He is likely to pass by you unnoticed because he does not carry an aura of sophistication or the charisma of a successful business person. But, he is a special being and humane, kind-hearted, diligent at his work and believes in the dignity of labour. He does what most of us will not do for a living and proud of it.
Charlie Bamei is a scavenger who visits several garbage dumps scattered over Lagos City, but Ejigbo community is his abode where he lays his head at the end of a hard day work in an abandoned dilapidated uncompleted building long forgotten by its owner. At least he has a roof over his head as the ‘landlord’. His dressing falsely gives him away as a man of questionable character or perhaps a Rastafarian devotee with his long unkempt dreadlocks, pull-over jacket, dirty shorts and worn-out trainers. More so, he smokes a cigarette. Despite the false impression, he is a businessman in a serious business of scavenging for disposed of materials such as aluminium parts, plastics pet-bottles, iron scraps, worn-out tyres, etc. from garbage dumps which he sells to end-users who will recycle them for further use.
In a no-holds-barred interaction with him, he said, “ I came to Lagos in 2014 and was involved in selling fairly–used clothes with my brother at Oshodi market, but abandoned the business three years ago when he sold his shop and left for Abuja. Since there was nothing else left I could do to sustain myself, I had to fall back on what I am doing presently. We pick discarded plastics, wires, aluminium and iron scraps for sale to companies that recycle them. There is so much demand for our goods and sometimes we don’t even meet up. Buyers come from different parts of the state and beyond. I must confess that I do not regret doing what I am now as it has enabled me to meet my basic needs and have some savings”.
“I am able to make sales of between N1, 500 to N5, 000 daily depending on the level of demand from customers. Several other people are also involved in this business and there is no hindrance towards anyone who wants to be part of us. Apart from that, the business does not require any formal training even though you could be attached to one of us for mentoring for about one week to be acquainted with the rudiments of the business. You only need to show interest and be ready to work hard. Even though we are not formally unionized, there is some level of discipline among us such that we do not poach one another’s customer, except through mutual agreement. Anyone who operates contrary to laid down rules and regulations is sanctioned”.
“How much capital will someone interested in the business requirements to start off?” He says, “You do not need any star-up capital for this business; your zeal and interest is what determines your level of success. However, you need to acquire a fairly large jute bag to keep your articles while scavenging through the garbage with an iron rod curved at the tip that is not too heavy to spread the garbage apart before picking your articles”.
“What are the challenges you face in the business,” I asked. He says, “Like in every other business, there are several challenges we face here which include injuries sustained from dangerous materials like stepping on broken bottles, low sales during raining seasons; we are constantly faced with health hazards, so we need to purchase a lot of drugs to prevent contracting diseases, and the ability to meet the demands from our clients during dry seasons. Sometimes too, we encounter local government officials who harass us for nothing. However, most of these challenges have been overcome as time went by.
Charlie says he has not travelled to his village for a long time but hopes to do that soon to meet and socialize with his age group. He also wants to use that opportunity to get someone he would love to marry. Before then, however, he hopes to relocate to better accommodation and acquire few luxuries of life as his garbage business has offered him leeway to a better life.