Ambassador Eunice Odeghe is the President and Founder, Female Drivers Association of Nigeria (FEDAN). A graduate of Community Development from the Rivers State University, she ventured into professional driving against all odds. In this chat with ENE OSANG she speaks on her career as a driver, why she advocates for more women to take up challenging professions among other issues.
What motivated you to set up Female Drivers Association?
I have been driving and I have been making some money out of it, so I decided to involve more women. Personally, I love challenging jobs and I was looking for areas where women can be empowered. Driving happens to be a silent source of income for women because most of them think that the job is for men alone.
When I started making money out of driving I couldn’t keep that to myself, I felt other women should be informed, enlightened and encouraged to take driving jobs.
The association basically was set up to encourage women to key into commercial driving and see it as a profession just like other professions.
Drivers are professionals and destiny carriers some persons cannot do without because without them they move. Even those who can drive still employ professional drivers to serve them.
We encourage females to key into this because white collar jobs are not available for everybody; but with driving you are self-employed and can take care of your financial needs.
FEDAN as an NGO advocates for women empowerment and we also focus on informing transporters on the dangers of trafficking and child abuse, we look out for this in the course of our job and we disseminate information too.
How do you disseminate information and what kind of information?
When driving, the passenger may not know what I am doing but from our conversations we will know the kind of person the passenger is.
Driver see more than any other person because we are always on the road and can tell what is happening in the society. As we move from one place to the other we see a lot and so are very important in information gathering.
We strongly advise females who can drive to turn the skills into business, I mean if you can drive why should you lack money when you can as well carry passengers and make some money? We are out to assist our men reduce the financial burden on them so that the family can grow.
Did you aspire to become a professional driver?
I never thought I would be a driver but after my first course in social work the inspiration came and I started developing the idea. I was doing community services in my little way; I did a lot of community services during my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and I discovered I would be great. So, I started developing myself before the driving idea came. After picking a passenger and I made some money I felt I should not keep this to myself and that was how I joined the profession and started advocating for women to become professional drivers.
How long have you been a professional driver?
I started driving as business in 2009 and officially inaugurated FEDAN in 2013. Since then we started full operation. However, I was doing the job on my own before I got inspired to involve other women.
Did your family support your idea of being a professional driver?
It wasn’t easy for me when I started because my parents were against me being a driver but because they couldn’t see my vision and the potential I have, they were against it.
I did not make noise about it for peace to reign but deep down I had my plans. Until the driving system is normalised to suit everyone, parents will not be encouraged to support their children to be professional drivers.
We are seeking to have the driving normalised. That is what we are advocating for gradually. We all want change but we must all know that change begins with us as individuals.
Why didn’t your parents support you?
I am a graduate and I studied Social Work in the university and proceeded to community development afterwards. I started my tertiary education at University of Benin and ended at Rivers State University.
I am a graduate but I felt driving was something in me that I needed to deliver to my country, not that I was looking for job because the jobs were there but because of my passion for the profession I went into it just to contribute to national development.
When my parents heard I wanted to go into driving it was a “No, No!” for them so I had to start dodging my family because I didn’t want them to feel they wasted money training me in school. People feel that drivers are touts but thank God they are seeing it differently now. I believe it is how you dress that you will be addressed.
Have your parents feelings about being a professional driver changed?
My parents are still surprised and are wondering how I managed to get this far. We were at our Directors wedding some time ago and everyone was amazed at how female drivers displayed talents that day.
All the convoy were female drivers, neatly dressed and we drove well. We also fixed cars that broke down because there were female mechanics amongst us and everyone was amazed.
My parents were thrilled and asked if the drivers were Nigerians. They were so proud of me and even told me that, ‘indeed what a man can do, a woman can do even better.’
I am happy that I was able to convince them, and they even said I needed more exposure in the profession.
So, if your child wants a career in driving would you give your support?
One thing with career is that it is an individual choice. However, because driving has been abused no parent wants to hear or see their children take driving as a profession.
