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.
Riding an okada for a living in Lagos is almost like being in a badly written movie. With villains like agberos, taskforce and police, on the road, any day without an incident is nothing short of a miracle. Have you ever wondered what makes a person ride okada for a living? And why okada riders are always in a hurry? Today’s “A Week In The Life” shows just why.
My alarm wakes me up by 5:30 a.m. The first thing I do after standing up is to perform ablution. Next, I take a five-minute walk to the mosque. At the mosque, in between sermons, and just before solat, I find myself battling with sleep. It takes all my power to not fall asleep. Thankfully, as I start to lose the battle, the imam starts the prayer.
We’re done around 6:05 a.m., and I return home. “Home” is a compound where 27 other people and I, mostly non-Lagosians, pay money to sleep in every night. ₦200 per night for a human being and ₦200 per night for our okadas. What benefits do we get? A small room with no windows and a bathroom without running water.
So, when I get back from the mosque — every morning — I have to ride my bike to the nearest public tap three streets away to have my bath along with my okada brothers. At around 6:35 a.m., I go back home to dress up, and I’m ready to hit the road by 6:50 a.m.
Before I even make any money, I’m already behind by ₦1,400 every day. First, I buy a ticket from the agberos for N700. This is minus the ₦50 here and there that I have to pay agberos at every junction in my vicinity, which cost around another ₦700 in total. This is minus the ₦1,200 that I deliver to the owner of the okada at the end of each day.
So, you have ₦1,400 + ₦1,200 + ₦200 to sleep + ₦200 to park my bike = ₦3,000 before my day even starts — I haven’t even factored in money for fuel or food during the day.
The worst parts? There are more okada riders than people willing to pay for okada. Also, I can’t work late into the night. Once it’s 6:30/7:00 p.m., I have to close for the day because if police catch me, my money na ₦11,000. If Lagos Taskforce catch me, my money na ₦22,000.
After doing calculations, you realise that ₦4,000 – ₦5,000 is the most an okada rider can make in a day. So, tell me: why won’t okada riders speed all time?
Anyway, it is well though. The main thing now is that work has started and for the next 12 hours I have to out-earn my expenses. I’m hoping for nothing short of miracles.
Walahi, today I didn’t make any money for myself. Na only ₦2,550 I don make all day before Task Force came to arrest our okadas. If you see the way we ran for our lives. Me that I collected okada from someone, how will I explain if they seize it?
It’s so annoying because there are some people who disguise themselves like Task Force to steal our bikes. Then, they’ll now go and resell it at a cheaper price. So, we also have to be on the lookout for those ones too. Sometimes, because you’re not sure who is who, you’ll end up dragging with the real Task Force who will beat you like a thief because they think you’re dragging power with them. Just last year, this thing still happened to my brother. They beat him, collected his bike and we still had to pay to bail him.
But walahi, the woman who gave him the okada is so nice. She told him not to worry and even bought him a smaller bike to be using while repaying her small small for the old bike. Alhamdulilah because he just finished paying her last month.
Me, I don’t want that to ever happen to me, and that’s why I’m going home after running from Task Force. By the time I remove ₦1,200 for the bike owner, ₦400 for sleeping and parking, ₦500 for fuel, I have only ₦450 left. And I still have to buy a ₦700 ticket tomorrow morning because agbero won’t hear any story.
When I get home, my plan is to go around begging my other brothers for money. ₦200 or ₦300 here and there can help with food this night and a ticket tomorrow.
I have noticed that sometimes when I’m riding okada, my mind is not there. In this job, you’re constantly thinking about tomorrow because even if you say Alhamdullilah today, you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Most times, there’s no hope for tomorrow.
I can’t help thinking about my past. I came from Mokwa town — in Niger state — to hustle in Lagos because my helper died. Before before, I used to do business. One Igbo man in Lagos used to send me money to help him buy rice, beans, corn, in large quantities from Mokwa and send down to him. My profit on each bag was like ₦200/₦300 and I would get around ₦50,000 from each deal. On top of that, the man still dashed me money at intervals, so I was okay. It was out of this money I used to marry and rent a house in Niger state.
Everything was going sweet until I got a call one day that my business partner was dead. How? Road accident. His business and family went just like that. I didn’t even know how to respond because I was sad about his death but also worried about my future after his death. It’s funny that it wasn’t until I started feeling the effect of not doing that business again that I even remembered that my business partner was owing me ₦166,000 before his death.
It has been more than one year since the accident happened. Except on days when I’m thinking about my life, I don’t like to think about him because remembering my old life is painful. Nevertheless, I still carry around the biggest reminder from that era — the Android phone my business partner bought for me when the going was still good.
Last last, this life just get as e be.
The only thing that’s keeping me going today is the thought of the sleep I’ll sleep on Sunday because I’m so tired. Because I’m not the owner of the bike, I’m always working come rain or sunshine. The only off day I get is on Sunday and that’s because the owner, who’s Christian, told me who’s Muslim, not to ride the bike on Sunday. I was initially not happy with her decision and now, I look forward to resting on Sunday.
The work is not easy at all, but at least you make something however small. I remember 10 years ago where bike men could make as much as ₦5,000 – ₦6,000 in a day. That time tickets were still ₦200 and a lot of Northern people hadn’t migrated to Lagos. At the end of each working day, after removing every other person’s money, bike riders were guaranteed at least ₦2,500 profit. This used to be money then.
My only saving grace money-wise is the contribution I make with my brothers. Every day, 10 of us contribute ₦1,000 into a pot, and at the end of five days someone takes the bulk money. On and on we go until we go round and then go again. It’s part of this money that I send to my people at home to use to hold body small.
After leaving my home in search of greener pastures, I refuse to believe that this is it. I’m just 31 or 32 years old, but why do I feel so hopeless?
I don’t know how but I must find the strength and hope to see Friday and Saturday through. The job is not the greatest, but at least it’s an honest way to earn a living.