The Hustler Staying Hopeful At ₦25k/month


April 15, 2019

Every week, we ask anonymous people to give us a window into their relationship with the Naira.

In this story, a man will do anything legal for money. Like, anything.

Age: 32.

Industry: Informal

When did the hustle start for you?

2005. Inside Main Market, Onitsha. That time, I used to do Striker work–walking around the market and helping people sell clothes. So if they give us cloth for ₦1k, we’ll sell at ₦1,500, and so on.

I was also born and brought up in Onitsha. My parents are Yoruba, but the way hustle carries everybody, that’s how it carried my parents. My father butchered cows, and mumsy was selling food. That time, I could only speak English and Igbo, no Yoruba or pidgin.

I still did a lot of other work in Main Market, like picking plastics. By 4pm every day, we’d start going around the market, picking plastics till 7pm. Our pay was ₦15 per kilo, and one bag of plastic used to be like 10kg.

This was when I just finished SS3.

My actual plan after secondary school was to be a lawyer. And it really started in my mind then because, whenever people were fighting in school. I was the one that used to resolve it. Also, I really loved Government–especially the parts when they’re talking about our history and past leaders.

See, the main reason I didn’t push on with my education was because there was no money. What ruined me was I couldn’t afford to pay for WAEC. Ordinary ₦18k. I would have written with 2004/2005 set. Those days, I think I almost went mad on top of this matter.

So it was when I missed WAEC that year that I entered hustle.

I sold minerals, pure water. Packed gutter. Packed dustbins. I had hands to pack anything that needed to be packed.

What was the moment from those days that you can’t forget?

December 21st, 2007. I used to live with a friend. By this time, my father had already died, and my mother relocated back to Kwara.

My friend had issues with some guys, and those guys were cultists. Me? I didn’t even need to be a cultist, because everyone respected me.

Sha, we went to the guys’ place, and that’s how shouting started, and then fighting.

Later, in the night, my guy was at the junction. Not too long after I told him I was going inside, some men came in a Hummer that night. People who saw the car said it was about 4 guys. They told him to help them locate a place.
“Come and show us the place na.” That kain thing. When he entered the car, they drove off. And he was gone. Just like that.

Ehn?

Ritualists. Sha, three days later, Police came, and the gist was “the last person everybody saw him with was his friend.”

In fact ehn, the policemen walked up to me and were asking, “we’re looking for so-and-so.” They were asking me about me.

“He’s not around..” Omo, as they left, I took off. People said if they catch me, it might be death or 25 years in prison.

So I was hiding from place to place, for two weeks. Whenever I stayed long at one place, the guys there will pursue me saying, “abeg be going before Police will come and pack all of us.”

Then my older brother just called me one day and said, “You can’t be here, let’s go to Lagos.”

And so one early morning, before I could even shower or brush my teeth, I was on my way to Asaba. I had only the sweater I was wearing, ₦20 in my pocket, and my phone–a Nokia 1110.

We took a luxurious bus, standing, to Lagos. ₦600. This was January 2008.

Mad o.

You see Lagos? That’s where the real hustle started. We had some family in Lagos, and so when they asked me what I wanted to do, I told them I’d like to learn tailoring. But my uncle had other plans, and that’s how I ended up selling building materials in Mile 12. While I was selling, I started learning how to dismantle things–air-conditioners, freezers.

I did this until the beginning of 2009.

The thing about working iron is that, I had to work under sun and rain, doing the hard work of dismantling for scrap. So even though I was making ₦1k to ₦3k per day, I’d work one month, and fall sick the next month.

So mumsy told me to leave the work. I became jobless for the next 6 months, even though I was constantly looking for work.

One time, I went to Lagos Island, I saw a sign for a shop that needed a sales boy, selling ceramics and pots. I got the job; ₦15k/month. Sales got bad, and I had to leave. So in the end I stayed there from July till December 2009.

