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.
A lot of things stand out about the subject of today’s “A Week In The Life.” She’s a mother of three kids, she’s the only female driver in a male-dominated park and she has insane grit. Our subject tells us why she shows up at work, how her job aids her evangelism and her plans for living a soft life.
“I’m late.” That’s the first thing on my mind when I wake up at 5:00 a.m. today. Ideally, my day starts at 4:00 a.m., and I’m out by 5:15 a.m. I do this because I have to queue up at the park to pick up the early morning passengers.
The first passengers don’t arrive at the park until around 6:00 a.m., but everyone starts to line up from past 5. In this business, starting your day early is the only way things can add up. As the day progresses, so many money-consuming factors come into play. Things like car wahala, agbero, road safety people, Lagos hold up, etc. But in the morning, the day is still pregnant with possibilities.Starting early = more trips = more money.
I drive an old silver Sienna with peeling paint, a busted steering wheel and an engine that coughs like a sick patient. Whenever I’m loading from the park, my route is Kilo to Ojuelegba. But when I’m on charter, I drive from Ojuelegba to anywhere in Lagos: Badagry, Epe, Lekki, there’s nowhere I can’t go as long as it’s within Lagos.
I can’t afford to be choosy because I have gbese, and this driving is what’s helping me. After taking a ₦1M loan to buy this car, I have daily targets. If not, wahala. But still on still, gbese everywhere.
Here’s a backstory: I was running a business that needed cash flow, so I kept on borrowing money. However, it was never enough, and I ended up owing plenty people. To raise money, I took a loan from a microfinance bank and bought a car. The car, old Sienna, is what I will use to pay off my debts and expand my business. Now I owe both microfinance bank and individuals, but God is in control.
Back to the present: After panicking about waking up late, I get myself in order and think of ways to save my day. I decide that since my house is close to the bus stop, I’ll go park in the queue. Then I’ll rush home to have my bath and get ready. After, I’ll run back before the first passengers start coming out.
It seems that today might not end up being so bad after all.
I’m thinking about my children today. I have three kids. A 17-year-old boy and two girls who are 11 and 9. Then I also have my teenage niece who lives with us. Because I have to leave home early, the house chores fall on them. My niece and 11-year-old daughter are in charge of cooking. My son sweeps. My 9-year-old washes plates.
My job is to inspect when they’re done. During the day, I go back home 4-5 times to eat or oversee whatever tasks they’ve done. I know the work is not easy, but they have to bear with us. I’m struggling. Their dad, my husband, is also struggling.
When I started dating my husband, I thought he needed someone to help him gather himself and plan for the future. At that point, he had just returned from Russia because his cousin had messed him up. I was like, this is just a rough patch. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as I thought. Now that I’ve entered into marriage, there’s nothing I can do. I need to play my part in order not to mess up.
I hope my kids understand that it’s from the little we have that we’re providing for them. I hope they appreciate the sacrifices.
It’s barely 11:00 a.m, and my phone hasn’t stopped ringing. It’s the same number calling me. Some journalist/writer-type person has been trying to interview me for five weeks, but I’ve been busy.
Today, I’m on the queue waiting for my turn to load, so I have time. I pick the call and tell him to meet me at Ojuelegba. After 30 minutes, he arrives and we exchange greetings. I invite him inside the car to sit, and we make small talk before the interview starts.
Interviewer: Tell me about your job.
Me: I’m a driver, and I load passengers from Kilo to Ojuelegba or I do private charter.
I: What’s the hardest part of your job?
Me: It’s not easy working in a male-dominated field. My only saving grace is that I grew up amongst boys; I have an older brother and a twin brother. So I grew up building muscle from fighting men. Not having female friends meant I spent all my time with my brothers and their friends.
My [twin] brother always tried to chase me away, but I no dey gree. And even though he’s huge and muscular, I’d still fight him. In fact, I used to fight him until I got married. Gra gra life has been in my blood, but those days are gone — I thank God for God in my life now.
I: Thank God.
Me: So when I came into the park, the men here were trying to cheat me. But I showed them that I have their type at home, so they left me. Now we argue together, agree and disagree together. Sometimes when they want to cheat me on the queue, I’ll either let it go or claim my right. I might be a woman, but I have the mind of a man. Without that mentality, you can’t go far in this job.
I: Ah, I see.
Me: There are other challenges too. Every work has challenges, and there’s not one that’s easy. In this job, people will talk to you arrogantly. Others will ask why I didn’t give a man the car to drive for me. I’ve heard someone say I have ojukokoro for choosing to drive myself. On the other end, some people encourage me and say, “Madam, keep it up.”
At the end of the day, I can’t complain because nobody forced me. I’m the only one that knows what carried me here.
I’m grateful for this business because it gives me time for evangelism. Unlike door to door preaching, preaching in a car is “easier” for me. I start my sermons early in the morning and end them at about 10, 11 a.m. I like preaching in the car as I’m driving because people pay attention, especially when it’s still very early. At that time they’re not yet distracted by the requirements of living.
However, I’m not preaching today. Thursday is my work-free day. I spend the whole day in prayers asking God for grace in my life. Today’s prayer is special because I need a miracle. My car is faulty again, and I’m tired of repairing it. Last time, it cost me ₦300,000 to fix because I had a steering and alignment problem. I took a loan and added to my gbese.
My cup does not runneth over.
My prayer is simple: God, I need the bigger Sienna in my life because that car will solve most of my wahala. I know you will do it, and I just need to exercise patience. After all, Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
My people have a saying: a hungry man that sees pot and food on fire has hope that he/she will eat. This saying is part of what keeps me going. Even though Nigeria is hard, I know God has already done my breakthrough for me. That’s why I’m happy and grateful today. God has allowed me to be driving for six months now. He has also come through every time I could not meet my loan repayment.
My only prayer now is that God should not allow me to be so sick that I can’t work. I need good health to be able to repay my debts. I declare that I’ll not break down. I also declare that once I pay the over ₦700,000 debt I owe, I’ll be free.
I find comfort in Psalm 118 — I will not die but live and will proclaim what the LORD has done. The LORD has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.
God is with me, so I will not fail. Once my joy comes I know life will be easy. I’ll no longer worry about waking up at 4 or 5 a.m. I’ll finally be able to wake up at 6 or 7 a.m. like a normal person.