YOU are a lady commercial bus driver in men’s world, how come?
I do it to support my husband. My husband is an electrician. I needed to change business and I took an interest in it. I never saw any woman engage in it before venturing into it. I wasn’t motivated or influenced by a fellow lady into it, neither was I advised. It was something I decided on my own.
When did you start to drive commercially?
I have operated for more than 20 years. I started with Nkwo Igbo, in Agulu to Eke Awgbu route, before I switched to Ekwulobia-Awka route. I registered my service under the Ekwulobia Urban Mass Transit (EUMT) scheme. Though I operate with EUMT, I don’t have any designated loading point. I load at any point on the axis. All my years of driving, I haven’t been involved in any auto accident.
As a lady, why engage in commercial bus driving rather than any other business?
I like the vocation. I enjoy doing what I’m doing despite my gender. What I do is not designated for specific gender. Whatever a man can do, nothing stops a woman from doing that. I don’t compete with anybody. Before now, women were called oliaku, but now, it applies to both genders.
Why did you say that?
Some husbands of hard working women leave everything to their wives as breadwinners. They feel less concerned about the family welfare. I don’t think that’s a good idea. Every woman should be engaged in a vocation irrespective of her spouse’s wealth, particularly, where the man needs support. My take is that oliaku could be applied to both sexes today.
Before you ventured into driving, did it ever occur to you that one day, you will be a commercial bus driver?
To be frank with you, it never crossed my mind that someday I will find myself engaged as a commercial bus driver. But something actually led to it.
And what was that?
I took a critical look at my family, which is my first priority and felt the need to make life more comfortable for my family. Family upkeep is huge in any family. This is where the welfare of your family comes into play. I operated a beer joint before my new vocation at Nkwo Agulu, Agulu, Anaocha Local Government Area of the state. I sold two crates of beer per day. The gains from sales didn’t yield much and I’m not the type that engages in extra marital affairs.
Has your husband for once complained or asked you to look for another vocation?
He hasn’t. He allows me to do my thing as long as it has no negative attachment to it. Every good husband would encourage his wife to be productive.
In a male dominated field, how was the reception from your male counterparts when you started in terms of discrimination or intimidation?
Nothing of the sort, neither was I shy. Any legal business that will put food on your table, you should be proud of it. I take pride in what I do. The first day I drove to the pit (loading point), to me it was like starting any normal business.
The only thing is that when I started, some passengers cast doubtful eyes on me. They said they had seen women driving cars and buses but not on commercial purposes. To many of them, it was like ‘what does she think she is doing? Why not go for a business that suits the female gender?’ I’m in another world when driving.
Have the police asked you to pull over, regarding your gender as a woman operating a commercial bus?
Yes and often, they asked for my phone number. It beats me when they ask for phone number than my motor particulars. I wondered if it seemed strange to them until they began to ask me out. Initially, I gave them my number, but when I discovered their intents, I began giving them a fake phone number.
If you make enough money from driving, would you continue?
No! I don’t think. In as much as it serves me, or makes me a bit financially stable, I would love to do something less demanding and less stressful. If you knew me before now, you would have noticed that my skin is darker due to over exposure to sun and the harsh environment we operate in.
If I stay in an air-conditioned space for some time, my skin colour will return to its normal look. Imagine what it takes to stay in the sun looking for passengers.
The perception is that there is money in road transport business, why would you like to leave it, even when you make enough money or is supposed to be making money from it?
Don’t look at it from that angle. What I earn from this business is not as huge as people would think. I thank God for everything. Like I said, if I see something bigger and better than this, I would do it. The truth is that I need money.
Has any of your children picked interest in this and would you allow anyone to take after you, particularly the females?
None has. In 2015, I had an accident while being driven by someone else. I returned to driving while still using clutches. One of my children served as conductor. I drove in that condition for four months. It stressed me beyond imagination, but I had no option.
At the close of work, I took drugs to relieve me of pains. I won’t encourage my children to take to driving for a living. If the female among them gets married and the husband allows that, I can’t object to it. I’m into it because my husband allowed me.
How do you feel or look at instances where people call you names or give the impression that you are a tout while scouting for passengers?
At every pit where I load, sometimes when I see people passing and I asked O na- aga? (If they traveling my route) Mostly, the ladies among them would turn and laugh. The expression on their faces is – a lady commercial bus driver or ocho passenger, perhaps a bus driver’s conductor.
Some would later discover that I operate the bus. Some do encourage me and would tell me that they would have joined my bus supposing they were going the same route with me.
Has anyone asked you how can a woman drive me?
I have heard people ask such questions. Some said it to my hearing that it was their first time to board a commercial bus driven by a lady. I know some are not comfortable with that and would pray to get to their destination safely.
Have you heard someone say that he or she wouldn’t board your bus because of your gender?
I haven’t. But something told me that some people would have said something like that. I think such people are afraid that I’m incapable of handling the steering for such a purpose. To me, I don’t see any difference in handling private and commercial vehicles.
If I get a bigger vehicle, I will drive it. I have applied to Dangote Group as a driver. I would love to operate one of their big trucks. I have applied to some transporters that ply Anambra to Lagos.
There was a transport company I applied to ply Anambra to Lagos or Abuja but I am yet to receive any response. This happened when I had an accident. I wasn’t the one driving when the accident happened, so I couldn’t follow up the application.
Some drivers love night journey. Do you operate at night?
I don’t. Once it’s 4 P.M, I close for the day; reason being that I won’t make more money that period than I have done. It’s true that some operators argue that they make more money that period, but that doesn’t apply to me. Once it’s 4 P.M, I’m done. Since I started operating on a commercial basis, I have not engaged in night duty.
How do you take care of the home front given the nature of your job?
I don’t go to work on some days. I set aside two days of the working days, besides Sundays to take care of my home. Those two days, I use to organise my family by putting things in order as I’m not always with them.
The essence of this is to have a balance between work and family. I wouldn’t want a situation where I would neglect my family in a bid to make ends meet.
Most people have a routine for their jobs. When do you start business for the day?
I leave home by six in the morning. I don’t leave as early as 5a.m as my male colleagues do. I do this because I try as much as possible to put my family first- prepare their meals, prepare the children for school, and attend to other family matters. I set my children off to school before leaving the house.
Has retirement crossed you mind?
I look forward to plying long distance routes than think of retirement. You are wondering why I said so. Though, I’m not young, I’m the last born of my parents but married young. I married at the age of 17. If you have any vehicle for long distance trip, engage me. I will oblige to drive it.
Government should encourage someone like me in a male dominated field. There was a time when some government officials came to me, collected my number as a way to encourage me. I called the number much later but didn’t get a positive response. For now, retirement is not in my plan