opinionBy Sunny Idachaba
It is common to find vibrant and energetic young men on the streets of Nigeria hawking petroleum products especially, during fuel scarcity, under harsh condition but when the fragile, feminie gender resort to this line of business, it calls for concern, writes Sunny Idachaba.
Call it survival of the fittest; you will be correct because of the nature of the business which requires one to invest a lot of patience and drive, coupled with the pains associated with getting the commodity. That is why in most parts of the country, only able-bodied young men in their late twenties indulge in it because they have the strength and stamina to cope with the hazards associated with that kind of business.
In many cases, if it requires them to engage anyone in muscle flexing all in a bid to get the product, they do it with zeal. That is why those who indulge in this type of business are usually in rags because it can be torn any time on account of physical combat. In many cases, they are in high moods to convince anyone that cares to know that they mean real business.
They can dare any situation including arrest by the security agents. Recently, they have become a force to reckon with whenever there is fuel scarcity as is currently being experienced in most parts of the country, especially the Federal Capital Territory. It is the business of hawking and selling petroleum products in broad day light.
Sometimes, it is done under the sun and in many cases under unpleasant conditions. To them, there is no impediment to their line of business. It is certainly the male dominated area; however in many cities especially in Abuja, it is no longer the exclusives of the male folks as the female folks in their hundreds have joined the train to the amazement of many.
Driving through the Karshi/Nyanya expressway into the city of Abuja, one can see women in their hundreds carrying cans of what one might think contain water or palm wine, but this route is not where one can spot a single palm tree, therefore making it unimaginable to think of getting such commodity along this route.
It is rather petrol business being handled by women of all ages, doing what they love to do most. Sighting them, one could easily mistake them for commuters waiting endlessly for the mass transit buses to convey them into the city. But they are not passengers. Rather they are women positioned and ready to wave down any private vehicle willing to buy petroleum products.
In many cases, they use persuasion to convince their customers to buy. Their mode of operation is better noticed when their customer drives a private car. As one draws close to a halt for any reason, they rush forward sometimes with the commodity or simply with a drain pipe and a probing question, "How many litres do you want"? To your amazement, any quantity you demand will be at your reach because they have it in large quantity inside a nearby bush or an uncompleted building.
The way they dash into their hideouts to get the commodity suggests to one that they, like their male folks in other parts of the city, are willing to give anything to sustain the business. To them, the trend should continue. Some have their babies strapped behind their backs, while some leave the young ones on the floor, under a small umbrella in the scorching sun- undaunted by the hazards posed to them by the business.
Madam HanatuIshaya is an indigene of Nasarawa state but resident in Jikwoyi, a suburb in the FCT. She is one of the women who spends the whole day come rain, come shine to dispense of her commodity along this route daily. She told LEADERSHIP Sunday that originally she used to fry beans cake at Nyanya but had to stop because she discovered that hawking petroleum products along the road was a business that was thriving and better than the beans cake she was frying.
That is why she spends the whole day there 'to share in the national cake' even at the expense of her children who havebeen left to fend for themselves and find their way to and from school in Nyanya.According to her, she makes an average of between three and five thousand naira daily, compared to her beans cake business in which she makes a 'paltry' sum of just over one thousand daily.
This, according to her, besides the incessant harassment she receives from constant raids by the men of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB.Her husband, she says,"Originally did not want me to do the business because our three children attend school in Nyanya and the place is a bit far from here. Since he leaves for work very early and I also had to leave by six o'clock, I asked my sister to come from the village to come and assist me by staying with them and also prepare them for school, while I come out to my place of work with my last child" she says.
Madam Hanatu may have switched over to this business because she discovered that it was more lucrative, but that is different from the view of twenty- six- year old Hope Orji who told LEADERSHIP Sunday that she had always had a passion for the areas hitherto referred to as the 'male dominated' areas of influence like football, wrestling and judo. She came to Abuja in 2010 with the hope of finding something to do after she had stayed at home in Abia state without any success.
In her own words, "I live with my friend in Kugbo, but nobody sells petrol along that area, so when I came and visited my cousin who lives in Orozo three weeks ago, I saw so many women doing the business and soldiers from the barracks were not stopping them; I decided to do it since I could not find something else to do.
Even though I make some money from it, my main reason is because I just like it," she said. She may not have been driven into it for economic reasons, but because of the thriving nature of the business, Hope may not be willing to leave it for now.
One thing that makes this business very successful along the road is that long after Jikwoyi, a suburb of Abuja, there is only one NNPC mega filling station untilone gets to Karshi which is almost over sixty kilometres from Jikwoyi. It is a heavily populated axis as lately many housing estates have sprung up in the area. Almost all the paramilitary services have their staff housing schemes located along the route.
The police and the military have their post service housing schemes along the same route. Many private developers have built houses along the route because of the topography of the area. The FCT Satellite Towns Development Agency is also located along the route therefore the area is becoming what Gwarimpa is to the city centre.It is therefore not a surprise that a new business dimension has suddenly developed along the route.
One of the women hawking fuel along that route identified as Cynthia says she is aware of the risks associated with the business considering the spate of insecurity in the country but believesonly God is the ultimate protector. She admits that the business was indeed hazardous for the female folks as recently some young men tried to kidnap a lady along with her product as she was attending to some customers.
According to her, those young men were coming from the city centre and heading in the direction of Karshi,but just as they pushed the lady and her commodity into their Volkswagen car to speed off,'okada' riders who witnessed the incident ran after the vehicle and blocked it. Although two of the occupants escaped, the lady who was kidnapped heldon to one of them which led to his arrest by the soldiers.
Whatever reason is responsible for this new dimension of business, it is a clarion call for the restoration the dignity to womanhood which should not be sacrificed on the altar for the crave for survival by all means.