Exploring Plateau State’s Hidden Vibrant Economy In Metal Fabrication And Recycling Of Steel
In the special feature, RuralReporters.com explores the economy vibrancy of YanTinka, a Metal Fabricators Market in Jos, Plateau state.
Esther Onyinyechi Mark reports.
The place is a beehive of activities. Their products adorn the environment. You may have had a feel of their products in an unrecognizable form. From the bread you eat, to the doors manning the entrance to your house or office, the local aluminum pots used in your kitchen, and even the feeders in your poultry farm– you just might have come across them.
But, who are they? And what do they do?
Welcome to the Metal Fabricators Market, otherwise called YanTinka market, located in the densely Hausa populated area of Jos, Plateau state. The market, a metal hub of its own, boasts of different sections, which churn out wonderful masterpieces, akin to their counterparts in developed economies. Don’t mind the environment- the maxim, forget the container and look into the content, applies fully here. Metal fabrication is a value added process that involves the construction of machines and structures from various raw materials. It is the building of metal structures by cutting, bending, and assembling processes.
There are noticeably, about 7 sections in this market, all working towards a common goal. From the confectionary/baking section, to the Iron benders, the blacksmiths, the poultry section, scrap and the general metal works, little is known of the ingenuity of these local manufacturers.
Umar Mohammed Kabir, a producer with the Iron section, volunteered to be a tour guide. We meet Dan Umaru, as he is fondly called, an HND 1 student of the Plateau State Polythecnic, Jos. He also makes a living from the products he manufactures here. We went round, and the discovery was mind blowing.
The Iron Benders
This section of the market deals with iron door/gate makers, iron benders and the likes. Rabiu Abba, aged 37, with one of his apprentice, Ahmed Sani, 20, buys the iron from the building material market, gets designs for the iron doors and gates from catalogues online and works all day, carving and bending the iron to form the desired shape. Abba also sometimes, creatively innovates designs for the doors.
Umar Mohammed also deals with bolts, door designs, and Inches -the flexible knots that binds a door to the wall. According to him, this section is the most prestigious and tasking in the whole market.
“Our goods are taken to other neighbouring states, and countries like Niger and Cameroon. However, while our goods are of high quality, it lacks value due to a number of reasons,” he says.
It was really surprising watching Ahmed mark out designs on a plain iron, and patiently carving out the pattern skillfully to form a very unique design for the door. This activity, which has become a routine, helps him realize some proceeds to spare in preparation towards buying all requested items that forms part of the dowry for his betrothed.
While he sees the work as a profitable one, he faces a lot of challenges, which ranges from lack of mechanized automated equipments, to power supply amongst others. Ahmed most times, due to power outages, has to pause the work for the day, or make do with the makeshift generator set, to complete the markings for the design. The cost of fueling generator drains part of the profit he should have made from the business.
Scrap Sellers and Blacksmiths
This section deals basically with youths who go round town, scavenging for used and abandoned metal and aluminum products. They gather and sell to both the local traders in the market, and others who buy in bulk and transport down to industries for recycling. These lads make money from abandoned metal and steel scraps.
Adamu Hassan, aged 14, makes an average of N1000 daily from picking of scrap metals, steel and aluminum.
According to him, the business is lucrative but quite stressful.
“But I’m happy I provide for myself,” he says.
Going round the market, one will notice some of products generated from the abandoned aluminum and iron materials. There were shovels, funnels, scissors, chisels, hammers, and hoes in a section. Workers, both young and old, were busy producing these. The blacksmiths had various apprentices fanning the coal embers, while others were too busy cutting out models for shovels and funnels. They also had similar challenges: lack of automated working tools and funding.
Catering and Confectionaries
If you are thinking this market basically has to do with irons, metals and large industry equipments, you are right. This section also produces aluminum pots, various sizes of bread plates and pans for baking, Electric stoves, iron buckets, local tripod-stands for cooking, etc.
Mallam Musa Isa, who has put in 25 long service years into the profession, says it has been rewarding, but not as much as he wants.
Isa, who produces big aluminum pots from recycled cans such as the local malt, coke and other canned drinks, says “I have been able to cater for my eleven kids, sending them to school from the profits I makes daily from the business.” But the major challenge remains getting real automated machineries such as cutting and grinding machines, and getting enough materials to work with.
