by Ezinne Ajoku
Nigerians are a resilient people and a particularly hardy bunch. Whether female or male, adult or child, the story of most Nigerians is a tale of survival, of fighting to beat the odds, of hard, grinding work, of making much out of precious little and creativity at its zenith- even when it makes a twisted turn into unapproved lines like 419, robbery, drug trafficking, kidnapping etc.
But I’m not here to celebrate those who make other human lives miserable. I’m here for those who by dint of hard work are striving to make something worthwhile of themselves.
Like Chioma, one of the few female drivers in Lagos. My chance encounter with her occurred when she pulled up to Town Planning bus stop. My eyes turned to huge saucers when I heard a husky, but definitely, female voice coming from the driver’s seat. I almost screamed for sheer joy. See, I get around Eko via public transportation and this was my first time to be driven by a woman. Of course, she handled herself and the wheel with confidence, skill and grace and I noticed she wasn’t even speaking Pidgin.
Chioma, it turns out, studied Accounting at the prestigious University of Nigeria, Nsukka. After graduation, she worked with Diamond bank from 2012 till 2013 when she resigned and decided to try her hands at teaching for a bit whilst running some other business on the side. When the opportunity to drive a bus came, she was hesitant to get behind the wheel until she took a test drive around Lagos and saw another female driver loading the Oshodi route and realised that that one test drive had yielded 18, 000 naira. That sealed things for her.
There’s also Adekunle Adebisi, a beggar, whose station is the Anthony foot bridge, where he can be found every day without fail, sweeping the steps of the bridge, and greeting each passerby and proclaiming with gusto “Good morning Ma/Sir. God will bless you today and answer all your prayers”
According to Adekunle, he lost his two hands to an amputation procedure that had to be performed after his uncle, with whom he was living as a child, tied his wrists for three days causing loss of blood to his hands. But Adekunle is quite sanguine and did not let that deter him. He continued with his sports interests, which include running and football. He had to drop tennis, because well, no hands. It was on one of his trips back from Stadium that he saw the bridge looking unkempt and decided to do something about it, and make a living to boot.
He makes his way to Anthony from Canaan land axis (Sango Otta) everyday because rent there is cheaper and affordable. He had to leave Ketu, his former place of abode, for Sango Otta, because of the cost of rent. At Ketu, he paid 5,000 for a room. But at Otta, he pays 1,500. He shares this space with a wife and two kids, whom he manages to sustain on the income he makes from begging and the good will of friends. Adekunle’s dream is to get back into sports and open a provisions store for his wife.
Could he be another Paralympics potential going to waste?
71-year-old mama Olaide Lawal’s work ethic can put that of many a youth to shame. She manages her son’s wife retail business. By 7 am she has already set up shop (in an area where traders begin business no earlier than 9 am) and is ready to attend to customers and she is usually the last to leave at night.
A cursory glance around Nigeria paints a disturbing picture: one full of fear and uncertainty, hopelessness and woe. But even in these dire circumstances, there are many holding down the fort, eking a living, blazing trails, making magic.
So I celebrate mothers and fathers hustling to create a better future for their children; I celebrate truck/wheel barrow pushers; I celebrate ‘meruwas’ and ‘alabaru’s’; I celebrate petty traders; I celebrate those who run mama put canteens; I celebrate business owners; I celebrate Nigerians in diaspora who are labouring to make it rain by legitimate means; I celebrate writers, authors, NGO’s who are changing the narrative on a litany of social issues; I celebrate all who are refusing to let difficulties stand in the way of progress, and who are finding unique ways to make a difference.
You are the real MVPs!