In Yaba Market, hustlers are often relentless, as they earn their livelihood by convincing a shopper to go with them into a shop and make a purchase.
“Sister, what do you need? I sell good winter jackets for men and women. I will give you a good price. Sister, come with me, let me show you my shop,” Olufemi Agbaoye, 39, called out to me as I approached the popular Yaba Market. Despite expressing my disinterest in his merchandise with a simple headshake, he pressed on.
Mr Agbaoye is one of hundreds of ‘hustlers’ around Yaba Market. They position themselves strategically around the entrance of the market, targeting persons they perceive to be shoppers. They are often relentless, as they earn their livelihood by convincing a shopper to go with them into a shop and make a purchase.
Fearing that I might be in the market to buy something else, he switched to other items. “Aunty, I also sell fine women’s jeans, tops and gowns. Very nice ones, please come with me. Let me show you my shop.” At this point, I began to wonder how many shops Mr Agbaoye had. While many would tag his unsolicited “consultancy” as annoying, his offer to take me to where I could purchase my items is popularly known as hustling in the Yaba market.
Who are the hustlers of Yaba market?
According to Mr Agbaoye in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, hustlers are men who stand at the entrance of the market on the lookout for shoppers. Their job is to convince shoppers to patronise them. Once they agree, the hustler leads the way to the desired shop.
“We call customers from outside because most people just pass by, they do not know what goods are sold in the market. So when we come outside, we inform them of what is available in the shops and ask them what they are in the market to buy. Once they inform us, we let them know we know where they can get those items and take them there,” he explained.
Mr Agbaoye started hustling in 2019 after a section of the market was affected by a fire incident. He said his shop, where he sold women’s denim trousers, was also affected.
“After the incident, I didn’t have money to cope again, so I had to start hustling to get some money to start afresh.”
Asked how profitable the business is, Mr Agbaoye said “Hustling is not profitable, but we do not have an option because of the situation of the country. Everything is now expensive, so the little money we make goes into our daily survival.”
Chinedu Anukem, who specialises in male footwear, shares a similar fate with Mr Agbaoye. The 35-year old said he resorted to hustling after his shop was demolished by the Lagos State Government.
“I used to sell shoes at the railway side, but I lost everything when the Lagos State Government chased us out of the place. The government scattered our goods. We left, then came back again, but the government chased us away again and scattered our goods. So instead of going back to the East (the Nigerian south-east region), I decided to hustle to make money. Anytime I have money, I will start my business again,” Mr Anukem narrated.
Unlike Mr Anukem who started hustling a few years ago, some of the hustlers have been in the business for more than a decade. Wearing a white T-shirt under a brown jacket and black shorts, Sikiru Fashola said he had been hustling for 10 years. The Lagos-born hustler plans to rent his own shop from the proceeds of his hustling business.
“I want to open my shop this year. I am also buying the goods and keeping them somewhere till I have enough money to rent a shop. I don’t plan to work on the street forever. I have dreams of owning a shop, building a house and having a successful business. I am praying for all of these and I believe God will do it for me, “Mr Fashola told PREMIUM TIMES.
Hustlers make money without owning shops or goods in the market
For hustlers, convincing a potential customer to go with them into a shop is the first step. The hustler only makes money when a sale is made beyond the selling price of the original shop owner. If that is not achieved, that’s a loss for the hustler.
“Sometimes we do not make a profit. If the customer beats down the price of the item to the selling price of the shop owner, there is no money for such a hustler,” Mr Agbaoye explained.
But not all days are bad. He said a hustler could make as much as N15,000 in a day if they seal an average sale of N2,000 and N4,000 per customer.
The average Yaba hustler is male and often looks rough. He dresses simply as if to personify the nature of his job. But this may be a façade, as a simple analysis of the average gain of a hustler tells a different story. So if the average gain per day is N10,000 in six working days, Monday through Saturday, he has made N60,000 in just one week, double Nigeria’s monthly minimum wage. What that means is that the average hustler can make as much as N2.8 million annually. He neither owns goods nor pays rent for a shop. He also does not pay tax to anyone.
However, not all traders are happy with them.
