Working Lives: The Kogi Man Who Chose Bricklaying to Becoming a Medical Doctor
“As a child, I had big dreams. I wanted to become a medical doctor. But my dreams were killed because of my father’s beliefs and mindset. He successfully inculcated that mindset in us. Being the first son, my aunt offered to sponsor my education. But I had already fallen in love with bricklaying. So, I turned down her offer”.
What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Gabriel Idoko. I am from Ankpa Local Government Area of Kogi State.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Kogi State.
Tell us about your education.
I do not have any formal education. I can barely read or write. My father married four wives. My mother was the last wife. I am the first child of my mother. My father has seventeen children but none of us are educated. In my community, if a man marries more than one wife, such a man is regarded as a rich man. My father believed in being an entrepreneur rather than studying. He always said that school was a waste of time and money. In his words, “you should be counting money instead of reading books”. As a child, I had big dreams. I wanted to become a medical doctor. But my dreams were killed because of my father’s beliefs and mindset. He successfully inculcated that mindset in us. So, instead of going to school, we learnt different vocations. I chose to learn bricklaying. One day, my aunt (my mother’s younger sister) visited the family. She tried to persuade my dad to recede on his decision about not sending his children. But my dad remained adamant. Being the first son, my aunt offered to sponsor my education. But I had already fallen in love with bricklaying. So, I turned down her offer.
Tell us about your family.
My father is late. He was a hardworking businessman. He was loved by many in my community. My father owned a palm oil production business. We all assisted him in harvesting palm kernels from our farms, threshing the kernels, oil production and sale of processed oil. My mum took over the palm oil business after my father died. My siblings are doing well in their businesses.
Are you married?
Yes. I am married with three children. My wife runs a POS business in Ikorodu. She is a native of Kogi state but we met in Lagos.
When and why did you come to Lagos?
I came to Lagos in 1992. I chose to come to Lagos because Lagos is a city with a lot of opportunities. I wanted to learn how to build big buildings. The buildings in Kogi state are not really up to Lagos standard. I relocated to Lagos while I was still learning bricklaying in Kogi state. I abandoned my training because my master’s wife maltreated me. She basically treated me like a slave. I lived with my master and his family while undergoing training. His wife made me hawk fruits any time we did not go to work. I lived with them for two years before I decided to run away. I informed my parents about my decision and they got in touch with my uncle who lived at Igbogbo in Ikorodu to accommodate me.
Did you complete your training after you got to Lagos?
Yes. My uncle handed me over to his friend who was a bricklayer. The man had a couple of people he was training at that time. Bricklaying goes beyond mixing sand and cement or carrying blocks, rather, it requires patience and intellectual acuity. You also need to be precise in laying blocks. I spent seven years with my boss learning bricklaying. It took me nine years in total to become a bricklayer. I currently have a couple of boys undergoing training with me. While I was training to become a bricklayer, I made money from joining labourers to mix sand and cement and carry blocks. I kept saving to rent an apartment. I could not bear to live with my uncle for a long time. He had his family with him as well. I rented a room apartment in Ikorodu after living with my uncle for three years.
How do you get bricklaying jobs?
Bricklayers have contacts of engineers. For instance, if I get a building job, I ask the engineer in charge of that project for contacts of other engineers like him. I also told him to recommend me to his colleagues. Which is why I give my best in my work.
Do you earn daily or monthly? And how much do you earn?
Bricklayers do not earn monthly. Except such a bricklayer works with a construction company. I get paid about N4,000 to N4,500 per day. Labourers are paid N3,000 per day. However, building projects does not come every day. There are times that I might not work for a week or more. I have no other side hustle. So, I rest when there are no building jobs.
Do you have savings and how much do you save?
Yes. I have a bank account where I save N5,000 weekly. But it is not consistent. I do not save when there are jobs to do.
How many hours do you work in a day and for how many days of the week?
We start by 8am and close by 5pm. We work six days a week. However, we could work all days of the week if the job is on contractual terms i.e., if the owner of the building does not want to pay daily but wants to pay once after the job is done. In such a situation, we could work all day and night so we can complete the job on time and get our money.
Where do you live and how much do you pay for rent?
I live in a one room apartment at Ebutte in Ikorodu. I pay N6,000 monthly, that amounts to N72,000 in a year.
How long have you been working as a bricklayer and for how much longer do you see yourself in it?
I have been working as a bricklayer for 22 years. I do not see myself quitting.
Do you enjoy working as a bricklayer?
Yes. You get to enjoy being a bricklayer if you are your own boss. You decide when to work, what to do and how to do it. You can even decide not to work and allow your apprentices to do the work while you get the money and pay them. Being a boss is basically a supervisory role.
How much do you spend in a day?
The only thing I spend on while working is food and water. Sometimes, we sleep at sites to reduce expenses on transportation. On average, I spend about N1,000 naira and it is mostly on food.
Would you want to further your education?
No. I do not have the zeal for school anymore. However, I am willing to sponsor my children’s education up till the tertiary level.
What are your future plans?
I want to have a large work environment where I have a lot of apprentices and more connections to contracts.