It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon. The intersecting road linking the Ogba and Allen axis of Ikeja is consumed by commercial activities. To your left, the popular yellow public transport buses are clustered at the bust stop with the conductors trying to out-yell each other in a bid to fill up their empty seats faster. The more trips they make to and fro their routes, the more money they can take home to their families at the end of the day. There are tens of shops splattered along the roads on all four sides and even more make shift shops in wheel barrows, road corners, and wobbly wooden tables supported by medium sized stones and shielded from the scorchy sun by huge umbrellas.
Grace’s is by the corner of the road – a small, old and dimly lit room where an industrial grinder is working at making a paste out of tiny lumps of tomatoes and pepper. Out on the front is a rickety table on which various sized bottles of healthy looking groundnuts have been neatly arranged. I approach the shop and begin to ask for the prices for the various sizes. As I settle on which one to buy, I ask Grace if she has children.
‘’Five!’’, she replies quite enthusiastically, ‘’Three dey university and one is about to take WAEC.’’
Grace tells me she is not the owner of the shop. It’s her sister’s. Her sister is yet to be married and has no children of her own yet. She supplies her sister with freshly fried groundnuts. Her major clients are hotels, food caterers and events vendors.
‘’My groundnuts are very unique; You go come back buy more. I no dey fry with sand like some other people. Na salt I dey use’’, she says bragging about her product while urging me to bring her clients if it tastes as good as she has said. It actually did – the bottle finished in less three hours from when it got home.
Her husband has been unlucky in the job department and so she shoulders the responsibility for her family and children’s fees alone.
It’s been nearly five years since Happiness (not real name) lost her husband and the responsibility to provide for her family fell solely on her. She has four kids she tells me and they all are in school.
Sadly, one of them had to drop out recently due to lack of funds – she was about to be enrolled for WAEC exams. She doesn’t have much in her make-shift shop by the side of the busy road. She is unsure how much she makes daily but it’s barely enough to go by especially at this time.
‘’It’s God o’’, she mutters repeatedly as she lays out her wares for the day.
The afternoon sun is scorching hot as she makes her way through the busy road with a pan of boiled groundnuts on her head. She is slightly shaded by the halo the pan creates from the reflection of the sun. I stop her to buy some groundnuts and proceed to ask her if this is all she does all day every day.
‘’I dey do chips before- plaintain chips. But the heat dey disturb me na so I stop am’’, Confidence (not real name) explains as she informs me of the prices of the various cup sizes in her pan. She has four children and all four are in school. From the sales of a pan of groundnut, she makes as little as N1,500 which she takes home for the day.
‘’In a few days, I will put together money and pay for one of my child’s fees,’’ she tells me as she measures out N50 worth of groundnuts into a small, transparent bag. He is in a navy school.
She says she wants to start a food business but for now, she sells a variety of items as they are available.
Her husband is alive and well and is currently in between jobs. He works at the docks on contract basis and has just finished a periodic contract. When another one will come along is unknown but she is already asking around at a nearby flower garden for any openings where he can apply to. For now, she shoulders the financial responsibility of her household alone.
She asks me if I pity her with a sad smile on her face and I am quick to tell her that I think she is doing a great job by not being on the streets begging with her children. She dramatically circles her hand over her head and ends with a finger snap towards the ground, a popular gesture that vehemently forbids the idea of or participation in a thing. She goes on to narrate how she once saw a woman who was well able – bodied as far as she could see, with her children on the streets begging.
‘’She for put at least one of them for school!’’, she continues passionately as she goes on to make the ‘grossly forbidden’ gesture with her hand again. She says there are a lot of things she cannot do for money but her family is managing just fine.
‘’Wetin we go do?’’
There are a lot of things going wrong with the economy and the direction the country has been headed in the last few months. Women however continue to fight for the sustenance of their households despite these many challenges and as best as they can.
These stories do not represent fully the many stories of survival in these hard times but we celebrate every woman big or small, rich or poor, who is fighting for the survival of their households with an unending spirit of enterprise and sheer doggedness.