By Agboola Fesobi
A 40-year-old woman, Mrs Kemi Omotayo, hails from Ondo town, the headquarters of Ondo West Local Government in Ondo State and is the breadwinner of her family.
To make ends meet, she hustles, selling dried fish, assisted by her two children.
Just like Omotayo, many people hawk today in order to get their daily bread and provide the necessary needs of their families.
Narrating her experience, she said that she could not go to school because when she was younger, her father, a timber lorry driver, travelled from one state to another and usually took her along, being the only daughter, since her mother divorced him.
After a while, her father dropped her with her grandfather at Agbabu in Odigbo Local Government. There she stayed and went to the farm with him and even helped in carrying out some farm activities.
According to her, he asked her to learn tailoring which she did for three years. And after her “freedom”, she practised as a tailor for sometime before she got pregnant for her husband and the relationship eventually produced two children.
On getting impregnated, she stated that she had to follow her husband who is not educated but was engaged in farming.
Problems ensued between them because, according to her narration, her husband was not caring for them, “so I decided to relocate to Ondo and started smoked fish business”, she explained
Before she resorted to that, she said that she hawked different goods like cooked rice and beans, bush meat, nylon and second hand children shoes.
To raise money to start the dried fish business, she said she had to sell her sowing machine. Out of the proceeds, she paid the children’s school fees and used the remaining money to start the business.
She explained that the dried fish business is very stressful.
She would travel to either Igbokoda or Pare in Ilaje Local Government Area, leaving early in the morning. She sleeps overnight in those places, and come back the following day after buying the fishes.
On getting back to her base, she would sort the fish and package them into different nylons and then start hawking.
But the journey has not always been palatable as she is exposed to various dangers while hawking.
Recounting an experience, she said that there was a time while hawking and carrying goods worth N90,000, she took a wrong step, fell down and the goods were destroyed.
“The business is riskier during rainy season, as the market is not as vibrant as other season. The price of fish plummets and lack of sales means the fishes may get spoilt and debt incurred.
“At such times, I borrow from LAPO or SEAP to augment the business so that I can feed myself and my children,” she said.
She also complained of the kind of treatment she sometimes gets from some customers. She said a customer may collect her phone number, while she thinks it was for a business purpose, the man may start talking romance with her on the phone.
She explained that since she was not with her husband, there was a man who proposed to marry her and they started dating.
Then, she was involved in daily thrift contribution (ajo) and have accumulated close to N500,000 to buy a land. Unfortunately for her, she was hoodwinked by the man. In the name of love, the man dubiously collected the money and made away with it till today.
Her words: “I started the business in the year 2007 with just N3,000. Today while hawking, I make sales around of N30,000 to N40,000 daily depending on the quality of the fish that attracts the customers.”
She said that she is not planning to rent a shop, not because of lack of money, “but because the amount of money I make daily, many shop owners don’t.”
According to Omotayo, with the difficult upbringing she had, she is doing all she can so that her children would not have the same experience, saying she wants to make sure her children do not take to hawking in life. She stated that her older child has finished secondary education, while the second one is still there.
So far, from the proceeds she has made from dried fish business, she has started building her own house. She also bought a cocoa farm and is training her children in school. She said she was not happy hawking but in order not to take to prostitution, she took to hawking.
She appealed to kind-hearted rich individuals in the society and the government to create empowerment programmes through which grants and interest-free loans will be made available and accessible to small scale business owners.
She pleads with those who are in her shoes to be cautious. Rather than be idle or take to prostitution, it is better to start hawking and make a daily living, she advised.
Another woman, a groundnut hawker, Mrs Promise Okeke, 28-year-old and mother of three who hails from Enugu State, said she is involved in hawking because of her limited education.
She explained that on getting married, her husband, a taxi driver, brought her to Akure. But she had to take hawking because whatever her husband made was not enough to take proper care of her children particularly with regards to their education. She chose to be hawking to assist her husband.
Mrs Okeke has been in cooked groundnut business, which is seasonal about six years. In the off season she hawks garden egg or “chin chin”, which she makes.
She said she usually makes around N3500-N4000 daily while hawking groundnuts.
“It is very stressful but in order not to be idle, one must work”, she stressed.