In a male-dominated transportation business industry, how do female taxi drivers cope especially with the hardship in the economy? The hardworking ladies who ply their trade by driving, share their stories.
Smartly pulling over her Toyota Sienna space bus at a corner of the busy road with the type of precision capable of leaving even the most experienced of drivers drooling with envy that morning, Ronke Opemipo betrayed her tender and beautiful feminine attributes. Beaming with smiles as she exchanged pleasantries with familiar faces around the area, the 35-year-old lady has settled very well into her new terrain since first hitting the place about six months ago.
One of a growing number of female taxi drivers now plying the Ikeja-under-bridge to Shoprite-Alausa-Express route in Lagos, ferrying dozens of passengers daily, Opemipo, through diligence and hard work, has wormed herself into the hearts of many in the capital. Every morning, from as early as 7:00am, the Ondo native hits the axis all the way from Iyana-Ipaja, a densely populated part of the metropolis, where she resides. Moving seven passengers at a time between both ends of her usual route, the single mother endures several energy-sapping hours in traffic, retiring home at about 5:00pm in preparation for another day of work.
“The job is not for lazy people,” Opemipo said as our correspondent struck a friendly chat with her. “Being a single mother, it is more difficult because I have to wake up very early each morning to prepare my daughter for school before setting out for the day’s business. It has not been easy but I am coping through the mercies of God,” she added, before flashing a warm smile.
A former staff at an insurance firm in the Surulere area of Lagos, the 35-year-old’s journey into the business of taxi driving began early this year after being shown the exit door by her employers last October – at the height of the worst economic recession to hit the country in nearly over two decades. Working more than four years with the company and contributing significantly to its growth through the types of clients she brought in, Opemipo and over 200 others were laid off by the organisation across the country immediately the economy nosedived, affecting everything all around it. After searching for a suitable job for several months without luck, a neighbour mooted an idea to her. Six months after, she is happy to have heeded the call.
“Being laid off all of a sudden by an organisation you’ve worked very hard for could be very painful,” she said.“Throughout my time with the insurance firm, I put in my best to ensure that I meet set targets but immediately the economy became rough, all of those did not matter again. We were shown the door.
“So after spending weeks and in fact months looking for a job that befits my status and also thinking of what business to go into, a neighbour encouraged me to go into private taxi business since I had a good vehicle. He told me that rather than remaining at home doing nothing at the time, I could make some good money for myself by going into the vocation. It sounded so awkward at first but after some time, I decided to give it a try after speaking with a few friends, who told me that they knew women driving taxis and that they were making some good money from it.“I was very nervous and shy at the beginning but after seeing the ease with which other ladies in the vocation carried out their duties, I felt more confident of myself and got used to the job as time progressed. It has not been easy operating in this axis especially with all the traffic and agberos around; over time I have been able to understand everything about taxi business. I have had no reason to regret my decision so far,” she said.
In a job dominated by men, making a way in one of Lagos’ most ‘chaotic’ bus stops and transport routes has not been easy. But like most female taxi drivers, who ply the axis, Opemipo has found new and interesting ways to win passengers to herself and ensure the bucks keep rolling in. Revealing some of the strategies she adopts to remain popular among passengers in this part of the city, she said that being distinct is the secret of her success so far in the business.
“Even though I am a woman and would naturally get some form of sympathy from commuters, I make sure I dress well all the time because appearance goes a long way too in any business.“Also, I ensure that my vehicle, both inside and outside is very neat whenever I am on the road. As a result of this, a lot of passengers would even prefer to wait for my turn to load because they like the way I operate.“Apart from the little stress associated with driving in traffic, it has not been a bad experience for me because there is no day that I take my car out that I don’t go back home with at least N10, 000. I work only on weekdays so that I can have enough time for myself and my daughter. I love the job because it allows me to be in control of my time,” she said.
During a visit to Ikeja earlier in the week, our correspondent observed how more young women have now embraced taxi driving for a living. Like 35-year-old Opemipo, many in this category came into the vocation after losing their paid employments in established companies in different parts of the city and beyond.
Rather than pounding the streets of Lagos looking for another ‘white collar’ job with their educational qualification, this category of women, who were fortunate to own good cars, decided using them to make a way for themselves. Apart from going home with decent amounts of money at the end of each day, the opportunities offered by the job, especially meeting new and exciting people every day, has been endless for operators.
Francisca Iwu, a former staff with a cosmectic producing firm at the Yaba area of the city, told Saturday PUNCH that since coming into the business four months ago, things have improved significantly for her despite losing her father within the period. She revealed that to attract decent passengers to herself, she not only dresses well and keeps her car clean but also ensures that the inside of the vehicle smells nice. She sprays the car with sweet smelling air freshner and plays good music inside for her passengers to enjoy.
According to her, most passengers want to enjoy their rides as much as possible regardless of the distance and to make them look out for her; she has adopted this special tactics to remain popular among commuters around the Ikeja area of Lagos.
