Wilson Okereke, Afikpo
A 25-year-old female undergraduate should ordinarily be choosy. But that certainly isn’t the case for Miss Goodness Amarachukwu Onwumere. The 300-level student of Political Science, Faculty of Social Science and Humanities at the Ebonyi State University (EBSU), Abakaliki, cannot afford all the luxuries that many young ladies of her age enjoy. So, to make ends meet, she has taken advantage of the long holiday caused by the closure of schools following the coronavirus pandemic to join the league of commercial motorcycle operators, known as okada riders in Abakaliki.
The female okada rider, who hails from Okposi Okwu community, in Ohaozara Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, told Daily Sun that her choice of the business was driven by her desire to defray all her outstanding debts in school, including the last semester’s fees, when school resumes after the pandemic.
The only daughter in a family of four children, she stated that her family and herself had been living from hand to mouth since the death of their father about 13 years ago. She described her sponsorship through secondary school as a tug of war for her mother.
According to Miss Onwumere, she had served as pump attendant at a filling station, sold recharge cards and engaged herself in other petty activities before gaining admission to the higher institution and to enable her achieve her educational pursuit, the okada work was taken as the last option.
“I learnt how to ride motorcycle with my late father’s lady’s motorcycle, though not in commercial capacity. But before it was stolen in January 2020, I had already gathered little experience on how to operate within the metropolis.
“Based on that, I started okada work, knowing full well that I would make it. Before the pandemic, I was already indebted to the school and immediately I discovered that the end of the global health challenge was not forthcoming, I went and collected a motorcycle at the rate of N350,000, so that, before school would reopen, I might have made enough money for my education,” she said.
Miss Onwumere further stated that, before now, many people were scared of boarding her bike but after they had seen her seriousness on the job and her impressive mode of operation, they began to patronise her until she became a familiar face to all.
She explained that: “When I started, people were reluctant to call for my service but after they had studied my pattern and became convinced that I could do the work effectively, they began to board my motorcycle. At least, these days, I do not lack passengers as before.”
The lady said, initially, people tried to mock her but noted that she was not deterred because her ultimate goal was survival. She, therefore, advised other ladies to engage themselves meaningfully by beginning one form of business or another rather than idling or indulging in illicit activities, including prostitution.
Miss Onwumere, who insisted that there was dignity in labour, then appealed for assistance from government and public-spirited individuals to enable her pay all her fees in school.
The girl’s mother, Mrs. Roseline Onwumere, whose means of livelihood depends on processing and selling fufu (akpu), confirmed that her daughter’s current choice of okada work was induced by the devastating hardship in their home.
“When she got admission into university, rhetorically, I asked about the person who would train her, after I flashed back on my struggle during her secondary school days.
“But as God would have it, she has been pushing forward, until the outbreak of coronavirus that made her to join the okada work. On the particular day that she brought the motorcycle, I cried over the development. But since I could not help the situation, I resorted to prayer for her safety.”
When asked if the job would not scare men away from approaching her daughter for a serious relatonship, the widow dismissed such insinuations, citing the case of the first female pilot and other female uniformed personnel whose professions could not stop them from getting married. For her, the young lady’s husband would surely come at the appointed time.
One of the lady okada operator’s customers, Mrs. Victoria Orji, told the reporter that, initially, she was sceptical about Miss Onwumere’s choice of business and ability until after a while and she summoned courage to ride on her bike.
“On our first encounter, I didn’t want to engage her service until she stopped for me, even when I did not request. But having observed her courage in taking up the job, I decided to join her.
“While we were going, though, on a short trip; I became worried on how I could assist the lady. It was for that reason that I left a token of my balance for her after payment,” she said.
Mrs. Orji added that, after she had engaged the girl three times and seen her expertise, she decided to advance their contract by retaining her as the only cyclist who would be taking her to and from work daily, which fetches her N6,000 monthly.
“When I got the information that the lady bought the motorcycle on hire purchase, I then made up my mind to stick to her service as a way of encouragement. And besides the okada work, I do send her on other errands.
“In fact, had it been that I was one of the big shots in town, I would have cleared her debts and established her too.”
The woman claimed that the activity was not ideal for women and thereby appealed for assistance from any quarters on behalf of the young lady.
Another customer, Mrs. Ginika Ani, said her interest was captured by the zeal of the okada lady. To encourage her, they exchanged contacts through which she engages Miss Onwumere regularly.
“It takes a woman with extraordinary courage to embark on this manly activity, and this is the reason I call for her service often,” she said.