|Muhammad Bala, a keke rider in Yola, Adamawa State.
Image: Ramatu Ada Ochekliye
I had just come out of the Jimeta Modern Market in Yols, Adamawa State, when this Keke (tricycle) rider asked where I was going. I didn’t answer. As I crossed the road, he also took a U-turn and parked just in front of me. He asked again where I was going. I told him my house address and he told me ₦100, which was ₦30 more than I normally pay. My arms were hurting from lugging my purchases so I sighed and got into the Keke. As we were about to move, a woman flagged him down and mentioned a location en route my house. The rider told her to come in. She had lots of things and took some time stuffing them in the space behind. When she was settled in, we set off.
No one spoke until we got to the woman’s destination. She dropped in front of a Buka (local restaurant) and her kids came running. As they teased her about coming home early from the market, they offloaded her stuff from the Keke. One of her daughters said in Hausa, ‘Thank GOD you are back because all the food is finished and you need to start cooking.’
The Keke rider and I looked on at the drama until they were done getting her things off the vehicle. I really can’t remember what one of her sons said but it got all of us laughing; well, I was tired, so I just smiled.
When we set off, he started a conversation. Now, this happened in Hausa and though my spoken Hausa is stilted, I think this is an almost perfect replica of the conversation we had.
He started with, ‘See how her children are helping her? That is how it is supposed to be.’ I responded with a ‘Mhmmm.’ and he continued.
‘You know that food business never goes out of style. You can always make money with a food business.’
I nodded and knowing he wouldn’t see my response, added ‘That is true. No matter what type of restaurant you run, people will always come to you. But the amount of money you make is dependent on the location of your restaurant.’
‘And the fact that her children are helping her means that she will not have to spend so much money on help and food. The children can eat from what she cooks for her customers and that way, she is able to save a lot’, he finished.
I don’t know why but I decided to have a full conversation with him. I even went personal!
‘You are right. My mother owns her own restaurant and when we are around, we help her out. And just like you said, we eat from what she cooks so that sometimes, we don’t need to have food at home’, I said with excitement.
‘Is your mother’s restaurant in this town?’ he asked and I told him no, it is in Abuja.
He went further to say that because of the state of the economy, it was important for people to have some of these businesses so they can make money. He then went on to say that many people were waiting for jobs that may or may not come instead of looking for how to earn something based on the basic needs of people.
By this time, we were passing in front of Adamawa State Polytechnic, Yola, or SPY as it is popularly called. There was this lady in front who flagged him down. He stopped in front of her but it turned out that she was not going our way. I didn’t notice the bound project she was holding, but he did.
As we set off again, he asked if that was her final year project or something. I looked out of the Keke and tried to get a glimpse at what she holding but as he pulled away, I knew I wouldn’t see anything. I pulled my head back in and said it could probably be her project. That was when the discussion got really interesting.
‘You know that graduates are the problems in this country. They are very lazy and always want that ₦150,000 job. Instead of doing the businesses they consider petty, they will rather waste away at home doing nothing. That is why graduates are not the richest in this country.’
My antenna went up pretty fast! Did this man just diss me and all graduates in Nigeria? I felt like I had to say or DO something to redeem our collective image.
‘It is graduates that have no sense that waste away. Many sensible graduates even work two jobs and manage their own businesses but….’
And he interrupted me. ‘They are very few and in between! Most graduates are waiting for government jobs that will pay them ₦30,000. What is ₦30, 000?! They have to feed, clothe, pay rent and still send money to their family with that money. How can they save with that? How much will they even save?!’
I knew he was right but before I could formulate an appropriate response, he continued. ‘Let me tell you a story. I graduated from that SPY that we passed. I waited for two years trying to get a job. The job was not coming. People would promise you all kinds of things but they would fail. One day, a friend came to me and said we should go to Calabar to find work. I had nothing in Yola so it was not hard to agree. I packed my stuff and we went to Calabar.