I was unemployed for another 5 months. Then in May 2010, I started rolling with this guy who was a trailer mechanic.

I told him straight, “Guy, I’m sure you don’t like how I always ask you for Garri money. I need a job. If you hear of anything, tell me abeg.”

One week after I told him, he called me around midnight. A driver needed a Motor-boy for his trailer. It was a 40-feet trailer–a CR7 Mack. I took it straight. We were picking containers from Apapa Wharf and delivering around Lagos. He used to pay me ₦5k per trip, and sometimes we did up to 5 trips a month.

What does a Motor-boy do?

I wash the trailer, fix the tyres, check engine oil and water levels. Then I also help check my side, for when a driver can change lanes. I tried to get my Oga to teach me how to drive, but he didn’t teach me.

So one day, I called my friend and said, “oya show me Gear 1.” And I started learning small-small. Not too long after that, they sacked my Oga.

The next Oga I had was paying me ₦200, while we were making ₦6k a day. But we were working with a Biscuit company, so biscuit was free at the factory. So, I was living on biscuit and water.

Then I did some work for a man working in the factory, and when he liked what I did, he gave me a job in the factory.

I started there December 26, 2010. The money they were paying was ₦850 per day, every two weeks. I was at the vehicle loading section, because them see say I get strength. I used to compete with one other guy who was bigger than me, over who will load more trailers. We used to load up to 10 trailers a day.

Work was 6-6, but loaders used to close late, sometimes up to 11pm.

So ₦11,900 every two weeks?

When my first pay came in January, omo, I happy die. I went home and was looking at the money. I was like, what if I spend all this money and I end up not having a job again? So I started trying to save ₦5k every month and eating mostly factory biscuits.

But the problem I had was that, because of how hard my work was, I was always hungry. So all the money I was trying to save went back into food.

One day, our boss wanted us to work overtime again. Just after everyone had showered and was ready to leave. It vexed me, because we don’t get paid for working extra. It looked like he didn’t really care about us.

The next day, one trailer driver asked me if I wanted to be his Motor-boy. At first I didn’t agree, but he told me that he’d treat me well. I accepted.

Now, this was when I entered the real road life. December 2013.

One thing I’ll never forget about him is, everything he ate, I ate. Any food he bought for himself, he bought for me.

After Mile 12 days, this was my highest paying job. My first four days, ₦15k. What we were doing was carrying biscuits from this factory that I just left.

Not too long after, they sacked my boss. So I had to get another job. The Biscuit factory moved from Apapa to Shagamu, Ogun State, and I was lucky to get another Motor-boy job.

But I quit that one later.

Ah, why?

One day, he went to go and drink and carry Ashawo. When he came back, he forgot that he left someone sleeping under the trailer to secure the trailer battery and fuel tank. This man just drove off, and was already on his way to Lagos when he remembered me.

Then I got another boss. Really good man. One time someone from his village asked him to come home, he went and never returned.

I worked with more people, and started to relax more. I used to cry a lot when I worked at the factory but now I wasn’t crying.

I was now getting up to ₦70k per month. But the problem with trailer life is that you eat a lot. So na food I dey use am buy.

2015, I made my first trip to the North. We were carrying biscuits across the North; Kaduna, Maiduguri, Gusau.

Then Zaki Biam–ah, they used to rob too much. Armed robbers with checkpoints and military uniforms.

Maiduguri in early 2015, we used to see dead bodies on the road to Maiduguri sometimes. One time, we were parked along a highway and this small truck just packed, offloaded rice. Inside bush o.

Later, another truck came, and there were men. They were wearing military uniforms, and they covered their faces in those turbans and masks?

Who were they?

Omo, me I no know o. Sha, After then, we went to Gusau, to pack oranges for offloading at Ore Toll Gate. I never went back to Maiduguri again, but I won’t forget that journey because, when we got to Kogi, my Oga parked the trailer, came down, and told me to enter the driver seat.

