Hard life in their twilights

September 14, 2019

Aged female petty traders whose sources of livelihood were ruined by forces beyond their control are struggling in their twilights to make ends meet. They share their daily experiences in this report by Kunle Akinrinade, Adebukola Adebayo & Uche Chinenye.

Madam Lydia Ebunoluwa would have laughed it off as a figment of someone’s imagination if anyone had predicted about 20 years ago that she would be hustling for survival as a 77-year-old retiree. For the greater part of her 28 years of dedicated service as a teacher, her major dreams were to live happily and enjoy the sweat of her long years in service.

Indeed, the indigene of Efon Alaaye in Ekiti State was happy when she retired from active service in 1995 and collected her retirement emoluments. She had spent a part of it on building a house on a parcel of land she had acquired while she was in service as a teacher in various public schools in Agege, a Lagos suburb, in the hope that she would live on the rent and her paltry monthly pension.

But a few years into retirement, she lost the house to a controversial demolition exercise and life became a nightmare. Since the horrible incident, she has been living from hand to mouth, selling sachet water around the popular Ile Epo Market on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway.

In an encounter with the distraught woman penultimate Tuesday, she lamented the turn her life had taken, intermittently bursting into tears as she recalled her happy years as a teacher and the cruel fate she has had to grapple with in retirement.

“Life has been very cruel to me. I lost the only building I spent my retirement benefits to build. I was collecting rent from the house until it was pulled down by some lawless land grabbers. As you can see, I sit here all day selling pure (sachet) water to passers-by just to eke out a living,” she said in a tone laden with emotion.

“A few hours ago, the woman who supplies me the water on credit tongue-lashed me for not being able to pay for the water I collected from her on credit yesterday. I don’t make enough that can feed me three times a day.

“The most I make in a day is N500. The little I earn from selling the water and my meagre monthly pension is what keeps me going; but it is not enough to make me happy. I have grandchildren from my late daughter while the other two children of mine have no jobs. It is sad that I have to go through hardship at old age.’’

A few meters away from the spot where Ebunoluwa operates, 63-year-old Comfort Adeboye fought hard to sell a popular brand of soft drink to a motorist held in traffic at Ile Epo Bus Stop. With teary eyes, she told The Nation her descent into hard life after she lost her grocery shop to the demolition of buildings carried out by the Lagos State Government during the construction of the Abule Egba flyover a few years ago.

She said: “I used to run a grocery shop at the Abule Egba section of the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway. I was doing well in business until my shop was pulled down by the state government at the beginning of the construction of a bridge on the highway. Since then, my life has become miserable.

“I lost everything to the demolition exercise because it was done in the early hours of the day and I live around Agbado, Ogun State. I could not salvage anything from the rubble and life became difficult for me because I am a widow with two undergraduate children to take care of.

“At my age, I am not supposed to be doing this kind of hard work, but there was no help from anyone and this is the only work I can do for now to earn a living despite the attendant hazards and low profit.”

For 60-year-old Mrs Titilayo Oladeji, the need to sustain her family dragged her into selling shea butter at Oshodi Market, after her herbal medicine business collapsed without remedy a few years ago.

She had wanted to try her hands on other businesses but she lacked the means to start up. Worried by the need to cater for her five children, she started selling shea butter by collecting the local product on credit.

She said: “I used to run a fairly successful herbal medicine business until the business collapsed and life became miserable for me and my family. I make an average of N1000 daily from selling shea butter while I have five children to cater for. Some of them are currently studying in the university while others are apprentice artisans.

“My husband and children live in Ibadan, Oyo State while I hustle selling shea butter here in Oshodi, Lagos. From the N1000 profit, I pay the sum of N200 for my accommodation in a dingy room I shared with others like me who come from other states to trade at Oshodi Market, because I do not have money to rent a befitting room where I can sleep comfortably.”

A 60-year-old public toilet janitor at Oshodi, Mrs Imoru Lamidi Imoru, said she decided to take up the job three months ago, when she was at a crossroads after losing all the money she invested on a grocery business, saying that she would have ended up as a beggar if she had not taken up the job.

The mother of five said: “I must confess that I started this job three months ago after being in a quandary as to what to do to earn a living. I am 60 years old, but my life became a mess after my business failed and I was left with no choice but to survive on anything that could guarantee my meals every day.

“My job is to collect money from people who use the public toilet, and that is my means of livelihood. I do this job in order to survive, so I would not end up in the streets as a beggar. The work is not that profitable. Some times I earn barely a thousand naira and at other times I don’t even earn anything at all.

“Although I live in Sango area of Ota in Ogun State, I reside temporarily somewhere in Ikeja, because what I earn cannot take me home every day.’’

But for her failed marriage two decades ago, Mrs Abimbola Ishola said she would not have been struggling to make ends meet. The 60-year-old woman, who sells body cream at Oshodi Market, said she took to the trade to support herself and children after she was abandoned by her ex-husband.

The business, according to Abimbola is too small to take care of her needs and that of her three children because of the little amount she earns as profit.

She said: “I have been selling hair and body cream for over 20 years. I started the business to support myself and my children. I make only N500 at most on a daily basis from selling creams because the business is not hugely profitable.’’

Aside the meagre profit from the business, Abimbola, who displays her wares close to the roadside, has to contend with avoiding arrest by the operatives of the Lagos State Environmental and Special Offence Task Force, who carry out routine raid on street traders in the area.

She said: “Like others, I have had to battle some challenges, including running away from arrest by men of the Lagos State Environmental and Special Offence Task Force, who regularly chase many of us who are street traders. Some of my colleagues had been arrested in the past and I am just lucky that they have not arrested me or confiscated my wares.

“I have been training my three children from the little money I make from my little business. I reside at Kola in Alagbado, a Lagos suburb, and live with my children while my husband has abandoned me.’’

A widow, Mrs Olajide Bosede, said she ventured into hawking herbal medicine after she lost her husband about 10 years ago.

She said: “I decided to start this business ten years ago in order to have money to support my family after the death of my husband, although the business is not profitable enough, as I make little income from it.

“To be honest with you, my profit on a daily basis is not more than N500, which is hardly enough to feed me and my family or transport me to my home at Kola in Alagbado area of Lagos.’’

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