Adeyemi Adediran, an indigene of Oyo State, has shunned gender stereotypes in deciding how to eke out a living. She summons uncommon courage as she drives a 33,000-litres tanker from fuel storage depots to retail outlets in and out of Lagos, writes Temitayo Ayetoto.
When young women in their 20s attempt earning an income without any tertiary qualification, face beating, food catering, trading of trendy clothes, skincare products and jewellery often come along as easy and relatable options, not tanker truck driving.
It’s a male-dominated space that even men who aren’t somewhat experienced in commercial transportation don’t often veer into. It’s neither Uber ride-hailing where the biggest worry of a driver is the safety of the rider and the vehicle. The duty to cautiously meander huge quantities of highly inflammable fluids from storage depots to retails outlets through Nigeria’s bumpy roads largely rests on the shoulders of a tanker truck driver.
Yet, 24-year old Adeyemi Adediran took up the challenge with rare courage and a beaming youthful drive to explore. Her trainer fondly called ‘SK’ never took her interest in learning seriously until she showed up one morning at a parking yard at Ejigbo, Lagos two years ago. She only informed her mother she was heading somewhere quickly but didn’t disclose where for fear of disapproval. It was a secret between Adediran and her immediate elder sister who happened to be the only family who entertained the idea at that time. The sister suggested that they find a skilled trainer who could help her learn. Their mother couldn’t bring herself to understand what a young lady could be doing with fuel tanker truck driving.
But Adediran’s mind was made up, especially after seeing an older woman drive past her mother’s shop every morning to make deliveries. The husband of one of her sisters also did the job, but he didn’t encourage her to, arguing that if he had his way, he wouldn’t do the job.
“I have also heard about women driving it including one at one of Dangote’s companies. They used to call her Hajia but she’s no longer doing it. When I heard about them, I was inspired to do the work,” she told Businessday during a visit to her home in Ejigbo.
It was a risk considering the nature of the job but SK, the trainer, was compassionate enough not to turn her away, landing Adediran her wish. Learners like her in that job space were allowed to work with a certified driver to gain real exposure.
However, there was one high hurdle in her way. The chief executive officer of FONMO Petroleum Oil and Gas, her trainer’s boss was just like her mother, if not worse. His disapproval was outright. By his standards, he didn’t adjudge Adediran capable of managing his business crisply, let alone handle difficult decisions such as averting an imminent accident, which is almost a given on rough roads.
Graciously again, SK rose to her defence and pleaded with his boss to give Adediran a chance. He lured the CEO into grudgingly approving her with talks of her passion, good mien and hard-working attributes.
Her first learning trip began at an MRS filling station in Apapa. She watched her boss load the truck before proceeding to a retail outlet around the Idi-iroko border at Sene. Before the third trip, a challenge to foster her learning surfaced as the truck developed a gear fault.
SK took the opportunity to explain issues that could prop up with the gear functions, brake, turtle, clutch and other parts of the vehicle, though she was not wholly alien to those things. Adediran once learnt how to ride a tricycle. She acquired skills in power generating set repair at a point. And as a science student during her secondary schooling days, she wanted to become a mechanical engineer. These summed up to help her grasp the nuances of heavy-duty driving and her trainer soon became confident to let her drive short distances within inner road networks and mostly, in their parking lot.
In six months, the CEO sent SK and Adediran on a bridging task to Suleja, a city in the northern state of Niger. The journey was approximately 685 kilometres long and sapped nothing less than 3 hours 31 mins from Lagos. From Suleja, they took up deliveries that took them to the southeast, from Port Harcourt, Aba, Enugu and Onitsha.
Despite being a month-long journey, it turned out to be the trip that boosted her impetus. She was widely applauded as she came across as a departure from the regular. Many had never seen a woman drive a truck and if they did, it was scarce. Key actors in the truck driving space were also beginning to notice her, with poaching thrown her way. This sort of recognition watered Adeniran’s love for long journeys.
“I prefer long-distance journeys because people recognised me more and they appreciated me. There was a particular trip from which I got N7,000 from people who were excited to see me drive,” Adediran said.
On her return to Lagos, she joined another driver as an assistant at Total Nigeria Plc. – a leading player in the downstream sector of the Nigerian oil and gas industry with an extensive distribution network of over 500 service stations nationwide. Since a female driver wasn’t strange to Total’s fuel delivery environment, it was easy for her to fit in and shine. She drives a 33,000 litres tanker truck and earns about N50,000 monthly.
