LIVING ON THE HIGHWAY
Lagos is a land of opportunities, and people engage in different activities not just to survive, but to be rich. One of these is wiping windscreens at traffic hold-ups at different locations in the big city.
Sunday Sun visited one of these locations to know how some young men engaged in this manage to make a living out of just cleaning windscreens.
He maintained his poise, waiting for the traffic hold-up to resume. Then he walks boldly across, right up to the Grand Cherokee jeep and quickly sprinkled the windscreen with water. Then he mops it smartly, using a small can to collect the water at the bottom. All the while, he makes it obvious he is trying to impress, getting the driver fascinated with his work. Then he concludes and stands expectantly, peering at the tinted pane at the driver's side. But the obviously unimpressed driver moves off, though reluctantly.
Looking just a little dispirited, the young windscreen cleaner steps forward and repeats the process with another car. This time he is lucky, as the lady owner flashes a smile at him with a thank you, then gives him a N200 naira note. He smiles back, thanks her and attends to another jeep, businesslike. But he was not the only one. There, at Ojota Road by Maryland bus stop, a handful of these young men hustle for survival with other hawkers on the highway, cleaning windshields.
It has become a common sight to see these windscreen wipers meticulously cleaning windscreens, sometimes with the car owners protesting, most of the time, not getting paid. But they keep on.
Andrew Atubodo is one of these windscreen wipers. An orphan from Rivers State, he had come to Lagos to visit an uncle, but when he arrived and saw how bad conditions were with his uncle who promised to train him in school, he decided to begin fending for himself to help the family. He tells Sunday Sun that although some drivers do not pay them, he makes a decent living. 'We just have to keep on keeping on. I don't blame them. Some of them feel they don't need us cleaning their windshields and even insult us at times. But on a good day, I go home with up to N2,500 or even N3,000', he said. Asked how much he makes per car, he says it varies.
Sometimes he gets nothing, but there are times when the proceeds could be up to N1,000. 'Usually, younger men like us pay well. Probably, they understand what we are passing through. One day somebody gave me N5,000. I simply closed for the day', he laughed.
Another one who identified himself as Ifeanyi said he decided to start the trade after losing his trade money to fraudsters. They took away my N500,000. I could not return home, I cannot go into crime. I was a shoe merchant but I had no kobo to even start any other form of trade. So I joined my friend Innocent in doing this as it does not require much to start'.
Do they always make money? Ifeanyi says that sometimes the drivers just ignore them and they go home with nothing but most of the time, there is always something to take home. Addressing the question on whether he really feels that windshield cleaning is a job, Akpos, one of the boys has this to say: 'Why not? Sometimes the windshields are of people traveling all the way from the east or north and are really dirty. We clean them but some people don't pay us.
That is bad. That is wicked, really wicked', he emphasized. He however, did not agree with the reporter that they are irresponsible and lazy as many people believe. 'Who says so? It is they who are heartless. I am a complete man, with a school certificate, but I cannot get a job.
My friend joined crooks four years ago. He owns a car, built a house in the village and is getting married this month. I refused to join him and all I get for honest work is that I'm lazy?' he fumed at the reporter.
However, speaking to some of the drivers, it was surprising to learn that most of them have come to accept these young men as honest and will always pay them when they clean for them. Chief Captain, an electronics dealer said he believes everyone should work for his pay. Maintaining that he cannot give money to beggars as they are lazy, he said it was much better paying those who work. 'They don't do much but I prefer to pay them when they clean for me. They are making an effort. But they should do more.
Another road user, Mrs Funke Egbemode was also of the opinion that the young men should be given a chance to survive with the high level of joblessness in the country. 'If one of them confronts you with a pistol, you will not only give up all your valuables, but also the car, sometimes your life.
They should be patronized as they are making a living and a difference in their own little way. Whenever they work for me, I pay them. Afterall they have got families apart from themselves to fend for.'
'I've been using this road since, more than 20 years. These boys are very respectful, and they clean your windscreens nicely. I believe they do it because they have no choice because every year, it is a new set of boys. That means the others have moved on to better businesses. So I patronize them', says Suleiman Dada, another road user.