The story has been told of the female keke riders who were pushed into the business because of hard times.
The famel keke riders
It was a cool morning on June 4, on the occasion of Eid-Fitri, a popular Muslim festival. The rising sun, half-cloned and yellow lit up the Ojodu-Berger area of Lagos. The blaring sounds from surrounding mosques’ speakers together with hustling of commercial buses and motorcycles popularly known as Okada, as well as hawkers of goods constituted a din.
Mummy Yinka, as she is fondly called, clad in a traditional attire and a black head-tie to match clutched her tricycle, popularly called Keke NAPEP, tightly as she meandered her way through a gridlock caused by Muslim faithful making their way to the mosque. As she raced through the hustling and bustling environment, she was seen shouting “Ogba, Grammar School, Ogba Grammar School…” in her bid to scout passengers.
Few years ago, Mummy Yinka was living in fortune. Her husband’s business was booming and the family was flourishing. But since her husband started experiencing difficulties in his business, the family has not been the same again.
“I don’t use to work before. My husband takes good care of me and my children,” she told Sunday Sun. “However, there are not many contracts for him for sometime now, making things difficult. Due to this, I have to think of what I can do to assist him. That is why I am doing this,” she said, her voice trying to betray her courage.
For women like Mummy Yinka, surviving in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic hub is a fight to finish. The country’s biting economy has made things generally hard for Nigerians, but like the famous saying, “tough times don’t last, tough people do,” women like Mummy Yinka are taking the gauntlet, and toeing the unpopular decision to ride tricycle on Lagos roads, known for its challenges.
“My experience is not different from that of most of us you see driving Keke on this road. The same thing applies to all my colleagues here. The majority of us on this road are married. When you notice that your child is suffering and being sent back home from school on a daily basis, and the government has failed to provide opportunities for skilled professionals, because most of our husbands are skilled people. You would have no choice, but to do this kind of job. If there is work and our husbands are taking good care of us, why would we consider this kind of venture?” she queried.
Corroborating Mummy Yinka, Mrs Idowu revealed that the economic situation of the country has made it difficult to leave family responsibilities for men alone to shoulder.
She told Sunday Sun: “It is only heartless women that will watch their husband catering for all the family needs at a period like this. Things are not going well with everyone, businesses are collapsing, bringing pressure on families to survive. In that kind of situation, should you fold your arm as a woman and watch the man do everything alone? Obviously no! There is nothing to be ashamed of in what I and other women like me are doing. It is all about the determination and passion. So, with basically, the economic situation of the country has left us with no alternative as women than to support our husbands and keep the family moving.”
While women like Mummy Yinka and Mrs Idowu are defying the odds in a bid to keep their families above widespread hardship in the country, they are faced with various challenges, ranging from extortions by hoodlums and various charges paid to different road unions.
Mummy Yinka recounted the ordeals of women riding Keke in Lagos thus: “Everyone knows this business is not easy, but we are coping. The major problem we have is hoodlums that disturb us at every park for money. That is our greatest headache. As a woman doing this kind of job, they are not supposed to be collecting the same amount they collect from men. If we calculate all the money we pay to this hoodlums and other road unions, it is going to N2,000 per day. We are not meant to be paying that much. This is because the men can stay out late, but as women, we can’t do that. We still have other responsibilities to shoulder at home. For me, I close work by 5:00p.m every day. I don’t even work till 7:00p.m.
“So, in a situation where they collect about N2,000 from us every day, how do they expect us to survive? At Ogba Park, for instance, we pay N300, when we get to Aguda, we also pay another one, same thing with Grammar School and Berger before we collect National and Council tickets respectively. When you add up these dues, they are more than N2,000. We ought not to be paying that much as women. As women, we wake up very early in our various homes, carry out some house chores before hitting the road for work. If we remove the amount we deposit for the tricycle, how much then is our own gain?” Also speaking, Mrs Idowu narrated how her experience plying the road as a tricycle driver. Her words: “The truth is we are only doing this because of no other thing to do. The job is not really encouraging. We are not owners of these Keke, we are expected to pay back a certain amount on daily basis. We are going to eat also. Then we buy fuel daily among other things, when you remember how much you are going to part with again for the various dues imposed on us by some thugs and road unions, you will feel like giving up. What is the benefit of going into something that is not profitable? Is it not better to just sit at home? I am only trying to cope with the pressure.”
With the recent inauguration of Babajide Sanwo-Olu as the new governor of Lagos State, many women tricycle riders are clinging to hope that the situation would be addressed.
