Jealous male riders using traffic officials to harass me – Anambra female tricyclist

A female tricyclist, Agatha Umeh, tells IKENNA OBIANERI how her male counterparts are using officers of the Anambra State Traffic Management Authority to intimidate and harass her out of the occupation

What is your background?

My name is Agatha Umeh. I am 28 years old; I am an indigene of Okpuno Awka in the Awka South Local Government Area of Anambra State. I am single. I am the fifth child of my parents; my three senior sisters are married except my immediate elder brother and I. My father is deceased and I have an aged mother. I am currently staying with my mother in Okpuno.

What occupation are you into?

I am currently a tricycle operator although I also learnt how to repair phones and how to do fish farming.

What is your level of education?

I am an NCE (National Certificate of Education) holder. I read Economics and Christian Religious Studies Education at the Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe. I graduated in 2016; I wish to further my education, but I cannot at the moment due to financial constraints. I was the one who managed to sponsor myself through school by doing menial jobs. When I finished my NCE, I was still doing menial jobs as I could not secure a good job, and when the jobs were not helping me anymore, as I am the one taking care of my brother and my 70-year-old mother, I delved into riding a tricycle.

A few days ago, you reportedly had issues with some officials of the Anambra State Road Traffic Management Authority. What happened?

Some ARTMA officials led by one Goodluck unjustly impounded my keke (tricycle) for over two weeks on the pretext that I violated traffic rules, which is not true.

What then was your offence?

I did not commit any offence known to the law. The only offence is that they are saying I delved into an occupation that is strictly reserved for men. As a result of this, I face constant intimidation and harassment from my male colleagues, who feel threatened that most passengers on the route prefer to board my keke, thereby depriving them of some earnings. So, my male counterparts connived with the ARTMA officials led by one Goodluck, who always came to harass me.

I ply the Aroma-Federal Secretariat route and there are about 12 keke operators on that route; I am the only female among them. While every other person would work without disturbance, the ARTMA officials would come after me daily. Each time they came, they would query me for delving into an occupation that was supposed to be strictly reserved for men. They do this in collaboration with my male colleagues, who are always jealous because they feel passengers like to patronise my keke.

When did you start riding Keke and when did your predicament with your male counterparts start?

I started riding keke around June 2023. I started having issues with the men on the first day. They asked me to abandon the route, but when they saw that I was not relenting, all 11 of them connived with the ARTMA officials to ask me to leave the place by force. I was competing with the men, and they would not allow that to happen. They kept bullying me daily whenever I reported for duty; they did not give me a breathing space to operate despite my condition.

They always insisted that they didn’t want to see me; they gave me very stringent rules and regulations, which I always complied with daily; even the levy we paid, they almost made me pay triple what they paid, but I still ensured I comply for peace to reign, they kept intimidating me to leave the trade for them. They always use the ARTMA officials to warn me daily to the extent that even when I am conveying my passengers to their various destinations, the ARTMA officials would stop me on the road, forcefully discharge my passengers, and deliberately detain me and my keke till the close of work for the day.

What excuse do they normally give each time they stop you on the way like that?

They always concoct one thing or the other; most of the time, they would accuse me of route violation. All these are lies they concoct to make me look guilty. When the ARTMA officials saw that I was not daunted despite their behaviour towards me, they asked me to leave the Aroma-Federal Secretariat route and ply Okpuno, but the route was not where I registered. I registered to ply the Aroma-Federal Secretariat route.

Can you recollect how many times you have been arrested and your keke seized?

I cannot recollect how many times the ARTMA officials have stopped me on the road and prevented me from working. But talking about seizing my keke, they have done that about four times. Many times the ARTMA officials would stop me and deliberately delay me, even when I was conveying passengers, they would discharge the passengers and deliberately delay me for the entire day. At the end of the day, they would allow me to go after wasting the day for me, all for no reason other than to scare me away from continuing with the occupation. They have even come physically on several occasions to chase me away and this they do in collaboration with my male counterparts.

But in the area of seizing my keke and taking it to their office, I know they have done that about four times. Each time they do that, the tricycle would be with them for weeks and they would ensure I pass through a lot of stress before I recover it. But the one that is currently on the ground now is the one they seized on January 30. That fateful day, they stopped me, discharged my passengers, and asked me to give them the key, but I refused and they towed the keke to their office. They towed my keke to their office behind the Government House in Awka and forcefully collected the key from me that day.

Were they always in uniform each time they come and what reasons do they always give to their superiors in the office each time they take your keke there?

They are always in the ARTMA uniform and each time they come, they would say they are members of the task force on special duty and whenever they come to our park, it is only my keke they would impound and take to their office. This so-called ‘task force’ is always being led by one Goodluck and he has been the one being used by my male colleagues to force me to leave the place. And whenever they took my keke to their office, they would claim that I committed a route violation. I was there one day when some of the officers there kept telling Goodluck to ‘leave this girl alone and stop disturbing her’, but he did not listen to them.

