The traders at Mararaba market in Nasarawa State conduct business in filth.
Flora Nwokolo’s shop is a table in a dingy corner of the Mararaba Orange market. Beside her table runs a gutter conveying waste from other market users.
It is a paradox, but Ms. Nwokolo’s sits in front of her table which is filled with fresh fruits and just besides her is gutter, hardly flowing because it is filled with filth.
She attends to customers with her right hand, chewing boiled corn with the left, and keeping an eye on her two half naked kids playing bare-feet on a heap of decomposing trash that spans the entire floor of the market.
The kids are covered in dark mud, Ms. Nwokolo’s feet too, the mud which has a strong stench permeates her bare toes to form stocks mark around her feet.
On the other side of the gutter are Ms Nwokolo’s goods – a combination of various fruits tied up in a sack – freshly bought from a hub few meters away from her shop.
Ms. Nwokolo is one of the thousands of traders – burdened by daily survival – risking deadly tropical diseases to trade at the Orange Market in Mararaba, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, now sitting on a six months pile of trash.
In Mararaba Orange Market, there is no functional waste disposal system, traders generate wastes from almost every fruit item when they peel or slice to sell. They immediately drop off the waste, which piles up drop after drop, next to their feet.
Customers do the same
The setting is as thus, a customer demands an orange; the seller peels the oranges allowing the peels to drop directly on the floor. The customer sucks the orange juice and freely lets the chaff off his grip, directly onto the floor and walks away.
The market has no waste bin, and neither the traders nor the government, are eager to clean up the space regularly, leaving piles of decomposing mess to thicken the air with putrefying odor that leaves first time visitors sick in the stomach.
Apparently adapted to the stench, Ms. Nwokolo had her second baby in the market, but she still finds it a difficult environment to survive.
She was gladdened by media attention when PREMIUM TIMES visited.
“Thank God o person don come look us for this yeye place weh we dey sell, make person no come die one day for here,” she said in Pidgin English. [Meaning: Thank God someone has taken interest in this disgusting environment that we trade, so one may not die trading here.]
Both Mrs. Nwokolo and her kids regularly fall ill, they recover shortly after with little medication.
“Sometimes I feel so sick that I keep wondering what is actually wrong,” she said. “I do self medication for me and my kids.”
Many other traders in the market always complain about one strange sickness or other, she added.
The last time government agencies moved in to clean the Mararaba Orange market was two years ago, in 2011 – Nigeria’s last general election year. Since then, no one has tried to help, the traders said.
Government agencies regularly arrived the market for cleaning once in three months, but “all of a sudden they stopped coming,” Gachei, the market union treasurer.
When traders complained in 2011, its union came back with an instruction that shocked most traders.
“The union came and told us that they said we should go to the river side to go throw our dirt ,which is a bit far for us so most people decide to dump it anywhere available,” Mr Gachei, who was only elected into office two months ago, said.
In its current state, “once in a while”, traders spare few hours to clean the market, a decision reached after traders began to trace increased failing health to the environment.
“But it’s just not enough,” Mr. Gachei said.
A dangerous market
It is difficult to know how many traders have died of diseases contracted from the environment – there are no records and deaths are usually blamed on some dark spirits. But health specialists say the traders face serious health risks.
A doctor with the Nyanya General Hospital, Chris Chijioke, said the traders risk diseases like malaria, hepatitis and skin abnormalities, and other bacterial infections.
“Its not just the traders that are at risk health wise but the customers too,” Dr. Chijioke said.
Goods sold by the traders are at a high risk of getting contaminated by flying insect which play around the food items and leave bacteria on them, the doctor explained.
“Customers coming to buy fruits might not have the patient to get home and wash it before consumption,” he said.
He said even canned food must be washed, and customers must also wash hands thoroughly after visiting the market.
Dr. Chris further advised that the authorities create a waste disposal system for markets around the area and encourage the traders to use them.
Ms. Nwokolo hopes that someday, the federal government will come to their aid and clear up all the filth and provide a proper waste disposal system.
Getting the market cleaned up might prove an odious task as the Nasarawa State Commissioner of Environment, Danladi Madaki, claims he is not aware that the orange market is in dire need of a clean up.
He said an agency under the state ministry of environment had been asked to clean up the market. But the immense filth that greets you once you step into the market leaves the Mr. Madaki claim lacking.
“I am not aware that the market is not clean and that the dirt has not been cleared because all the markets around Maraba have been given to different agencies to handle. And I am sure work has commenced in various market in Maraba,” Mr. Madaki said.
“I thank you for given me such an information but I promise to go to the market to see how things are around there and to find out why the agency that was designated to that market have not started there duty,” he added.