Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.
The subject of this story is a 42 year old driver I ran into at the Benin-Togo border during #JollofRoad. We had this conversation as we sorted out papers.
Tell me about your first job ever.
I drove a taxi in Ilorin in 1992. Back then, a trip cost anything from ₦1 to ₦5. Buses used to charge 50 kobo. I was so small, I used to sit on a pillow to drive. I was only 15 years old.
What made you start driving?
I actually ran away from home. I’d already learned how to drive because my dad had trucks. But I ran away from home because I felt I could be independent – wrong decision. They found me and brought me back that year, and it was hard adjusting.
I’d already touched money, and now I suddenly wasn’t having it. I just wanted something that’d give me money, so I started working as a bricklayer. I got paid ₦40 a day.
What about school?
I was in and out of school, so I didn’t even finish primary school until 1994 when I was 17. It was also in that year I had my first child.
We were in love, it was December 1993, a holiday o. Next thing in January like this, bele done set. I was scared.
So, what did you do?
I first ran away – fear. Of course I came back shortly after. My mum took the responsibility of me and their mummy, so she raised our child.
What about your lover?
Ah, my first Love. She didn’t want to continue the relationship at that time because I was an Omo Ita.
Anyway, that whole period made me start having small sense. I came back and did secondary school. My first WAEC, I did it in 2000. Then they took me to Ibadan and re-registered me for WAEC again. I remember how much my mum paid for that school – ₦21k. I started in SS3, at age 23 o.
How did it go?
I passed some of my papers – I failed literature – but I managed to get into a Polytechnic. It felt good. So in 2002, I resumed as a part-time student in a Polytechnic, Business Administration. Since it was part-time, I was able to go back to driving a taxi – my lectures were in the evening. The person who gave me the car to drive asked me to pay ₦800 per day. I was making like ₦2000. My route then was about ₦20 naira per passenger, and a full load was ₦5.
I was about to enter my second year when new wahala started.
Cultists. They wanted to blend me. It got so bad that one night, I just went, returned the car, and left town. I moved to Abuja and never looked back.
Wait, just like that?
Actually, someone informed a man in Abuja that I knew how to drive. My first test was to drive to Abuja. Then I got transferred to someone, and that’s how that new life started as a personal driver in Abuja. I drove his wife and my first salary was ₦8,000. But the good thing is that I didn’t even have to spend anything out of that money. My boss was giving me everything I needed. The money just got deposited in my account, and I enjoyed all my other free benefits.
In fact, she’d give me food, pocket money, and even clothes. I worked with her until 2004.
Did you leave the job?
Wait, let me tell you the story. Remember the 8th All Africa Games? She was one of the people contracted to do some work there. We were working non-stop, getting very little sleep.
One day, I was there waiting for the next errand to run, when one of the caterers came and offered me food. I collected it straight, I was hungry.
As I started eating, my boss saw me and was like, “Nuisance! Who told you to be eating?” she kept going on and on. So I responded with one statement.
I told her I wasn’t working anymore. She thought it was a joke. I headed back to the house to go get my things, but before I got there, she’d already called the house, telling them to not let me in. I just vexed and left my things too.
Ah ahn, where was this confidence coming from?
Money. All that money that I’d be saving, and one tiny phone. I was 26 years old at the time. I’d already touched a part of the money because I was sending money home for my parents and my kids. Still, I think I had over 100k.
After her husband asked me for the last time, I told him I was quitting. Then he gave me three months salary. And said, “I wish you the best of luck.” That moment was the first time since the drama started, that I wish I didn’t quit.
Then I started working for some Indians as a driver, helping them with other things.
What other things?
The first time I went to their workplace, they were looking for someone to help them clear a small bush. Since I already had experience doing that type of work, it was easy for me, and I just cleared it sharp-sharp. They liked me, and wanted me to be the one driving them.
Then one of the co-drivers blocked me one time.
Blocked you as in?
He told me that I was trying to take his job. He said he was going to kill me if I collected his “Oga’s driver” position. The Benz was mostly reserved for the senior driver, and that’s what these Indians wanted me to start driving.
Ah, so what did you do?
Whenever they asked me to come drive the Benz, I’d say, “Ah, I don’t really understand this Benz o. Let my senior drive it.”
I avoided the car like that. I also had new kinds of problems there.
My salary was still 8k. But the difference between my last 8k and this 8k was that this one was my lifeline. No free food. No free anything. So I started trekking. I used to trek like 5km every day. Once in a while, I’d get free rides from one of my neighbours who worked close by.
Ah, it was hard o, because the moment they realised I could also do hard work, they turned me to Jackie – Jackie with no money. There was this place we used to sit down when we weren’t working, just outside the factory. I used to see a lot of these Inter-state commercial buses passing every time, and I used to ask myself, “Ah ahn, shebi you can drive?”
So one day, I walked up to one of the offices of one of the bus companies and told them I’d like to be one of their drivers. Next thing you know, they were sending me on errands, telling me to go drop this person, and that person.
What about your old job?
I left that place. I just focused squarely on how to become a full-time driver in this transport company. There was one man – the Oga of the place – that I was always getting assigned to. One day, he gave me a letter and told me to take it to Lagos. This was 2004 – I think I was 27.
That letter was him recommending me for training at their main office in Lagos.
Yes o! But the day I entered Lagos, police arrested me.