He vowed that I must leave that place and that ‘riding keke is not meant for women’. He always threatened that I should leave the place because he did not want to set his eyes on me there. He keeps telling me, ‘You want to show us that what a man can do, a woman can also do better?’

Did you report the matter to the appropriate quarters and what evidence do you have to show that your male colleagues are intimidating you out of the trade?

The signs are numerous and evidence abound. First, the day I arrived at Aroma Park after paying my dues and completing all the necessary registration processes was the day the confrontations began. I face intimidation and harassment from my male counterparts daily because they feel threatened that most passengers on the route preferred my keke to theirs, thereby depriving them of earnings. Every morning I came to work they would ask me to leave the park that keke riding is for men alone. But when they saw that I did not chicken out, 11 of them gathered money and went to the ‘B’ Police Division in Aroma, Awka, and wrote a petition against me.

The police officers from the ‘B’ Division came one day to arrest me at the park and when we got to the station, they put me behind the counter. It was later when the DPO of the station called them to ask the reason they (other tricyclists) wrote a petition against me that they told him that it was because they didn’t want me in the same trade with them, that was when the DPO ordered me out of the counter, and chastised them and ordered my release, and told them not to disturb me again, but they did not listen. It was after their plot that the police failed that they intensified their collaboration with the ARTMA officials to keep tormenting me.

Were you given other punitive measures to scare you away?

Yes. Sometimes, they would levy me heavily, while the men would pay N2,500 weekly, I would be made to pay N7,500 just to frustrate me out of the place, but in all of these, I always complied with their directives and other policies at the park just for peace to reign, but despite these, they are still hell-bent on forcing me out.

How did you acquire the keke?

One day I was very sick and needed some money, but I had no money to buy medications, so, I went to meet a family friend to see if he could lend me some money to buy the medications; when I got there, after explaining my predicament to him, he said even if he gave me money, I would still be needing money again; he then asked if I could ride keke because he had one that had been abandoned in the compound, I told him I could ride it. That was how he asked me to take the keke and use it to help myself and family members pending when other opportunities would manifest.

Do you make returns to him?

Yes. But he made it less strenuous for me.

How much do you make in a day?

Sometimes, I make up to N5,000, but from there, I will spend like N2,000 on fuel, but if it is on a day the ARTMA officials disturb me, I will not make money. I don’t work much because I resume at 8am and close by noon; this is because I am suffering from ulcers and appendicitis. I was diagnosed with appendicitis a few weeks ago and the doctor said it had reached the rupture stage, so for that reason I close early to avoid further complications. It is also part of the reason I am riding the keke to see if I can also raise some money to attend to my health issues. I developed the ulcer when I was growing up and it was because we did not always have food to eat at home; we used to go many days without food because there was no money for foodstuffs daily.

What effort have you made to recover your seized keke?

My mother cries every day and pleads with me to take her to the ARTMA’s office because the tricycle is what we rely upon for our daily bread. Since they seized my keke, sympathisers have been the ones giving us money to feed and also making a case for me at the ARTMA office. I have been going to the ARTMA office daily to recover the keke, but to no avail; even the managing director and chief executive officer of ARTMA ordered them to release my keke on Saturday, February 3, 2024, but that instruction was not implemented as the officials claimed to have misplaced the key. They said I should go and buy another key and I told them I don’t have money as the key costs N10,500.

But last Thursday, when I went to their office again, one of them called me and said they saw the online publications on the matter and the authorities had ordered that they release the keke. But my challenge now is that after they released the Keke to me on Thursday, one of them, who said he is the special assistant to the MD, told me to go and park it at home and stop competing with men; he threatened that whenever they see me riding it again, they would seize it and allow it to decay at their office and no one would come to my rescue.

Apart from ARTMA, do you face intimidation from other law enforcement agencies?

No. It is only the ARTMA people that disturb me and it is because my male counterparts are using them to carry out the intimidation.

What is the next step now? Will you still be riding the keke?

I have no other option at the moment but to be riding the keke; I will continue doing so. This is where I get my daily bread and money to take care of my aged mother and brother. If I do not go out for work, there will be nothing to eat. That is why my mother has been crying since they seized my keke. But I want to appeal to my governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, and other well-meaning individuals to prevail on the ARTMA officials and others to stop intimidating me; I am a law-abiding citizen doing legitimate work; I comply with traffic rules and regulations; my problem is just that the male riders don’t want me in the occupation. I am also begging well-meaning Nigerians to come to my rescue. Everyone should help me beg the ARTMA officers to stop intimidating me because I am riding keke. I also need a new keke, as the one that I am presently riding is very old and problematic; it gives me lots of issues and I spend so much on repairs. I also need to go for surgery for appendicitis; I need funds to do that. The money I make from the keke is what we are managing to feed.


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