By Bridget Amaraegbu
The assumption that certain jobs are meant for men may not be true as Titilayo Ojo has shown that what a man can do, a woman can do better. Ojo is a 25- year- old Ordinary National Diploma (OND) holder who has found a unique way to earn a living in driving a commercial tricycle (keke Maruwa).
The Oyo State born driver who is determined to succeed speaks with Saturday Vanguard on her driving, her aspirations as well as herÂ soul mate who was one of her passengers in Lagos. Excerpts: Â Â Â Why did you choose to become a keke driver?
Well, (laughs) when you know where youâ€™re going and find out that the road to that place is not an easy one, youâ€™ll surely find different means to get there. This thing Iâ€™m doing right now is just like a stepping stone. Iâ€™ve not reached my destination yet. I want to go to school because I like education so much.
But my parents cannot afford my fees and I canâ€™t kill them or blame them for not being able to afford it. Besides, I still have other siblings as Iâ€™m the first child.
My father is a pensioner and my mother is a petty trader. So, I made up my mind to do anything I could lay my hands on- that is legal. That was why I left Ibadan for Lagos. When I made up my mind to drive keke, I decided to relocate to a place where I would not feel shy or have anybody to discourage me.Â When I first got into it, people were saying all sorts of things. Some told me I could do it, others said theyâ€™d never seen a woman do it. I insisted.
I started from the Berger Maruwa Unit as I was coming from Ibadan and they said I could do it. I continued like that to other units until I got here. This is the fifth place I tried (Iyana Oba). Even when I came here, they all laughed at me and repeatedly said I couldnâ€™t do it. But I kept troubling them until they decided to give me a chance and started teaching me.
They taught me for a week and I practised for one more week but they were still scared to leave any keke for me until one day, somebody parked his own keke and went to pray. And I took it and drove off (laughs). When the man came back and didnâ€™t find his keke, he was scared when he was told I took it but I came back safely with it and they were all surprised.
How long have you been in this business?
I started last November and I work everyday, including Sunday evenings after church services and other house chores.
Why this keke driving?
I thought of so many other things. In fact, I tried getting employment in so many industries and organisations. Iâ€™ve been to the banks. I went to Procter and Gamble, even pure water companies but the ones that offered me job were only ready to pay peanuts.
And how were you able to buy this keke?
I didnâ€™t buy it outrightly. When I came here (at the park), I was taught how to drive for free. So many people were willing to give me keke on credit but theirs were very expensive. The Baba that gave me this one sold it to me for almost N500,000, instead of N600,000.
How do you pay back?
I pay him N12,000 weekly. Even when I tell him I can only afford N10,000, he wonâ€™t bother. He made it very convenient for me, unlike other people who you must refund N13,000 to N15,000 weekly. And I still make my own money.
Before now, when we had less keke around here, I used to make up to N4,000 daily after all expenses.
But today, many drivers have changed from bus and okada (bike) driving to keke. So, the amount has reduced. Today, I made like N2,500 at worst on daily basis and N3,000 in some cases. And during any festive period, I make up to N5,000 highest and N4,000 lowest on daily basis.
How do you compete with the men around?
I donâ€™t have to compete with them. They assist me a lot. Sometimes, I cheat on them and they allow it to pass. Theyâ€™ll say, Ah! leave am, na woman! Before I came here, I hadnâ€™t driven anything (bicycle, motorcycle or car). And I didnâ€™t know any road sign.
So, sometimes, I would commit various offences. I would park where I shouldnâ€™t and the police would warn me not to do it again and Iâ€™d say okay. But I would do those things over and over again because I wasnâ€™t used to them until I became perfect. Even police men and agberos would call me and say I should report anybody who disturbs on me on the way to be dealt with.
When do you operate?
Initially, I used to operate from 8 am – 9 pm but as I got used to it, I started resuming from 5.30 am – 9.30 pm because my body really got adapted to it. And it became easier for me. When I started driving this keke, all my fingers were so stiff and my palms became very hard so it was difficult initially.
But later, everything became easy for me. Sometimes, people will tell me to stop working too much; that Iâ€™m a lady.. I never listened because I believe itâ€™s my body that will tell me when I should stop.
There are some challenges which I face but I donâ€™t bother myself about them. Some are of them are bad roads and traffic congestions and when these happen, other road users try to molest me (trailer, truck, okada, bus).
Though 95 per cent of people I come across encourage me, each time I meet with the 5 percent who say a lot of jargon, I get irritated but I get uplifted again when I remember the other 95 percent.
For example, some few days ago, a bus driver parked wrongly and blocked my way. And when I tried to call his attention to it, he started abusing me. You know what he told me? â€œHe said, na me put you for this condition? Na you know wetin you do wey make you dey drive keke.â€
I was so touched by those words that I had to chase him and when I got to him, I told him that I was still better than those his sisters in prostitution. Even my passengers helped to rain abuses on that man and he couldnâ€™t say a word. So, I want to use this opportunity to thank all those who have encouraged me so far.
Do your neighbours know what you do?
Yes and they respect me. Many women in my neighbourhood want to come and learn but theyâ€™re ashamed. But I encourage them to try. You know thereâ€™s been a tradition that women cannot do certain things, which is not true. In fact, I carried a female passenger who told me sheâ€™s a truck driver abroad and sheâ€™ll come home to show off. Even if she tells you what she does over there, you may not believe it.
That woman was so happy with me and encouraged me to continue. Iâ€™ve met some businessmen who tell me how women drive in Dubai, Cotonou, everywhere abroad. So, whatâ€™s the big deal about driving keke? I want more women to join so Iâ€™ll not be alone. I know one girl who has joined us since two months ago.
What do you think about the Nigerian economy?
Itâ€™s true that our economy is bad but one can still make something out of nothing if youâ€™re not ashamed. Just lay your hands on anything good and God will bless it. I never believed this job could give me much more than I was expecting from the banks.
Whatâ€™s your worst experience so far?
I remember the day an okada man hit me down and I didnâ€™t know heâ€™s an army officer. So, he used his influence on me. He invited other army men and I spent all I got that day repairing his okada. He even threatened to lock me up but his friends refused. So, he let me go but I spent my money on his okada.
Wonâ€™t a better class of suitors shy away from marrying you because of your job?
Thank you for this question. I donâ€™t want to marry a keke driver and that has been my problem. Though, Iâ€™m making money from it, the way people look at it is another thing. But to my surprise, Iâ€™ve come to realise that there are some right thinking men. Iâ€™ve come across some bankers who approach me and the question I ask them is what do they want from me?
And they reply that they like my courage and know that if they marry me, at least, their children will not suffer, even if they have nothing. I mean very wealthy men but I try not to get confused. Some will come and promise to get me something better if I marry them. Iâ€™m just trying to stay focused.
Whatâ€™s your advice for young women like you?
My advice is that they should find something to do instead of following men up and down. They only make unfulfilled promises and most of them are deceitful. Make yourself stand out and the men will flock around you because these men know a good lady when they see one. Some people even ask me if I have time for men and I say yes after all Iâ€™ll marry someday.
Do you have a boyfriend?
Yes, I met him on this my keke job here in Lagos. Heâ€™s been asking me to stop driving keke but Iâ€™m begging him to be patient with me at least for one full year.