Working Lives: The Petrol Attendants of Lagos
This is a somewhat “boring” Working Lives. There is nothing “coded” or spectacular to discover about how the job is done or its inner workings. Our interviewees all readily accept that selling fuel requires basic skills that could be acquired in a day with one explaining that customers operate the pumps themselves abroad. But this series is as spectacular as always regarding the insights it offers into the lives of Nigerians on low incomes. It is a very poorly paid job; the highest salary is N30,000:00. Yet, the petrol attendants manage to have savings, pay for higher education and support family members. Most of them also have skills like repairing cars and tailoring and are hoping to one day have the funds to set themselves up in more lucrative lines of work.
When I was still in Abeokuta I learnt tailoring but I didn’t really venture into establishing myself because I didn’t have money to start up. Buying a sewing machine is not child’s play. So if I can get some money, I prefer to start working as a tailor.
Where are you from?
I am from Abeokuta in Ogun State. I was born there and my parents also live In Abeokuta.
When did you get to Lagos?
I came to Lagos in 2009 after I was done with secondary school. My older sister was in Lagos as at that time. I was staying with her in Ojota with her husband. She wanted me to help her out in taking care of the kids while she was away. She has a store in Lagos Island where she sells plastic buckets, packers, bowls and all that.
What school did you attend and when did you leave school?
I finished from one of the public schools in Abeokuta. I graduated in 2008 just before I decided to come to Lagos in 2009.
Tell me about your family?
We are just 5 in our family including my dad and mom. I am the second child. My dad is late but he was a civil servant working for the government in Ogun State before he died. My mom on the other hand sells kerosene in bulk. My dad died when I was still in primary 5.
Where do you live and how much is the rent?
I live with my husband. We live in a room and parlor in Ayobo Ipaja. And we pay N6,000:00 every month. I got married in 2015.
How did you start working at this petrol station?
Before I got married I was only helping my sister most of the time at her shop on the Island. When I got married I wasn’t doing anything in particular. I had to start looking for a job to generate an income because my husband can’t be the only one doing everything. Before I started working as a petrol attendant, I was always hawking pap and akara in the evening. But that was not moving very well. I hawked for about 3 years just before I started working as a petrol attendant in 2018. I was able to get the job through my husband’s colleague who he is a petrol tanker driver and he delivers fuel to this particular petrol station where I currently work. I was able to get the job through his influence.
Did you go through some sort of training before you could start operating the fuel pump?
No, not at all. Operating the pump is just a basic knowledge. I went to school even if I didn’t go further to attend university. So operating a fuel pump isn’t a big deal, I am very sure if I just explain to you right now you will understand immediately how it works.
For how long have you been doing this job?
I started in 2018 so that’s about 2 years now.
Is there a form of ranking in this job?
No, there isn’t o. Every one of us out here is doing the same job, no big deal. Maybe those that are in the office, those ones might have a ranking.
How many hours do you work in a day?
I work from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. But now that coronavirus is everywhere, we resume by 9 a.m. and close by 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. latest.
What’s your best day like?
You know I am a family person and I have to take care of my kids and prepare food for my husband before he comes back from work. So on days when the manager allows me to go home early I am always very happy. I get to spend enough time with my kids.
How much are you paid?
I get paid N30,000:00 monthly.
How do your bosses check to know how much you fuel you have sold for the day?
They always measure the amount of petrol you have in your fuel pump every morning, so whatever amount you claim to have sold would be cross checked to make sure you are saying the truth.
Is there a designated amount of money you have to remit daily?
No, whatever you make in sales for the day is what you remit at the end of the day.
How much do you spend in a day?
If you are talking about how much I spend from my personal money, I spend N500 or N600 daily. My husband drops N1,000:00 every day before he leaves for work. So I basically spend N1,500:00 daily.
Have you ever opened a bank account?
Yes, when I was about to start working as a petrol attendant. I was required to open a bank account so salaries could be paid in my bank account.
Do you have savings/ how much do you save in a month?
Yes, I save N5,000:00 monthly in my bank account and I also save with all these local alajos too. I save N500 daily with them. But the N5,000:00 monthly saving in my bank is not completely regular. Sometimes I save less.
Are you married or looking forward to getting married?
I am married with two beautiful kids.
Any other job or business you would like to venture into?
Well, when I was still in Abeokuta I learnt tailoring but I didn’t really venture into establishing myself because I didn’t have money to start up. Buying a sewing machine is not child’s play. So if I can get enough money to start up, I prefer to start working as a tailor.