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It was a sunny afternoon at Lafenwa market area of Abeokuta, 60-year-old Silifat Obe, had just settled into a corner to relax after carrying several loads for her customers. The last she dropped before sitting to relax was a bag of rice returning unhappy with the N50 she was paid for the job. She sat in a corner, evidently tired with her hand on her chin obviously thinking of how the day has been when she was approached by this reporter.
At first, she was reluctant to talk, but after much persuasion, she began to narrate her story into becoming a porter popularly referred to as ‘Alabagbe’ among the market areas in Ogun state elsewhere the job is known as ‘Alabaru’.
N500 for carrying 10 bags of rice
PLATFORM TIMES discovered that in Ogun state, the name ‘Alabagbe’ meaning porter has become popular for mostly old women who carry loads for a fee as low as N50. Women between age 50 and above were dominant in the ‘business’, while some young women also engage in it.
For carrying a bag of rice, they were paid N50 per 50kg, despite the weight and the long-distance required to cover for their customers at times.
Arriving early in the morning between 6:30 and 7, the women rush to carry heavy loads from bags of rice to cartoons of noodles, baskets of pepper, yam, and many other heavy loads on their heads.
This job due to Nigeria’s economic situation now welcomes an influx of aged women who go to the market early morning with their big bowl in hand serving as a tool to work and leaving late around 8 pm in the evening after getting little money to survive.
Mrs Obe who is almost 60 years old is one of the over 200 women in Ogun state who have become porter due to the economic situation of the country.
Mrs Obe, who was a former food canteen owner said N50 is the non-negotiable fee for carrying a bag of rice and to get up to N500, they must carry up to 10bags.
“I was selling food with two sales assistants I hired, but when things started getting worse the shop was closed down and I had no choice but to start this job.”
Mrs Obe with four children and an aged husband said the only means of survival is the bowl in her hand.
“Go into the market and see for yourself, all the old aged women have turned to porters when the economy isn’t favourable anymore”, she submitted.
We don’t want to steal, become prostitute
Mrs Obe and many other women porters who spoke to this reporter said they are in the job to avoid stealing or going into prostitution.
They further said, “We don’t have savings at all. This money we get is not even enough for us to feed. But what do we do ? is it not better than going into stealing?
“My husband is a taxi driver but he is old. This bowl is the only means of survival for me. What can we buy in the market other than garri, we can’t even buy bread.
“There’s no job in town; people mostly from 50-60, 30-40 have now moved into this trade when there’s no job. The economy has rendered some of us who are hardworking jobless.”
Just like Obe, for many of the women porters in Abeokuta every market day is a must for them to attend as this is their only means of survival, they told this reporter.
“We go from Lafenwa market to Bode, Kuto and also Elega markets on the market day moving goods in the hot sun to earn the little to survive”, they revealed.
This reporter’s visit to the four markets mentioned by the women confirmed that they are frequent in each of them on a market day.
PLATFORM TIMES observed that while Lafenwa market was the headquarter of the porters, both young and old with a large population of older women continue to join the ‘job’ daily.
I never imagined I would become a porter-Risikat
Risikat Salami, a wife of a cobbler with six children looked older than her age. Her husband in search of a better life left Sango for Abeokuta with the hope of getting to live a good life, but according to her, the dream has not been realized due to the bad economy.
When this reporter met her on a Kuto market day, she said she has never imagined that someone like her would become a porter.
“I used to look at these women from afar with loads on their heads. Never have I thought or imagined I would join them or become a porter someday”, she said amidst tears in her eyes.
Risikat told this reporter her husband had to bury his head in shame as he keep telling her of people calling his attention to the job his wife is doing.
Before settling in Abeokuta, life for her she says was a lot better.
On another market day at Lafenwa market, she was in the hot sun when she met this reporter again.
She said the highest she makes on a market day is N1000 of which N200 will be deducted for her transport, while she goes home with N800.
“People think that I am an old woman but I am not. It’s this job that’s making me look old.
Fighting back the tears in her eyes, she however said she continued to remain hopeful “I know this won’t be forever. It is only for a limited time I know this will end soon.”
Our children education, welfare top priority
Many of the women porters who spoke with this reporter in the four markets visited told the reporter they decided to take up the porter job in order to give their children access to education and a befitting future.
“Many of us don’t want our child to become that of another person or suffer, which is why we’re doing this.
“We know if we leave home in the morning either small or not, we’ll eat, and that will not make our children begin to feel jealous of other kids or join bad gangs.
“Once they know that their mum leaves in the morning, they’ll have the assurance that they’ll come back with something in the evening.”
Denied of empowerment scheme
The women porters said they’ve not had the opportunity of benefiting from any empowerment scheme or support.
