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.
The subject of today’s “A Week In The Life” has been unlucky. One bad decision in conjunction with a faulty educational system took him from studying a professional degree to selling cattle. Now, he’s trusting God and waiting for his big break.
I’m awake before my alarm rings. I unlock my phone to check the time and it reads 3:25 a.m. — this means I’m up early by five minutes. Every day, for the past six weeks, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night for tahajjud prayers.
I roll out of bed, perform ablution and drop on my praying mat. It’s a little bit past 4 a.m. when I’m done praying so I go back to sleep. The next time I open my eyes, it’s 5:30 a.m. and I’m just in time for morning prayers. Although standing up requires a little effort, I manage it. From this point, my day starts in full swing.
I say my prayer, have a bath, wash plates from the night before and cook breakfast. By 7:00 a.m., I’m out of my house and on a bike to the market where I sell livestock for a living. The first thing I do when I get to the market is survey prospective animals for sale. Because I do not [yet] own any cattle; I start my day by convincing people to let me handle the sale of theirs. After negotiations, we usually settle on a cost price, after which I’m free to add my own markup. Sometimes, if a cow costs ₦250,000, I can sell it for ₦255,000 or ₦260,000. The final price depends on the bargaining power of the customer. For expert customers, I usually end up selling at the cost price so the owner doesn’t make a loss. In scenarios like this, my commission ranges between ₦1,000 – ₦2,000. At all at all na him bad pass.
Mondays are typically slow. All the parties have happened over the weekend and there aren’t any more till the next weekend. So, after surveying prospective animals, I spend my Mondays feeding and cleaning them up to look healthy for sale during the week. I also stock up on support items like ropes, feed, etc so I can at least have something to sell and show for my efforts at the close of the day.
My plan for today is simple: make at least ₦1,000 to cover food and transportation back home.
Cows are very wicked. And that’s why I always carry my cane anytime I’m feeding or cleaning them. For any cow that is proving stubborn, I use my bulala to reset its head. Yet, these animals can be sneaky. One time when I wasn’t looking, a cow hit me on my chest with its horn. The blow packed enough force to make me sore for a few days but not enough force to make me bleed. After that incident, I became extra careful around the animals.
Truthfully, not all cows are wicked. Some are gentle, easy-going and even allow you to touch them. Currently, I have one cow that fits that bill. Although it has been paid for, I’ve been taking care of it for a month. It’s such an easy-going animal that I sometimes wish it were mine.
But it’s not and I’m just a caretaker. I can’t wait until I start going to the North to buy my own cattle. Until then, I’m going to be spending my days, like today, cleaning, feeding and caring for the animals.
Sometimes when I compare how much I make on average versus my expenses, I ask myself what I’m doing here. My average daily commission falls somewhere around ₦1,000 – ₦2,000. Bike to and from my house costs ₦400. Food that can sustain me for the kind of work I do costs me around the same: bread and beans costs ₦300 while fufu or eba costs ₦400. Whatever is left goes into my kolo for the rainy days. Sometimes, in a week, all I make is transport money with nothing to save.
For me, this reality is twice as painful because I used to be in the university until I dropped out in my final year. Most times, I find myself thinking that with my level of exposure I should be in a better place. But Allah knows best.
This afternoon, after some older men sent me to buy recharge cards and Amala, I found myself thinking about my life.
It started with a carryover in 200 level, although the repercussions only surfaced in my final year. In my department, one of the requirements to be eligible for final professional exams was having zero carryovers. However, because of a mixture of my negligence and horrible record keeping, I wasn’t aware that I had failed a course. At least, not until when I was prevented from registering for final year. I was asked to retake the course I had failed and that meant an automatic extra year.
Then I made a bad decision.
Because I was very active in school, and because of the shame and stigma I associated with having an extra year, I dropped out.
I got a job at a restaurant, continued to lie at home, and allowed one year to pass me by. By the time my parents found out what had happened, the school had removed me from their system. I begged, wrote letters, and even lobbied, but I was told I couldn’t be reabsorbed into the system. Even though I was on a good academic standing, I was kicked out for not deferring the admission and just ghosting. While I take full responsibility for my actions, I wish I had someone to tell me that a carryover wasn’t the end of the world.
Because I did not and I lived with the stigma of failure alone, I made the wrong decision. Now, all I’m left with is menial jobs and no professional degree.
I’ve accepted my fate and the part I played in making it so. But on days like this, my regrets are fresh again. My only consolation is that I believe that not everyone is destined to work a white-collar job. Perhaps this is my destiny and I should bear it with more humility. Whenever I wake up to pray at night, the one thing I ask God is that the things I’ve lost should not be greater than what I’m going to achieve in the future.
I try as much as possible to fast on Thursday to cut down the cost of feeding. Additionally, I also use the day to reflect and be grateful for my life so far. Although I’ve lost a lot, there’s still a lot to be grateful for.
Today, I’m especially grateful for a good support system; my parents and siblings, and friends who have encouraged me. I haven’t been the best person or been in the best of places but they’ve been rock solid.
Sometimes, when I complain of the fact that I’m almost thirty with nothing to show for it, they encourage me to go further. Also, when necessary, they do not hesitate to tell me difficult truths.
For the first time in a long time, I’m starting to feel like my old self and starting to pick myself up. The first sign is that I’m feeling restless again. More than ever, I’m constantly thinking of ways to save up money to buy livestock from the North. Even if I buy just one cattle or sheep, I’ll know that it is mine. With the income I earn, I don’t know how I’ll do it but I’ll make it work one way or another.
It has to work because my plan of going back to school depends on it. I can not, in good conscience, ask my parents to fund my education again, especially after what happened the last time. My dad is a retiree and my mum has my four siblings to take care of. I have to sort myself out even though I don’t yet know how.
On some level, I understand that this is a trial, so I’m constantly praying to Allah for forgiveness and the strength to see this through. I also understand that it’s not the trial that matters but your attitude while undergoing said trial.
I don’t have the answers but I know that my life story will not be defined by my mistakes. Even if I don’t know how I’m going to achieve any of my dreams, I’m going to try. I want my life story to be a testament to the fact that you can be at your lowest point and still pull yourself out. I believe that there’s no limit to what you can achieve as a human being.
I may not have all the answers but I have God. And his presence alone is sufficient for me.