The Itinerant Herbal Doctors of Lagos
The women selling agbo (medicinal herbal mixtures) divide opinion. Some, including professionals, swear by their skills in curing a variety of ailments, from piles to baby rashes, able to deliver almost instant relief where orthodox western medicines fail. Many others regard them as quacks who supply powerful substances without dosage, often damaging the livers of their patrons. Their no-frills remedy is indeed uncomplicated- lightening-speed diagnosis, no vitals (temperature, blood pressure etc.) taken. The truth may lie in between the extremes; with standardization and regulation of training and practice, they may offer better and safer services to the people, mainly poorer Nigerians, they serve, better complementing the orthodox healthcare system. We talk to four agbo sellers, including an old woman who has a fairly large store, not about regulation but the trade and their lives.
Working Lives: The Agbo Seller who Left Ibadan in SSS2 to Join Brother in Mushin
Majority of my customers always come in the evening after a long day at work and tell me they need agbo jedi because they have eaten sugary things all week and they don’t want that to affect their domestic performance.
Where are you from?
I am from Ibadan. I was born and brought up in a place called Oremeji.
When did you arrive in Lagos?
It’s been about 10 years now. I was living with my parents in Ibadan. I decided to come to join my older brother in Lagos. He was living in Mushin. I stayed with him there for about 4 years. I left Mushin after I got married.
Where do you live and how much is your rent?
I live in Aboru. It’s not far from Iyana Ipaja. We live in a 1-room apartment and we pay N3000 monthly for the rent. We have 3 children, two girls and a boy. I got married about 5 years ago.
What made you come to Lagos?
It is money o. Money made me come to Lagos. I was still in SSS2 or so, when I decided to just leave Ibadan and come to Lagos. I had to start hustling on my own as soon as I joined my brother in Lagos. Our parents didn’t have money to cater for the family. My brother and I were sending back money to our parents in Ibadan.
How did you get into the agbo business?
I didn’t have it in mind that I was going to be selling agbo but that’s how it has happened. I was selling bread at my brother’s place in Mushin. I started selling agbo when I moved out of his place and got married to my husband. My husband introduced me to my boss that taught me how the business runs. He didn’t just want me to be a house wife. He didn’t like the idea of me staying at home doing nothing. I started years ago, after having our first child. This was about 3 years ago.
How long did the training take?
My boss trained me for a year. I was always going to her place in the morning and coming back at night. I did that for a year.
What are the agbo for- which ailments?
All sort of ailments, just name it. I have the one for jedi, malaria, typhoid and many more. They all have different purposes, and there’s a way I always mix them for my customers.
What’s the most expensive?
The most expensive is the agbo used for pile, especially the one mixed with gin. I sell the big Eva water bottle for N4,000. And people buy it a lot.
What do your customers complain of most, which is the fastest selling agbo?
I sell agbo for sort of ailments-jedi, malaria, typhoid and many more. But the most popular is the agbo for pile. Majority of my customers always come in the evening after a long day at work and tell me they need agbo jedi because they have eaten sugary things all week and they don’t want that to affect their domestic performance. Agbo jedi enjoys the biggest demand. It sells out fast.
Who are your customers?
Keke napep drivers, bike men, and even well to do people, those of them that know agbo really works.
Do you consult more learned people to treat people with agbo?
Yes. I always go to my boss whenever I need any assistance in making any agbo and she puts me through again. One really can’t stop learning. Like they always say, we learn every day.
How much do you make in a day?
Let’s say about N3000 in a day, sometimes I make more. Also note that the N3000 I said is because of the coronavirus pandemic going on right now. Before it all started I was always making more-within the range of N4000-N5000 daily.
How much do you spend in a day?
I spend about N2500 in a day because of my kids. We don’t have much but it’s very important we do our best for them. I really don’t spend much on transport as I live close by. Only in few cases when I don’t want to trek, I just get a bike and that costs me just N100.
How has the Coronavirus pandemic changed affected your business?
Ah! God will not allow us to catch coronavirus o. it’s a terrible thing. I have been seeing all sorts of videos online. I just pray everything ends soon. Things are not like they used to be. Our suppliers can’t travel down to Lagos because there’s no interstate travelling. So the ones that still have the raw materials are selling it for double the price. We don’t have a choice we have to buy it. This has made some customers to complain about the quantity of the agbo, but I just have to keep persuading them to buy.
Do you have a bank account?
No, I don’t. I don’t know how this bank thing works. So I share the same bank account with my husband. Any transaction I want to make he does it for me, and when people want to send me money, they send it to his bank account too.