The chant of Jale Ojoo (signifying a demand from fellow taxi drivers to drop their Ojoo-bound passengers, for onward transportation) with prancing movements by a female driver at a filling station beside Mokola overhead bridge in Ibadan was hard to miss. OYEYEMI OKUNLADE approached the chanter, Olubunmi Ogunnaike, a woman in her late 40’s and a native of Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State, and got her to share how she abandoned two feminine jobs for a rather ‘masculine’ job – commercial driving and transport unionism..
How long have you been living in Ibadan?
I have been in Ibadan for about 20 years.
What is your educational qualification?
I attended Holy Trinity Primary School, Sabongeri, Kano, Kano State. We were brought home from Kano State in 1980 to stay with my paternal grandmother. I was enrolled in Saint Philip’s Anglican School I, Oke-Agbo, Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State, from where I proceeded to Shamsudeen Grammar School in the same town. At this period, my mother divorced my father. Soon after the divorce, my father travelled to London and his whereabouts have been unknown ever since. It was during the Muhammadu Muhari/Tunde Idiagbon regime. My grandmother could not afford to pay my school fees any longer because of the economic situation at that time. I stayed with her in the village for about one year before I expressed my unwillingness to live there anymore. I came back home to learn fashion designing, in Ijebu Igbo.
For how long did you engage in fashion designing?
I practised for almost 24 years before I stopped about four years ago.
What was the name of your fashion outfit?
I named it ‘Boluwatife Fashion Designer’.
How popular were you in that job?
I made a name in that profession in the area where I resided then, Alaro Meta, Omi Adio, Apata, Ibadan. Back then, if you asked of ‘Mummy Gbenga,’ you would be directed to my shop. I later relocated to Adifase area, also in Apata. I was popular there, too.
You said you stopped sewing about four years ago, why?
I had an attack which left my left leg shorter than the right. There was a sudden strange movement in my leg. The problem got so bad that at a point, I could not walk straight like before. As a fashion designer, I needed my legs to control sewing machines but the shortness of one led posed a difficulty, so I could not continue the work. The option I was left with was to start a business. That was how I started trading in beer and all other drinks wholesale in the area I moved to, Adifase, Apata.
What happened to your apprentices in the fashion designing business?
I discharged them. I told them to learn from other fashion designers.
So, you sold your machines?
No, I did not sell them. My child uses them.
From fashion designing to trading, to commercial driving… How did you become a taxi driver?
I told you earlier that I stopped sewing when I started having problems with my leg and everywhere I visited for treatment, I was told that it was a spiritual problem. I spent all the money I made from my trade on the treatment of the leg. In the midst of the challenge, my husband (though not the father of my child) died. This made the responsibilities of two people such as the payment of my daughter’s school fees become mine only. My daughter was then a final year student at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. My leg problem put a strain on my business and in the end, the business went under.
Was your daughter able to graduate from the university?
Yes, Omotoke Sarafadeen studied Agricultural Economics. She graduated with a second class upper division and did her youth service in 2015. She is yet to get a job.
How did you manage to buy your car?
My late husband bought the car for me purposely to make the movement of my wares easy. But after his death, everything turned upside down. I obtained a loan from a micro finance bank which I could not afford to pay back.
While trying to repay the loan, I called one of my neighbours, a mechanic, to help sell the car. I was planning to relocate. But he urged me not to relocate, saying that if I were a man, I wouldn’t be suffering since I owned a car that could be used for a commercial purpose. He offered to be plying Ijebu-Ode with it every weekend. He delivered N2,000 at the end of each working day.
One day, he parked the car, saying he would no longer work with it because one of the tyres detached from the rim in motion. His action got me thinking about his earlier statement that if I were a man, I would not have been suffering. Then I thought to myself, a man or a woman, we both are human beings capable of making our own decisions and taking our destiny in our own hands. Incidentally, I usually behaved in ways considered to be characteristic of a man. At that point, I made up my mind to step out on a Monday. As I stepped out with my car at Ahmadiyya, Apata, passengers heading for Omi Adio rushed into my car.
When I got to Omi Adio, I parked and turned around at Amuludun and picked Apata-bound passengers.
