From Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
since the late activist and advocate of women emancipation, Madam Funmilayo Rasome-Kuti, first drove an automobile, women in Nigeria contemporary history have recorded many feats.
Like the menfolk, they have also shown that despite some cultural and societal norms, which prohibit women from certain endeavours, they (women) have proved their mettle in many fields. In fact, women have lived up to the truism of the saying; “what a man can do, a woman can do even better”
Despite this display of bravado and stoicism by women, however, some energy-sapping vocations like carpentry, masonry, automobile fitting, commercial driving, welding, plumbing, vulcanizing and butchery, had for long remained the exclusive preserve of men. But few years ago, women delved into some of these “sacred” vocations. Women mechanics have emerged and are still doing well, some women butchers have been seen too, while tanker drivers and commercial vehicle drivers are equally found in places like Lagos and Ibadan.
Therefore, not few people in Abeokuta, Ogun State, were awed by the sight of a female commercial taxi driver, Mojisola Ogunwale, plying the metropolis in her Nissan green-yellow cab. Always decked in ash colour cap, the female cab driver always operates like her male counterparts.
When Daily Sun caught up with her at her shop located along Ita-Oshin/Aro/ Iyana-Odi Ori/Obada Road, the soft spoken 37-year-old Ago-Oko, Abeokuta born mother of two, was warm, friendly and more than ready to tell her story.
Her sojourn into commercial cab driving started in February 2016 when her poultry business crumbled and the family ran into financial crisis. Prior to her decision to start operating a taxi, she was driving a bus belonging to her brother-in-law, to convey eggs to Lagos, therefore driving within Abeokuta was never an issue for her.
Ogunwale, who did her OND programme in Business Administration from the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta, in 2008, was fascinated with taxi driving since her days at the Baptist Primary School, Idi Aba and Abeokuta Grammar School:
“Since I was in the primary school, I had always observed how taxi drivers who conveyed us to and from the school, engaged the gear lever and pressed the pedals. Ditto in my secondary school days, I always watched drivers keenly how they did their things. Since then the interest grew in me.
When and how did her fantasy become a reality? She responded: “I was in my shop here one day in February 2016, ruminating on how to get over the financial quagmire as a result of the failed poultry business. I thought since I had a personal car, wouldn’t be a good idea to turn it into a taxi so that the family could eat and cater for some expenses?
“Apart from that, the admonition of my pastor at the Rock Foundation Church that we should always embark on uncommon venture, further bolstered my conviction that I would succeed. I later discussed the idea with my husband who is a teacher in a private school he kicked against it saying it was an exclusive job for men.
“He added that apart from its strenuous nature, the insults and harassment that would accompany the job, would be too much for me to bear as a woman. But when I assured him that I would behave and not be in needless competition with the menfolk, he slightly gave his nod.”
Having got the go-ahead from her hubby, she took her car to an automobile painter at Ita Oshin, Abeokuta, and changed its colour to the Green-Yellow commercial colour. She commenced operation immediately as a taxi driver.
But her dream suffered a set back three weeks later when her cab’s engine knocked. This jolted her and nearly truncated her venture. Undeterred by the set back, she determined to hit the road once again and had to tarry till November 2016 before she got a used taxi cab for N200,000:
“Initially, I was with the hope that things would start looking up in no time, but the engine of my taxi got knocked barely a month I started operation, I was devastated. I waited till November before I could manage to get a used taxi for N200,000. I did some fixings and since then, I have been using it to work.”
Her experience has been a sweet-bitter one. She had to adjust to expletives being rained on her by other commercial drivers especially truck drivers who are fond of intimidating drivers on the road. But once they realised she was a woman, they usually softened up:
“I cannot say my experience as a taxi driver has been rosy. I really experienced the raw verbal venom from commercial drivers, particularly the truck drivers. They are fond of raining abuses and unprintable words on one. But once they realise that I am a women, they usually soft-pedal.
“Another serious challenge was that of the passengers, especially female ones who once they realised I am a woman, they avoided my cab. Some who reluctantly boarded it, would immediately started praying and singing hymns, till they would alight.
“This was because they mistook me for a kidnapper or perhaps, forerunner for ritualists because I always put on a face cap and I am without earrings. There was a particular incident when I carried a woman in Purdah called Eleha in Yoruba. Each time I was flagged down by any passenger, once they sighted the eleha covered in black attire, they quickly urged me to go on. In fact, nobody boarded my taxi until the Eleha alighted.”
Ogunwale is exempted from paying union dues. She admitted that such compassionate gesture helped her a great deal. Likewise police and Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO), have been cooperative and encouraging. She commences daily operation by 6.30a.m and closes at 4.30p.m when public schools are in session. During the holidays, she leaves home at 6a.m and closes by 6p.m. She operates charter service with five families on her clientele list, who pay their bills monthly or weekly.
On sexual harassment, she confirmed many male passengers usually ask for her mobile number and afterwards ask her out. There was a particularly incident when a man who boarded her taxi from Lafenwa to Iyana Mortuary asked her to follow him to his hotel room for a “nice time.” She initially tried to talk him out of the immoral idea, but when he became persistent, she had to pull over and asked the man to disembark from her cab.
She confessed that her venture, though lucrative, the challenges associated with it could make one, especially women who are not emotionally strong think of quitting: “This business is no doubt a lucrative one, which can put food on the table for the family and help pay some bills, but there have been some instances I thought of quitting.
“One of such unpalatable experiences was when I took an old woman on crutches at Ita Oshin en route Lafenwa. I have a policy, I carry old people for free. When we were about to get to her destination, the woman asked me to drop her in front of a bank, but I quickly told her it was prohibited to park in front of bank.
“The woman then pleaded and assured me there would not be problems, believing she was a regular customer at the bank, I pulled over and got out of the vehicle to open the rear door for the old woman. Hardly had I opened the door for her, when a policewoman emerged from nowhere and yanked my number plate off.
“My explanation and pleading fell on her deaf ear and stood her ground that I would be arrested. She did not release me until the union guys and others begged her profusely. This made me shed hot tears and I seriously thought of quitting.”
Ogunwale identified Saturdays as her best days to make more money, while Panske-Ojere-MAPOLY route remains the most lucrative. She makes at least N7,000 on a Saturday, after removing money for maintenance and fuel. On weekdays, she makes between N2,000 and N2,500 after deducting money for fuel as well as maintenance. She saves the money she is supposed to pay as union dues everyday.
She disclosed that several women had approached her to signify their interest in taxi driving, while some husbands have been pestering her to train their wives. She said she was ready and willing to train any woman to become like her advising women must take the bulls by the horn.
Two of her neighbours where she sells foodstuffs, commended her courage and described her as a woman of valour and epitome of hard work.