“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.
Nine hours every day, Uche Uka* sells food from behind a counter at a prominent fast food restaurant, while evading stern managers. While on duty, resting is against the restaurant’s rules. But after two years of thankless service for ₦40k a month, she wants better from life
Mondays are the slowest days at the fast food restaurant, maybe because many people cook during the weekend and still have food in their fridges. But I still end up tired.
The eatery I work at opens at 7 a.m. We don’t have cleaners and support staff, I have to arrive early to clean up the store, machines, utensils and surfaces, bring the food from the kitchen to the counter and prepare for when the store opens. It’s a cashier’s duty to make sure all the food and drinks are recorded and cross-checked with the cooks. So I resume at 6 a.m.
There are two other cashiers on my shift, and we do several jobs while the company only pays us for one. When we pleaded with management to hire cleaners, they asked us, “So, who’ll pay them?”
We used to open at 8 a.m., but the company decided to push it forward to cater to students and workers who stop by to pick up food on their way to school and work.
Morning shift is supposed to last from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. — eight-and-a-half hours — but that rarely happens. I often leave at around 4:30 because I’m required to settle records after my shift. Depending on the manager, they can make me stay until six. I don’t have a choice. Every single tray of food I served has to be accounted for, along with every naira. If there’s any shortage, they’ll deduct it from my ₦40k salary.
Every day comes with its own wahala. Sometimes, a manager can wake up on the wrong side of their bed, come to work and transfer their frustration on us. Even more often, customers bring their own problems and cause a scene.
Today, I left the restaurant at 4 p.m. and headed home. Even though Mondays are always slow, I’d been standing for over ten hours, so I’m tired. I’m always tired.
Today didn’t go well at all. A pregnant woman came in and ordered takeaway basmati fried rice. A portion of the rice is two-and-half spoons and costs ₦700. I asked if she wanted a big-sized takeaway pack or a small one. She said, “Big.” When I handed her the food, she started complaining it was too small.
She accused me of not putting enough rice, even though a portion would look smaller in the larger pack. When she accused me of trying to steal her food and pocket the money, I explained to her that it’s not cashiers who set the pricing or quantities. I asked if she wanted an extra portion and she insulted my father.
When she came in, I told her not to look at the board. She could tell me what she wanted, and I’d tell her the price. The restaurant usually updates the prices on the system, while the old price remains on the board. Maybe that’s why she called me a fraud.
This woman brought out a calculator and refused to pay for the pack she asked for, which costs an extra ₦150. She kept yelling and threatened to complain about me to the branch manager. Then she called the head office to complain that I’d hacked the system to cheat her and pocket her money. Me, a cashier, hacking? See me see wahala.
I don’t understand it when people dump their frustrations on cashiers. I’m not happy at this job, but you don’t see me shouting at people.
The manager came in and dashed her a free meal just so she could leave. Then, he turned to me and started shouting that it was my fault. Thank God I had witnesses who called him out sha. A man even told him to update the board and stop letting problematic customers harass cashiers. But even though I didn’t do anything, I still had to apologise. Because when everybody leaves, it’s me the manager will deal with.
The man who stood up for me tried to give me a tip for my troubles, but the manager intercepted it. Company policy is that no staff should handle cash or personal property during work hours. Usually, I have to hand over my personal belongings at the security desk and sign them in. When managers intercept tips like this, they promise to add it to our salary at the end of the month. But, for where? I know I’m never seeing that money.
I finally got home, called my brother and told him about my day. He told me it is well and cracked jokes that made me laugh. By the time I hung up and prepared for bed, I realised I wasn’t so angry anymore.
I woke up to a call that I should come in for the evening shift. These duty managers keep changing things, and I never know until the last minute. I wish they would rotate it weekly so I’ll know okay o, this week, I’m on morning shift, next week, I’m on evening shift. I’ve begged them several times to tell me my shift ahead of time, but they just do anyhow they want. We, the junior staff, don’t have a choice. If you enter any manager’s wrong side, you’ll see shege.
