In its heyday, the Ganja-Lokoja craft market was a focal point for artisans seeking temporary employment. However, harsh economic realities have forced a downward shift for skilled and unskilled artisans who now roam the market with little patronage. Our correspondent examines the condition of job seekers on the market.

The creation of Kogi State on August 27, 1991 gave rise to what became known as the labor market for Ganaja-Lokoja artisans. The market is located in a newly constructed bridge at the junction of the Lokoja-Ajaokuta and Lokoja-Okene roads in the capital. In its heyday, skilled and unskilled laborers came from various villages, local governments, and other states to the crossroads in search of jobs. Men and women, boys and girls gathered at the roundabout at 7 a.m. every day to seek temporary employment.

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Agama Idaikwo, who claimed to have skill as a mason from Onyedega in the Ibaji local government area of ​​the state, said many craftsmen made their fortunes in the market and changed the situation for their families. But the deteriorating economic situation in the country has undermined their efforts.

Idaikwo said he was enthusiastically introduced to the market by a friend from the same village about eight years ago. “At first, I would come and spend a week or two in Lokoja and go home to spend days, then return to base to hustle jobs.

“After two years of commuting from home to Lokoja, I gathered enough money to rent a house and brought some of my family members to Lokoja. It was an enriching experience. I built myself a house and opened a grocery store for my wife in the village,” he said.

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Among others, the artisan labor market is made up of artisans such as masons or masons, plumbers, electricians, painters, those with skills in cleaning, washing and clearing. Property managers from manufacturing and construction companies and individuals have flooded the market looking for workers to run their sites.

Like Idaikwo of Ibaji, many job seekers who see the market as a goldmine have continued to frequent it due to the high rate of job prospects.

Daily Trust Saturday noted that as early as 7 a.m. each day, artisans converged on the crossroads with their work tools neatly stored in their bags, waiting for their customers to strike a deal for the day. They packed their tools and stood by them: shovels, pawns, buckets and basins, diggers, cutlasses and hoes, pliers, nails and nail clippers and other relevant equipment, according to their different trades or skills. The tools in their custody serve as objects of identification.

65-year-old Baba Iyabo, commonly referred to as Old Soldier because of his military background, who seemed to have seen it all at the market, proudly told his story, saying he had made the place a treasure. He claimed to have retired from the Nigerian army in 2000 and joined job seekers in the craft market after what he described as two years of retirement wasted in his community, Odenyi, in the government area local Bassa State.

The ex-soldier said he joined the artisans market to showcase his talent as a painter, which he acquired before he was drafted into the Nigerian army in 1967. He made the decision to allow him to earn little money so as not to be a burden on people. around him.

“This decision changed my life. I probably would have died of frustration or traded the blame of abandonment with my family members in the village by now.

“When I started, there were very few of us at the crossroads looking for jobs. At that time, there were many jobs but few workers. As word of the place spread, many more people started coming from other states.

“In 2006, the market became fully fledged, with hundreds of artisans waiting for early morning job owners,” he added.

He claimed to have trained three of his children in craft market treasures at university level, built additional houses and bought a motorbike.

Another craftsman who has spent years in the roundabout earning a living, James Omeiza, said that although many who have started the labor market have a lot under their belts, the difficult economic situation The country’s current has affected their businesses and many of them are groaning. for lack of sponsorship.

Omeiza, from Okene, said: “Some craftsmen now stay in one place at the roundabout from morning until late afternoon with their working tools waiting for customers. It’s horrible for the artisans now.

He said that although the money they charged for their services during their days was minimal, its value was high compared to the current strength of the naira. He said the market boomed due to the high level of investments, which was the result of a healthy economy.

It was also learned that in addition to their various skills, the market opens up more opportunities for social interaction. As a result, many young women would have located their husbands and married.

Omeiza corroborated the claim of marriage boom in the artisan market, saying that some of his apprentices met their idols on the site and are married today.

“Maria, an apprentice who always came from a village in Shintanku, across the Niger River, every morning got in touch with a man who called on our services. Their affair has blossomed and they are married now and doing well in Kaduna,” he said.

The story of Idaikwo, Old Soldier and Omeiza is just the tip of the iceberg compared to the number of those who have been blessed in the job market.

Daily Trust Saturdayhowever, reports that the Ganaja-Lokoja artisan market is now living in its former glory as the number of job seekers has dropped over the years due to low footfall.

Suleiman Ibrahim from Badegi in Niger State said, “Things are not like before in the market. It got to a point where craftsmen would come in all day and go home empty-handed.

“We used to choose jobs based on salary. Clients were begging us to join them on their sites, luring us in with a raise. It was the story. Now our market power has collapsed; Either you take what they offer or you risk losing your job for the day,” he lamented.

Along the same lines, a 30-year-old woman, Mulikat Ajadi, said that job owners exploited the situation to deceive them and reduce their value. He said the current employment situation has practically turned them into beggars. She said a job that used to attract 5,000 Naira a day is now valued at 3,000 Naira.

“Unfortunately, often if you agree to offer the service at this ridiculous amount, they will still pay you half of the negotiated sum, promising to settle the balance in a few days. And the promise will not be kept”, a- she declared.

The condition of job seekers in the market from other states appears to be worse. A young man from southern Kaduna, who went by the name Ahmed, said the prospect of getting regular jobs at the site was very slim.

Ahmed, who said he was in Lokoja with two of his siblings, said they sometimes went for a week without any job offers, which made life difficult for them and their families. He claimed to sleep in the mosque or in open places and business premises with others in order to wake up early the next day and hurry. He alleged that sometimes the police looted them and that what little savings they had was used to secure their freedom. “Jobs are no longer readily available as before. Sometimes we go days without food,” he added.

Ahmed, who claimed to have lost a brother in Lokoja years ago while working to rehabilitate a road in the township, said those who left to return home to farm due to the current glut on construction site, did not find it easy either because of the activities of the kidnappers. and other forms of banditry. He described their situation as the “case of people dying gradually, silently and steadily”.