LIFE STORIES: How Nigeria’s Poor Make The Rich Richer


By Kunle Falayi, Gbenro Adeoye


As early as 7am on any day, Abdullahi Shuwa pushes out the cart he uses to supply water around a neighbourhood in Ikeja, Lagos. The 24-year-old man pushes the cart with 10 empty 25-litre kegs to a borehole where the landlord of the house allows him to fill them for N10 each.

Shuwa is a native of Niger State, but speaks Yoruba fluently.

“I came to Lagos a long time ago. I got married here,” he says.

If one is to consider the enthusiasm with which Shuwa carries out his daily routine of pushing his heavily-laden cart around the neighbourhood in search of customers, one may conclude that he makes a lot of money from the business.

But it is not so.

“The problem with this area is that most people have boreholes in their houses and don’t need our services. But the houses that patronise us are too few for all of us who supply water in this area to make much money,” the cart pusher explains.

Shuwa says there were eight other water suppliers patronising the same streets as he does.

He buys the water at N100 (10 kegs at N10 each) and sells each load for N200 (each keg at N20).

When asked where he lived and if he could afford accommodation with what he makes every day, Shuwa answered, “I live with some of my colleagues (also Northerners) in a room in Ogba. We try to contribute money at the end of every week, which we save for our rent.

“We are five in the room and we contribute N200 every week so that we will be able to save enough money for the rent at the end of the year.”

Asked how he accommodates his family as a married man, Shuwa said for the sake of convenience, he had relocated his wife, whom is yet to have a child, to Abeokuta, Ogun State.

The most surprising thing about Shuwa is that even though he is a struggling young man who makes little from doing a very strenuous business, he is an ardent fan of Chelsea FC and never misses the club’s matches.

“They call me Aboki Chelsea on my street and I love the name. Many of my friends (Northerners) don’t watch football,  but I will rather not eat than not watch Chelsea play. I pay to watch club matches like two or three times a week,” he said.

He added that he paid about N100 per match at viewing centres, which is a sizeable fraction of the profit he gets from his water supply business everyday. But he pays as much as N200 on days when major matches are shown.

It will be difficult to explain to Shuwa that part of the money he pays out of his meager income invariably finds its way into the pocket of the millionaire footballers he watches all the time.

How can he understand that though he remains poor and cannot afford a decent apartment, his ‘Widow’s Mite,’ and that of many other people like him, make it possible for Chelsea to pay Mikel Obi, a fellow Nigerian, $440,000 (about N68m) a month.

Shuwa said he could not afford to go to a hospital when he was ill but tried to buy drugs when he could.

The only leisure he can afford is a pack of cigarette he occasionally smokes and the club football he ardently follows. The life of Shuwa is a world apart from that of his fellow Nigerian, Obi, whom he is unknowingly making richer.

This cart pusher is not the only one on this pedestal.

Samson Oyeleke, 25, has never considered staying home on weekends when European league matches are played, particularly, the English Premier League. At such times, Oyeleke’s home tentatively shifts to his favourite football viewing centre at Agege.

Depending on the fixtures, up to five matches can be shown live at the centre and Oyeleke never likes to miss any live match. So he pays N70 for each game, which is often jerked up to N100 when two big teams face each other. According to Oyeleke, the atmosphere of viewing football matches at the centre he often calls ‘stadium’ is great.

Although Oyeleke’s habit has been difficult to sustain, considering his income, yet he has remained stuck with it.

Oyeleke, a Chelsea FC fan, has no fixed job; his small income comes from assisting his parents, both of whom are vendors.

On days when business is good, Oyeleke can make up to N500. On other days, however, particularly when there is rainfall, he hardly makes any money.

Oyeleke said that on such days, his parents don’t require his service since business was usually ‘slow’.

Still, Oyeleke insisted that he had managed to sustain his habit of not missing important premier league matches in spite of the economic challenges.

He said, “There are some people who don’t even have any work, but they pay to watch the foreign leagues. Sometimes, I watch up to five matches on a Saturday, but the cost doesn’t really matter because it helps me too.

“There is no money, no work due to the unemployment situation in the country. So football gives me something to look forward to and a reason to leave home. When I’m hungry and I’m watching football, I won’t feel the hunger until after the match. When I’m at home, I tend to quarrel with my parents, but by going out to watch football, it saves all of us the troubles. If not for football, maybe a lot of youths will be depressed today, but somehow, football keeps us sane.”

But that’s not the only attraction, these days, many football lovers have also taken to organised betting on the outcomes of European league fixtures.

An unemployed youth, Segun Olawale, said he watched football to keep up with the performances of club sides in order to make informed predictions.

Olawale is trained as a carpenter, but he has yet to set up due to financial challenges. So far, Olawale has been living on dole-outs from friends and relatives. But in addition, Olawale said he recently started betting on the outcome of matches at a registered betting company.

He said, “Sometimes, I’m so broke that I can’t even afford to watch matches, but the moment someone gives me some money, I don’t hesitate to spend it on a football match. If I decide to stay at home, what will I be doing there? I prefer to go out and watch football. It’s lively, and you are able to talk to people, argue and even stand a chance to win some money if your predictions are right.”