With most of her deliveries now domiciled in Lagos, Adediran discovered another side of the fierce and savage culture of informal commercial activities. She enjoyed an unprecedented display of affection, admiration and encouragement in the oddest places, from market men and women, people walking on the streets and delivery stations. Strangers who were minding their trade often paused at the sight of her driving.
“When people see me, they ask ‘na woman they drive? Na small girl dey drive? Some even ask me for a photo with them. Most of the time it happens. There was a day I was going through Alaba market to dispatch fuel but we decided to take Iyana-iba to avoid the traffic at Ajangbadi. It got to a point that I wanted to leave the steering because most of the people in the market stopped what they were doing to watch me do my thing and started taking pictures,” Adediran explained.
“One man ran towards me and gave me N1,000. Another man gave me N500. and a commercial tricyclist left his tricycle to run after me with N100. The women were really happy. I was so happy. They asked me to come down and they prayed for me.”
For mainly economic reasons, women are slowly settling with jobs that have been stereotyped for men by the society. The opportunities are slim for a population hovering over 200 million.
The unemployment rate was 23.1 percent as of Q3 2018, underemployment rate 20.1 percent, and the combined unemployment and underemployment rate 43.3 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its last report published in 2019.
A 2018 report by the International Labour Organisation, ‘Women and Men in the Informal Economy’ shows that while 90.8 per cent of Nigerian men are employed in formal, informal and household sectors of the economy, 95.1 per cent are in these sectors, mostly the informal (82.1 per cent).
Just as a stream of applause kept oozing in, flagrant criticisms and harassment also flowed towards her in some of the coldest ways. On days when she doesn’t drive and has to sit by her trainer, bigots draw conclusions that she could be no better than a prostitute.
“Some people do rubbish me and ask ‘wetin she dey drive? No be woman dey drive BRT? Abeg comot jare.’ But some others will appreciate what I’m doing. If some see me in the seat beside the driver’s, they will say ‘this one na oloso jare. But will reverse their statement when they see me moving the tanker truck.” She explained.
“I’m a talker myself and I do get eager to give those who insult me a befitting response but I eventually leave them to their talk.”
When the truck collapses on the road under watch, she faces threats to be beaten by miscreants who demand outrageous fees from vehicles for simply being unfortunate.
Adediran says Mushin is one of the spots she faces the most harassment, particularly during late hours. They demand as much as N30,000 when her truck breaks down.
Adediran was also once maltreated by an irate naval officer for no offence around Abule Ado, on Lagos-badagry expressway. The officer had whipped the truck driver in front of her, asking him to go and turn at a farther juncture. At the same time, he wanted N500 bribe.
“But I sat there, thinking he wouldn’t beat me because I’m a woman. He flogged me twice and asked me to give him money and still go and turn.
I insisted I would neither turn or give any money since he had beaten me. It took his boss’s intervention for him to drawback,” she said.
“When I told my boss, he made me understand that that is the sort of maltreatment men face in the course of the job.”
Regardless of the challenges tabled daily by the job, Adediran still finds time for her love life. Her boyfriend is a fashion designer, who owns a shop at Iponrin, Surulere. Although their relationship predates her foray into truck driving, he is beginning to come to terms with what she does. He was initially uncomfortable with the idea but Adediran urged him for support.
She hopes to carve a niche for herself and has been working towards it. She has undergone training organised by the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and wants to eventually further her studies.
Asked where she projects herself in the next five years, she said: “I want to be my own boss. I want to create jobs for others as well. I plan to also further my education and I’m working towards it”.
There are other women taking on these jobs considered risky. Stellar Iheme, a mother of three and Gift Ugo, a single lady in her mid-30s were working with the ride-hailing company, Opay, before the motorcycle ban in Lagos took effect. Gift calls herself a hustler who is ready for any challenge. From working on construction sites in Imo to street trading, she jumped on the opportunity when she heard of the Opay’s contract for riders. “You can’t compare Lagos hustling to the villages. There is money in Lagos is you hustle well,”
Globally, informal employment is a greater source of employment for men, 63.0 per cent, than for women 58.1 per cent. But in low and lower-middle-income countries, a higher proportion of women are in informal employment than men.
In Africa, 89.7 per cent of employed women are in informal employment in contrast to 82.7 per cent of men. However, even though globally there are fewer women than men in informal employment, women in the informal economy are more often found in the most vulnerable situations, for instance as domestic workers, home-based workers or contributing family workers, than their male counterparts. Although, the lower the participation rate of women in the labour market, the lower the share of informal employment in total women’s employment.