Working Lives: The Street Sweepers of Lagos
As fashionable office work becomes harder to find, more Nigerians are turning to the market for unskilled labour to survive. In Lagos, this new class of blue-collar workers includes graduates of polythecniques and universities who are employed as street sweepers. This Working Lives series talks to them about their past lives, their experience on the job, how they make ends meet and their aspirations.
I was a fashion designer. I had a shop with six apprentices. But things fell apart when the house we built in Ifo was demolished by the state government. We had to go back to renting in Ijaye-Ojokoro. Due to the change in location I lost most of my customers.
Where are you from?
I am from Abeokuta in Ogun State but I was born and brought up in Lagos.
What school did you attend and when did you leave school?
I attended school up until primary six. I finished in 1995. When I finished primary school, I could not go to secondary school because my parents had no money to sponsor me further. So I enrolled as an apprentice where I learned sewing.
Tell me about your family?
My dad is a car mechanic and my mom is a trader. I am the third of six children.
Where do you live/how much is the rent?
I live with my husband in Ijaye-Ojokoro. We live and we pay N4,000 monthly for the rent.
What were you doing before you started working as a street sweeper?
I was a fashion designer and I had a shop with about six apprentices three of whom I have done freedom for. But things fell apart when our house in Ifo was demolished. My husband and I had moved to our own house in Ifo but the state government came to demolish some houses in that area and we were affected. So we had to go back to Ijaye-Ojokoro to rent a house again. Due to the change in location, I lost most of my customers.
How did you start working as a street sweeper?
I am a member of a political party and I attend their weekly meeting regularly. It was during one of our meetings someone in the party offered me the job.
Did you go through some sort of training before you could start the job?
No. I did not start from the onset when they were recruiting people. I joined later. So I did not really go through the kind of training others went through. They just told me the basic rules and regulations in the work and I started.
Do you work on weekends too?
Yes, we come to work during the weekend but not every weekend.
What is your best day like?
When it rains. Whenever it rains we do less work because we do not have to sweep sand. We only pick dirt.
How much do you spend in a day?
I spend N500 daily. N400 on transport fare, N100 on soft drinks. No food. I have a tight daily budget. It’s N500 maximum. So I only eat when I return home after work.
Have you ever opened a bank account?
Yes, I have a bank account with GTBank.
Do you have savings and how much do you save in a month?
Yes, I save but not all the time. Some months I try to save N2,000 or N5,000. I only save when I have extra cash.
Are you married?
Yes, I am happily married with three children.
Any other job or business you would like to venture into?
Yes, I would like to return to sewing if God provides money for me.