By Vera Wisdom-Bassey
Mrs. Christiana Iheme belongs to the clique of women that do not allow their gender to keep them away from opportunities. She exemplifies the saying that, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’. For Mrs. Christiana, the societal notion that ‘women are weaker sex’ does not apply to her, because she is always ready to take on jobs and businesses that even able-bodied men are afraid to go into.
Iheme, a mother of three, from Amalgbo, in Nwangele local government area, of Imo state, is a graduate of Business Administration, from the Enugu State University. But after years of unemployment, she went on to start life as a taxi driver, after which she delved into commercial motorcyclist. But after the ban on okada by the Lagos State government, she is now a dispatch rider with a popular courier company in Lagos.
On the pressures of working in a male-dominated environment, Iheme said that she faces loads of challenges especially from men that perceive her as a threat. Also in this interview, she spoke about how she copes with constant harassment and major driving factors in her choice of career.
At what point in your life did you decide to become a dispatch rider?
I actually knew it was a very tedious and risky job for a woman. But wanted my knowledge to work for me. I know how to ride a motorbike. I started bike when I was a very young girl. so when I came down to Lagos, I joined Opay and operated an okada woman. But after the ban on okada, I diverted to dispatch work, and i am very happy with the work now.
What are your experiences like?
It has not been easy at all. Riding on the road is quite risky especially from many reckless motor drivers and okadas. but I do my best, and leave the rest for God. I ride everywhere in Lagos. From our head office in Ikeja, clients make their orders for me to go pick up and deliver to their customers’ locations all over the state. I could ride from Ikorodu to Oshodi or into the Island. Also sometimes I ride from Oshodi to down into Ajah.
Have you been harassed before by men?
Actually, some of them are not happy when they see us, saying as a woman I am challenging them, I should go and look for another business to do, but then I do tell them that I am looking for what I will use to feed my children and your looking at it as challenges, that is the available job, for now, so I have to do it, some of them understand and even assist when I need assistance from them, but some see it as a challenge.
Have you been intimidated by your boss before?
Yes, no serious intimidation because most of the men pity us because they know what they are seeing on the job, so they pity us instead of intimidating us as a woman. like when they place us in the root, that we ladies don’t know they describe the location for us.
It seems you have a passion for extra ordinary things?
Because before I came down to Lagos, I had a Golf car which I use for taxi in River State. As long as it is genuine work, I do them too keep moving.
What is the secret of your extraordinary strength, you have there?
There is nothing like that but is just determination that keeps driving me on, to do the things I am doing, when I look around in the society so many women are misbehaving in order to make money, some are into prostitution, but I decided to choose this, sometimes when I come back from work, I feel so weak but then in the next morning, I see myself strengthen and most time I ask God to help me and after I said that I receive strength.
Some women, who are engaged in those kind of trade also find themselves in prostitution?
No, I don’t engage in such, because the job is very risky, and I will never go close to prostitution because as you are doing the job you are sweating, the two does not work together because of what is involved and after the job you won’t have the strength to engage in immoral acts. When at the job you get the cash you need, so why will you be moving from one man to another. The only strength I have is to do the job, I don’t have the strength for any immoral activities.
Did your husband support you when you started?
When I started the job initially he was not in support, he invited my parents to talk to me, this they did. and even my parents were not in support, but when they saw the money I bring in at the end of the month they never disturb me again and more so I assist in solving some family issues that regard monitory solution.
When I start the job, I just told them to pray for me for safety so that God will guild me as I go out and come in after work, but when I started, the job was very lucrative, but then my husband was like when you fall sick, how will you cope, but for one year now I have been healthy. and more so I am supporting the family in much very well.
As a married woman, how are you coping with the children, your home, and even the society?
It has not been easy, actually, i had somebody that was assisting me to take care of the kids, but when they transferred her husband outside Lagos, I had to enroll my children in daycare where they also held lesson so, when I close from work I go there to take them home because I close from work by 5:00 pm so that is how I have been managing the word. The work has not been easy.
Are there some other things you are engaged in?
It was never my dream of going into this kind of trade because I am a graduate of Enugu State University, I read Business Administration with second class upper, and since getting a job has not been easy, I decided to do this dispatch riding thing, previously I was into teaching just to earn a living where I taught for years because I started the teaching job in 2001. I have been managing the teaching job, but then the private schools own us a lot so I have to quit the teaching job in September last year 2019, to join Opay and since then I have been doing what I couldn’t do in the family. Although I need money to establish the kind of business I love to go into but do not have the capital. If my certificate will earn me a good job, I will quite the dispatch work, but better still I have other business in mine but money is the determining factor. Opening a school has been my heart desire. So If I get like N10 million naira it will enable me to open the school, and if God permits other jobs comes I will engage in it. Although in time past I apply for a loan of N10 million till this moment have never heard anything from them. So this are some of the discouraging factors too.
Have you ever had an accident before?
By the special grace of God, I have never had such before, but because it was only once probably he driver was drunk he heats my Bike and I had little brushes on my hand, but then it has never happened again. Actually, the job is a risky one but with carefulness, and the grace of God I have been scaling through accidents. When the male drivers see me, and I remove my helmet, they commend me and ask me to go even LAWMA officials too praise me for the job I am doing.
They don’t differentiate between me as a female and a male but then I decided to keep long hair this days so that when they see my long hair from the back they won’t disturb me. My long hair is my logo.
Have you tried driving a long vehicle before?
I can drive and if I see an opportunity of driving a long vehicle why not, I will embrace it. I have a managerial skill, I read management, and if I see a lucrative job than this I am doing I will embrace it too.
How do your children feel your presence?
I make sure on Saturday, Sunday that I am at home, I rest and make sure I am with them to even ask about their schoolwork and to make sure my children feel my presence and attend to my house choices.