That was the first time I drove my own trailer in my life, and when I got back to Shagamu, I got my first trailer job.

Mad.

So when I started, they were paying ₦20k per month. But we don’t really care about the money they pay us. It’s the money we make on the road that’s the koko–up to ₦80k. It was this period I started saving. Also, I now had my own Motor-boy. I made sure I treated him well.

Nice. How long did you do that for?

Not long. Kasala burst. I had a small room I rented in Shagamu, and there was someone staying with me. I was in Lagos for a family thing. My room caught fire, burnt my neighbour’s room.

How did it happen? I had gas cylinder. The person staying with me cooked noodles. And when he finished, instead of turning off the gas, you know what he did? He just poured water on it. Like a Kerosene stove. But the gas was still open of course.

A few minutes later, he wanted to smoke, and as he used his lighter; GBAO.

Ah.

When I got back home, the person I was staying with had run away, but the Landlord was waiting with Police. They collected all my savings, ₦350k, and they came back for more. But when they came, I done ja. This was April 2017.

I didn’t get another job again for one year. All I was doing was helping people park and shouting twale for change.

But in July 2018, I finally got my current job, selling grilled catfish.

Between 2005 and now, how you see life?

Wait, make I off my cap.

See, life is hard for a poor man. Even worse for a person without a proper handwork. The worst thing is to not have an education. Life is just really hard. There’s a kind of hunger you have when you have very few options in life. Na that one I get.

I struggle to sleep because of all the times I was working on trailers. But the struggle continues.

Only advice my mumsy gives me is, don’t steal. Don’t do rituals.

Some days, she doesn’t even care whether or not I give her money. All she wants to do is hear my voice.

I believe one day, it will be well. If na by who work pass, I no fit carry second. I work for what I eat. My own is, I just want to make it before my mother dies. Because after God, she’s next.

How much is your salary now, and how do you spend it?

I was collecting ₦20k, but now I’ve started collecting ₦25k. See, my spending is straightforward. I save ₦5k. I send my mum ₦5k. I survived on ₦15k and the tips that people give me when they come to buy fish.

I save, just in case anything happens, I can have backup.

How much money is a good salary right now?

₦70k, and I go dey okay. I’ve collected this salary before, but trailer job is different. In a trailer job, we spend money as it comes. We collect money, work a lot, and spend a lot. Because it’s physical work. But I’ve seen how I managed with ₦20k, so ₦70k will be enough now. Also, I’ve done all the types of hard, physical work. I can do office work. I can read and write.

What’s something you want to buy you can’t  afford?

Right now? Clothes. And paint, because the room I’m staying, the paint done peel.

What size do you wear?

Shirt size; Small. Jeans; 29-30. Shoes; 40-41.

What do you think about when you think about the future?

Guy, many things. The first thing I want to do is build a house for my mother, I don’t care if I’m living inside one room. When my father died, my spirit could take it. But if my mother dies without me giving her a better life, ah.

Then I want to build a home for homeless people. Free. This is my biggest dream. Just come and live, then we’ll help you get work, so you can also get work for other people.

I want to wipe tears. I want to help people forget, and think of bright things.

Wait, what of that your friend in Onitsha?

Ah, yes. One time when I was a Motor-boy and we weren’t too far from Onitsha, I told my Oga I wanted to go into Onitsha to visit someone. When I went back to the hood, I heard the good news and bad news.

He came back. What happened was that, when he entered that Hummer, he said he didn’t remember anything that happened. But when he finally escaped from where they were keeping them–he escaped with someone–he found out that they were in Shagamu.

The bad news is that, they say when he came back, he moved out of the area not too long after. Nobody knows where he went.

I’ve never seen him since that December 21st, 2007.

The end.

Check back every Monday at 9 am (WAT) for a peek into the Naira Life of everyday people.

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Update:

Because people asked, you can now send this Subject money. Just click here.

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