Trouble in paradise
A trader who deals in second-hand cardigans and joggers expressed his disapproval of hustlers in Yaba Market. The trader who is in his 50s pleaded to speak anonymously. He said hustlers most times inflate the price of goods with the goal of gaining more than the shop owner. “I believe in making sales from buyers who are passing by. I do not deal with hustlers. They make money more than the traders,” he said.
Another trader, Umo Sylvester, who sells women’s clothes in the main Tejuosho Shopping Complex, shares the sentiment. He said while hustlers sometimes help when sales are down, they often hike the prices of goods, thereby scaring away potential buyers. “For instance, I sell these gowns for N6,000, but a hustler will charge the customer N10,000.”
Reacting to the allegation, Mr Anukem said hustlers are not to blame for the high prices of goods. “In Nigeria, everything is now expensive,” he said.
He insisted that his cut is linked to the customers’ negotiating power. “If something is sold for N10,000, and I tell you to give me N20,000 and you price it down to N15,000, that is how God wants it since I did not force you to bring out money from your pocket. But if I put a selling price of N10,000 on an item that is usually sold for N5,000 and you say you can only buy it at N6,000 I have made a profit of N1,000. That’s how it works.”
Mr Fashola was visibly angry about the allegation against hustlers. He said it is wrong. According to him, hustlers help traders make sales, and assist customers to locate shops where they can purchase the items they want.
“They are lying, we the hustlers make them happy. We are the ones who convince customers to come into their shops. Sometimes they can even buy goods worth N50,000. Next time, such a customer goes directly to the trader and buys more valuable goods. They can’t even complain, we are the ones making them happy. We make very little, but they make all the profit. We are usually under the sun trying to avoid incoming vehicles, but they are cashing out and building houses for themselves.”
A shop assistant, Christian Nse, who sells female clothing at the main Tejuosho Shopping Complex, agreed with Messrs Fashola and Anukem. He said hustlers improve sales by bringing in customers who may find their shops difficult to locate. “The hustlers stay outside because not all customers can locate the shop because of the way the market is. So they help us make sales in shops”
Allegations of harassment
In their desperation to make a sale, some hustlers go beyond the basic marketing strategy of convincing the buyer. Women have complained of being dragged and touched inappropriately by the hustlers. Sometimes, rebuffing them is met with insults.
Recounting her ordeal, Mojisola (not her real name) who regularly visits the market said she is always mentally prepared to ward off any unsolicited attention.
“Yaba market is not for the faint-hearted,” she said. “You must be mentally and physically prepared. There was a day when one particular hustler kept touching and following me, even after I told him that I was not interested. Such a situation is very annoying and discourages a lot of women from patronising the market.”
In 2018, a group of women staged a protest at the Yaba market to express their displeasure over the incessant harassment of young girls and women by hustlers.
Confirming the behaviour of some hustlers, Mr Fashola said not all hustlers behave that way. “We have different characters here, but I am decent. We have good guys and touts here. I really don’t know why some of them behave that way. “
Why hustling may continue to thrive
The complex layout of the new Tejuosho Shopping Complex and the spillover shops around make it very difficult for buyers to locate shops, some of which are situated in hidden corners. A first-time shopper who is unfamiliar with the terrain and placement of certain merchandise may have to walk the length of the market.
To avoid the discomfort and to make shopping easier, many customers would overlook the extra charge and go along with the hustlers. Once a buyer follows the hustler and is shown the shop, the price of whatever is bought increases to the extent of the customer’s ability to negotiate.
In a digital world, hustling has been modernised
Rather than stand at the entrance of a market and hope your persuasion skills are good enough, the advent of digital marketing can give hustling a new definition.
In comes drop-shipping.
Drop-shipping is when a person, or company, sells goods on their website that they do not keep in stock. According to a digital marketing expert, Miracle Obasi, drop-shipping and hustling as practised in Yaba market are quite similar.
“Online drop-shippers and hustlers do not own goods, but reach a business agreement with wholesalers or traders to sell items at a higher price, in order to make profit. The only difference is that while the activities of hustlers are based offline, drop-shippers operate online. So drop-shipping is more or less an online form of hustling,” Mr Obasi said.