After some trips, from Apata, I picked people going to Challenge. There, I realised that transport union members were coming for me. I observed from their actions that they were prepared to attack me since I had not joined them. They asked me to pay a levy but I refused and struggled with them. I insisted not to pay any money. Soon, people gathered around us and settled the matter. They appealed to them to leave me alone; that I was only a woman. So, I took my leave. When I got there the third day, the union members said their chairman, popularly called ‘Ten-ten’, wanted to see me. I went to his office. The chairman was surprised when he saw me.
I was fatter and fairer back then. When I got to his office, all he could do was to pray for me. He said I had his permission to pick passengers at their garage in Challenge and ordered his boys not to collect any fee from me except I willingly gave it. That was how I started operating at the Challenge garage. I was later allowed to carry passengers that were going to Ojoo. On getting to Ojoo, the chairman, the late Alhaji Taofeek Oyerinde, Fele, requested to see me and I was taken to his office by Alhaji Hakeem Azan.
When I got to Alhaji Fele’s office, he asked if truly I was a taxi driver and I said yes. On the spot, he appointed me as the secretary of that garage. I shuddered and he noticed. He asked if I did not want the post. It was those that took me there that answered that I wanted the post but that I was afraid. Truly, I was afraid because of what I had heard about transport unionism. Another reason I was afraid was because some of the union members might have been eyeing or struggling to get the post. But Alhaji Hakeem told me to relax; that I would be just fine.
What is the name of this garage (where this interaction is taking palce)?
It is called UI Unit under Ibadan North 2.
How long have you been here?
On 7 January, 2018, it will be four years that I have been here. After the chairman, the secretary is next. If God helps me, I like to hold the post again.
Would you contest for the chairmanship of your unit, the UI unit?
Yes, I would.
When will the next election take place?
Next year, I think.
Have you witnessed any union riot in the last four years?
I only experienced it once and that was when we wanted to create this unit, the UI Unit. But I was not around then. I was ill; I could not come to the garage. By the time I resumed on the third day, the police had settled the problem.
How do you cope with the fact that you are the only female union executive at your unit and all other units?
We all know that men are not that simple. There is no way they would not have strong spirit or trait in them. There are easy going ones and there are troublemakers among them. I am used to their way of life now. I am calmer now. I would rather play with them than fight them. When I joined them, most of them thought they could date me but I made them realise that I was not into such a thing. I don’t know if that would be used against me in the next election.
How do you relate with your fellow taxi drivers?
They are not easy to mingle with. Thirty per cent of them are nice and respectful. I used to have a unit where co-drivers quarrelled with me. But things have changed now with the help of Alhaji Fele.
So, you still are exempted from paying ‘owo-ita’ (a levy)?
Yes. But some members of a particular unit have refused to make their peace with the situation. They still threaten me but I don’t mind them.
How do you handle policemen’s request for ‘settlement’?
The majority of them treat me respectfully, while some, the bad eggs among them, misbehave.
Who taught you to drive and how long did the training take?
I was taught by a brother named Segun within two weeks. He used to visit our complex at Adifase in those days.
Are your parents still alive?
My mum is alive.
What was her reaction when you wanted to start this job?
My mother was not aware in the beginning. It was when she came on a visit that she knew about it.
What time do you normally resume and close from work?
I always resume by 7.30 a.m. and I close anytime I like.
Do you give your car to another person after you closed for the day?
No, I don’t do that anymore. I used to do that when I had two cars but I stopped due to mishandling. I sold one eventually.
Can you drop this job for another?
I can, if I see any better job.
What type of job do you think will be better?
It is not as if taxi driving is not stressful but since I have not got another job, I do not have any choice but to keep the one I have.
How did you feel when you just started this job?
I decided to accept my fate and move on.
How do you feel with chanting slangs applicable to driving such as Jale Ojoo?
Initially, it felt strange but as time went on, I got used to it.
Do you always go home immediately after closing from work?
Yes, I always go home straight, because I do not have anywhere else to go.
Are your children proud of you as a taxi driver?
They are happy with me as long as I don’t steal or fool around.
What would make you happy?
My daughter getting employed.
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