Working Lives

Working Lives: The Street Sweeper Who Used to Employ 67 People

Working Lives: The Street Sweepers of Lagos

 As fashionable office work becomes harder to find, more Nigerians are turning to the market for unskilled labour to survive. In Lagos, this new class of blue-collar workers includes graduates of polytechnics and universities who are employed as street sweepers. This Working Lives series talks to them about their past lives, their experience on the job, how they make ends meet and their aspirations.

Working Lives: The Street Sweeper Who Used to Employ 67 People

 Well, I have not abandoned my dreams of running a successful cleaning services company once again. I hope to rebuild the business.  I am still trying here and there, making efforts to get new clients. And I believe eventually, God will make everything work again for me.

Where are you from?

I am from Awori In Lagos State. I was born in Kaduna state where my dad was working at the Nigeria Railway Corporation.

When did you get to Lagos?

I came to Lagos with my father after he retired in 1972.

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

I went to Salvation Army Primary school in Dopemu, Lagos. It was just behind my dad’s house. For my secondary school education, I attended Anwar-UI Islam College, Agege. So when I finished secondary school, I could not further my education because I lost my dad and my mom could not afford to sponsor my education. So I went to a School of Aviation to study cargo handling. I finished in 1987 and wanted to study law, but I couldn’t find anyone to sponsor me. I later got a job at the engineering department of Shell Petroleum. I was still nursing the ambition of university education so I tried to enrol in a part-time programme at the Lagos State University (LASU) but unfortunately I could not afford the fees. I am determined that my children must attend University. A friend’s dad will get me into the Nigerian Army, but a family elder who is a father to me was against my decision to join the Army.

Tell me about your family?

Like I said earlier, my dad retired from the Nigerian Railway Corporation in Kaduna. My mother is a trader. I am from a polygamous family. My dad had 5 wives. My mom was the fourth. We all lived in Lagos.

Where do you live and how much is the rent?

The last house I rented was a three-bedroom flat in Meiran. I had a business. A cleaning services company.  My company had contracts with many big multinationals. We worked for Coca-Cola for several years, both at their head office in Marina and a branch in Ikeja. I had 67 people working for my company. Unfortunately, things just changed upside down. We lost our big contracts and I could no longer pay salaries. But before the crisis, I had built a house in Ijoko. When I could no longer afford to pay for my rent, I had to move to my house in Ijoko.

Did you try anything else before becoming a street sweeper?

I could not get a job, so I joined politics. I later realised that I was wasting my time. One needs to have money to move forward in politics.

Also Read: Working Lives: The Street Sweeper Who Used to Be a Basic Science Teacher

How did you start work as a street sweeper?

A political elder in my party called me and told me he had two offers for me to either work with the Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps or Cleaner Lagos. I chose the Cleaner Lagos job because I have experience as a cleaner. If I had chosen the neighbourhood corps job, I could not attend to my political career.  I still have a dominant interest in politics. Being free in the evenings allows me to engage in political activities.

Did you go through some training before you could start the job?

During Ambode’s regime, he tried a lot in the sense that he followed the normal procedure for the training. He brought doctors to do medical check-ups and various blood tests to find out one’s capability for the job. So after a year, they called applicants who passed the tests back for an appointment letter.

What is your daily routine like? 

We start with prayers every day. After prayers, I attend to my daily portion of work.

For how long have you been doing this job? 

Two years and a few months.

Is there promotion in this job?

We are all treated equally. But recently we noticed that some graduates amongst us are being promoted to the level of a supervisor. But it was not like this before.

How many hours do you work in a day? 

The normal resumption time is 6:30 a.m. and we close by 1 p.m.

Do you work on weekends too?

Only God gives rest. We work from Monday to Sunday. But weekend work is by shifts, you are on this weekend and are off the next.

What is your best day like?

There is no day I am not always happy. I have passed through things that are much worse. So how can working as a street sweeper make me sad? I believe this is not the end of life. That is why I am always happy.

Also Read: Working Lives: The Mai Shai Who Stepped up From Picking Scrap Metal

How much are you paid? 

I receive N25,000 monthly.

Do you have a supervisor that checks to know if you have truly done your job for the day?

Yes, we have a supervisor who comes to inspect. You always see them walk around to supervise each person. In the next 10-20 minutes you will see them around here again.

How much do you spend in a day? 

My salary is a token. I am not proud of the amount of money I spend daily. It is not something I can tell you. Let us just give all praise to the most high. Only God has been seeing me through without stealing or doing anything illegal.

Have you ever opened a bank account?

Yes, I have a bank account. My salary is paid into my bank account.

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

It is whatever that is left from my salary before the end of the month.

Are you married or looking forward to getting married?

Yes, I am married and blessed with six children.

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

Well, I have not abandoned my dreams of running a successful cleaning services company once again. I hope to rebuild the business.  I am still trying here and there, making efforts to get new clients. And I believe eventually, God will make everything work again for me.

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