Vera Onofiok & Sonia Okere
My name is Imaobong Dennis. I was born in the early ’80s in Mkpat-Enin, a small town in Akwa Ibom State. My parents, Mr. and Mrs. T. J. Ntia, gave birth to six children, and I’m the third. While I was growing up, my mother was a trader and my father was a pastor.
The first school I attended was Government Primary School, Ibesit Ekot in Abak. Then, I proceeded to MC’Intire Secondary School in Utu Abak. Life in secondary school was both interesting and challenging. I had to work very hard to pass my ‘O’ Level examination. So, after graduating with flying colours, I was admitted into the National Teacher’s Institute, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
I got married to my husband, Mr. Dennis Ekong, in 1998, and we are blessed with two sons and a daughter. After I got married, I couldn’t complete my education because my family relocated to Lagos State. Back then, my husband had a good job and was providing for the family. I wanted to work, but he encouraged me to learn a skill. So, I opted for hair styling because I have always loved it.
The hair saloon operation
After I completed the training, I started a hair saloon. In the beginning, my customers were very few. Sometimes, I would stay at the shop for a whole day without getting a single customer. It was really bad, but I didn’t give up. I continued to pray until God gave me a breakthrough.
Good health is one of the greatest gifts of life. While I was working very hard to make money, I forgot to take good care of myself. Due to the nature of my business, I used to stand for hours while plaiting the hair of my customers.
So, suddenly, I started feeling severe pain in my knees, ankles, wrists, and other joints. When I went to the hospital, the doctor said it was arthritis. I had just turned 40, and experiencing arthritis at such an early age was never part of the plan.
Due to the illness, I became less efficient at work. At first, I was taking drugs to manage the condition, but the pain didn’t disappear. So, in 2014, I stopped the saloon business.
The groceries store
After contemplating what to do next, I decided to sell food items. So, I rented a stall at Olugbede Market in Egbeda area of Lagos, and sold my goods there for many years. Everything was going very well until I was involved in a road accident in 2021. It was a very fatal accident that killed three of my co-passengers.
Fortunately, I didn’t die, but my leg was badly injured. I couldn’t walk for a while, and we spent so much money on treatment. Although I still feel pain in my leg, I thank God that I am up and doing today.
After the accident, I left Olugbede Market and started selling at Abule-Odu, still in Egbeda. Initially, I was selling only on Tuesdays, but later, I got permission to sell at any time.
I have been married for over 20 years, and I’m grateful to God for giving me a good husband and wonderful children. As a family, we have been through thick and thin, yet we are still standing strong.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, my husband lost his job, and since then, he has not found another one. So, I have been the one catering to the needs of the family. I can’t be idle and watch my children suffer or drop out of school. Although it has not been easy, I’m still pushing on.
Last year, we had a very complicated accommodation issue. Everyone knows how inconsiderate some landlords are. In this case, our landlord sold the house to someone, and we were asked to vacate the property before the expiration of the rent.
While other tenants were relocating, we couldn’t because we had no money to rent a new place. So, we pleaded with the new owner to give us some time, but he refused. He was always threatening the tenants and even went as far as arresting them.
My husband was among those who were arrested, and I had to pay N50,000 to bail him out.
After that incident, the landlord still took the case to Human Rights, and when we won, he went to the Environmental Sanitation Council and stated that the building was about to collapse. Finally, we had no other option but to vacate the property.
Two months after we moved into a new apartment, we discovered that the property had also been sold. Honestly, we are still hoping that this case won’t be complicated as the last one.
The major challenge is that I don’t have enough sleep or rest. I wake up as early as 3 a.m. to go to the market. If I don’t leave on time, I might come back late in the afternoon due to traffic jam and would miss the early morning sales.
I usually sell my goods at Abule-Odu in Egbeda area of Lagos till late in the evening. It hasn’t been easy to combine the responsibilities of running a business and managing a home.
After a hectic day at the market, I am always very tired. I don’t really have time to attend to domestic chores, so my children take care of that. They are grownups now. Two of them are in university, while the last one just started secondary school.
Marriage isn’t always a bed of roses. My mother once told me that there are many challenges in marriage, therefore, I should be prepared to fight the battles till I conquer them. So, that is what I have been doing. If I wasn’t such a strong woman, maybe I would have gone a long time ago. However, I’m still here, hustling, praying, and hoping for better days.
I may not know the challenge you are dealing with, but one thing is certain: There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. So, don’t give up.
There are no words to describe the sacrifices of a mother. My children are my biggest motivation, and I can do anything for them.
To outsiders, I might be a common market woman, but to them, I have vowed to always be their friend, champion, and super mum.