Working Lives: The Porters of Lagos Markets
Another Working Lives series, same old story. We went to two markets in Lagos, the popular Mile 12 on the Mainland and Oniru Market on the Island to speak to porters, known as alabaru in Yoruba. Many of the porters have learnt one trade or the other but have been forced by circumstances to carry stuff -bags of rice, tubers of yams, baskets of tomatoes etc.- for shoppers at Lagos markets for as low as N100. For all the hard work, a stall in the market is all some of them have as rooms to sleep at night. Mostly from the North, some porters have wives and children back home.
Working Lives: The Market Porter Sworn Against Bank Charges
“She said I had passed the Indomie noodles to one of my colleagues while I was walking behind her. I was trying so hard to explain that I could never do such a thing. But we couldn’t understand each other because she was speaking Yoruba and I was speaking Hausa”.
Where are you from?
I am from Kano state. I was born in a village called Kudu.
What school did you attend and when did you leave school?
I only attended primary school. I left in 2002. That’s all the schooling my parents could afford to pay for.
Tell us about your family?
My dad is a truck driver. He drives those big trucks they use in delivering tomatoes from the North down to Lagos. My mom is a trader. She sells kola-nut, groundnut, yam just close to the house in Kano State. They have six of us.
When did you get to Lagos?
I got to Lagos in 2009. I learnt to tailor for four years. But came to Lagos to hustle like other friends.
Where do you live and how much is the rent?
I live in a room in Sabo Yaba. And I pay N4,000 monthly. When I newly came to Lagos, I was squatting with someone in Sabo that my dad knew before I got enough money to rent my place.
What were you doing before you started working as a porter in this market?
You know I said I trained to be a tailor in Kano, at least I knew the basics. When I got to Lagos, I was getting tailoring jobs here and there- to amend clothes, slim fit and all that. So that was what I was doing, but it was not bringing in so much income.
How did you start working as a porter in this market?
When I realized that tailoring was not bringing in so much money for me, I started looking for other ways to make money. I was already living on my own and had rent to pay. I started looking for odd jobs on the Island, and that was how I came across this market in Oniru. I spoke to a few northerners, and they just put me through on how the job works and that was how I started. All I needed to do was just resume work in the morning and start hustling for customers.
For how long have you been doing this job?
I started 3 years after I got to Lagos. This was 2011. So is about 9 years now.
Have you had any shocking encounters with a customer before?
I won’t call it a shocking encounter. I was just surprised that human beings would lie to your face with no conscience. A customer came one day and as usual, I was supposed to help carry groceries to her car. I got to the car, and she said she handed five cartons of noodles to me, or four. Not knowing that she had forgotten to take the last carton of noodles from the seller’s shop. So we got to the car, and this madam started accusing me of stealing. She said I had passed the Indomie noodles to one of my colleagues while I was walking behind her. I was trying so hard to explain that I could never do such a thing. But we couldn’t understand each other because she was speaking Yoruba, and I was speaking Hausa. She later went back to where she bought the noodles and found out she had left a pack behind. It was a crazy experience.
What is your best day like?
I like it when it doesn’t rain. People get to come out in numbers and that will bring in more money for me. But when it rains the market is always dry, you hardly see people come in to buy anything.
How many hours do you work in a day?
I get to the Island by 6 a.m and leave by 7 p.m or 8 p.m.
Do you work on weekends too?
No, I do not work on weekends. But I sometimes come on Saturdays if I need to make extra money to cover up for expenses I did not budget for.
How much are you paid when you carry groceries for your customers?
I get paid within the range of N100-N600. I charge based on how heavy the groceries are. The highest amount of money I have gotten from a customer is N800.
How much do you make in a day?
On a normal day, I make about N1,500 in a day and then when things are good in the market and customers troop in or during the festive period; I make N3,000 or more.
How much do you spend in a day?
You know how Lagos is. Transport fare is not stable. I spend about N700 on transport to the Island daily. I sometimes also try to save money, so I sleep in the market for a few weeks and then go home on Friday evening or Saturday morning. So I do not spend on transport during such weeks.
What other things do you spend on?
When I am at home on weekends, I get to socialize a little with my neighbours that are also Northerners. We buy one or two beers and fry meat. That is the major thing I spend my money on apart from transport fare to work and feeding.
Have you ever opened a bank account?
No, I don’t have a bank account. I do not think I have so much money yet that requires me to open a bank account.
Do you have savings and how much do you save in a month?
Yes, I have savings. I save weekly towards my annual rent. I save N2,000 every week. I would not want the year to end, and then it is time for rent. Then I run helter-skelter. It makes little sense, so I always plan in time. I save with these local alajos, I have been used to that for a very long time. All the banks do is just deduct pointless charges from people’s money. I always hear my colleagues complain all the time.
Are you married?
Yes, I am married. I got married two years ago. My wife and children live with me in Sabo, Yaba.
Any other job or business you would like to venture into?
Well, maybe to go back and learn to tailor very well and then set up a shop. That is the only plan in my head right now.