Driving, or even being driven on Lagos roads is an experience at another level and every other car seems to be a taxi in various stages of disrepair. But finding ladies behind the wheels of a taxi is a rare sight. Rafiq Raji, however, managed to find one, an Uber driver. She relates her experiences.
The odds that you would happen on a female Uber driver in Lagos are slim. Still, Nigeria is not Saudi Arabia; women are free to do whatever they like here. Well, mostly. And if you make the error of thinking they cannot drive any better than their male counterparts, kindly try fighting for right of way with a woman in Lagos traffic. There are probably as many women as there are men drivers on Lagos roads.
Women at the wheel of public transport vehicles, however, are not as many. It is not the norm. So although there are plenty driving all sorts of vehicles in their private capacity, from those with little engines to the ubiquitous sport utility vehicles (SUVs), it is still a novelty to find female chauffeurs.
Those who are seem reluctant to work for men. And women are not likely to hire them. Wives in these parts would certainly shudder at the thought.
Uber, the on-call taxi service that has become ubiquitous in Africa, found out all too quickly how difficult it is to secure cars from ‘partners’ (car owners) for their few female drivers. That is, when the firm used to facilitate the connection. Now, it does not. At least, that is what Blessing Onuh, one of the ride-sharing firm’s first female drivers in Lagos, says.
“I was actually the first female Uber driver that went for the exam. There were more than a hundred guys and I was the only lady – they actually thought I was one of the officials.”
A few years ago, having just arrived from Abuja after being let go from a government job over there, Blessing took an interest in becoming an Uber driver after taking a ride with one.
She applied, did the training and eventually got a car. That last bit did not come about easily. Many of the car owners she approached turned her down for no other reason than she was a woman. “Women have issues”, was the typical refrain.
As Blessing herself admits, many potential riders will cancel their trips the moment they see her picture. When asked how she knows this, she says she is able to tell from the app if she is the only driver in an area, and if a potential rider cancels a trip persistently, there can be only one reason why.
It turns out a couple of those who did choose to take a ride with her sometimes did so for mischievous reasons. One, she says, was “laughing and touching my lap” during a trip. Although as she stood firm against his advances, he persisted. Eventually, she stopped the car and confronted him. He got the message.
Even then, the male rider was furious. He wondered how she could be indifferent to the “dollars” he was flashing, his long day at work and so on.
It seems male drivers also get sexually harassed. Some female riders, upon reaching their destinations, will instead of paying the fare, offer to pay in kind, Blessing reveals. This confirms an earlier interview with one of her male colleagues, who said he never took any of them up on the offer.
Social and work contradictions
But surely she must have liked some of the riders who made advances to her, and perhaps dated one? I ask. After a while, she admits to having dated one. He was not like the others who would say “come to my house!” at the slightest chance, she says with a chuckle.
Let us just say she thought this one was a gentleman and was vindicated afterwards by how he treated her; going on interesting dates and so on. It did not last, though. What happened?
“I did not have time for that relationship,” she replies. On a date with him once, while watching a movie at the cinema, Blessing glanced at her phone and an ongoing chat in the Uber group (there are many) on Whatsapp. A driver announced he had just made a huge sum from a trip. She stood up and left for the door. “I just told him I’m coming back; I want to use the restroom”.
Instead she went back to work. Of course, she lost her gentleman. Like her male colleagues, she has mouths to feed, school fees to pay for siblings and so on. And like everybody else, her fixation on her economic goals has come at a personal cost.
But how safe is it for a female Uber driver in Lagos? Has she ever been attacked? “I have been harassed, they blocked me. But they didn’t take anything because I fought back. I lost a fingernail. On one occasion, we got to Yaba, an isolated area, so I told him the price, N2,000-something. He was like ‘Give me your phone!’ I laughed, I thought maybe he was trying to crack me up or scare me.” No, he was not. Her friends told her she should give up her phone next time but Blessing insists “anything that has to do with my money, I have to fight for it.”
Ironically, the female riders can also be problematic. When making requests, some do so at the top of their voices, barely hiding their disdain. “Transferred aggression” is what Blessing calls it.
Good and bad days
Nevertheless, with cash in hand afterwards, Blessing couldn’t care less. It is a hustle. It must be a lucrative venture, then. Not as much as before, she admits. Uber used to take a lower cut of their earnings before. But yes, it still pays the bills. In a good week, she could earn as much as N100,000. A bad week is when she earns half as much.
Out of that amount, she makes a weekly payment of N30,000 to meet her hire purchase agreement obligations. The car will be hers after she completes the payments.
Any future plans? Wouldn’t she rather do something else? Does she not want to settle down? And clearly there are not many Nigerian men, if any, that would allow her to continue as an Uber driver after taking their vows.
Most female Uber drivers are single or divorced with kids, she says. She would not mind being a housewife if she finds a good husband, Blessing admits. As the retail business interests her, a supermarket might be something she would try her hand at. She could also buy cars for drivers to make payments to her, becoming a ‘partner’, that is.
Does Uber provide any support for its female drivers? There is a “Woman week”, Blessing says, but she believes they could do much more.
But don’t discount the resilience and ingenuity of Lagos ladies – it may be early days now, but where the likes of Blessing lead, many other will follow.
Personally, give me a lady chauffeur any time: they are more polite, have a sense of humour, their cars are cleaner, they are safer drivers, they are less likely to get lost and they won’t try to cheat you. NA