By Adeyinka Adeyemi- The Guardian Newspaper
Oluwakemi Samuel, a fashion designer and a mother of three, closed down her shop in January 2020 and opted to drive an interstate commercial bus.
In the last one year, she has been ferrying passengers between Oju-Ore in Ogun State and Abule Egba in Lagos .
Before opting to sit behind the wheels of a commercial bus, Samuel was managing her shop where she made and sold clothes, and jeweleries for about two years. She turned to transportation because “people are not really sewing dresses or buying like that.”
Nigeria’s economy has not been all rosy for a few years and people’s purchasing power has taken a massive hit as unemployment rates are spiking. The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the situation, plunging the economy into the second recession in less than five years.
43% of Nigeria’s approximately 209 million people is living below the poverty line, figures by World Poverty Clock obtained on March 24, 2021, showed.
It means that average Nigerians who have acutely low purchasing power are struggling to feed as food inflation rises. However, the rich and poor must move around.
With her business having unencouraging patronage due to the harsh economic realities, she had to find another way.
“(I thought) people that have not been able to feed will not be ready to buy jewellery or whatever,” Oluwakemi said.
“But everybody must go out every day. Either looking for their daily bread or doing one thing or the other. So, definitely we get more income from the bus.”
Oluwakemi was introduced to commercial driving by her husband, Ayomide Samuel, an electrician, who disclosed that they had to strategise to cater for their children and other family needs.
“We just decided to go for a mini-bus so it will be like a source of income if the contract did not come in,” Ayomide said.
The couple got minibus on hire purchase last year at N2.1Million
But together, they pay N25,000 for the bus weekly. .
Oluwakemi’s foray into public transportation challenges the status quo in the sector which is male-dominated over the years.
Oftentimes, men occupied the road either as motorcyclists, tricyclists, bus drivers or trunk drivers and are undebatable occupiers of top positions in the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). In recent times, the industry is witnessing the upsurge of women who are committed to succeeding in the profession.
Photo Caption: Sekinat a female tricyclist at Tabon-tabon in Agege
Sekinat, a single mother of two, is a tricyclist at Tabon-tabon in Agege. Unlike Oluwakemi, Sekinat said the situation makes her job more challenging.
She wakes up as early as 4:00 am to make breakfast for her children and pack the lunch they will eat in school.
“I don’t like them buying food to eat,” she said. She does not set out for the park until the school bus picks up the kids at about 6 am.
“When I first started this job, it was difficult, very difficult that at least in a month, I could not do without collecting drip,” Sekinat said. “But I just felt whoever wants to be somebody must not relent.”
Sekinat started tricycling two years ago with the help of the unit chairman, Olaide Okadigbo, who trained women on how to drive tricycles and give them tricycles to work with.
Sekinat started riding tricycles in September 2019. She did not own one until towards the end of 2020.
Photo Caption: Oluwakemi a female tricyclist
Like Oluwakemi and her husband, she bought her fairly used tricycle on hire purchase at the rate of N650 000. Currently, she pays N10,200 to the owner of the tricycle weekly and will continue to do so for a period of nine months. Already, she has paid N250,000 in three months.
Despite the task of completing the payment, she feels her gender as a female rider puts her in a better stead against her male colleagues. This claim was corroborated by Ayomide, who said he earns lesser from driving the minibus he shares with his wife
“I (have) realised she makes more than I make,” Ayomide said “And I see that being a woman there is a chance they give to them.”
Sekinat said she makes more than N10,000 daily and sometimes N15,000. From that, she buys fuel and pay daily security fee of N1000 for the tricycle
But as women, there are major risks that come with the job, another tricyclist, Wunmi, said.
She recounted her scariest moment as a tricyclist on December 31st, 2020.
“I dropped the passengers at a bus stop close and I parked to pick two guys as passengers, and a truck hit my tricycle from the back,” Wunmi said. “I didn’t even know that I can still stand on my two legs, I know that grace speaks for me. The grace of God.”
Wunmi started tricycling in October last year when her cleaning job was no longer sufficient to feed her and her child. From the financial help she got from her church and her brothers, she bought a fairly used tricycle, and a church member trained her how to ride it.
From the money she makes from riding the tricycle, she hopes to open a grocery store so she can adequately take care of her family.
To these women, extortion and multiple levies paid to road unions are a source of constant headache.
Moreover, the assumption of women being weak rears its head every now and then. Hence, they put up a strict attitude to fend off sexual harassment and other forms of aggression.
“I am coping but there are challenges like being wooed by fellow tricyclists, being harassed by the men. There are a lot of things they do, but once anyone knows what she wants, there has to be a focus,” Sekinat said.
“Some male riders rough handle female riders – like touching your buttocks and some are ready to sleep with you here – at the park – which shouldn’t be encouraged.”
The International Labour Organisation said in 1998 that some “occupations, like taxi drivers, health care workers, teachers, social workers, domestics in foreign countries, people working alone, especially in late night retail operations, are at higher risk than others of experiencing such violence.”
ILO said women “are especially at risk”. These women are aware of the risks.
Ayomide said he has no problem with his wife doing commercial driving with him with all the said harassment.
However, Oluwakemi said she gets encouraged by her passengers, most often, she becomes a topic of discourse in the bus.
Sekinat said she is excited when “People are always happy to see we females hustling and not sitting down doing prostitution or robbing, and not sitting for a man to give them (money).”