Speaking, a female Keke rider who preferred anonymity told Sunday Sun: “We are really beckoning on the newly-elected governor to come to our aid. Personally, I hope the new government will herald a new dawn in Lagos State and I am praying this will also address the huge amount of money we pay. It is really disturbing seeing a lot of things going wrong in our society with nothing being done about them. What is the justification for the huge amount they collect from us every day? How can we be working while some will feel they are entitled to what we are earning through our sweats? This is really annoying and we are hoping the new government would look into this.”
Also speaking, Mummy Yinka said: “If the government can help us in this regard, we will be very happy. We are not saying they shouldn’t collect their dues because it has become an ingrained tradition already in Lagos. We are only saying they should pity the women doing the job, it is not easy for us. If the women pay N700 daily, that is still manageable. At least, we won’t have to be paying the hoodlums disturbing us every day, who extort us. If you argue with them or even try to complain, they will remove your key immediately. So, government should weigh into the situation and ensure reduction in these exorbitant dues we pay every morning. These will make life easy for this, so we won’t have a situation where we work from morning till night and won’t have anything to show for it.
“In a lawful and sane society, this kind of situation ought to be happening. So, as a woman, they should help us. They should limit the charges, or we should even stop paying outrightly. What are we even paying for? We are out on the streets daily so that we can support our families. We are not doing this for fashion. And as responsible women, we can’t be dragging keys with hoodlums.”
For Laide Egberonde who plies the Lawanson-Shitta route in Surulere LGA, Lagos, the quest to earn regular income made her develop interest in commercial tricycle taxi transportation service. Previously she trained as a hairdresser, who engaged in fixing attachments to women’s hair and false eyelashes. But this did not bring enough to meet her needs. To improve her income, she decided to explore the option of becoming a tricycle rider.
“My brother is the chairman keke riders in Shitta area. It was him that introduced me to it. I was able to learn how to operate the keke in just three weeks. Sometimes, I cook and do home deliveries for my clients,” Laide said.
On the day that Sunday Sun reporter met with her, she was dressed in a knee length black jeans trousers, matched with a chequered top and a face cap. Laide is the only female keke operator that plies her route. “I’m not shy, I’m working for money, how to pay my son school fees is what is paramount to me. I want to be independent. I don’t want to rely on anybody. Money is coming in, so why I should be shy? I’m working for money and money is coming in,” she said.
Laide is not bothered by the perception that operating a commercial tricycle is a male-oriented vocation. For her gender does not come into play. She, however, admonished women to join the vocation instead of being idle at home and complaining about money all the time.
On the Shitta-Masha-Kilo axis of Surulere, Mariam Agbara is very popular and making waves in the area. And her goal is to convince more women to get involved in commercial tricycle taxi service, which she has been rendering for almost a year. “I pamper my keke. It is my office,” Agbara proudly enthused.
Her foray into tricycle taxi service started when she got fed up with sitting in her shop at Akerele roundabout in Surulere without getting patronage from customers.
She narrates her story: “Before I started the keke driving business, I had a shop in Surulere, where I sold clothes. I worked in Forte Oil before resigning to start the shop. I resigned from the white collar job because I couldn’t feed myself and my children properly. I felt there was no point going to work every morning and still could not feed myself and save money. That is not a job. I resigned and got a shop. I found out the economy was affecting my sales and I didn’t want to start begging for money. I took a loan from a microfinance bank (MFB) to start the shop and I didn’t want to be disgraced by the MFB bank where I borrowed money. So, I started the commercial tricycle taxi service to make up my income. I paid the balance my debt in March 2019.”
Continuing the narration, she said: “My keke is N930,000 but the money I was owing the MFB was 2 million. I recently paid N30,200, which is the balance of the loan I used to purchase the keke. I have paid roughly N2 million, representing the loans I borrowed. The weekly and monthly esusu helped a lot to set-off my loans.”
According to her, any serious minded person is bound to be happy riding keke because it generates daily income. “If you know how to save, then the sky is your limit. We do daily and monthly contribution. I remove the keke loan daily after work each day.” Recalling her early days in the taxi service, Mariam said: “I was really happy the first day I started driving. I was not shy. My only challenge was my husband. He challenged me at first about my decision to start driving Keke. To the glory of God, he is now proud of me. My husband is a VIO official. As an officer, all the LASTMA officials in the area know that I am the wife of their colleague. I often hear them saying: (don’t touch her, she’s officer’s wife o) All the ‘agbero’ in the area are cooperating too. Initially, they tried to intimidate me but I was not bothered. But all of them now encourage me.”
Interestingly, Mariam who is a graduate of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic now boasts that she can never again take paid employment.