I don’t like evening shift because we have to stay back to do records even though the store closes by 10 p.m, Sometimes, I get home as late as midnight. I’ve been robbed before, and with the news of kidnapping these days, it’s very unsafe. One of my colleagues was stabbed recently. But who cares? They’ll say the insecurity also affects managers.
The company now has a policy that workers must live a maximum of 15 minutes from the store. I wonder if they’re just mocking us because none of us can afford to live anywhere around the area. Even my six months’ salary can’t rent a place there. When I moved to this city in 2020, I had to save for six months to get my current apartment in a villagey area about 30 minutes away.
But can I complain?
My ₦40k salary can only take me so far, but I try my best to be disciplined. My rent is ₦150k, and I make sure to save ₦20k every month for it. I get lunch at work, so I only have to bother about breakfast. Transport costs me about ₦400 daily — about ₦10k a month. I use the rest to buy provisions and toiletries. My brother lives in Lagos and supports me by paying my school fees once in a while — about ₦60–70k for my online programme at the university where I’m studying economics.
I ended up staying until 11 p.m. today before they said I could leave. Thank God I got home safely.
I don’t know if everybody in this city got hungry and decided to eat fast food, but the eatery was filled to the brim, and the cashiers were so overwhelmed, one of us had to beg the manager around to help us. Jesus, the noise, fights and shouting? Two customers even got close to throwing blows because they couldn’t agree on who was next in line.
Rush-hour days like this have become very common. We’ve been begging management to hire more people, but they said revenue isn’t enough. Every day I come to work, I stay on my feet for eight to ten hours, and my body begs for mercy. It’s against the rules to sit down. Once my shift starts, I must be on my feet until they let me go. If a manager catches you trying to rest even for one second, you don enter wahala be that.
All I was thinking about the whole day was how I don’t have to come to work on Saturday. I work Sunday to Sunday, but I have one day off during the week. The way I’m going to sleep?
The night blinked by so fast my head was turning when I woke up. My first thought was how I don’t want to be stuck here. I don’t want to wake up by 5 a.m. every day, rushing to a job that’s killing my joy. But I have to pay rent, buy food and pay my school fees.
Even though I don’t like the job, it’s the only one I could find that I can work while schooling. Some jobs with better pay, once you tell them you’re in school, they’ll say they don’t want your wahala. So I can’t complain too much.
I have two weeks of leave per year. My exams usually run for one week, and I have two of them each year. So I usually go on leave during exams. I’m in 200 level now and still have three years to go.
Exams start in two weeks, and even though it’s an online program, I have to go to campus for revision classes until exams. It’s bothering me even more because I have to go to school today. Juggling school with this cashier work is hell. After serving people on my feet for nine hours non-stop, I’ll jump into a cab and rush to school. I know I’ll be too tired to even hear what the lecturer is saying, but at least, I’ll get points for attendance, abi?
As I am now, I’m living my life for someone else, because every day, I dress up to go and do work I don’t want to be doing. I like handling money, making sales and attending to people, but not under these conditions. It’s the reason I took this job and now, I’ve been working as a cashier for two years, but nothing has improved, but I hope that’ll change soon.
I want to take back control of my life. I have an idea to start supplying zobo and tiger nut drinks to restaurants, but I don’t have capital. I don’t know how lucrative it’ll be, but even if I get the same amount as my ₦40k salary in profit every month, I don’t mind. As long as I’ll have a little more control of my life and no longer have to work at the eatery.
From my calculations, it’ll cost about ₦700k to start because, for fast-food restaurants to even consider you as a supplier, you have to be able to deliver in large quantities consistently. I hope I can get a loan for it. The prices of things I’ll need to buy are going up every day, but God will help his child.
I held on to this hope as I locked my door and went to work. It’s the same hope on my mind when I get back home.
Tomorrow is Sunday which happens to be my worst day of the week because it’s always our peak period for sales — family time out, dates, flexing, meals before and after church service, church food time with members — always a crowd.
Nobody wants to work on Sunday morning because of all that work. But last last, someone must have to do it either by choice or force.
Breaking free from all the stress is the only thing on my mind these days. But for now, I have to get some sleep and rest well ahead of work tomorrow.