from Nkaleke in Ebonyi LGA, told us that she started the work almost four decades ago shortly after she lost her husband. The widow said menial work was her only hope because she did not go to school, adding that from the activity she had been able to train her children in various skills. 

Nwofe said her bones were beginning to fail her, and for that reason she would appreciate an opportunity of starting a business.

“If I can get help from any quarter, I can easily switch into rice business because it is the major business of my people and, by the grace of God, many of them are making it,” she said.

Another widow at the Tipper Garage cluster, Mrs. Christiana Igwe, from Rounda in Ebonyi LGA, also appealed for help from government and public-spirited organisations.

The mother of five, who said that she started menial jobs as a girl, stated that fending for her children, including the one that was crippled, has been tough.

One interesting story was that of an octogenarian, Mr. Fidelis Onyibor, a building contractor. The indigene of Ezeagu LGA of Enugu State told our reporter that he had been into the trade before the civil war when he joined the Biafra Army and was eventually elevated to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

He explained that he returned to civil work after the war and has for over five decades been involved in the construction sector.

“My reason for coming out is because I don’t want to be a liability to my children and also to avoid some problems usually associated with staying at home. Irrespective of my age, I can still read building plans and detect some mistakes during construction work.

“Thus, supervision is my area of concern, since I do not have the strength to be carrying nine-inch blocks or other heavy objects any longer and because of the scarcity of the work, we are appealing for assistance,” he said.