A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
For today’s “A Week In The Life” we go back in time to 2020. We explore what it was like to benefit from the height of the pandemic. We speak to a medical consumables seller who tells us about how COVID money changed his life.
Something crazy recently happened to my benefit: someone wanted to order face masks, my friend [who was called] couldn’t help them out, and so I took on the job. Now, I’m in Idumota market everyday sourcing masks and other COVID essentials. I make almost over 50% profit on every order I process. But I’m not foolish; I understand that this is rush money and it won’t always be like this, so I remind myself to make the most out of it. This bubble can only last for so long before people run out of money.
A lot of my day, like today, starts with phone calls from 6 a.m. I’m either on the phone with customers who want to order stuff or I’m calling my guys in the market to help me run a delivery. If you had asked me two months ago about selling stuff, you’d have probably gotten a big no from me. But, hey I’m not complaining.
I’m in this business because I quit my job in anticipation of starting my compulsory internship program after pharmacy school. However, one month into my wait, the pandemic struck. I suddenly found myself jobless and without an internship. There I was in my room every day, moping until I overheard my friend almost decline an order to deliver face masks and hand sanitisers to a company. I volunteered to fulfil the order even though I had never been to Idumota market in my life. That leap of faith marked the beginning of a life-changing event. I quickly entered the world of negotiations, import and export, and uncovered previously unknown corners of Idumota market. There’s literally nothing you can’t find in that market and knowing the right people makes all the difference.
I started the business with one order and then two, three… After a while, it just took off mostly through word of mouth and referrals. And it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
It’s wild that a few months ago I was working in a community pharmacy where the pay was around ₦60,000 a month. And now, in a month, I make almost double the yearly salary of my old job. Which is a lot for a young pharmacist.
What I love the most about my current reality is stability. A year ago I was worried about where I’d do my internship, or if my life would ever amount to anything and how I’d jaapa. Now, I’m literally thinking of importing my own line of medical consumables and not worrying a lot about tomorrow. For the first time in a long time, I’m not worried about where my next meal will come from.
I started my day by visiting my bank. Even though there were lockdown restrictions, I had to go in because my business was at stake. After being paid for my largest order so far, my bank froze my account. Their reason? The amount of money was simply too much. Ahan.
So I had to go in person to explain that I was not a Yahoo boy. Simply a trader involved in the buying and selling of goods. After a few regulatory backs and forth to confirm my identity and upgrade my account, the restrictions were lifted. I felt my chest loosen up for the first time since I got the restriction email.
I’ve been trying to put how I feel into words and failing. I guess that there’s no way to talk about my gratitude without sounding insensitive to other people. While people have been lamenting about how COVID has dealt with them, it’s been a blessing in disguise for me. I’ve lost count of the number of things I’ve done with COVID money because the profit is not one or two million. It’s millions of naira. This experience has also taught me a lot about myself and opened my eyes to parts of me I had never been in touch with. I understand now that I possess some form of hustle spirit I never knew I had.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking that not getting Internship has been a blessing. I can run my business on my own terms without worrying about other engagements elsewhere.
Later today, I’m meeting up with a couple of guys who are supposed to walk me through the process of importing drugs. Apparently, it’s not very straightforward, especially if you don’t want Customs to seize your goods. However, nobody tells you this until you’ve entered wahala. Nigeria and ease of doing business strike again. The meeting will definitely not be fun. But I’m looking forward to after the meeting when I’ll buy asun and mortuary standard Heineken to share with my boys. I guess it’s true that the simple things of life give the most pleasure.
I woke up with one word on my mind today: grace. I know that I’m not the only one who does this business so it’s not by my power that it’s going smoothly. I’ve heard of people who also do this same business and dulled. It’s humbling to me because I didn’t do any digital advertising or social media marketing. Just mostly word of mouth on my part, and my friends who put my business on social media. At one point, I was even shy to post my business, but thankfully the people in my corner really showed up for me. And for that, I’m grateful. It’s a blessing to have people in your corner who encourage you.
There was also the part where the traders in Idumota showed me the ropes. In my first month, I’d open with them by 8 a.m. and close by 5 p.m. daily. They dedicated their time to show me where to go and where to not go. I even learned how to identify the real value of a product after profit has been added. My negotiation skills went through the roof. On top of it all, they still help me out in one way or another, especially when I can’t be physically present at the market.
Still, it’s not perfect. I’ve had to face people defaulting on agreements which made me lose a lot of money. I also have to deal with serious price fluctuations between each market visit. Scarcity of products is leading to over hiked prices. There was a time a carton of facemask went up from ₦350,000 to ₦600,000. [Editor’s note: A carton contains 2,000 pieces of facemask. A carton also has 40 boxes and each box/pack has 50 pieces of facemask]
In spite of all this, I give God the glory because he’s a major part of my journey. Money will come and go but God’s grace is forever.
I’ve realised that at heart I’m still a pharmacist. And part of the requirements to becoming a fully licensed Pharmacist is completing my internship program. That’s why I’m spending a lot of time today filling out applications for where I’ll intern. For me, this is more a formality as opposed to a do or die affair. I’m aware of how internship money changes people’s lives. Starting life on a salary above ₦100,000 in Nigeria pushes you one step closer to your dreams — whether it’s to jaapa to the US or Canada.
For me, because I understand how unpredictable business is, my internship money is going to an account I can’t touch. At least after a year of piling it up, it’ll make a good safety net in case anything happens.
The government recently eased the lockdown and things will soon start returning to ‘normal.’ I know rush money from business will slow down, and I’m looking to diversify outside of it. I’m looking into becoming a vendor that supplies pharmaceuticals for banks, HMO’S and big companies. At least that’s some form of stable income in a world of uncertainty.
I know that whatever way this story ends, things are never going to be the same again for me. My perspective has totally changed. Even if, God forbid, I don’t take anything out of this experience, I know I’ll have stories to tell my children. I’ll just be like ‘hey guys, let me tell you the story of how your dad became a millionaire in the middle of a global pandemic.’
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