From Manchester to ‘alabaru’ in Mile 12, ‘Iya Yellow’ tells her story
She would have preferred to be practising what she was trained as, live in comfort and face the camera without asking for her face to be blurred or her real name not be revealed. But Iya Yellow fell into hard times. Still, she’s not lying on her back, wallowing in self-pity.
“The downfall of a man is not the end of his life, I will rise again. I have a strong belief,” she told The Guardian in April.
She is fairly popular among porters in the produce section of Mile 12 Market in Lagos. But not many of her colleagues know how she journeyed from City College Manchester, in the United Kingdom, to be a porter, or alabaru, as they are called in the Yoruba Language spoken in southwest Nigeria.
Iya Yellow graduated from City College Manchester (the institution merged with Manchester College of Arts and Technology in 2008) where she studied budgetary and money management in catering in 1999. She had graduated from Obare Vocational Centre for Catering and Hotel Management in Ketu, Lagos, Nigeria in 1979. She returned to Nigeria on January 12, 2000, to continue her profession.
She started and ran a small-scale catering and hospitality business for 15 years after returning to Nigeria and thought of expansion. So, she took a loan of ₦500,000 from Accion Microfinance Bank in Lagos to expand her business.
A small part of the fund was expended on her last child’s university education. She was duped of the rest and subsequently went bankrupt.
With the impending possibility of losing her properties to her creditors, Iya Yellow decided it was best to find a way of paying back the loan. Being a porter at Mile 12 was the last resort.
“I don’t put all my problem on my children. They don’t know I’m here. I just told them I’m not around for the time being.”
“I am satisfied with what I am today. I do not regret working here (Mile 12) as Alabaru. It is part of life. And I am fine,” she said.
“I cannot be begging. I cannot go and be meeting family and they say you should have come yesterday. It is better you live on what your hand can do,” she said.
A porter could earn between ₦2,000 to ₦3,000 depending on the cost of produce at the market, said Taiyelolu Oyetunji, who collects a daily levy of ₦50 from the porters. When the price of produces like tomatoes, bell pepper and chilli are low, customers tend to buy more and thus, porters enjoy more patronage. Steep prices imply lower purchasing power and decreased patronage for the porters.
Iya Yellow earns between ₦1,500 and ₦2,000 daily. Sometimes more. With that, she’s been able to offset the bulk of the loan.
The relief that comes with being debt-free notwithstanding, she has to contend with the rigour of carrying heavy loads.
Part of that includes back pain and headache. She said she resorted to taking diclofenac to fight the pain. Diclofenac is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is used in treating pain, swellings and joint stiffness. However, she said taking the drug every day was not an option knowing she could be addicted to it.
Apart from the physical and health consequences of carrying heavy loads daily, Iya Yellow said she sometimes has to deal with people looking down on her and being paid a pittance.
“There is no joy in being a load carrier,” Oyetunji, who also rents out the bowls the porters use in the market.
“I can tell you that some haven’t made ₦400 today. I am the one giving out the tickets, so I know.”
Oyetunji argued that some porters won’t be at the market if their investment in the education of their children had paid off. Two of her children are graduates, the last of who finished serving in Enugu State earlier in the year.
“I have two graduates. Out of the two graduates, one of them is in this Mile 12 market selling. This is not meant to be so,” Taiyelolu said.
Taibat, another porter in the market, said she was not proud of her job. Like Oyetunji, she would have been in better stead if her children have good jobs.
“All our children who have graduated from higher institutions are unemployed till now. We want them (government) to make jobs available to our children,” Taibat said.
Nigeria’s unemployment rate now stands at 23.1 per cent, up from the previous rate of 18.8 per cent released in the third quarter of 2017, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics said in December 2018.
Part-time employment/underemployment slowed to 20.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2018 from 21.2 per cent in the third quarter of 2017.
On her part, Iya Yellow said her children are not aware she is a porter. But she said she will tell them after she must have finished paying off the loan and started a small business; something she is already saving for.
“While I am working here as alabaru, I have told people I carry the load for my profession and what I can do, and I have identified businesses I can go into while I’m in this market.”
“I am saving at least ₦1,000 daily so when I want to start a business I can use that as my capital, not like anyone will say I gave you money to start the business. I will know it is my sweat.”
Although being a porter is a dark side of her life, Iya Yellow said she has found the light of “rising again” after working in the market for months.
she also said there was no regret in being a porter and chalked down her situation to “experience of life.”
“The downfall of a man is not the end of his life. I can still rise up again. I have that strong belief, that is why I can come and cope with this situation. Just to have the experience.”