Working Lives

Working Lives: The Market Porter Who Used to be a Corporate Shoemaker

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 Who Used to be a Corporate Shoemaker


“I started working as a shoemaker when I arrived in Lagos in 2011. I had a spot at the gate of an office complex where I shined and repaired shoes. So I was getting extra money besides polishing shoes. Everything was going smooth. Then a new management came in and I was told to leave. I think they bought the entire building. They also sacked the gateman”. 

Where are you from?

I am from Sokoto State. But I grew up in Kaduna with my Dad.

What school did you attend and when did you leave school? 

I did not really attend school. There was this youth corper back then in Kaduna that was organizing home lessons for the kids in the neighborhood. My dad enrolled me in 2005. We used to pay N50 daily. I also learnt shoemaking and I believe I am good at it. I set up a small shop after finishing my shoe making training in Kaduna. The business did not do very well because I had no money to buy the equipment.

Please tell us about your family

My dad was a low-level civil servant at the Government House in Kaduna. He was a small person there, so the salary was small. I was living with him in Kaduna while my older brother and two younger sisters lived with our mother in Sokoto. My mom was a laundry woman.  She went around to rich peoples’ houses every Saturday to do their laundry. She tried to do three houses every Saturday. Each family paid her N1,000 to wash all their clothes.

When did you get to Lagos?

For several years, I used to bring goats to Berger every Sallah with my father. But I came to live in Lagos in 2011. We left Kaduna for Sokoto after my dad retired. Things were tough at home. There was very little money. My dad was still rearing goats to sell in Lagos during the Muslim festivals. But often all he had were just 7 goats. It was our mother that was sustaining the family with the little she got from washing clothes. I had to leave to hustle in Lagos.

Where do you live and how much is the rent?

I do not have a place where I live. I sleep in the market. I just wash my face when the day breaks and I am good for the day. Before I started working as a porter in this market I had a place where I stayed. I was sleeping at an office complex in Victoria Island with the gateman. But a new management came in and someone asked me to leave. Renting a house is not child’s play.  I do not want to spend all my savings on house rent. I have a comprehensive plan that I have been saving towards. I will rent a room and parlor soon.


Also Read: Working Lives: The Street Sweeper Whose Dad Is a University Lecturer

What were you doing before you started working as a porter?

I started working as a shoemaker when I arrived in Lagos in 2011. I had a spot at the gate of the office complex I mentioned where I shined and repaired shoes. The gateman, also a Northerner, introduced me to the ogas. I was also doing odd jobs for the staff, like washing their cars or going to withdraw money for them from the ATM. So I was getting extra money besides polishing shoes. Everything was going smoothly. Then a new management came in and I was told to leave. I think they bought the entire building. They also sacked the gateman.

How did you start work as a porter in this market?

When I left the office complex in Victoria island, I connected with other Northerners that I had met while there. I was looking for a new place to stay and also how to make money to survive. One of them who was working as a porter asked me to join them in Oniru market.

For how long have you been doing this job?

They asked me to leave the Victoria Island office in 2015 and I started working as a porter here in Oniru market in late 2016. So is about 4 years now

What’s your best day like?

When those rich Lekki madams come to the market, I am always happy because I make more money on such days. I am always shocked with the way they always buy in bulk. It is always like they are having a party in their homes. While growing up as a kid, we only bought what we needed to cook at any moment. There was nothing like bulk buying to stock the house. I now have a customer base. Anytime they come around, they look for me to carry their shopping. They do not allow someone else to carry them shopping for them.

Have you had any shocking encounters with a customer before?

Yes, there was this day a woman called me to carry tubers of yam to her car. Before I started carrying it, she asked if I had a wheelbarrow. I told her no and that she shouldn’t worry, that I could carry them all in my head. It had rained on that day. I slipped and all the yams broke into pieces. The woman made a big scene and said I must pay for her yams. Ah! Where does she want me to see money? People had to beg on my behalf. Since that day, I no dey do pass me. I have a wheel barrow now though.

How many hours do you work in a day? 

I always wake up very early because of those that come very early to shop at the market. I am up as early as 6:30 a.m. to start work and then I close by 7 p.m. So it’s about 12 hours in a day.

Do you work on weekends too?

I work only on Saturdays. I do not work on Sundays.

How much are you paid when you carry groceries for your customers?

It depends. We get paid based on how heavy the groceries are and the distance from the market to where customers have parked their cars. I charge N100, N200, or N500 at most. But on days when my Lekki madams come, I get paid N700 or N1,000 per customer. I sometimes even get more if I follow them round the market and help carry the groceries as they are shopping.


Also Read: Working Lives : The Fashion Designer Who Became a Street Sweeper After Losing Her Customers

How much do you make in a day or week?

I do not keep track of how much I make in a day. All I do I just calculate whatever is in my pocket on Friday evening. I mostly make N5,000 in a week. In a wonderful week, I make between N7,000-N8,000.

How much do you spend in a day?  

Well, I do not spend so much in a day. It is not like I have a house I incur any bills on. I spend just N400 daily, N500 at most on food.

What other things do you spend on?

Apart from buying recharge cards for my phone so I can call my family back home and just say hello, I also occasionally send money home.

Have you ever opened a bank account?

Yes, I did that in 2012, the second year I came into Lagos. I have a bank account with GTBank.

Do you have savings and how much do you save in a month? 

Savings is very important to me. I save N10,000 monthly. I send the rest of the cash to my family back home.

Are you married?

Yes, I am married. I got married in 2017. My wife and two children live in my family house in Sokoto. They are all doing fine. I am the breadwinner. That is why I am in Lagos hustling hard.

Any other job or business you would like to venture into?

I really cannot continue living in Lagos like this. I am trying to save up  N800,000 or N1 Million so I can go back home and start my shoe making business over there. The moment I can meet that target, I am off. I do not care how long it takes, though. I will use the money to rent a shop, buy equipment and also rent a flat for my family.  I don’t want to go back home and then get broke at a point and have to come back to Lagos to hustle again.

Related Articles

Back to top button

Subscribe to our newsletter!


Stay up to date with our latest news and articles.
We promise not to spam you!

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

Arbiterz will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.