“It is not as if people won’t board your vehicle if you don’t keep it clean regularly or make the inside look and smell good. To give them value for their cash and also ensure they look forward to being your passenger again, you just have to up your game.“Even though I came into the job by ‘accident’, I am enjoying it by the day. The agberos combined with the menace of police officers and other law enforcement officials can sometimes be very frustrating but then, once you understand the terrain quite well, it becomes easy.
“From the money I make hustling here, I ensure that my car is in good condition always. Then I also put on the air conditioner from time to time depending on the temperature of the day, so especially at afternoons, passengers would almost scramble to board my vehicle because of this fact. The friendly air and good music I offer is a big thrill for these commuters. This is the only way women like us can compete favourably with the men here,” she said.
Apart from Opemipo and Iwu, our correspondent also observed the presence of over five other female taxi drivers plying the Ikeja-under-bridge to Shoprite-Alausa-Express route during the visit to the area in the course of the week. Besides operating with cars far neater than their male counterparts, the women also dressed well and appeared friendlier. In diction and mannerism, they were quite different from the males here, it was also observed.
“The fact that I am working as a female taxi driver here now doesn’t mean that I should appear tattered and unkempt. As far as I am concerned, this is my job now and I must do it with all my heart because after all, there is dignity in labour.“Since I have been operating here for the past five months, a lot of encouragement has come in from passengers. Many of them like the way I appear and take care of my vehicle and they give me tips and other types of gifts just to show their appreciation. For me, this brings a special feeling and makes me want to provide better service for my passengers,” Bimpe Adegoke, another female taxi driver plying the route, told Saturday PUNCH.
But while Ikeja appears to be a popular operating hub for many young women now into taxi business in Lagos after losing their jobs due to the mass sacking that greeted the country in recent time as a result of the troubled state of the national economy, in other parts of the city more ladies are also finding new lives through the vocation these days.
For example, Olateju Adegboyega, a native of Osogbo in Osun State appears to have found a way after leaving her former telecommunications job. Months of fruitless search for a new one led her to signing up as one of a growing number of female drivers on leading transport platform, Taxify. Four months after ferrying passengers to all corners of Lagos, she told Saturday PUNCH that the experience has been a mixed bunch.
“Operating a taxi in Lagos can be very hectic especially when there is traffic. When I started, it was quite tough for me but as time went on, I became used to the situation.“Personally I like driving but I came on the Taxify platform because I didn’t have what to do at some point after leaving my previous job. The fact that I owned a car afforded me the opportunity to easily make up my mind about this. Even though so many people tried to discourage me, because I knew where I was going, I decided to do this.“Initially I was a bit shy but because I was the owner of the vehicle, that gave me some confidence and eventually I loosened up. But then as a person I have also adopted strategies to serve my passengers better. For instance, once they board my vehicle, I strike an interesting conversation with them to liven things up. Some could be having a bad day, so I try first of all to know their state of mind before choosing how best to begin a conversation. At the end of the trip, I’d realise that I had added value to the person’s life and a lot of times we become friends through that means. I do all I can to make every trip exciting and memorable for my passengers,” she said.
But that friendly disposition hasn’t come without a price. According to the 37-year-old mother of three, some male passengers have sometimes crossed the line by demanding for a love relationship.
“The request for relationship from some male passengers is what we deal with almost every day but like an adult, I have learnt how to handle that very well.“Due to the fact that each driver’s contact phone numbers is on the Taxify app, it’s easy for mischievous people to use that to begin to pester you unnecessarily. Immediately I let such people know that I am married, they back off. It’s just wisdom one requires to handle such,” she said.
However, unlike many female taxi drivers, who came into the vocation after losing their jobs, Voke Ejenavi started moving passengers to different parts of Lagos with her car via the Taxify platform after failing to find a ‘white collar’ job upon graduation from the university.
Seeing the opportunities inherent in the business, the young lady continued with her taxi operations even after finally landing a job with a big company on the island part of Lagos, driving passengers around after the close of work and at weekends. Though the demand of her new job consumes much of her time these days and forced her to mellow down, the dark-complexioned lady told Saturday PUNCH that running a taxi service has been a blessing for her.
“The job I do presently with a multinational company came through a passenger I once drove in the earliest days of my taxi operations,” she said smiling. “I searched for a job everywhere upon graduating from university and after going without success for a while, I decided to give commercial driving a try since I already had a car.“My parents were quite supportive even though it took a lot of convincing for them to finally allow me do this. When I started, the responses I got made it even more exciting for me because people would always tell me that I was the first female taxi driver to have carried them. A lot of times in the course of a particular trip, I would ask the passengers if they were okay, if the temperature of the air conditioner was good for them, if there was anything I could do to make them more comfortable. They probably had never seen this level of care before from a taxi driver especially a woman and they became excited about this. I made a lot of friends through the way I attended to passengers and that drew more of them to me.“However, because my new job is very demanding, I have stopped for a while. But the experience is something I’ll always relish.,” she added.
Even though there have been fears in recent times over the safety of taxi drivers in Lagos especially following rising attacks on them by passengers with sinister motives, many of the females in the business like Adegboyega told Saturday PUNCH that they were not scared but ready to surmount every hurdle in their quest to earn decent livings behind the wheels in one of Nigeria’s most populated and busiest cities – Lagos.