As told to David Odunlami
I started running to the top of a mountain recently to keep fit. On one of those runs, I met Peter*. We got talking and over the course of a few meetings, he told me his life story.
The way I see it, my father hated me since the day I was born. I’m the last child of the first of his two wives, and I’ve never had a conversation with him. Sometimes, I blame it on his excessive drinking. Other times, I can’t find anything to blame it on. He seemed to prefer his new wife. We all lived in one big compound, but there was a huge difference in the quality of lives that we and his other wife had. The other children got food, christmas presents, and everything they needed, but I was always on the streets begging for food. We lived in the village where the major occupation was farming, so people didn’t have money, but they had food. My mother and I had neither, and my three older siblings had left to seek better lives.
I started farming heavily before the age of 10 to provide for my mother and myself. Nobody ever believes my age when I tell them because I look much older. I’ve lived a very hard life.
When I turned 10, my mother put me on a bus with one of her friends and sent me to Abuja. I needed to find work so I could send money home. Her friend took me to a mechanic workshop and said goodbye. I was on my own from then. I later found out that he went back to the Plateau to start his own mechanic shop.
I was destined to fix vehicles. Not long after I joined the other kids at the mechanic shop, it was obvious that I was by far the best. I became better than everyone I met there, and I got better as time went on. There was nothing I couldn’t do to a vehicle. It got to a point, when I was about 12, that my boss couldn’t go anywhere to fix a car without taking me along. Big mechanic workshops in Abuja began to hear about the wonderkid and started asking my boss for my services. I started fixing really big and expensive cars. It was like everything I touched turned to gold. This continued until I was 16. For those six years, I slept in cars that were at whatever workshop I worked at. Never in a house. Well, maybe apart from the two times I went back home to visit my family.
At 17, I decided to go solo. I’d become too big to be working for anyone anymore. Even my ogas knew it. At that point, I’d made a lot of personal connections from working for big people so I’d be their direct contact whenever they needed any vehicle repairs. And they referred really well too. I was living a good life. I got an apartment and furnished it well, flatscreen TV and all. I bought two plots of land, two cows and a goat back home, and told my mother to watch over them for me. On another piece of land, I started building my own house. Last I checked, it was at the roofing stage.
But at 17, I’d also mixed with the wrong crowd and I was doing a lot of drugs and drinking a lot. Money was new to me. I’d spent my childhood begging for food and sleeping in cars and now I was making good money. I had no control. The lifestyle was a result of the friends I was keeping. They were cultists. They’d race and drift and destroy cars every week, and I would be with them. There were a lot of activities I can’t even talk about right now. We were always drunk or high. I was just the mechanic friend that followed them around, but when we got to the club, I’d spend ₦100,000 on drinks and we’d party like crazy. I couldn’t even sleep without doing drugs. I was so lost. I stopped sending money home.
I kept up this lifestyle until 2020 when I went to prison. A senator from Jigawa state reached out to me to fix his car’s engine. It was a really expensive Mercedes Benz. One morning, I got back to the shop where I worked from and the engine was gone. Just like that, I was ₦2 million in debt. After selling my plots of land, livestock and gathering all the money I could find, I presented ₦500,000 to him. The plan was to work for the rest of the money and pay in instalments, but he wasn’t having it, so he took me to court and they sentenced me to 10 months in prison.
I spent only six months in prison. In some cases, when the court gives a sentence, the prison can release you earlier. Prison was tough. People died. You had to obey every order. We weren’t fed enough. I was one of the youngest people there.
When I got out, I went straight to my apartment and found someone else living there. My landlord told me that one of my friends had rented it out to use the money to bail me out. He ran away with the money. He also sold all my possessions.
I’ve been out of prison since December 2020 now and all I have are the clothes I wore out and my sim card. I live on a mountain and sleep under the cross of one of the churches that pray here. Whenever it rains, I’m completely soaked. I’m always here in the sun too. Strangers give me money and food. Sometimes, I put my sim in someone’s phone and call one of my former bosses for work. Sometimes, they give me work.
I haven’t spoken with my family since they had to send me the money from selling all my possessions. That’s almost a year now. They don’t know I’m alive.
In some way, the things that happened to me made me realise how terrible the life I was living was. I obviously don’t like living on top of a mountain with no shelter, but I prefer it to the drug filled life I was living. I’ve also found God now, so that’s great.
I got some money to visit one of my former workshops and we agreed that I can start working from next week. I’ll use the money I get from him to go back home to my family. When I get there, I’ll decide if I want to stay in Plateau, or come back to keep working in Abuja.
I’ve been through a lot for someone who’s just 20 years old.