Having access to these sophisticated equipment will make the work less stressful. ”I may not be able to continue in the business, say in 10 years time, without adequate machinery on ground,” Isa says.
Birds and All
At the poultry section, Abdullahi Khalid, aged 25, makes poultry equipment for local farmers within and outside the state. He sources remnants of materials from builders around, and in Abuja. Because the profit he makes when he buys a new aluminum is small, he prefers to patronize the local scrap dealers, who bring in abandoned materials such as old Turkey oil cans, aluminum from builders, amongst others. One can easily spot various handmade poultry equipments like feeders for day-old chicks, Tray, laying nest, box, amongst other.
Khalid says the business takes care of his bill, but he may not be willing to take it as a life-long profession. Just like his counterparts in the other sections had opined, he seeks change, and cannot continue in the energy sapping business for long, if intervention does not come to relief them the stress they encounter daily.
An Avenue For Skill Acquisition or Child Labour?
One notable feature in the market is the presence of young lads, aged 5 and above. They all were busy, striking hammers against metals, helping to heat up a metal for bending, manning some bending machines, and the likes.
The market also operates a form of non-formal education for some children whose parents cannot afford formal education. More than 70 percent of the kids and teenagers were also pupils and students in formal schools.
They retire to the market/workshop in the afternoons after school, to continue with their skill acquisition. Some are even footing the bills for their tuition fees from the proceeds they make from the job and look forward to their “freedom”, a day they will graduate from being apprentices to bosses of themselves.
At such settings, duly signed certificates are issued to the grandaunts in a ceremonial event. A chat with some of the kids revealed some longing for independence and self worth, thus their resolve to train and learn harder, so as to be certified for “freedom”.
Quality Assurance of Products
The marketers and local producers all opined the products are of high quality. Others even gave some guaranteed lifespan for some of the finished works. Speaking with a Poultry farmer, Mrs Rosita Okolie, who frequents the market for some products, she attested that the goods she buys therein are durable, depending on the products usage.
The National Metallurgical Development Centre, NMDC, Jos, amongst its mandate, as per Decree NO 50 of 1992, states that the centre will “develop and fabricate standard samples of machine tool and other engineering components and structures for analytical purposes with a view to their eventual adaptation and the use on a large scale in the metallurgical and allied industries… Render to both public and private establishments engaged in the metallurgical and allied industries, consultancy and technical services at various stages (including exploration, processing, smelting, design and fabrication stages) and charge fees for such services.”
With this mandate, one wonders if what is produced and sold in the market, meets industry standard, especially with the high rate of building collapse, and other levels of substandard goods in the country.
A visit to the NMDC in Jos reveals that there is a dearth in the patronage of the centre, especially in regards to testing and analysis of metallurgical industry materials. While the Centre is known basically for testing and analysis of such components, the private sector is yet to tap into this by testing the materials they use to understand the mineral and iron components of such.
Also, more quizzes are thrown to the Standards Organization of Nigeria, SON, which is charged with the mandate of regulating and ensuring the quality of such products coming into the market for domestic and industrial use, are maintained. Are they living up to their duties?
The Deputy Director in charge of Training and Research, National Institute of Mining and Geology, Ministry of Mines and Steel, in Jos, Engineer Tsaro Gilbert encourages independent manufacturing and production ventures.
He advised the traders to “form cooperative societies as government listens more to such unions and releases funds and interventions easily to them to better their lots and improve on their trades and chosen profession”. This, according to him, is “one of such ways the marketers and manufacturers can solve the issue of funding and other government interventions”.
He also stressed the need for quality assurance of scrap metals, saying “it is in this regard that the Metallurgical Industry Bill to regulate the activities of metal production and usage is at the national assembly for passage into law. With such a bill in place, things are expected to fall in shape for such business operators”.
No doubt, the Metal Fabricators Market in Jos is one venture that could boost the technological, economic and cultural wealth of not just Plateau state, but the nation in general, if adequate attention is given to it.
The next time you think of throwing away those empty cans, think of other household equipment, put them together and have them recycled. That way, you might just be saving the environment from dirt and indiscriminate liter, while contributing to the economy as obtainable in other climes.
Can the private and public sector rise up to this challenge and place Plateau state, and the nation in general on the league of world recycling business giants?
Only time will tell.