QUEENS OF THE BIKE
At the Sadiku Bus-stop, in the Ilasamaja area of Lagos, there are two women who are the cynosure of all eyes. Although they are like any Nigerian woman, they, however, stand out in the crowd. In fact, anybody looking for them, even without knowing their names, would easily find them.
Indeed, Mrs. Justina Moshood and Mrs. Dupe Awolowo are celebrities, in their own right. They may not be rich or among Nigeria's female socialites. However, the business of these twosome has made them popular. They are operators of commercial tricycle, popularly known as Keke Marwa, in local parlance. And they are good at their jobs.
Saturday Sun gathered that in Sadiku-Mushin Market route the female tricycle operators are 'queens of the road.' They are so popular that passengers prefer to ride with them. Reasons? Sources say it is owing to safety and the craze to be in a woman's company. But why would a woman, especially one who had attended the tertiary institution, engage in such business as commercial tricycle, with its attendant hazards and stress?
Mrs. Moshood said she went into the business because she did want to engage in a trade where people would owe her.
According to her, 'I know it will not give room for credit. I believe there is no business of buying and selling that would not attract credit sales. Someone may buy something and owe you for months. At the end, this could lead to a quarrel and enmity. I didn't want that.'
On her part, Mrs. Awolowo, who holds a National Certificate of Education (NCE) engaged in commercial tricycle business out of frustration. She told Saturday Sun that she had worked in private organizations and she was a teacher in private schools without gaining much. According to her, she did not have any savings in those years and therefore considered it a waste of time continuing doing that.
Even with her education, she is proud to be a Keke Marwa operator. 'I am not the first lady to drive Keke. I am proud of what I do.
When I was not satisfied with what I was doing, I started thinking about what to do next. I saw a lady driving Keke. I was moved. I went to her and asked some questions. Her story propelled me to go into the business.'
In a country, where people prefer businesses or vocations that would give them prestige, the female Keke Marwa operators said that they faced opposition at home.
Justina said her husband had kicked against it. According to her, the husband was worried about the activities of touts and social miscreants.
She said: 'He was afraid, but I made him to understand that I would not have anything to do with them because there is a union that sees to their affairs and my only obligation is to obey the rules and regulations guiding the union and also to pay my daily dues. It was only after that he gave his blessing.'
Dupe was ingenious in handling her own. According to her, she did not tell her husband initially. When she finally did, the husband objected vehemently but could not stop her. She said that the husband was also worried about the activities of touts and area boys.
On how she eventually succeeded in convincing the husband, Dupe said: 'As a woman, I know how to handle him; so when I worked on him, he consented.'
To procure the tricycles, the women employed different tactics. Justina said she bought hers, while Dupe is a joint owner. According to Dupe, she operates the tricycle jointly with someone, who works in the morning while she takes over in the afternoon.
The female Keke Marwa operators said they are members of the association of tricycle drivers, Sadiku, Ilasa branch, in Mushin. In fact, Justina has earned a nick name, 'Iya Egbe,' meaning mother of the association, because of her popularity.
As married women with children, when do these women go home to prepare food for their families? Justina said she works from morning to 3pm and uses the remaining part of the day to attend to her family and other businesses.
Dupe, on her part, said she prepares food for her family before going to work in the afternoon.
What are the challenges of the job? Justina said that since people in other vocations also experience difficulties there was no point talking about her own. Dupe's only challenge is the fact that the handle of tricycle gets stiff and hard, as the machine gets older. She said that this makes it difficult for her to drive the tricycle.
Indeed, the two women could be said to be having a boom in their business. It was gathered that they enjoy high patronage, especially among women. On why this is so, they said that people believe that women are more careful in driving and also that women do not over speed.
Confirming this, a woman who patronises the female tricycle operators, said that she prefers them because 'they are careful. I know that they have children and would want to go home and meet their children. I see how cautious they are and feel more comfortable riding with them.'
When asked the relationship they have with their male passengers, the two female Keke Marwa operators simply waved that aside. However, Saturday Sun gathered that men patronize them for ulterior motives. Sources revealed that some men seize the opportunity of riding in the tricycle to make passes at the female operators.
With such experiences, how long would Justina and Dupe engage in commercial tricycle business? Justina said she would not disengage unless she finds something more lucrative. Dupe said that since her family is now fairly okay, she would look for a suitable business. She would, however, not leave the business completely but would employ those who would take care of it.
She said: 'I hope to buy my own tricycle soon, so that I would not be sharing the income with anyone.'