A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject of today’s “A Week In The Life” is a bricklayer. He tells us about the poor wages that come with the job, battling omo oniles at building sites and how he plans to become an engineer.
I don’t like staying at home on Monday. Whether I have a job or not, I must leave my house to do something. Based on the nature of my job, work is not always constant. Sometimes we have work and sometimes we’re jobless and just looking at God. It’s not every day people need bricklayers.
When I leave my house by 9 a.m. today, the first place I go to is called “Center” — a bubbly place in Ilorin where clients come to request the services of bricklayers. Here, customers come and tell us about their job, we agree on a price, number of people and duration of work. Win-win for everybody.
However, the first thing I notice when I enter Center is that everywhere is dull. No clients, no nothing. Everywhere just calm like say fight just finish. My body is not feeling the place, so I leave for my friend’s office nearby.
Unfortunately, my friend isn’t around, so I have to go back home. On the way home, I can’t help but think about how this job is changing. Bricklayers used to have plenty of jobs, but now there are too many people doing this work. And they are cheap too because of desperation.
I get angry when people say we make a lot of money because we get paid daily. How much are they paying us? ₦3,000 or ₦3,500 pata pata. Then someone will now open their mouth and be calculating for me. They’ll say ₦3,500 x 30 days is big money. Do I work every day? Do they work from Monday to Sunday? Let’s even say I want to every day; is there job?
These are the issues and part of why I don’t like people who don’t mind their business. Anyhow, that’s their own problem. My current headache now is whether there’ll be light at home. At least if I’m not working today I can relax at home and watch TV or play games. Tomorrow is there for us to try again.
I’ve been doing bricklaying work since I was 12 or 13. Before secondary school. Immediately after graduating from primary school.
How did I get into it? Typical story. My dad, the breadwinner of a large family, lost his job as a transporter. 8 kids, large house, plenty of bills. Me, the second-born, the only male child, and subsequent new breadwinner.
Options for work when you’re 12/13? — labourer work.
The first month was carrying blocks up and down. Next, I progressed to mixing concrete. This led to double promotion and becoming a bricklayer’s assistant. I continued doing this work even while in secondary school. Small school work, small bricklayer work. All na learning.
As far back as I remember, I always wished to be educated. A teacher offered to sponsor my education but my father refused. His reason? He can’t allow his son who happens to be his second child to live with someone he doesn’t know. That’s how my chance for free school went, and I had to be hustling up and down for my education.
At the work site, I met some guys who encouraged me to think big and work hard. I took their advice, saved some money and entered Kwara Poly after secondary school.
That’s where I entered wahala part two. I thought I could handle the expenses, but billings everywhere. Lecturer says we should buy handout, money. Lecturer says we should photocopy textbook, more money.
After I finished ND1 [first year in a polytechnic] like this, I ran out of money. No way to do ND2 [second year] and that’s how I entered gambling to try to make money.
I’ll not go into details, but that experience taught me that there’s a difference between suffering and hardness. When you’re suffering, people can pity you and assist because it’s not your fault. But you see hardness? Nobody will help you because they can see that you’re your own problem.
Anyhow, I stopped gambling, returned to bricklaying work and eventually raised the money. I even ended up doing civil engineering for my HND programme.
After that programme, I now faced wahala part 3. No job.
The company I did my NYSC with was offering me ₦30,000 a month for full-time employment. I did the maths of my earnings as a bricklayer and realised I was better off there. That’s how I switched back to this work.
Why am I saying all of this? It’s because I woke up feeling very grateful today. Things may not be going the way I want, but thank God we don’t look like where we’re coming from. And for that alone, today feels like it’s going to be a good day.
I’ve been working under the hot sun all day. All my body is screaming for water and my shirt is soaked with sweat. But that’s not even the worst part. The person we’re working for just announced that he can’t pay the full amount we negotiated — ₦3,000/day — because something something money didn’t come through.
Me I’m asking myself how that one concerns me. And why is he just telling us after we’ve been working since morning under the heat? As per say him be oga, I said let me try to reason with him, but he’s not listening to anybody. He’s showing power because he knows that we can’t abandon the work after coming this far.
This is the part of the job that I don’t like. Because we don’t have a written contract, someone can just change their mind after you’ve started work. And there’s nobody to fight for us.
Just last week, Agberos came to the house we were working on and asked for money.
I asked them, “Money for what? In Kwara state?” Before I could say anything, I heard “gboa.” That gboa was a slap.
Next thing, me and my boys carried shovel to fight them. The next thing police have arrested everyone. Godfather came to bail agbero. The house owner told us that he was coming to bail us, and after keeping us waiting for hours, he came and started shouting at us.
Nobody to defend us, and now we can’t even defend ourselves.
Anyhow sha, after plenty of back and forth plus shouting, oga finally agreed to pay ₦2500 instead of ₦3000. It’s still out of this money that I’ll buy strong paracetamol for all the stress.
I’m not in a hurry to go to work today. After the drama of yesterday, I take my time to prepare. I listen to the radio, I browse through my phone and call my friends.
If not for the economy of Nigeria, why will I, a graduate, be working a job where the highest you can make in a day is ₦3500? Okay, maybe ₦4,000 if you do certain jobs. But I can bet that you will spend half of that money buying pain relief drugs.
So what’s now the point?
I recently started taking some certifications because my goal in future is to become an engineer. I’m constantly praying and working towards this goal. I just need time for things to align for me.
But before then, I need to leave this house so that I can hustle my daily ₦2k.
I don’t work on Fridays because it’s Jumat and I have to go to the mosque. I can’t do any work that won’t let me serve my God.
My plan today: sleep, eat, pray and hang out with my friends.
Thank God it is Friday.
Editor’s note: Bricklayers can make more than ₦3,500 a day if they get contract jobs. However, those jobs are rare.