'All parents are having a hard time’

How a Lagos bus driver and his family manage their finances.

Illustration of a bus riding along a shopping list road
[Jawahir Al-Naimi and Muaz Kory/Al Jazeera]
[Jawahir Al-Naimi and Muaz Kory/Al Jazeera]

What's your money worth? A new series from the front line of the cost of living crisis, where people who have been hit hard share their monthly expenses.

Name: Muyideen Olamilekan Jimoh

Age: 40

Occupation: Self-employed commercial bus driver

Lives with: Wife Falilat (37) and sons Faizan (9) and Mustaheen (6)

Lives in: Lagos, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous city and the country’s economic capital. The family lives in a single room ground-floor apartment with a separate bathroom in a middle-class neighbourhood.

Monthly income: Makes 364,000 naira ($823) from his driving - but after deducting the cost of renting the bus (140,000 naira or $316), fuel (84,000 naira or $190) and informal bus stop taxes (42,000 naira or $95), which comes to a total of 266,000 naira ($601) - he is left with 98,000 naira ($221). The median salary in Lagos  161,000 naira ($364).

Total family expenses for the month: 98,000 naira ($221)

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Muyideen Olamilekan Jimoh, 40, is a self-employed commercial bus driver in Lagos [Femke van Zeijl/Al Jazeera]

Everyone knows him by his last name: Jimoh. He is a familiar face on the Lagos mainland where he lives and works. When Jimoh walks through his neighbourhood, often wearing his baseball cap, he does so with a smile and a friendly remark for those he passes along the way. Even the agberos at the bus stop, the young men who tax passing vehicles and are not known for their cordiality, raise their hands in greeting when they see Jimoh.

For years Jimoh drove a keke, one of the yellow tricycle taxis that used to be ubiquitous in Lagos. He owned his own vehicle and through hard work saved enough money to buy three more, which he rented out. Then in February 2020, the Lagos State Government announced a ban on kekes to improve road safety. Jimoh had to sell his tricycles at a loss and start over.

Not one to despair, he took lessons to learn how to drive a car. Now Jimoh drives a minibus, known locally as a korope. His route takes him from a busy bus stop under the flyover of Ikorodu Road, the motorway cutting through the Lagos mainland, to an overcrowded neighbourhood about 10 kilometres (six miles) away. Jimoh does not own the vehicle himself and has to pay daily rent to the owner. That means he must make at least 5,000 naira ($11) in fares, roughly 50 passengers, before he starts earning.

Last year, he doubled the bus fare and now charges about 100 naira ($0.23) per person. Still it never seems to be enough, he says. “Tins cost well well for market,” he says in pidgin: everything in the market is very expensive.

Before the raging inflation of the past year - reaching a 17-year high of 20.8 percent in September - he might have tried to save money to eventually buy a minibus for himself. But now he does not see the point.

Inflation in Nigeria
[Muaz Kory/Al Jazeera]

In spite of Jimoh working seven days a week from 7am until 11pm, his family is barely making ends meet and when he falls ill or the bus breaks down, he must tap into his meagre savings to get by.

Falilat, his wife, used to make up to 1,000 naira (about $2) a day going door to door selling home-made ogi, fermented millet porridge, but lately she has not been feeling well. Nothing too serious, they think.

The financial burden for now is on Jimoh. That's why he is on the road so much and has little time to spend with his family. Providing for the children is a constant concern for the couple. “I try not to worry. I think that's what made my wife ill. But sometimes it is hard to sleep at night,” Jimoh says.

When he can, he does chartered trips which tend to be quick, better-paying jobs. That’s when a customer hires him as a driver and the vehicle for a journey, often to transport goods.

One day he hopes to go abroad – “anywhere but Nigeria” - to make a better living. He would miss his wife, who he calls his best friend, and his children terribly, but thinks he would be able to make more money outside the country and send funds home to provide his family with a better future.

Over the course of a month, from September 20 until October 20, 2022, as part of a collaborative project, Jimoh tracked his family's monthly expenses with reporter Femke van Zeijl.

Here are the expenses that tested his family's finances the most.

The family’s expenses over one month

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From left: Faizan, Jimoh, Mustaheen and Falilat [Femke van Zeijl/Al Jazeera]
From left: Faizan, Jimoh, Mustaheen and Falilat [Femke van Zeijl/Al Jazeera]

Children’s school fees

Jimoh and Falilat’s sons go to a private school near their home. In Jimoh’s opinion, no responsible parent in Nigeria would enroll their children in the underfunded public school system. “Have you heard the perfect English they speak?” he asks, with a hint of pride. “They would not have learned that at public school.”

Almost half of the household income goes to the boys’ education - an expense the couple sees as a worthwhile cost. But school fees have risen quickly in the past year. Jimoh says he understands. “For them the bills are going up, too. A school also has to pay rent, electricity and fuel for the generator,” he says, shrugging.

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Jimoh says he understands why his children's education fees have gone up with schools themselves having to pay more as costs rise [Femke van Zeijl/Al Jazeera]

Jimoh used to pay the full amount before the start of every term, but these days he has difficulty coming up with the money in time. He still owes the school half the payment for his eldest child for the first term from September to November. “They keep reminding me to complete payment every time I take my kids to school,” he says, as he shows the receipt for payment of his other son’s tuition. “They are being friendly about it, though. They know all parents are having a hard time.”

Last year’s tuition for one term for one son: 35,000 naira ($79)*
This year: 60,000 naira ($136)

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Rent for next year is due in December and Jimoh says when the month rolls around, it will be a scramble to collect the money [Femke van Zeijl/Al Jazeera]


In Nigeria, rent often has to be paid a year in advance. But for many Lagosian families, it is a struggle to pay such a large amount all at once. The idea of saving up each month for the rent that will inevitably come is a luxury he cannot afford, Jimoh says. Rent for the year is due in December, but there is always another more pressing expense than next year's rent. “I know come December I'll start running around like crazy to find that money, but that's how it goes.”