Isiaka Mohammed is a cobbler who earns about N1,000 day, but he doesn’t work each time his favourite team, Arsenal FC, has a game.

Mohammed said he had not missed an Arsenal FC game in over two years and that his wife and child were already familiar with his schedule. Although, Mohammed knows about the huge financial worth of some of his football heroes, he said it made no difference to him that he was making them richer.

He said, “My family knows where I will be every Saturday and understands it. I know that the footballers earn thousands of dollars per week, but it really doesn’t matter once I get my satisfaction too. When they don’t play well, I curse them, but I don’t really care if I’m able to get value for my money.

“When I was in Bauchi, I also used to play for a club, Black Rose. So If I had made it from football, this is how some people would also be watching me today. So it doesn’t matter, that is life.”

According to Mohammed, if he is left with his last N50 note and has to choose between watching his favourite Arsenal FC and buying biscuits for his hungry daughter, his hungry daughter will win the contest, but barely.

“Well, I will give the money to my daughter but I will be very reluctant,” he said.

Some football fans can barely afford three square meals per day, but will still go as far as paying N1,000 to purchase club jerseys.

John Ibiloye sits in his tiny shop on a street in Agege, nodding his head rhythmically to the music playing on a small CD player beside his work table.

The watch repairer’s daily routine is basically opening his shop, putting on the CD and waiting for the occasional customers who may come in to change a dead watch battery, repair a ramshackle wall clock or change the strap on a wrist watch.

“I’ll change one watch battery for N100 or N150 depending on the quality of battery you want. Some last longer than others, which is why the price is different,” he says.

On the profitability of his business, Ibiloye said some days, he doesn’t get a customer at all.

He said watch repair is not the kind of business one expects customers to troop in everyday,

“But how do you cope? How do you take care of the family with this kind of business,” one of our correspondents asked him.

Ibiloye replied, “Well, God is in control. But it is not easy at all. I have three children and two of them go to school. The third one is a tailoring apprentice.

“I get up to five customers sometimes coming for services ranging from repair and changing of watch straps and battery. Sometimes I make N500, sometimes N1,000. You can imagine how much I am left with if I have to deduct the rent, the council dues and others.

“The day my daughter fell sick and I took her to the General Hospital at Ifako Ijaiye was the day I told my wife she needed to start working too. She is now a petty trader. That was the day I realised that the profit of my business was not enough for us to feed, let alone take my children to the hospital when they are ill.

“If I change your watch battery and you pay N200, I’ll make N100 from that. It is not because I am greedy but because I need to cover the loss I incur sometimes. There are times that the batteries expire after long storage at home. If I insert the battery in your wrist watch and it doesn’t work, I’ll change it and that’s my loss.”

Ibiloye said when he deducts cost of repairs, there are days he makes up to N300 in profit but some days he does not make more than N150.

However, as gloomy as the picture Ibiloye paints is, one thing he cannot do without is Fuji music.

Music from popular Fuji musician, Wasiu Alabi, popularly called Pasuma, was playing on his CD player.

“You love Pasuma obiviously.”

To this, he replied, “I like K1 (Wasiu Ayinde) and Pasuma very much. I don’t think there is any of their records I don’t buy. Listening to Fuji music is my way of ‘killing depression.”

But Ibiloye in comparison to Pasuma is poor whom some refer to as the richest Fuji musician in Nigeria.

Even though the singer’s exact net worth is not known, he is rich enough to build a N150m-mansion in 2011; a result of his large and loyal fan base made up of mostly area boys and commercial bus drivers.

He also owns numerous posh cars and other houses, thanks to loyal but poor fans like Ibiloye.

Interestingly, however, many of these celebrities who become millionaires today were once individuals who could barely afford a square meal per day.

Through a stroke of luck, they broke the yoke of poverty and have become affluent through hardwork rewarded by patronage of those at the bottom rung of the social ladder in the society.

Mikel Obi was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and neither was Pasuma.

Bus conductors are also individuals who make millionaire musicians richer in spite of their own poverty.

For another struggling Nigerian, a street trader, life will not be interesting without having a chance of watching movies.

The young lady, Khadijat Ojikutu, says her addiction is Nollywood movies, especially those in the Yoruba language.

When the correspondent first sighted her on Tuesday around a motor park in Ogba, Lagos, where she usually vends bread and butter, she was browsing a collection of Nollywood movie DVDs displayed on the cart of a CD vendor.

“I usually buy Yoruba movies when I realise that my profit for the day is enough for me to buy the CDs,” she said.

Asked whom her favourite Nollywood movie star was, she says, Odunlade Adekola.

“I also like Jim Iyke. I watch Nigerian English movies, too, once in a while,” Ojikutu, wearing a pair of worn-out slippers, says.

A pyramid-shaped load of bread and plastics of Blue Band margarine covered with transparent nylon was balanced on the head of the young woman as she explained that what she was getting from her trade was not as much as the energy she expended on it.

