By Amaka Agwuegbo
It is common knowledge that some businesses or jobs are naturally the Â Â Â preserve of the male folks due to the strenuous work involved. It is therefore a surprise when women decide to take on such jobs or businesses and have to compete with their male counterparts. One of such jobs is riding commercial motorcycles, popularly known as okada.
Mrs. Titilayo Adedoja is a mother of three who went into okada riding as a means of survival for herself and her kids after being duped of almost N1.5million of the savings from the daily contribution of her group, which she was in charge of.
â€œI was a business woman for 14 years and was collecting daily contribution from people in the market. Some people came to me that they wanted to borrow money from the contribution money I had with me. I gave them, and though I was not comfortable with the way I gave them the money, I didn’t know they were out to dupe me.
â€œWhen I realized what had happened and news of it had spread, members of the contribution group came asking for their money but there was nothing to give them. My sister, they threatened my life so much that I had to look for means of paying them off.â€
At a loss over what to do to enable her pay back the money to her group members, Titilayo came to Lagos with the intention of starting another business that would enable her pay the debt.
â€œWhen I first came to Lagos, I wanted to start selling pure water since one of my brothers that I’m staying with has a deep freezer but I couldn’t because no light to freeze the water. So after thinking of what to do to survive and be able to feed my children, I then realized that I could do this okada work since I have a machine and can ride it. What made me decide on riding okada is because my former business when I was in Osun State is not moving here and I was discouraged from going into it.
Though Ttilayo has been riding okada for the past 14 years, but it was not for commercial purposes, she had to approach the chairman of the Okada Riders’ Welfare Association A. W. Elias Estate Unit, Owode Onirin, Mile 12, Mr. Sesan, to see if it was possible for her to become a member of the association.
â€œThe chairman had pity on me and encouraged me; he even facilitated my easy and cheap registration. From the moment I started this job, my fellow male okada riders accepted me into their midst and they assist me whenever I have problems. They even told me how much to charge customers and help fix my okada whenever it has mechanical problems. I really thank them because I would have been labouring in vain if they didn’t accept me.
â€œDuring this raining season, they have been helping me especially as the rain enters my machine and I don’t know what to do. I thank God for them.
On her family members’ acceptance of her riding okada, Iya, as she is fondly called at the park, broke into tears, saying that her family made jest of her but she thanks God for the encouragement she gets from the park.
When asked on the profitability of her new venture, Iya said she makes more than enough to feed her three children.
â€œThough I’ve been riding okada for just months, I make about N1,500 daily but when I remove money for fuel, daily dues and ticket fees, I go home with about N700, which is more than enough to feed my children.
â€œThe N700 is enough to take care of my children because half bread is better than none and I thank God for giving me the opportunity to make such money. Besides, N700 is too much to feed my children with.â€
She listed some of the Â Â Â challenges faced in riding okada to include the refusal of some people to allow her carry them.
â€œSome people, especially the men, would not want me to carry them because they feel that I don’t know how to ride the okada and that we’ll fall off the bike. But my fellow okada men talk to the passengers to give me a chance and allow me carry them. Now, I even carry two male passengers at once and more people have started allowing me carry them.
â€œAlso, when I carry some passengers to far places, they don’t want to pay me the agreed fees, which they know is the normal price and they insult me. I report such cases to my brothers at the park who ask me to take note of the person and tell them whenever I see him again.â€
While encouraging women who might be at a loss as to what to do to survive the harsh economic condition, Iya says if women can drive commercial buses, nothing stops them from becoming okada riders.
â€œIn as much as okada riding is not an ideal woman’s job, but if they feel they can do it, they should give it a trial. In my own case, it is easier for me because I’ve been riding okada for the past 14 years, so I’m used to it. I encourage them to take care of their children properly so as to ensure that the children have better chances of survival.
â€œWhen the state chairman of okada riders association heard about me, he came to our unit to talk to me and pray for me. When he wanted to leave, he gave me some money, and this really encouraged me.â€
Pointing out that she is aware of the recklessness with which some okada riders behave when on their bikes, Iya stressed that one of the precautionary measure she has taken to ensure her safety is that she avoids going to the expressway, except when she wants to go and buy fuel.
â€œEven when I have to cross the expressway to go and buy fuel, I usually beg a male okada rider to help drive my machine across the road for me because I’m scared of riding it on the expressway. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t fall down sometimes, but I have the medicine to make any wounded part of my body heal faster.â€