They are a rare spectacle on roads in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. They are women engaged in the strenuous job and tough world of commercial driving.
To make ends meet as well as keep their honour, an increasing number of women in Nigeria’s capital city are embracing this tough job once believed to be exclusively for men.
In addition to being members of the weaker sex, most of these women taxi drivers are graduates, who had nursed high hopes of securing white collar jobs after toiling day and night in the higher institutions to acquire the proverbial Golden Fleece. For some, this dream did come true, except that the non-availability of jobs and lately,the recession, have made it unsustainable as banks and corporate employers continue to lay off staff for economic reasons.
As the economy bites harder, even some women with self-esteem respond by dropping their ego as they embrace the tough trade of commercial driving as survival strategy.
Mrs. Rita Omoregie, a graduate of Geography and Regional Planning from Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, Delta State, is one of such women in Abuja,who have embraced taxi driving in order to keep body and soul together as well as to fend for her family.
Ten years ago, Omoregie was a member of the National Youth Service Corps having her primary assignment with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Abuja. After completion of her service year, she was employed as a temporary staff in the same ministry, hoping to be fully absorbed if the bill for the establishment of the proposed Gurara Water Management Authority was passed into law.
Unfortunately,the bill did not scale through the hurdles at the National World of Abuja Assembly .And her expectation in that regard did not materialise. Her hopes of a good paying job were dashed!
Since the proposed body could not be established,the temporary staff,including Omoregie, were laid off. After unsuccessfully searching for a job, she was constrained to try her hands in taxi driving “to keep body and soul together.”
Omoregie said, “I am sure you are a graduate, I am also one. I could not have imagined becoming a taxi driver, but something happened in my life that made me to decide that I am better as a taxi driver than depend on any anybody.
“To cut the story short, circumstances forced me into what you see me doing today.As you can see, I use a car that is not designed for taxi driving, but I put this car on the road to make ends meet.”
Omoregie is, however, not the only female graduate engaged in taxi driving in the FCT.
A widow, Mrs. Joy Ikufor, who graduated from of the University of Jos, also shared her experience with our correspondent.
Discussing the economic viability of the commercial driving business, Ikufor said, “The highest net profit I ever made in a single day is N3,000, meaning it’s the sum I go home with after buying fuel. The sum is small because of my own limitation, since I also have a one-door car. I have to load from the parks because I have one-door cab.”
According to her, one-door cabs like hers, are not suitable for ‘pickand-drop’ along the road, because passengers are not comfortable with the difficulty associated with crawling into the back seat, especially when another passenger has already occupied the front seat.
She said losing road side passengers had enormous economic implications because “you are doomed to make no more profit after you load from the park.
“So, I lose a lot of road side passengers, because I have a one-door car.” Although she agreed that the transport sector has continued to experience a boom, she was quick to add that, “it is not worth the stress.” Ikufor noted that due to the hardship experienced daily in the course of her commercial driving business, her complexion had changed “because I have become used to stress and little sleep because I must wake up as early as 5:00 am to get the best from peak period.” Stressing that “it’s not easy at all,” she noted that a lot of‘rough conduct’ and use of physical force were usually associated with the scramble for passengers even on the roads.
“All drivers rush for roadside passengers, but if a male driver sees that his competitor is a woman, he just expects she should give up and if I don’t give up, he hits my car. Meanwhile, he has nothing to lose since his car is already a write-off. Some men have been on the job for many years with the same car, and so they have a bad car already. So, I always let men have their way, but I lose money.
“So, on the road and at the motor parks so many funny things happen, which a woman is not likely to be able to cope with, especially when it comes to the use of physical force,’ she said, adding that economic reasons had nevertheless forced some women to drive taxis to earn a living.
“Only lion-hearted women can survive among those vicious men in taxi-driving business. It’s a jungle of bad rules; some of them are probably designed to edge out anybody who is weak. An example is ticketing. Because a woman cannot do as much as a man, she hardly makes enough profit that enables her to pay for the tickets.
“Men want women to also pay for tickets, pay taxes after loading from the park, and this is apart from the challenges posed by law enforcements agents like the VIO, FRSC and the police. Nobody cares about the fact that you are a woman,” she said.
Speaking further on her experience as a female taxi driver, Ikufor said, “There was an occasion in Nyanya, when I had to exchange blows with an agbero! That day, I had a terrible experience I wish I never had. I don’t like talking about it because it’s a very nasty experience. I fought men because they tried to shortchange me by depriving me of my turn to load, just because I am a woman. Yet, they had their way. But from that day till date, they fear me and they never try to deprive me of my turn, again.”
Inspite of her ordeal atthe hands of male taxi drivers at the motor park, Ikufor said, “I have no choice because I would rather be a taxi driver than sell my car for food, or sell my body. I won’t sell my pride as a woman. So, thatis just one of the major challenges I have. But I thank God thatI am coping.”
The hostility usually exhibited by drivers towards one another stems from no other thing than the struggle to quickly get passengers so that they can go many rounds and ultimately make more profits at the end of each day.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that for a female taxi driver operating in Zuba park, for instance, mastering the “strong-arm tactics” usually applied by her male colleague, is very important.
This is because at the various motor parks the jungle rules are applied by drivers, irrespective of gender and without any exception.
“Some people will tell it to your face and harshly, too, that ‘I am not your father and I am not your mother; so, don’t stay obstruct me.’
“Passengers are often very impatient.If a woman cab driver fails to be as fast as a man in loading her taxi, the passengers will abandon us, and join the next cab. Nobody cares about what you call the weaker sex here.
“Besides, task force men always raid the parks and it’s usually a rough moment for us all as drivers. Everybody tries to escape arrest and in the process, some cars hit the others and a fight ensues between us, regardless of whether the driver is a man or woman,” Ikufor said.
Like most female taxi drivers plying the roads in Abuja, circumstances beyond their control worsened by the current economic recession and the need to even play the role of their families’ breadwinners, compel them to try their hands in such an enterprise.
“When my husband was alive, he didn’t interfere to stop me from doing this business of taxi driving. It is a matter of needs and means. It is a business and it is my means of income,” Ikufor said.