Living on the mainland of Lagos is not as expensive as renting a place on the islands where the well-to-do of Nigeria's biggest city stay. But in 2021, housing prices increased on average by more than 20 percent.

The barely 12-square-metre room the family of four rents cost 70,000 naira ($158) a year when they moved in 16 years ago. But rent has kept going up and Jimoh’s landlady recently announced a 40 percent raise for the coming year. “What can you do?” Jimoh asks, accepting the situation. “It is her house.” He is relieved that she recently accepted his proposal to pay in two six-month instalments. “I used to pay the rent all at once, but I won't be able to do that anymore. Fortunately, my landlady understands.”

This year's annual rent: 120,000 naira ($271)*
For the coming year: 168,000 naira ($380)

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Rather than refilling the gas cylinder, Falilat now buys just 5kg of gas at a time [Femke van Zeijl/Al Jazeera]

Cooking gas

It is always dusk in the single room where the Jimohs sleep, eat and relax, as the two narrow windows of the one-storey building do not let in much daylight. A single bed, a two-seater couch and a wardrobe to store belongings fill up most of the space.

In the entryway is a tiny cupboard with a gas burner buried under pots and pans. This is where Falilat cooks the family meals.

The chipped lavender blue gas cylinder has not been filled to the brim for months due to the skyrocketing price of cooking gas. These days, Falilat buys just 5kg of gas at a time, which lasts about three weeks. She has cut down gas usage from three times a day to two.

The family now eats bread more often rather than cook rice or yam. The one thing they will not cut out is boiling water in the morning for the children's baths. “They like hot water,” Jimoh says with a smile. “We are not skimping on that.”

Last year per kilo: 400 naira ($0.9)*
This year: 800 naira ($1.8)

A photo of some of the Jimoh family's purchases over two weeks. With 10 things, some of which are a banana, salt, eggs and cooking oil.
A number of the Jimoh family's purchases over two weeks [Muyideen Olamilekan Jimoh/Al Jazeera]


Going to the market to buy groceries is an uncertain venture these days for Jimoh and Falilat, who note that almost everything will have gone up in price from the last purchase, even if that was only last week. That goes for the drinking water they have to buy, because the tap water is not safe to drink, for the eggs Falilat scrambles to serve with yam for dinner and the vegetable oil she fries them in.

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[Jawahir Al-Naimi and Muaz Kory/Al Jazeera]

But rice, a Nigerian staple, has become particularly expensive. The family used to buy rice by the bag. A 16kg bag cost 16,000 naira ($36) last year, but that has now risen to 25,000 naira ($57). That's why they now buy per DeRica, a local measurement which is the amount of rice that fills an empty 400-gram can used for tinned tomatoes and comes to about 200 grams of rice. By being careful, Falilat can make six DeRica of rice last two weeks. Jimoh is well aware that buying in bulk in the end is cheaper, but he can't afford to do that anymore.

“We don't eat rice like before,” he says. Instead of eating rice several times a week, they eat spaghetti more these days, which is cheaper. Rice is now reserved for special occasions, or for weekends when the children are home all day.

Last year per DeRica: 300 naira ($0.68)*
October 15 per DeRica: 600 naira ($1.34)
Today per DeRica: 700 naira ($1.6)

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Although finances are tight, Jimoh and Falilat never skimp on their children's medicine [Femke van Zeijl/Al Jazeera]

Malaria drugs

Both Jimoh and Falilat are phenotype AA, a blood type that is susceptible to malaria. Consequently, their children are, too. They easily get malaria, a disease that is widespread in Nigeria. The Jimoh household is therefore in a constant battle with mosquitos. Regular purchases are insecticide to spray in the room to kill the insects and the incense coils they burn to chase the remaining ones out.

That does not prevent them from catching malaria: the kids tend to fall ill almost every other month. The moment they have a temperature or start sneezing, their parents already know. They take them to the nearby public hospital for a blood test and nine times out of ten it turns out to be malaria. With drug prices soaring between 30 and 500 percent for imported medication since early 2022, the treatment can be quite a blow to the family’s budget.

Lonart malaria treatment last year: 900 naira ($2)*
This year: 1,500 naira ($3.4)

Five quick questions for Jimoh

1. What's one thing you had to forgo this month?

Visiting my mother in Ilorin. I used to go every month, but the six-hour bus drive has gone up from 2,500 naira ($5.65) last year to 4,500 naira ($10). It's been two months since I last went, and I feel bad. She is in her 70s and I am her only son. But right now I just don't have the money. Instead, we talk on the phone all the time.

2. What’s the hardest financial decision you had to make this month?

Telling my kids “no” when they asked me to take them to the mall on the weekend. We used to go and hang out, have a snack and look at the people. But at the moment I can't afford to buy anything in that mall. I hate to disappoint my boys.

3. Which is the most worthwhile expense from this month?

My children's medication. When they fall ill, we treat them with genuine drugs from a good pharmacy. I don't joke with my children's health.

4. When finances get tough, what advice do you have?

Cut your clothes according to your size. Don't pretend to have money if you are broke. Eighty percent of the people in Lagos do that, but I see no shame in admitting you have to economise.

5. What’s your biggest money worry?

My house rent. Safe accommodation is extremely important in Lagos. Because it comes in a big chunk, I find myself running around to find the money when rent is due.

*Last year's prices were sourced from Jimoh and Falilat.

Read more stories from the series: What's your money worth?

Correction November 17, 2022: This article originally stated that the measurement for rice was a girika. It is actually a DeRica, like the De Rica brand of tinned tomatoes.

Source: Al Jazeera