‘For two whole months, I didn’t make up to ₦5000. In fact, we both didn’t make up to ₦5000; collectively! My friend was tired and said he would return to Yola. Somehow, I convinced him and we stayed a couple more months. When he couldn’t stand it anymore, he returned to Yola. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t return to Yola a failure. So I stayed back, got a table and started doing a laundry business.
‘I washed at ₦10 per item…’
It was my turn to interrupt. ‘₦10? ₦10 per cloth?! How did you survive on that?!’
He laughed and continued his story. ‘If I washed 100 clothes, I would get ₦1000. It was hard work but it was work! I had no house, so I slept on my table and used my ironing cloth to cover myself. That was my life.
‘But I can tell you that after a few months, I had saved ₦400,000. I didn’t spend my money on anything and I was able to survive on the barest food. So when I had saved that money, I took my transport and ₦50,000 and came to Yola. I visited my family and gave them the ₦50,000.
‘I returned to Calabar and continued my work. After more months, I raised another ₦700,000 and then I knew it was time to return fully to Yola. I packed up and came back home. I bought a Keke and started doing my business. With the Keke, I bought a land and built my house, married, and send my children to school. I bought another Keke…this one we are in now and let me shock you; I save ₦50,000 every month from this Keke.’
I was shocked and when he saw my expression from the rear-view mirror, he laughed.
The cat finally let my tongue go and I asked in a high pitched voice, ‘You save ₦50,000 from this Keke every month?!’
‘Yes.’ he responded. ‘That is money I never touch at all. Never! That is for when I am old. Which tells you that after all my expenses for the month, this Keke still allows me save enough money for my future.
‘How many graduates would have been willing to do the laundry business, or drive a Keke? How many graduates would have slept on their work table just to save more money? Most of them want to look good. Well, look at how simple I am but I can tell you that my wife and children want for nothing. None of my children attend government schools. They are all in a private school.’
When he mentioned the name of the school, I knew it was one of the best in Adamawa. I was more than impressed.
By this point, we had just taken the turn to my house. I didn’t want to just let go. I told him I am a journalist and I would like to write his story. I was very effusive about how impressed I was and I told him I wouldn’t let him go until I got his permission to write his story. I asked for his name and he told me; Muhammad Bala. I asked for one last favor. I needed his picture. He posed with pride with his simple Keke. It was sunny so I didn’t see if the pictures were clear enough.
Ramat, you need to buy a good camera! Stop being a cheapskate!
I wanted to shake his hand but I didn’t know if he did that. I stood there and kept thanking him for sharing his story. It wasn’t until he left that I went into the house. That was when I realized the picture wasn’t clear enough. Good thing is that, you can still see his face.
When I left the market, I never knew that I was going to be getting schooled on a Keke. I remembered how I almost refused to enter because of the ₦30 difference in the fare. On most days, I don’t chat in a Keke. If I had done my routine, I would have missed out on a great story! I feel really blessed to have met Muhammad. He inspired me to do better, to work harder, to save more and best of all, to always remain simple!
So, what is your excuse for being the way you are? Why are you lying down moaning the absence of work when there are many opportunities to make money right at your front steps?!
I hope you get inspired by Muhammad’s story. ₦50,000 may seem small to you but save that for two years and you are a millionaire. Don’t wait for that government or multinational company job that you think is fitting for your status. Your ‘status’ means jack if you cannot feed properly, clothe well, pay rent or help family. Your ‘status’ also means absolutely nothing if you are a liability with a degree.
I always say this; I took a job that was WAY below my pay grade because I couldn’t bear to ask my parents for money for sanitary pads, underwear or transport money. Has it been hard? Yes! Does it get better? Of course yes!
So I ask you again, what is your excuse?!
Get up, put some clothes on that body, put on your thinking cap and get to work! Ain’t nobody got time for a lazy, degree toting, feeling-yourself-when-you-got-nothing person turning down jobs because they do not fit your ‘status’! Shiooor!