Just call me Paulo, it’s not my real name because I don’t want you to publish it. My parents live in the village. I won’t tell you my village. All I will tell you is that I am not illiterate, I finished secondary school.
When I came to Abuja, I had big plans to work hard. Robbery was never on my mind. Who wants to be a thief when I have the brain to do business?
Forget about what anybody will tell you, most of us on the highway are ready to work; we are there as early as 6am and we don’t leave until 10pm or 11pm; is that not hard work?
Look at me, I’m strong, I’m able-bodied. I got my big muscles from hawking on the highway; from running after vehicles, carrying basket of minerals and snacks every day; and if you have to escape from these environmental APB boys- (Abuja Environmental Protection Board- AEPB) your brain must be sharp to know how to escape them without losing any of your goods to them.
I started with just N2000. Ask me how I got it?
I borrowed it from a friend that I was squatting with, here in Abuja. This happened after I had walked around looking for job as a clerk in all these government offices for more than six months. Getting a job in Abuja or Nigeria sef, is man- know- man. If you don’t know any big oga here, nobody will give you face.
So with that N2000, I bought all kinds of plastic bottled drinks; you know the type that people in go slow will want to drink after eating Gala. That’s why I also bought one dozen of Gala and mixed it with plantain chips; groundnut, even Coaster biscuit and buns. So that if you stop me, you will have whatever you want to hold your belle until you get home.
There are many of us on the highway, some of them are very young, and those ones I pity because they can’t run after a vehicle as fast as we the senior ones can; some of them even get knocked down by fast cars, so we beat them to the customer. Because, you see, on the road, it’s your legs that do the business. If you are fast, you reach the vehicle faster than others. That’s how it is.
So no-do, no-do, I must go home with extra N1, 200 or more on some days but on some days, with all the sun and running around, I will only make just N500. Those are days I regret my life.
It was on one of those days that I saw one of the hawkers rob one man in his car. He pretended to be selling something to the man, then he brought out a long sharp knife; the man was afraid he would be stabbed; and the boy now collected the man’s wallet, put it in his carton of gala and ran away.
I was shocked; so this is how they do it.
You see, we have no union. We hawkers here, we have no union, so when these environmental people chase us like dogs, there’s no one to fight for us. We have no one to report to that they take home the goods they steal from us to their families, leaving our own families hungry for days.
They keep telling us we are defacing the city, we are nuisance, we are this, we are that. But the shops are too expensive; tell me, what shop would I have been able to rent for N2k in this Abuja?
Many of us are very poor; very poor. So once in a while, me too, I bring out my knife, I threaten some people and they give me their money or their phones. But the bad thing is I have to relocate to another road. Because what if the person I steal from finds me and calls the police or describe me to police?
I’m trying to stop this stealing. But the extra money is good. I have more money to send home to my parents; I have more money to feed and pay my share of the place I’m squatting, Abuja is expensive and I haven’t come here to count fly-over.
(series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)