Aisha Umar has courageously shifted the boundaries set around women, by the commonly accepted societal beliefs and expectations.
Her ability to make history as the first Nigerian woman to break into the male dominated business of taxi driving has indeed awaken Nigerian women to the endless opportunities available to them.
An industrious and enterprising young Nigerian woman, Aisha has tried her hands on several businesses, and taken up tasking responsibilities; all in a bid to make an honest living and also cater for her children.
Aisha never thought that she would be the one to break the mold. Not even in her most adventurous dreams did she imagine claiming a space for her green cab in the park filled with men. But necessity drove her and opened her eyes to the opportunities staring into her face.
According to her, taxi business was the last thing on her mind when she dropped out of the university over 12 years ago as she became pregnant in her second year of studying Public Administration at the University of Abuja. Her original plan was to take a break for one year to have her baby and then return to the school to complete her studies. But no, the events of her life took a different turn.
The young woman had left Algeria with her two children, leaving her husband behind, when she realized that her marriage had gone awry.
To make a living and cater for the needs of her children, she immediately went into trading and began dealing in clothing materials. Her affable disposition endeared her to many, who with time became her regular patronizers.
That way, business fared well and she was able to buy a Nissan Sunny car, with which she was able to move her goods around and also supply interested customers while she collected money later.
But business soon took a depressing turn, most of her customers began buying her goods on credit, Aisha wasn’t worried until the debts mounted terribly and her business began to tremble under the harsh weight. Though frustrated, the mother could not close shop for fear of starving to death with her children.
And so she began visiting her debtors, one house after another, but each time; she left disappointed.
After one of her weekend rounds, she was returning home downcast without a coin, after listening to the usual “please come back later” selfish plea by one of her customers; she was sure the little petrol in her car won’t get her home except a miracle happened on the way.
Indeed a miracle did happen, but not in the expected guise. As she drove past, she noticed a man waving for her to stop and she did.
“The person later apologised, when he got to me, saying he thought I was a cab operator. I said no problem, but I also needed money to buy fuel into my car. So he agreed that I should carry him to Asokoro for N350. when I dropped him off, a number of teenagers stopped me a few meters away from where I dropped him and I also took them to Banex in Wuse 2, and when I dropped them at Banex, I picked a couple of passengers who were going to Wuse market but hadn’t got vehicles to drop them. In the course of moving from one location to another, picking and dropping off passengers I met a cab driver who gave me a few advices and also helped to show me directions and bus-stops along the way. That was how I got money to fill my tank and had N1,700 left to go home with at the end of the day.” She tells Thisday online in an interview.
Surely, business took a new turn. Aisha was amazed at how a person’s life can swiftly turn around in a matter of minutes or even seconds. The transition was too great for her to comprehend. But one thing was sure; she was loving it totally.
Like Oliver Twist, the temptation to ask for more got the hold of her. The call was indeed too siren for her to resist. And so the next day, she quickly concluded her domestic chores and drove into the streets of Abuja, ready for business.
“The following day, after my daily chores, I decided to try it again and I worked throughout that day. I started enjoying the business because it was paying my bills. At least I made money to take care of my needs and I did that for a period of nine months but stopped after I made some money to continue my previous business which was not good at all. That was in 2007.”
Yes, she went back into her first business, but not for long, as she would once more return to the streets of Abuja as a taxi driver.
The trade in clothing became even more frustrating and so Aisha was compelled to return to her new love. She then sold her old car and bought a new one.
To most of her friends and family, her new business was just a clear sign of desperation. They found it strange that a woman, their family woman; would be seen calling out for customers on the streets of Abuja. So they jeered at her, in hope that she will become discouraged and quit. But no. Not Aisha.
“People had laughed at my plan when I shared it with them but some others really encouraged me, especially my mother who stood by me. One of my brothers really didn’t want me to do it, because he had a belief that the job was for people of low life. I remember him saying, haba, Aisha it has not got to this level.
“That was how I started and my mother who supported me back then is so proud of what I am making of the trade, although my younger siblings are not so comfortable with it, I really don’t care about what they think for as long as I am doing the right thing. I have inspired a lot of young ladies who come across me,” she recounts to Thisday.
The change has not been easy for this determined lady, but the joy of being able to provide sufficiently for herself and her children gives her a reason to smile and face her job each day.
“I get up at 4am or 5am to say my prayers first. I relax for about 30 minutes after the prayer before preparing food for my children, depending on what I have to make for breakfast but I have a househelp to do the domestic chores.
By 8am I should be in Wuse market and from that time I work until 5pm when I return home to meet with my children who are aged 7 and 5 for dinner together after saying my prayers and having a shower.”
About her daily earning she says; “Well, the work is not like before, you can see that Wuse market has changed now. My car is painted green-white-green cab which means that I am restricted to drive in a lot of places.
For example the authorities don’t allow us to get close to the market anymore but thank God, with time, everything is normalising now and I am able to make at least N5000 after all expenses, but sometimes you get lucky and get tips from passengers that increase your take-home in a day.”
Aisha is also pleased that she has been able to create room for other women to join the business.
“We are about three doing this in Abuja. A young fair Igbo lady joined me lately and I think she’s like eight months as a driver. We share experiences and relate well because she drives an unpainted cab and has access to some of the places I don’t have access to.
There is another lady with us who was riding “keke NAPEP”(tricycle) before now but has crossed over to become a taxi driver. When you see a woman do this in the midst of men, you just have to know that she is strong-willed with dignity. The last lady that joined came to Wuse market to look for me and when we met, she sincerely hugged me and told me how much she has been inspired by my story.
“The guys think that I am stubborn and when the new lady came, they were making fun of me that I now have a competitor who is not stubborn like me but that again forms part of the trade.”
Even in the midst of the men, Aisha gets her full share of respect, especially because she doesn’t fail in giving everyone their due.
“I get the respect that is due to me from the men in the business because I show respect to all. For me being a woman and having the kind of space I have in their midst gives me some level of confidence. I have respect for everybody and expect to get same from people, because this taxi business is another world entirely and we have to be careful what we do and say.”
Aisha has now gone back to school to pursue a degree in English and French languages. She believes that no one can ever achieve anything worthwhile without first getting a good education. She works from Monday to Thursday and goes to school from Friday to Sunday.
Aisha has proved that men and women have the same opportunity to make an indelible mark in the world.
To young African ladies she says; “I would advise young ladies who are jobless to pick up whatever good trade they can lay their hands on than just sitting down and waiting for help from somebody. You have to be content and hardworking in life; it gives me great pleasure to spend from my sweat and not having to beg and compromise.
I tell you, there is no job that is specifically reserved for the menfolk, pride should be taken out from our dictionary because this life is too short to begin to do whatever you like, you have to be positive and do the right things; you have to believe in yourself first before expecting others to believe in you.”
Please should you get an opportunity to speak with Aisha, be careful what you say. In all your speaking, never mention, “Reserved for men.” I can’t imagine if there is anything she hates to hear more than that.
Learn from Aisha and be inspired by her resilience.