Women are increasingly venturing into transport business. Their interest, which is mainly in the tricycles, locally known as KekeMarwa, may be rooted in its cheap access. NEWTON-RAY UKWUOMA, SHOLA ADEKOLA, OLALEKAN OLABULO and TUNDE DODONDAWA take a look at the new trend.
Along the Isolo/Ikotun Highway, before the roundabout, somewhere in the middle of the ever chaotic arrangement of moving heads, wrestling vehicles and the irrepressible din of man and machine, Portable, yellow-painted tricycle, calmly makes a U-turn, drops four passengers, picks four new ones and moves on almost immediately, other tricycles park and their riders waiting and shouting. Riding that yellow keke is a woman.
Breaking Male Dominance
In Lagos, almost all tricycles, locally known as KekeMarwa, are driven by men, some blood-eyed, belligerent. In Ikotun for example, these men are trained to be battle-ready. Anything can cause a fight. When a provocation defies mere cursing, physical blows can intervene. Being a man, having good biceps and loud mouths are almost all you need to thrive here. But this was the place Portable earned the title of the tricycle of ease and safety. Passengers love to be driven by it. Those who harboured some misgivings have long shed them. For Portable is driven by a woman, Nike and she is changing the atmosphere in Ikotun.
“This job is good for women”, said Nike, who is in her 30s, in a chat with Satruday Tribune. “Most of my passengers always want me to carry them after the first time. Some people I have carried before, hail me when I am on the road or at the bus stop. Sometimes, they choose me over other male drivers. Some pay for more than one seat. It is always amazing to drive them. They always shower me with praises. They say I don’t drive roughly or in a haste like the male drivers do. People are always booking Portable for charter. No one disturbs me or threatens me. I like the job,” she added. Even though there is no exact reason why she chose to address her tricycle by name or why Portable was boldly inscribed on the windscreen, it was easy to accept that Nike was proud of this machine and her profession. Many who saw her cruise along look on admiringly, some in wonder and others in mild shock. Saturday Tribune completed a full trip in Portable and observed how both men and women were eager to be driven in it.
Nike would later tell her story, and she was a very lovely woman to talk to. “I have to drive carefully,” she began, after pulling over for a chat with Weekend Lagos. “Because I am always thinking about my children and about my life. And since I know that anything can happen at any time, I do not drive speedily. If a man drives roughly, he can still recover easily when something happens but a woman cannot. So, I don’t want to put myself in danger.
“I started this work in 2014, after learning the business for eight months. I used to sell fish. But two years ago, my shop caught fire and everything was burnt down in the middle of the night. I lost everything. With four children to take care of and nothing else to survive with, I had to look for an alternative source of income.
“I know it is a man’s job, but I am doing it in spite of that. I have lost everything. There is nothing to lose any more. I nurse some fears sometimes, but the fear of survival supersedes the fear of doing a man’s job. I sought counsel from people around me, including some men. They encouraged me to do it. Now, I like the job.”
Income and Dues
Nike tricycle is worth N750, 000. She acquired it on hire purchase, which means she’s been given the three-legged cab so that she could pay back in instalments over a period of time. Even though she makes about N5000 daily and remits N15, 000 weekly, Nike said if she fails to make two weeks’ remittance, her keke would be collected from her. “That is why I do not have resting day or holiday. I work both on Saturday and Sunday to make sure I complete the payment and feed my children”, she added.
Before now, it was almost a taboo to see women engage in professions like transportation because of the energy required to do it, hence the dominance by men. However, this trend is gradually changing in Lagos where some daring women have seen transportation business as not only for men.
At a closer look, many of the women who engage in KekeMarwa transport business are energetic and daring. In other words their male counterparts do not take them for granted. Besides this, the female KekeMarwa transporters are generally believed to be more civil than their male counterparts as witnessed in the manner in which they politely transact business with their passengers.
“Iron Lady” is the sobriquet of a female commercial keke driver, who covers the Fagba and Ogba axis of Lagos State. She sees nothing special in her chosen profession. The woman, while speaking with Saturday Tribune described her riding a commercial tricycle as “nothing special”.
“There is nothing special about my riding a tricycle,” she said, adding, “What do you want to say about women who ride motorcycles in the eastern and other parts of Nigeria? The only difference is that I am using my own for commercial purpose in Lagos”.
Iron Lady believes that there is just a little difference between okada (commercial motorcycles) and KekeMarwa. “If you can ride a motorcycle, you won’t have any difficulty in riding a tricycle”, she said.
On her challenges as a commercial tricyclist in a field predominantly dominated by men, Iron Lady said it had its advantages and its disadvantages. She said, “Many people have asked me why I decided to do a man’s job but I have always explained to them that riding a motorcycle is not a man’s job. There are female drivers. Some are even better than men.
“There is the peak period and there is the off-peak period. Peak period is when you have too many passengers and little tricycles. I enjoyed the off-peak period because many people will choose my machine before the men’s. It is only during the peak period that anything goes”.
Highlighting some of the hardships she faces while doing her job, Iron Lady had this to say, “The disadvantage is that I pay more than my other colleagues when it comes to maintenance and repairs, but I am getting used to that. Many mechanics take advantage of the fact that I am a woman to extort money from me, whenever my machine breaks down.”
Similarly, “Alhaja”, a cab operator who operates around the Lagos-Ogun Toll Gate axis, claimed that, though she was not into full time commercial operation, she enjoyed driving passengers around and thereby making extra cash.
“I am not a full-time driver. I only go about two or three trips whenever I close from work, but the experience is the same with those who start from the morning. When I started, the agberos used to extort from me but when I became one of them, they adjusted and cooperated”, she said.
Many people have raised questions as to what could have been responsible for the sudden increase in the involvement of women in kekemarwa business in Lagos. However, it is generally believed that the ongoing economic hardship, which has made it impossible for the upkeep of the home to be solely left in the hand of the man, may have contributed to the rise of female keke drivers.
According to Mr Tayo Kehinde, his wife began keke business after she was sacked as a teacher at a government-owned primary school where she had worked for over a decade.
Kehinde, a driver with one of the airlines at the Lagos Airport whose irregular meagre salary cannot sustain their four children, decided to join part of his savings with his wife’s retirement benefits to purchase a kekemarwa with which she started transport business on the Isheri/Ikotun route. This decision, he said, has been a major source of sustenance to his family especially now that his salary is no longer regular.
Patricia (not real name) is another female kekemarwa operator who carries passengers between Ikeja and Cement every day. Patricia, who charges between N100 and N150 depending on time and availability of passengers, said she was pushed into the male dominated business due to lack of employment, two years after completing her NCE programme.
According to her, she was introduced to the job by a sister in her church and since then, she has never regretted her decision. On how she has been coping with her male counterparts, Patricia praised them for their understanding and the respect they often show her.
Patricia, who makes between N3, 500 and N6, 000 daily depending on traffic and weather, said she does not see any difference between her and the male colleagues while on the job. She said no one could take her for granted because of the rules and regulations put on ground by their association. Patricia, who is a mother of two, gets to Ikeja between 7.30 and 8.00am daily and closes at 6.30pm.
Increasing Risk Takers
Vice President, Nigerian League of Women Artisans, Comrade Bolanle Dosu, described the increase in female commercial drivers as a welcome development. According to her, “It is time for women to take up their role in the society in addition to kitchen duties. Remember the saying, what a man can do, a woman can do as well.
“I think the former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, did well in empowering women during the last administration. Women drivers were given special vehicles for waste management duties. Now, women are taking more challenges by riding motorcycles, doing bus conducting and driving commercial buses. I think it is a good development, just as it happens in developed nations.”