They lamented that only widows receive from the government.
They noted, “We also need help but we can’t get any. We have not seen any help come our way whatsoever.
“We have not benefited from any government empowerment scheme. All they keep saying is that it’s widows they’ll assist and those of us whose husbands aren’t dead but are really suffering still don’t get help.
“Am I supposed to still be here doing this type of job at this my age, but due to the situation. They keep saying widows are the ones they’re helping; those of us whose husbands are alive are also suffering terribly”, Mrs Obe lamented.
Also, Muji Showunmi popular in Kuto market as Iya Tamura who has spent 15years as a porter making N1000 to N1500 daily said she has not been able to benefit from any empowerment.
Untold humiliation, many pain
Mrs Tosin Tijani, one of the porters this reporter met on a market day in Bode described the job as the biggest ‘humiliation ever’.
Mrs Tijani lamented that people look at them as beggars whenever they call on them to carry load.
“There’s is no job without its own challenge, but you see this job, it’s the biggest humiliation. There’s no embarrassment compared to it.
“Some people can pay for a load of N50 for N100 or N200 but if the person is the opposite they can pack a load of N200 and want to pay N50.
“To crown it all, they’ll still embarrass us on the N50. This is why I said you this job is the worst embarrassment but why I am still here is because it helps sort little bills and sometimes children school fees. It covers one’s deficit and expenses.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, she expressed that it was really tough for her and her husband to survive.
“My elderly ones even talked me into divorcing my husband which I couldn’t. I don’t like this job at all but fate brought me into it and the embarrassment I have been enduring.”Also, three elderly women porters most likely in their 60’s who were widows met by this reporter at Bode market said the job comes with constant body pain.
The women said they have spent close to 12years as a porter and they hope to leave the job when they get a helper.
“We experience a lot of humiliation; we endured them that it’s been written. The bad economy has also given more women the chance to join us.
“We call on the government to come to our aid and assist us with money to start up a business”, one of the women said.
Mrs Kasali another porter in Lafenwa exclaimed. ” Ha! We face a lot of humiliation. They don’t want to see us at all. Is like they think most of us were born into poverty. They look at us as paupers; never do well and with disdain.
She narrated, “The humiliation, hatred, and abuse from customers are overwhelming. They hate us so much. They don’t want to see us among them at all. They treat us very badly.
“And we remind them at times that we have jobs we do too. This is only a trial for us. Government should have mercy on us and not let us die in this trade.”
“The disrespect, the insult we get on this job is much. We get snubbed; some people walk out on us while others at times pay what they wish.
“We need money, government, individuals should help us. Things are too expensive. They should reduce the price of things. They should help us, we need help.
For Mrs Lateefat Adeniji , she had no choice but to engage in the job since her business crumbled, she has no hope of surviving. She has nro job and a husband to cater for her and the children
“There are a lot of not-so-good situations we face on this job. We, women, are suffering a lot. Look at these women (pointing to the elderly women), they are old; they ought to be sitting and resting at home waiting for their children to feed them, but when these children themselves are yet to cater for themselves how would they remember their mother?
“And the mother does not want to wait till their children bring them money before they can eat, hence they also joined this trade.
“We are pleading and calling on the government to please have mercy on women. They should create jobs; if children have jobs at hand they’ll remember their parents.
“This job is not stealing and it’s better than prostitution. We’re large in number and more women keep joining every day. We have women who are old; these women don’t want to become beggars.”
Problem with LAPO, other loans
Mrs Olabisi Kasali who is a widow has spent two years as a porter. She said her children had to stop schooling when there was no money.
Mrs Kasali said she used to own a shop where she sold food with some sales assistant, but she was overwhelmed with responsibilities which led to debts and the collapse of the business.
She said, “I took all forms of loans ranging from LAPO and others to clear off the debts till I paid the debts. My sales girls left when things went bad and I couldn’t pay them.
“It got to the point where to take N100 from the shop to eat became a challenge. My children paid debts and till they got tired, which is why at a point I decided to pick up this bowl for like two years now.
Government can’t do all- Efuwape
Reacting, the commissioner for women affairs and social development in Ogun State, Funmi Efuwape said the government cannot do everything to assist all women in the state.
Despite the women porters’ claim of not benefitting from empowerment opportunities, Efuwape insisted that a lot of empowerment are ongoing for women in the state.
She added, “Lots of empowerment going on ranging from micro-credit loan with 9% training and empowerment in our vocational training center.
“We have a world bank project also going on currently for Nigeria women which aims at empowering 84, 000 women in Odeda, Yewa North and Ijebu northeast.
“But definitely Government can’t do all and some of this women take the empowerment gift and sell of going back to what they use to do.” She said