This was going to be a twitter thread but I had a change of heart. Yesterday was one of those long days for me. At the moment, I do not have to leave my house daily and I am thankful for it. So it means that on days I choose to step out, I try to fix up multiple appointments, plan my day with my fair knowledge of Lagos traffic hours and spend it. When I got home, I caught up with conversations that had happened on twitter. From what I gathered, some lady had gone on twitter to accuse a Bolt Driver of harassing her. The Outrage took a quick turn when the Bolt Driver came on twitter to share his own side of the story. As usual, opinions and hot ‘teks’ became the order of the day with many submitting that women in Nigeria naturally look down on Uber or Bolt rider and that many Nigerians do not respect service providers.
PS: I am not here to support the lady in question. I think she is nuts.
While I totally agree with the latter and have been part of conversations with the aim of correcting that horrible mentality, the former irks me. Not because I am oblivious of brash attitude from some ladies towards Bolt/Uber drivers, but because I know how bad narratives tend to have stronger ripple effect compared to when they are good. My primary means of getting around in this Lagos state for about 5years was the ride hailing apps. I have experienced them…the good and the bad (Thankfully not the ugly). My encounter with many of them has helped me harness my personable skills – patience, empathy, discernment, silence, proactive self-awareness, affirming limits and boundaries, etc.
99% of Uber or Bolt drivers are men, men who are a product of our society, not some external society, but this very one – where women are not expected to speak to a man in any tone he doesn’t approve of, where women are not expected to live a life of comfort until there is a man around who is seen to be financing the lifestyle, where a woman should not walk into hotels alone, where the man is always right and the woman should swallow her opinions, where the man is a natural leader and the woman a natural follower, where a woman cannot wear whatever she’s comfortable with especially when it has the tendencies to affect the man’s ‘penis’, where she cannot speak unless he approves of it, etc. These orientations are ingrained in our DNA and brought into our places of work, some even see is as our culture. We cannot pretend to not understand the effect of all the above on a regular service or business exchange between a ride hailer and the driver.
Step out of your wokeness for a minute. According to Statista, Nigeria had 99 million internet users in 2020. Out of 99m, twitter gets the attention of about 50% of these users. Your level of acceptance of genders equality and inclusivity cannot be compared to that of every single person on the app. Same can be said for Facebook and the rest. WhatsApp being the predominate social app in Nigeria with over 94% penetration has even more archaic and backward thinking users. There is a reason gender equality is still number 5 in the Global goals for sustainable development and I am yet to see any report saying we are close to achieving that. Whether you are being nice or not, a difficult ride hailer or not, the lady with a bad day or not, chances of you meeting a man whose orientation had fed the idea of being superior to a lady, hence having to drive a “Miss Goody Two Shoes” around town translating to being a natural failure, is quite on the high side. A driver has insulted me for just existing at the back seat of his car. A driver has asked me prying questions just for being a woman and looking good. A driver has also been the best thing to happen to me in a day, made my movement easy, ensured that I was okay and relaxed. It is what it is.
Considering the type of society we live in, ladies have experienced more of the ugly side of these drivers than their good side. Women are ‘more‘ prone to risk using Bolt or Uber services in Nigeria. We cannot begin to undermine these experiences and imminent danger women face daily because of one false accusation from a seeming nut job. In using these riding hailing services, women are constantly disrespected, harassed, abused and manhandled. Owners of these platforms must begin to develop features that can help us feel safer as we go about our day to day activities as using these services is inevitable.
Let me share a story (The type that never gets to Social Media)
Sometimes in 2019, I was going to Yaba from Lekki so I booked a ride. My rider arrived, we exchanged pleasantries and I was right where I would always be, at the back. I had with me a book I had been struggling to read so I wasn’t interested in whatever routes he decides to take. I made it clear to him that I was going to Yaba, called my friend to properly describe his location and all was set. We were on admiralty way heading toward Ikoyi link bridge when he started making calls. I couldn’t read anymore, I was irritated but I said nothing. I switched to social media. This call went on and on and on, coupled with being held up in traffic, I was so uncomfortable.
In the discomfort I started paying attention to him and his conversation then I felt really sorry for him. From what I could gather, he was in some deep financial mess. He couldn’t renew his rent so his wife and kid had to go stay with her parents while he intensified his search for better days. He’d made some contact on the day and was hopeful they’d fall through. He spent some minutes on the phone with his wife’s mother, explaining what he had been able to do and how the plan would soon yield good fruit. Pleading for more time. The woman on the other side prayed for him and while he echoed ‘amen’, the line went off. He was sweating in the air conditioned car while fiddling on his phone.
He let out a loud hiss, then dialed the number again, this time he demanded to speak to his wife. It took a while for her to get to the phone, I could tell because he grew impatient and ended the call. He waited for a few minutes and called back. When he finally got through to her, he explained that he had to cut the call to save credit. He said the he tried to buy credit with the last 1000 Naira in his account but the service providers deducted the amount he previously owed, so he doesn’t have much airtime to speak.
At this point, he probably didn’t care that he had a stranger in his car cos he put the phone on speaker. He tried explaining some of the things he already explained to his mother in-law as fast as he could while assuring his wife that he was doing everything possible to fix his finances with hopes that they can be reunited as a family. He went on to encourage his wife to call in some favours on their behalf, to which she responded saying she couldn’t. I could feel the frustration from the back seat and the line went up. Airtime done.
After about 3-5minutes he started speaking out loud, not to me, but he was speaking. He talked about how he has found himself in a situation where his wife is not willing to help him out. He complained about how she couldn’t even try to call him back or ever call to check on him. He lamented on how he had been trying so hard to fix the situation. He talked about how he needed to make some calls and don’t even have airtime. He went on for a while before he remembered my existence at the back seat. He started apologizing to me. I told him it was fine, cos it really was. I felt so sorry for him and helpless at the same time. I knew I couldn’t help him but I needed to do something.
There and then I thought about fixing his immediate small problem, the one I could at least afford and could probably contribute to helping him fix his other problems. I looked for his phone number on my call log, and credited it with 5000 Naira.
He got the SMS alert almost instantly and I was watching. He looked at it over and over again. Trying to figure out how that happened. He wasn’t sure, I wasn’t going to say anything, at least not yet. After looking at the message, checking his credit balance for a bit, he dialed a number and guess who he called? His wife. My heart melted, I was happy. He spoke to her for a while, she was not encouraging, but that is none of my business really. I mean I am witnessing this drama for the first and last time today, I don’t know what the history was and why she has chosen to be uninterested. I wasn’t going to sit there and judge a woman who I don’t know where her shoes had walked. They will sort their mess but I was happy I could help keep the communication going, for him.
When I got to my destination, he apologized again and I told him I cannot say I know what he is going through but all will be well. And that was when I told him I had recharged his phone. He was so thankful and I left.
The above is one of many encounters I’m proud of. Not the most comforting, but rewarding and gratifying. We all go through bad days and times. Let’s try to be the best we can for the next person, regardless.
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