Nigerian Lives: 4 Street Hawkers In Lagos Share Their Stories

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Going through Lagos traffic, you are likely to find several street hawkers swarming around vehicles trying to get anyone who will listen to buy their goods. From food items, snacks, and drinks to dogs, mirrors, and paintings, you can buy pretty much anything on the streets of Lagos. While some view hawking as a nuisance, these street hawkers are often harmless, economically disadvantaged hustlers braving the traffic and harsh weather in order to make ends meet in the poverty capital of the world. In this week’s Nigerian Lives, four street hawkers share their stories:

Prince, 35

In a state like Lagos, it is not always easy to hawk. Hawking is not a good experience. We face many challenges. Sometimes, you see a car’s brake fail. These Lagos State Environmental Sanitation groups normally disturb us. You know when a young man wants to make ends meet, you will definitely look for something to do. It’s not like we derive pleasure hawking but it’s based on the circumstances that one finds himself in. I started hawking in 2020 after working at Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) for 4 years as a storekeeper but they let me go during the Covid lockdown. They said they are not able to pay us because of the situation. I had been making consultations and they said they would get back to me. I couldn’t continue to keep waiting so I had to look for money to pay rent or to feed myself. You can’t sit at home and be sleeping waiting for one person to call you. I decided to look for a legitimate business even if it is hawking to help sustain myself. At least I am making money that will help. 

Jane, 23

It’s been a long time since I started hawking. I was either 7 or 8 years old and I am the last born. I am from a poor background so I am doing this to help myself and my family at least. We’re 7 in number. I live in Ajegunle. I am done with secondary school. Right now, I am an apprentice at a fashion designing shop. Sometimes when I am free, I do take permission from my boss for a week or two just come to hustle so I can at least be able to attend to some of my needs with the little money I gain from here. One of my brothers hawks with me and my sister hawks on the other side. My mum is at home, she is an old woman. I am only doing this to help my mum. There are some people who are kind, some are harsh and nasty. They call you and they keep running so you have to run after them and if you don’t meet up, they drive off or they buy whatever they want and leave. It’s normal in every business. I don’t earn much. I don’t actually know the amount that I earn per day. I am only doing this to help my mum. She gives me some token to take care of myself to appreciate or encourage me to help her.

Bayo, 35

My childhood was not easy. I was selling pure water for my mum when I was going to primary school to survive and make a living. I started around 1999. I matured in hawking so I started a business of my own. I have been through a lot in life and I hope my children do not follow the route. I didn’t choose to hawk but I came from a poor background and there is no one to help me in terms of education. My parents are very poor so I tried to help myself to go to school. Along the line, I dropped out of secondary school. It is not easy for someone to hawk. I have been in this game for a very long time. It’s because we want to survive or make it in life. Sometimes, l feel embarrassed. Some people tell you to bring something and along the line, they end up not buying it so we feel disappointed. You have to show some maturity. You can’t fight your customer. All you need to do is endure and exercise patience because that is what the hawking business is about. You can’t pick an offence because your customer will run away from you. One thing about hawking is you must be someone that can entertain people or have a sweet mouth to convince them to buy your market. If you are not smart enough, you will lose your customers. The issue is we have to meet up with targets, it’s not like we enjoy running. Sometimes before we are able to sell one thing, it can take the whole day. I do not earn a lot. It’s not everyone that can do it. We just want to help ourselves and make sales.

Chinedu, 40

It has been a year plus I started hawking and it has not been a rosy journey. I started hawking when the federal government insisted that people wear their nose masks based on the Covid-19 outbreak. Due to this, I was able to make meaningful achievements. At least, I have moved to better accommodation compared to where I used to be. Out of the money I make, I have been investing in other ventures. Initially, when we started, we made close to N20,000 to N50,000 daily but now, it has declined as the demand for nose masks is no longer as much as it used to be but all the same, we are still managing and coping with the decline of sales. Before hawking, I was a professional photographer and since the price of photography equipment like printing materials rose, making a profit out of the job became difficult which is why I switched to selling nose masks. I have other desires and I have invested in something better. I wouldn’t want to go back to photography based on my former experience. I have made more money throughout the period I was selling nose masks compared to when I was doing photography. The situation in the country is not encouraging. It has been a very interesting experience. Hawking has not been an easy adventure. You have to run and apply some level of force in order to make sales. Sometimes, we run to customers and while running we are able to make sales, other times even after running it is possible the customers will not want to buy from you. We learn people’s characters and learn to persevere even under harsh conditions. Sometimes, we stand under the sun for six to seven hours. Due to the targets, I endure the harsh conditions. It’s actually showing health-wise. We also learn to be patient and hope that probably in the next few minutes we will make more sales.

*This article is based on real-life events. The names used are mere pseudonyms to protect the identities of the individuals mentioned in the article.

Nigerian Lives is a Culture Custodian weekly series where we hear from Nigerians who share tidbits about their experiences. It goes up every Monday.

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