“You are funny. How often do I go to the hospital? What happens to herbs? You think everybody can afford to walk into the hospital for treatment every time they fall sick? How much do I make from this business?” she responded to the question whether she doesn’t fall sick often because of her stressful street trading business.

She says she makes as much as N400 in profit every day, out of which she has to save for accommodation, clothing and feeding.

Ironically, people like Ojikutu live in the slums of Agege while the millionaires whom her love for movies make richer, live in highbrow places like Lekki and Ikoyi.

However, many experts have argued that the insecurity in the society cannot be divorced from the widening gulf between the rich and the poor in the society.

This is why one cannot underestimate the impact the socio-economic disparity between the haves and have-nots will have on the stability of the country.

The harsh economic reality in Nigeria is such that the middle class is gradually vanishing, some economists have argued. The gulf between the rich and the poor in the society is widening day-by-day, lending credence to the Biblical saying that the rich will become richer while the poor will become poorer.

The reality is grim for many people in Nigeria. They see affluence flashing before their eyes everyday, but do not have the wherewithal to break out of their economic condition.

In a city like Lagos, this is more evident as hardly can one stay on a major road for a minute and not see a multi-million naira worth of vehicle pass by.

It is no longer news that a sizeable population of Nigeria lives in poverty. According to a 2006 United Nations Human Development Index, 70.8 per cent of Nigeria’s population lives on less than $1 (N150) per day, ranking Nigeria 159 out of 177 countries. The National Bureau of Statistics, in 2010, said that 60.9 per cent of Nigerians were living in “absolute poverty”.

Most of these people, ironically, are the ones who enrich the millionaires like footballers, musicians and movie stars.

A sociologist and consumer behaviour analyst, Monday Ashibogwu, says the poor have always made the rich richer by their habits.

He says, “Paying for football games, buying records, cigarettes, beer, playing draughts are some of the ways by which the poor make the rich richer. In the case of football, the players cannot even be classified as the rich, they are just the celebrities. The rich are the club owners who pay salaries to the footballers. Also for records, the record labels are the ones making all the money.”

Ashibogwu describes claims by the poor to be deriving some sort of satisfaction from habits that affect their income as a case of “perception rather than the reality.”

“The question is: is it what they really need? You can’t blame the capitalist for being a capitalist, but there must be rules that guide people,” he says.

Source: Punch Nigeria


  1. Wether u like it or not, the truth is everybody, including the writer of this piece of letter of admonition, has a particular thing he/she is paying for which also make the owners of that thing he/she is paying for richer. Be it buying recharge cards, bb subscription, internet bundle purchase, DSTV subscription at home etc. In this present age of computer, u cannot avoid not making someone richer except u wanna be cut off from the rest of the world.

  2. Thank you Benjamin. You just said my mind. Even the so called rich pays for DSTV subscription! This write up is baseless. How do you explain daily purchase of The Punch newspaper…are we not making The Punch family richer?!

  3. 9ce write up.Benjamin & Lekan pls understand that the writer is revering to extremely poor people who doesn’t have a good job/biz to meet d level of their addiction to the footballers or movie stars. Moderation in everything is the basis of his write up.

  4. @Benjamin & Lekan, of a truth everybody pay for one tin or d other as u ve rightly said @Ben.but to my own understanding of d write up,it is opening our eyes to some areas were our hard earn resources is going to & if it really worth it.watching football matches five @ a stretch wit each for @ least 2hrs to me is stupidity,in addition of paying for it.I luv listening to gud music to relax,I buy recharge cards to ease communication, to get fast information, & to save transport fair.we can do most of dis tins unavoidably but wisely so dat even wen we r enriching dose dat produce d guds & services we r in turn increasing our financial man can not supply every tin,he most surely pay for so many tins he needs.d most important tin is dat wat ever u r paying for shud give u more or equivalent value.

  5. Ladies and gentlemen, please, please, please, as Nigerians let us deal with issues and not personalities. Poverty is everywhere and will always be around but those of us who are fortunate should spare a thought for our society’s down trodden. What I deduce from this article is some of our fellow countrymen take solace from the “beautiful game” and don’t begrudge the star players/entertainers. They are better than those who begrudge them and attack anyone for the little they have using poverty and lack of opportunities as an excuse.
    In our little way in business, religion or government, whichever way we serve, let us strive to make the lot of our countrymen better, at least one person as a time.

  6. In Life, We all Pay for one Service/Satisfaction or the other render unto Us. The Basis and Fact about Life is VALUES(UTILITY) are Exchanged for PROSPERITY
    (WEALTH)!Before the Advent of Money as a Means of Transaction, VALUES(Worth) was the Rule of the Game I.e Trade By Barter! We All(I mean every individual) Just Have 2 Learn How 2 Strike a Good Balance Between His Spending on ASSETS(what Brings in more money) and LIABILITY(what takes away more money) from Him.

  7. Am a Chelsea fan, so save the sentiments. Also I can’t avoid making other people rich or even richer because I can’t provide everything I really need. But if you are “rich” and you are not touching the lives of others then what is the essence of been blessed if not to bless others. After reading this article I asked myself a question which is what have Mikel obi done for the poor in his country?


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