Nigerian Trader: The Covid-19 Pandemic Exposed Me To My “New Money”

By  |  December 6, 2022

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Adebunmi Ayomide, a 26-year-old trader in Lagos, Nigeria. The conversation has been edited for length and precision.

I started trading immediately after I left secondary school. I wasn’t sure of my next move, but I had just been handed to a woman who trades at Irepodun Market, a popular market in Lagos, Nigeria. My mother suggested going to work for her as a salesboy, and what was certain at the time was that I had no other option.

At first, I was hesitant because I still had it in mind to further my education, but after much persuasion from my mom, I eventually decided to give it a try. Now it’s six years already. I see it as exactly what I’ve been born to do.

The money I made during the pandemic has let my boss buy new shops and packing stores

She never would have been able to afford to buy those things if it weren’t for the Covid-19 pandemic. She just bought a new car and recently renovated her house.  She also invested most of the money in the business, so I’ve got a variety of goods to present to our customers too, which is helping me build the business.

I honestly expected her to put me under close watch. Surprisingly, it feels like she trusts me to handle the business properly. She talks to me about anything and everything, from where she purchases the goods to the stress involved to how to properly handle customers, especially hostile ones. I live in her house and eat her food.

During the pandemic, I handle the business most of the time, but I love it when she comes around

Sometimes customers come without realizing I’m the only one around, and you can see the disappointment on their faces. Their countenance just changes. If they don’t trust you, they always ask “Where is your madam?” It’s sort of funny because it’s always the same question.

It can get a little messy at times, especially when big buyers try to rub their egos on my face, but I put a call across to my boss to help handle the situation. I also have my neighbors around to assure them that I know and understand the business. Most times, though, I intelligently handle the Situation.

I love the freedom my boss gives me

I can put a lot of creativity into my dealings with customers, or I can follow the traditional approach if I want. The motto is simple: do whatever it takes to meet the sales target, but it has to be legal. When I’m around, I’m usually the only one attending to customers even if my boss is present, so I don’t have to worry about distractions. It is just me and the customers exchanging goods for money and money for goods.

Some days require you to seek all the help you can find, but I don’t surrender to them. I do like a helping hand from my boss and neighbors, though. It’s fun to see them complain about how energy-demanding it is. I want people to know what it feels like to singularly attend to volumes of customers: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I earn a decent salary from my job and then the care and tips from my boss on top of that. She can be very open-handed. She knows I am not just working for my salary – I’m working for the business to grow, and I need to be compensated for that. And most of the time, she does.

I feel like people think traders went out of business in Nigeria during the Covid-19 pandemic

But that’s very far from the truth. They assume we were just at home sitting idle and spending the money we gathered before the lockdown (that was what we were supposed to be doing).

When people see the results of my hustle (as we locally refer to hard work in Nigeria) during the pandemic, they understood that I am not just a salesboy and I have dreams and aspirations. I am more that my job description. They’re humbled, which positively affects my impetus.

Just because I have a job that describes me as a domestic helper doesn’t mean I should act like one. For me, building this empire for my boss draws me nearer to the kind of life I want. But if it doesn’t, that’d be okay. 

Cover photo by Rohan Reddy on Unsplash

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