Alhaja Saliu Omodu is 75 years old and hails from Ibadan in Nigeria’s Oyo State. She was born into a low-income family. Her parents were petty traders and they had many children. She was the second child. Her mother used to sell food items, and later on, she opened a restaurant.
Due to a lack of finance, Saliu was adopted by her aunt when she was just two years old. She took the child to Lagos to cater to her needs. As a child, Saliu watched other children dress up in their uniforms and wished to be among them. Unfortunately, she didn’t get the opportunity to go to school because members of her clan believed that sending a girl to school was a waste of money.
Saliu’s aunt was a very hard-working woman. She had a shop where she sold pieces of jewellery. She also had other businesses, so while Saliu’s age-mates were learning in the classroom, she was hawking different items on the streets of Lagos to raise money for her aunt.
Saliu lived with her until someone came to marry her. After she accepted the proposal, they went to her village and performed the marriage rites. She later returned to Lagos and started a new chapter of her life.
“My husband was a civil servant and I give birth to six children; a son and five daughters. They are all well-educated, trained by my husband and I. I have been using my fruit business to support my children in school, now only my son and his children live in the house we built. But I can’t stop working because it keeps me going and I am still using the money I make to help my grandchildren and the people around me.
Going to the market is very stressful for every woman, especially when they are getting on in years. So, how does Saliu buy her products?
“When I was younger, I used to get up as early as 4 a.m. to go to markets in Mile 12, Ketu, and other nearby villages. But now that I’m old, I only buy from nearby markets like Mushin and Ile-Epo.
Due to the high level of crime in our society, I don’t leave the house very early in the morning. I leave by 7 am. Sometimes, due to traffic congestion, I get to the market very late and buy at a higher price. I don’t mind because our society has changed from what it used to be. Being an old woman, it would be easier for all these thieves to collect my money forcefully. I’ve had such experience before, and that is why I’m very careful these days.”
Every business has one or more challenges. Saliu narrated that despite being an experienced businesswoman, there are still some areas that she lacks total control over.
“As I got older, my challenges increased. For example, my eyesight isn’t as bright as before. Therefore, whenever I want to cross major roads, I must wait until the road is clear. Also, after buying things in the market, I usually pay wheelbarrow pushers to carry the load.
Back in those days, there were no agberos (touts) on the street, and I was managing my business properly. Unfortunately, today, we always see those miscreants extorting money from vendors. They don’t respect anyone, and if you refuse to pay or buy their tickets, they are ready to beat you up on the street. Honestly, they can be very annoying, but I always avoid them.”
Mama Saliu also complained that the costs of food items are very high nowadays. And sometimes she makes as little as 20 naira in profit for each item. Most of her goods are perishable, and she has to sell them on time, or else they will spoil. Sometimes, she sells them without adding extra money to them.
Are you among those who enjoy staying idle? Mama Saliu made me realize that there is always dignity in labour. As a civil servant, her husband was well paid, but she didn’t depend solely on him to meet all the financial needs of the family. She was moving from one market to the other to buy goods and commodities at a cheaper rate. Her husband and children also supported her in managing the business. He opened a book store after retiring from the Civil Service. However, he has stopped hustling and spends most of his days at home praying and doing community work.
“I always advise people not to look down on any business. When you add up those little profits, you can do great things with them. I supported my husband with my earnings, and we were able to feed and send our five children to school. I don’t worry about how to pay house rent because we also built a house.”
There were smiles all over my face while listening to Saliu’s story. She narrated her experience during the Civil War. According to her, in the 1960s, Lagos was regarded as a “Home of Enjoyment” and those living there were respected. Everything was cheap, and money was flowing in the city. Unfortunately, the story is different now, and most people are living in starvation.
She still misses the good old days when you could cook a pot of soup with one shilling. She prays that Nigeria becomes better again.
Mama Saliu has proven that getting old is a pleasant thing. Although her children give her money for upkeep, she has refused to retire from the business. The major reason why she is still working is that she hates being idle. Also, she said that she derives joy from what she is doing.
“I do everything gently, and I don’t bother about the ones I can’t do. If I’m weak or sick, I rest at home. I have finished training my children, so I have stopped working very hard to make money. I’m doing this business because I have become accustomed to it.
Due to my years of experience, I can easily identify delicious fruits, and those are the ones I always sell. I buy unripe bananas and store them till they are ripe. People buy my bananas because they know that I don’t pour chemicals; instead, I let them get ripe naturally.
Over the years, I have built a good relationship with my customers. They love me so much, and if I’m not available, they wouldn’t buy from other vendors.”
Alhaja Saliu is grateful to Allah for the lives of her children.
“I feel so accomplished to have raised successful children. I’m happy because the book I couldn’t read, I’ve trained people who can read it for me. Although I am a woman, no one dares to intimidate me because my children can speak on my behalf. I hate injustice, and if I had gone to school, I would have become a lawyer.”
After our conversation, she thanked Iya Magazine for bringing her story to the limelight. She also prayed for the growth of the magazine. Finally, before I left, she gave me her blessing, which would remain with me for a lifetime.