Do you have support of other women?
It is now that women are beginning to support us through the NGO, they promote us a lot and want to see us progress on the job.
Is driving business lucrative?
As a driver there is no specific amount one can make daily but approximately one can make about N8000, and if there are expenses to make you can go home with at least #5000 daily, now multiply that by days of the month.
Do you face peculiar challenges as a female driver?
There are challenges and risks and we cannot do without challenges because they will always come, it is the ability to overcome them that is more important. If you are determined you don’t get scared by challenges rather you look for solutions.
Though the men sometimes like to intimidate female drivers on the road, but some others are kind to us and encourage us, they even give us preferential treatment at the park by allowing us pick passengers before them.
I have never been harassed sexually like many women who do white collar jobs. As female drivers, we dress well and do not expose our bodies.
There are many challenges in the driving profession just like any other profession. Challenges are part of life so what one should talk about is how to overcome them.
To avoid some dangers on the road we have a rule as female drivers not to work till it’s dark. When you leave your house in the morning and work till around 4pm or 5pm it is better to close for the day and go home to your family. Having worked during the day the person must have made enough for the day; we do not encourage late movement at all.
Has there been a time you felt people don’t have confidence in you?
Over and over again passengers will stop a taxi and on discovering that it’s a female driver they might not want to board. Sometimes when they see it’s a female driver they just give you the “no” sign.
How do you feel when turned down by passengers?
I don’t feel intimidated because I know the society is not used to female commercial drivers but talking about confidence, I am very confident in what I do and I am being commended most of the time.
It is just because people are not used to seeing female drivers and that is why we continue to advocate for more women to join. We also create awareness so people will know we are also in the business.
Those of us who have been on the road for a while are known by passengers and such passengers do not hesitate joining our vehicles. Some even employ our services as private drivers and call us whenever they need us. Tt’s the confidence we have that make that happen.
Does your job take you on long distance driving?
Yes, we are drivers and we do both short and long-distance driving. Driving is about determination and it requires a lot of focus, so if you can do these, you will enjoy long distance driving. I have been doing long distance driving and with passengers as well.
How many female drivers are members of the association?
Here in the FCT we have up to 21 female drivers and another 15 women have been trained and are waiting to be empowered with vehicles to start business. We also have members at the state levels.
Do you have your members in government employment?
Presently, one woman has been calling me that she needs a female personal driver. We don’t have female drivers in agencies and we have been advocating for the opportunity to be open for everyone irrespective of your sex or gender.
What should be considered is one’s competence and not sex, the policy should not restrict women from driving, if there is a vacancy it should be open to all.
Do you support government with information you gather in the course of your job?
It is very good for drivers and government to partner because we are down here with the masses while government is up there and may not be able to know what’s happening with the masses but drivers know.
Unfortunately, drivers are looked down on, but a lot of information can be got from us. Government should see the need to partner with drivers and have a memorandum of understanding with us because we are very close to the masses and know what is happening in the environment we work in. We can get information from passengers.
Security is everybody’s business and we have roles as individuals, as drivers and if you say it’s not your business the person that may be harmed could be your close relative or neighbour or even you. So, I think it’s important for government to involve drivers in information gathering for security reasons.
So, how do you manage your driving business, the association and family?
I plan and create time for every activity and when you have passion for what you are doing you won’t have problem with time management.
Again, knowing that I am contributing to national development and that am part of those working towards alleviating women from poverty, I always create time for everything I do.
What would be your advice to women?
Women must be wise and wake up from their slumber and explore their potentials. We must stop depending on people when we are able bodied beings. Ask yourselves your purpose on earth and explore it.
Women must sit up and think outside the box, do research and explore areas where people don’t have interest in and you will be proud you did.
Most people want money before they can start anything but in as much as money is important, it is not everything. People must get idea first and think of how to make it a reality by developing it gradually. When you do this money will definitely come, and you would have contributed your quota to nation building.