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Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Many Struggles of Maria Obaji.

She came to Lagos with nothing; refused to be a prostitute; roamed the streets; survived an abusive husband and ended up a keke rider. Maria Obaji narrates her survival story in her own words.

My name is Maria Obaji. I was born in Benue State in the year 1985. Unlike other kids in the neighborhood, I wasn’t born with a golden spoon. My parents had a meager income. Therefore, fending for the children was difficult. I still remember those nights I went to bed with hunger pangs, because there was no food to eat. I would cry till I fell asleep. All of these happened when I was still a child.

As a teenager, I prayed and aspired for a better life. In the year 2000, a lady offered to take me to Lagos State. She had promised my family that she would enroll me to learn fashion and design skills. I was a vulnerable 15-year-old girl who wanted to leave her hometown. So, I accepted the offer without any proper investigation.

On the day we arrived, I expected her to take me to her house or a fashion school, but guess what? She took me to a brothel in Mile 12. In that place, I saw young girls who were dressed half-naked. They loitered around the premises seeking men. I was shocked because some of those girls were below 12 years old. The woman that brought me to the place asked me to sell my body, but I refused. I was insulted, harassed and threatened, but I stood my ground. I just couldn’t imagine myself sleeping with those older men, especially the dirty-looking ones. I had to leave the brothel, even when I had no other place to go.

For many days, I was stranded on the streets of Lagos. I had no transport fare to return to Benue State, no money to feed, no job, and no accommodation. I roamed the streets, without money and without hope. How did I survive? An angel helped me. Yes! In this life, we still have angels in human form. One day, I met someone who pitied me after hearing my story and helped me get a job at Wahum Group of Companies. I worked as a factory worker and was able to earn money for my upkeep. Although the amount was small, it was better than being jobless and penniless.

While I was working at Wahum Group of Companies, I met a co -worker named Mr. Wisdom. He is from Etinan in Akwa Ibom State and was so nice to me. At that time, I was still searching for good accommodation, so when he suggested that I move in with him, I accepted. At that point in my life, everything seemed okay. I had a job and a partner who claimed to love me. While living with him, I got pregnant, and that was how my journey to “marriage” began. After I had my first baby, I persuaded him to pay my dowry, but he kept giving excuses. As time went by, I got pregnant again and begged him to follow me to Benue to meet my parents. He promised he would, but he never did.

In 2011, I lost my dad to the cold hands of death. I had to travel with the kids to my hometown for the burial. After the funeral, my family asked me not to return to Lagos again. According to them, there was no need to return to a man who had refused to pay my dowry after spending more than seven years with him. I had to beg my mum and siblings to let me go because I was afraid of becoming a single mother. After I returned to Lagos, I got pregnant again and had a baby boy. So, I’m a mother to two boys and a girl.

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As a couple, we had many issues. I don’t want to open that chapter because it would make me cry. One lesson I learned is that people change; sometimes from good to bad. I never knew that the same person who once professed love to me would hurt me so badly. After many years of living together, my husband abducted my children and took them to his village in Akwa Ibom State. He abandoned me in Lagos and felt I would never find them. I had to get his village address from the headman in the office. I made a long and extremely difficult journey to Akwa Ibom in search of my kids. I just had to get them back. It was my first time there. It was a battle when I found them. But thank God I was able to bring them back to Lagos with me. From that time, I was alone.

Many years ago, I was afraid of being a single mother. I made different sacrifices and received many insults just to have a man in my life. Little did I know I would still end up raising my kids by myself. After I took my kids from their father, I got a job at Infinite Grace to work as a cleaner. The daughter of my boss liked me, and everything was fine. However, a time came when my boss started making sexual advances toward me. He saw a young single mother who had many bills to pay and wanted to take advantage of me. He promised to offer me heaven and earth, but I refused because he was old enough to be my father. I kept it secret, because I didn’t want to hurt his daughter who had been very nice to me. And so, after saving some money, I quietly resigned the job.

I have always wanted to be an independent woman because working as an employee is very challenging. After I left that job, I was looking for something else to do. I got the inspiration to be a keke (tricycle taxi) driver after I saw other women driving it. At first, I was afraid to go for it, but in 2020, I made up my mind, summoned the courage and went for it.

The first tricycle I drove was on hire purchase. I had a daily target, so I worked very hard to remit the money. After many months of hustling to pay off the debt, I finally became a keke owner. I still remember the day I was given the documents. I felt so happy and fulfilled. I give God the glory for directing me toward this path. Now, I can use any money earned to meet my family’s basic needs. My kids and I don’t live in penury anymore because any day I drive out, I’m sure of not returning home empty-handed.

Every business has challenges, and being a female tricyclist has not been easy. The first challenge is the bad roads that cause damage to our vehicles. I’m always spending money to repair my keke. The second challenge is the traffic in Lagos State which is very stressful and time-consuming. If the traffic issue is fixed, then this work will be easier and more lucrative.

We also have street miscreants (also known as area boys) that are always there to harass drivers. They force you to buy tickets even if you have already bought them. They are very intimidating, brutal, and always ready for a fight. The only way I avoid their embarrassment is by abiding by the rules of the motor – park.

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They say that police officers are your friends, but as a keke driver, they are your unfriendly friends. They are always there to look for faults so they will seize your keke. Most of them are liars, and they can accuse you of crimes you didn’t commit just to get money from you. You’ll hardly find a compassionate police officer on the streets.

When you are driving on the road, you will meet both friendly and stubborn passengers. I have met some people that try to intimidate me because I’m a woman. They will either not pay their transport fare or pay a lesser amount. They do all these things to provoke me, but being a peaceful person, I always avoid any form of strife. I believe that karma will catch up with anyone who cheats me.

Most people assume that a woman can’t be a good commercial driver, but she can be a good stylist. So far, I have proved them wrong. I love this business because it gives me a daily income. While I was working as an employee, I got paid 25,000 naira at the end of the month, but now I can earn the same amount in a day or two. My former salary wasn’t even enough to meet my family’s needs. Moreover, this business allows me to manage my time effectively. No more queries and abuse from employers. I have enough time to spend with my kids, go to their schools, and do whatever I want because I’m the boss. So, I am happy to be a keke driver.

Life is unpredictable, so I would advise all women to have a source of income. Even if you are married to the richest man, please establish a business of your own. Don’t mind what people will say and don’t let pride hinder you from doing any kind of business. Those people who mock your little hustle won’t give you food when you’re hungry.

To all single mothers, I understand your struggles and pains. Yes! Your story might be better or worse than mine. I also know that when your burden becomes too heavy, you’ll be tempted to sleep with random men for money. Please ignore that urge. There was a lady who did that to raise money for her kids. Unfortunately, she contracted HIV/AIDs and died. Many people felt her kids wouldn’t survive without her, but that’s not true. Today, they are doing very well. In summary, get a job or start a business and be prayerful. One day, God will bless you with the fruits of your labor. I wish you the best of luck.

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