I went to one of the visa offices in Lagos recently; those who are familiar with visa offices will tell you there are hundreds of dreams waiting to be fulfilled among the hordes of touts that bombard you as soon as they sight you approaching the building. This is regardless of whether you have come to apply or simply going there to make enquires.
That’s where I met him and he told me his name was Mike. Looking at him, I could tell he was a candidate for slavery in Libya.
He greeted me nicely, asked what country I wanted to apply to then he listed a number of foreign locations he could help me apply to with necessary documents in tow.
He told me he could get me names, numbers, locations and documents of anything I required for a fee…a token, he said.
I was wary. I came for enquires, not to apply for any visa. But Mike didn’t think so. He thought I was still trying to size him up to decide if he could deliver, I was but not for the reasons he thought.
As he spoke to me rapidly, switching from pidgin to strands of Igbo (funny, he thought I was Igbo) I decided I wanted to hear Mike’s story.
Mike looked fit, he spoke well, he was confident, so I followed him to his ‘shed’, which was a makeshift kiosk where several ‘travellers’ were fanning themselves as they waited their turn while an elderly man pounded on an old model HP laptop as he filled out an immigration form for one of them.
Mike gave me a seat, an old crate, and proceeded to familiarise me with what he thought I wanted.
‘Do you want shenghen visa abi na America or where are you going?’
‘I just want to find where I can get yellow fever vaccination, any place around here?’
At that question, he lost interest in me immediately but then I showed him the N1000 note in my hand.
‘Talk to me,’ I said.
It was a better deal than going back to the road to hustle for ‘customers’ so he settled with me.
‘Have you ever travelled out before? How come you know so much about other countries?’
Mike has never left Nigeria but he plans to, as he is saving seriously to go by road! He said in a whisper.
Maikiii! I almost screamed, when he divulged that info to me.
He was once a hawker, he told me, ‘but that one no pay.’
‘So this one pay pass?’
‘Yes, o mummy’. (I age every time younger people call me that) ‘This one, small time now, my money go complete and I will go abroad too, man cannot come and continue to suffer here.’
Mike has a story and it’s for another day but when I hit the road enroute my office, I took another look at the hawkers on the streets.
How come they have such wide variety to sell?
Who gives them these things to sell? CDs, apples, toilet seats, balloon beds, beads, walnut, gala, soda, water, maps…
How much do they earn? Do they take home as much as N5,000 per day for instance?
How come the young men are muscular…from running after vehicles to sell their wares?
What do they eat? Do they eat rice and beans like you and I or its eba in the morning, pounded yam at night? I’m quite sure they don’t feed on cereals and indomie to have biceps that carry heavily laden cartons and trays of gala or water or apples…for hours and yet appear as if they are carrying nothing.
Have you ever wondered how come the value of their wares, many times don’t even correspond to the effort they put in trying to get reluctant road users to buy.
I mean, why would they run several hundred of metres every time someone sticks their head out of a vehicle window just to sell one gala? This crazy run between vehicles has killed many.
Then you ask yourself, after being in the scorching sun all day, do they go home to get a bath, you know, get rid of all the sweat, dirt and grime of the street off them. Do they even smell the carbon monoxide they breathe in daily from rickety vehicles that ply the roads?
Do they get to sleep on something soft, at least, even if not a regular sized bed, a 6 inch mattress, at least, something to ease the pain of the road.
The answers are grim; they earn between N1000 to N1500 daily; they eat once in a day; they do not have the luxury of a bath or bed at night, they are on the road from dawn to late at night, they live in houses where there are no bathrooms, toilets or even water or light for that matter!
And yes, they have dreams of a better life, they are told they will find it abroad. They are told the quality of life is better there than here. They are told no matter what, at least they will have a good meal and a place to sleep and they believe that they don’t have to fly by air to reach this dream, just save a little and go by road!
Then become a slave in Libya.
No one mentions that part.