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Pains, Gains Of ‘Sand Barging’ For Money In Lagos



AbiolaIN Lagos, sand is money because it is very scarce and expensive. In the course of doing their jobs in Lagos, street sweepers pack sand, which they sell to the builders.

Any building or construction project in Lagos, just like any other place, requires sand. But in Lagos, the situation is different because the city is covered by more water than sand. This has made sand sale a brisk business in the city, but not without peculiar challenges associated with sourcing it.

It was in the light of the quest to know how sand is sourced for builders at Amuwo-Odofin and Okota/Isolo communities that The Guardian recently visited the sand market situated by the canal close to the Amuwo Odofin-Okota link bridge.

At the market, there was a beehive of activities which included labourers offloading sand from boats, heaps of sand dotting the landscape, sand merchants and buyers exchanging money, tipper drivers and labourers loading trucks, among other activities.

On one side of the canal were five men lying down close to a small engine boat. On inquiry, The Guardian was informed that they were boatmen mainly of Ijaw and Ilaje tribes, resting after returning from a three-day trip to Igbede and Okun Asa along the Badagry axis to convey sand.

When one of them named Alade Iyan was approached to inquire how and where they get the sand that they carry to Amuwo-Odofin/ FESTAC town, he flared up, asking, “What is your business with it?

“Do you want to investigate and stop our means of livelihood? If you want to know, come and join us on a trip to the place. After going there, you don’t need to ask questions.”

After some persuasion by one of his colleagues, Iyan politely asked, ‘Oga, what do you want to know about our activities. “I hope they no send you here to come and dabaru (spoil) our business?”

The Guardian reporter replied, “No. I am here because I am interested in the business and I want to know if I could start, too.”

When asked how and where they ferry the sand from, he said the area is very far from the FESTAC town axis.

“We carry the sand from Igbede and Okunasa in Badagry area. We normally depart FESTAC town through the canal route around 10:00 pm and reach the area by 8:00am the next day. After loading the sand, we will commence our journey back here through the canal routes following the tide of water.”

“The water level and flow along the canal routes determine the smoothness or otherwise of our trip. If the water tide is backward and low, it delays our movement because the loaded wooden boats tied together will not move smoothly when pushed with the small engine boat we use.”

“In such situations, we usually spend extra days on the waterways, pending when the water inflow increases and moves forward. It is always easy embarking on such trip during the rainy season when water level is high. Embarking on the trip is easier than returning, because when going, the boats are empty and the engine boat is positioned in the front to pull other boats.”

“But while coming back, the small engine boat is positioned at the back of the loaded boats from where it pushes them”

On how they feed and sleep while on the trip, he said: “We don’t normally sleep, but we do stock food items and fuel in our boat. If we run short of any of these items on transit, we stop at the nearest town to buy, depending on the time.”

Iyan disclosed that depending on the number of boats they go with, they make not less than N100,000 on each trip.

He said: “Sometimes we make more than this amount. We are Ilajes and Ijaws. We have been doing this business for years now. We can enter any river without fear. You may doubt it but we can sleep in the river. Some of us started swimming at the age of six because it is our tradition.”

“We are at home with the business. We only own the small engine boat which we use to push the bigger wooden boats owned by the sand sellers. Our own business is to take the boats there, load them, and bring them back. We repair the boat engine whenever it develops fault while on the water.”

On the risks associated with the venture, Iyan said it is not a business for everybody because of the risks involved.

“Do you know what it looks like being on top of the sea in an open boat from dusk to dawn facing the cold, rain, mosquitoes and others?”
He also quickly pointed at the more than 12 loaded-wooden boats tied together arriving at the canal. The boatmen berthed one of the boats close to the canal at the back of Peace Estate Okota and proceeded to Ikotun with others.
Owner of a boat and sand seller, Mrs. Dupe Olamide told The Guardian that she spent N450, 000 to acquire one boat.

Olamide said: “I have been in this business for more than 10 years now. I have six boats. We the sand sellers own the wooden boats, but the boatmen own the small boat with engine.

“We pay them N30, 000 for one boat upon return from a trip. We also pay for the sand and the dredgers at Igbede. We pay N1000 every week through our association to the government. We also settle the traditional ruler of the area where they dredge the sand. We pay labourers to offload the sand from the boat when the boat berths. Our business is not illegal.”

When asked about the quantity of sand each boat carries and the selling price, she said that each boat carries six truckloads of sharp sand.

“The price depends on the location and the tipper size. A six-tyre tipper load of sand to be delivered within Okota, FESTAC and Amuwo-Odofin areas cost N18,500. The cost of sand is N15,000, while the tipper owner and labourers take N3,500. If it is outside the above mentioned areas, it will cost between N25,000 and N30,000.

“This price is only for sharp sand that we normally bring in from Igbede. Plastering sand which we normally buy from Sagamu in Ogun State is more expensive than sharp sand.”

Mrs. Olamide disclosed that with proceeds from the business, she has built several houses in Lagos and trained her children.

“It is a lucrative business, but for you to succeed, you must be at alert always, because people sometimes steal your sand.”

“Even the labourers offloading the boat on arrival at canal pour half of the sand into the canal. Sometime those selling the sand from where it is being dredged will not load the boat completely. Sometimes I have to come here as early as 5.30am to ensure that my goods are safe. I usually stay here till 11pm to ensure that my boats are not left behind,” she said.

The Guardian investigation reveals that what they call sharp sand is sandy soil, while the plastering sand is the mixture of clay and loamy sand.

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