ASAKPA: life of a female taxi driver
Her passion to be distinct and self-employed led Susan Asakpa to venture into the cab business. And though women have started emulating men in the area of commercial transportation, Susan Asakpa, a young university graduate in Abuja, is determined to take the venture a notch higher, by building a reputable organisation out of her cab business solely for other women that may be interested in her line of business. She is also hoping that it outlives her.
Said she: “I got tired of being an employee and desired to be an entrepreneur. So, I toyed with a couple of ideas, researched on them and prayed about them. At the end, I realised I was more inclined towards running a taxi. I spoke about it to my dad and whenever I boarded a taxi, I always engaged the drivers in conversations with such questions as: ‘Oga, how much do you earn in a day?’ ‘Is the car your own?’ ‘What is the best car to use for this kind of business?’ Afterwards, I would inform my father of such discussions and my own opinions concerning the business,” she reminisced.
Surprisingly, Susan’s father was in full support of the idea. Her morale was particularly boosted by the fact that there was no single word of discouragement from him.
“Initially, he thought I was going to give the car out to someone else to drive, but during one of our conversations, I mentioned to him that I intended driving it. He sounded surprised, but gave his support,” she explained.
So, Susan launched her cab business in October 2015 with some sort of apprehension, not knowing what to expect. To her delight, however, she noted that in most cases, other road users were excited to see her behind the wheels, doing her stuff.
“They would wave and smile at me in encouragement, even though a few are not comfortable with the idea. I have had the experience of two women, who refused to board my cab simply because I am a woman. But I’ve also had a couple of ladies, who boarded my taxi saying, ‘I like your guts, I wish I could also do the same.’ But none of them indicated interest if they ever get the opportunity of having cars to do the business. It was just one woman that felt this way and she’s still on my neck, pressuring me to help her get a car to start the business and I am trying my best to get one for her,” she says.
Excited and daring as Susan may appear, she avoids night services because of the dangers that could be associated with it.
“I don’t do nights. I close at 6pm and may extend it, if it’s a long-standing customer, but I don’t carry strangers late at night,” she explained.
The graduate of accountancy from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is no stranger to business. While observing the compulsory one-year National Youth Service in Taraba, she was into food business on the side, providing lunch packs for civil servants.
Going down memory lane, she says: “I have really never been the kind that favours employment, though I always had this mindset of graduating and getting a job in the background. So, I started out with a banking job as a marketer, from where I moved to a hotel job as a manager. It was after spending almost three years, coupled with the low income that triggered my desire to go into driving.
“My father took a loan of N720, 000 from his friend with a promise that I will pay up in February this year. At the end of that month, I was able to pay N500, 000. So I still owe N220, 000.”
And though Susan says she feels fulfilled driving a taxi, she always have some misgiving when people tell her she shouldn’t have bothered going to school, if she had to end up in this line of business.
“But I believe that education is important in whatever one does, it makes a difference. I love what I do presently and I intend building it into an empire. The plan I have for the business is such that women running cabs won’t do it from 5:30am in the morning till 6pm like I am currently doing. There will be shifts with each lady taking the car for six hours and returning it at the end of six hours. And so, nobody gets overworked, but then I know when I am married and I have a family, I might not be able to put as much hours. I don’t think that even if I slow down, it would affect the business negatively; it will still grow,” she says.
Asked if she has technical knowledge of fixing her car when the need arises, she replies: “I don’t know how to fix things in the car and so my mechanic is always available. However, I know a lot more about mechanical faults than I knew when I first started.”
While lamenting the restrictions placed on the official green coloured taxis in Abuja, which has prevented her from accessing key areas in the state capital, she feels it is a development that may demine the growth of her business, as the bulk of her customers go to those restricted areas.
“For instance, I cannot go into Silverbird Cinemas, Transcorp, Yara’dua Centre and even the National Hospital, because of that reason, but it shouldn’t be so. The government should kindly tell all these people that are closing their doors to painted taxis to open them because we are even safer, we have offices and plate numbers,” she says.
Susan, who describes herself as determined and not afraid to be different, advised other ladies to think productively and not waste too much time bemoaning the economic situation of the country.
“I think they should think of how they can get by in spite of the situation, pray hard and work towards achieving their goals. Most women have super ideas, but they are too concerned about what the society would say. But as they say, there is dignity in labour. They should go into any desired venture so long it is not derogatory,” she says.
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