Ah. How did that happen?
I crossed the express. They put me inside their bus and I met more people there. I was so confused. Next thing, people started stepping out of the bus one by one – they way bailing themselves.
The officers told me to bail myself, but one kobo, I no get. I told them that I’m a driver that came for training in Lagos. They didn’t listen. They drove around for like another one hour, picking people, and collecting money from them.
It was later that they realised that true-true, I didn’t have money. By the time they released me, I already missed the training, the next one was happening a week later.
I just sat down at the bus stop and cried sad tears and hunger tears. By chance, someone I knew from my Ibadan days was now a driver in Lagos, and he saw me. Staying with him was how I survived for the next one week.
One week later, I got selected as a driver. My first salary was 20k, and they added 2k every year.
Wait, I haven’t even told you about how I got married.
I met this woman, she used to come visit from outside Lagos. Anytime she came, we stayed in a hotel because I was squatting with someone. Then one time, she told me she wasn’t going to come and visit me if I didn’t get a place.
Sharp sharp, I rented a single room, 24k per year, I bought a bed and some other things. This was early 2007 o. When I told her, she didn’t believe. To show her I was serious, I called my mother to tell her I had someone I wanted to marry. Next thing, they started talking. Next thing, they invited my family.
While we were there, my mummy was telling everyone congrats.
My wife, she was pregnant.
Ah, next thing, her family said that they don’t marry with baby in their house. All these times, I was still confused. And what did my brother who followed me to see our in-laws do?
He stood up from his seat, walked up to the calendar, and picked a date – just about 3 months from that day. Everything was confusing that day.
I wasn’t there, but even I am confused.
I asked my brother, abeg did you keep any money somewhere that we’re going to use to do this wedding?
I was about to ask you about the money part.
Ah, I spent money o. I spent over a million naira on that wedding.
I imagine your salary hadn’t reached 30k per month at this time. How did you raise 1 million naira of your own money?
Hahaha, I was actually making a lot of money. Drivers have different ways of making money. For example, everybody gets a fuel budget. If I don’t spend everything, I keep the rest. People also give me things to help them deliver. Sometimes, I could make up to 50k to and fro. The first lump sum of money I’d ever saved in my life, I used it for wedding. Can you imagine?
Anyway, that’s how that marriage thing went.
What came next?
I lost my job, one year later in 2008. One of the worst things that can happen to you as a bus driver is an accident. Good thing was, my bus was empty, so nobody died, but the bus was seriously damaged.
They sacked me. But then again, I got lucky.
You got another job?
Yes. Someone hired me to be his driver not too long after. That was the first time I ever drove a G-Wagon. I was paid 35k per month, at first. Then another 55k was added in some form of allowances.
Ah, that’s interesting.
Yes oh. We had a near-death experience and I handled it smoothly. Since then, he instructed that I get that allowance.
So how did that job go?
I spent a little over a year with him, before I quit again. This was in 2009. I was –
What happened again?
Some of his international clients came into the country for a while, so he assigned me to drive them. That meant that I had to find another driver to drive him around. When that driver resumed, I briefed him, telling him how important it is to be coded with whatever he sees working with Oga.
Coded as in?
He clubbed a lot, and drank a lot, so someone has to constantly watch so they don’t steal his things. Can you believe this boy went to go and tell Oga?
My Oga now said that I was leaking his secrets, and then his attitude just changed. First of all, they cut all my allowances. Next thing, they brought out fuel receipts and said I was stealing money. When I approached my Oga about it, he said if I can’t pay, I should quit. I dropped the car keys right there. This was late 2009.
So what did you do next?
A lot. I drove the Lagos Red Cab for a while. Bought a small car and did public transport. Drove a delivery truck. Drove an Uber. Drove a delivery truck several times to Ghana, Benin and Togo. Bought a Sienna on hire-purchase for 1.4 million naira. The owner of the money brought SARS and collected the car back. I delayed that payment only once. I cried that day.
Man. What are you doing these days?
Driving still. Na here you see me so. I’m currently drivng cargo, across West Africa. Earning 90k a month.
What does 90k cover for you?
So, some years back, during that period that I was getting money, I actually bought land for 90k. Then I started developing it. Then moved my family there like two years ago. So, no more rent wahala.
Ah, your family.
Yes yes. My wife, my 5 children –
Hahaha. The last two, mistakes. The fourth one, carelessness. The fifth one, birth control injection failed.
Plus the first child from your first relationship.
Yes o. Six. I’m still in touch with her, we talk. We’re in good terms.
What’s on your mind right now?
Right now, I just want to be able to save up and buy a small bus, so I can ply a route that will let me go home to my family everyday. I miss them a lot. My focus in this life is to make sure the kids always go to school. I can’t sleep well if their school fees or feeding money is not intact. Their mum doesn’t really earn much, so it’s me that has to take care of the financial part of the family. And that means not going home. I can sell my house to make sure they go to school.
One day, I came home and met the little one sleeping in my shirt and holding my picture. I cried.
How much money is sufficient for you right now?
Ah, 200k and I dey alright.
What do you think is the most important lesson life has taught you since 1992?
Most of the mistakes in my life have happened because I didn’t calm down before making decisions. Right now, I just want to focus on personal discipline and patience.
Check back every Monday at 9 am (WAT) for a peek into the Naira Life of everyday people.
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Every story in this series can be found here.