Having practiced fashion designing for almost 24 years, Olubunmi Ogunnaike had to say goodbye to the profession as a result of an illness that made one of her legs shorter. Unable to run a sewing machine with both legs, Olubunmi discharged her apprentices while she ventured into the business of buying and selling.
However, an encounter with her neighbor, who is a mechanic led her into the transport business. Few days after she started, she was made the secretary of a garage at Ibadan.
Four years on, Olubunmi is the only female union executive at her unit. In a chat with Oyeyemi Okunlade of Tribune, Olubunmi shares how she became a taxi driver and her dream to become the National Union of Road Transport Workers chairman.
Read excerpt from her story below
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.
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 neighbors, 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 realized 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.
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