Babayaro the Taxi driver- Story of a struggling “Almajiri” boy
It was a morning of June 2011 in Abuja, Nigeria and I was preparing for a trip to Northern City of Kaduna for an official assignment, the journey would have taken about 2 hours from inside Abuja city if I had gone in a private or official vehicle but for my decision to go by public transport the duration of the journey was not predictable. So I went to Area 1 in Garki and my intention was to get a taxi to take me to Mabushi or Utako where I would get a direct transport to Kaduna, the taxi I found was a neat Gold car and the driver a tall dark skinned young man in his mid-twenties simply called Baba by his colleagues offered to take me to the motor park. As we were about leaving Garki, a colleague of the driver came and spoke to him in a local dialect, I knew immediately that the driver was of Kanuri tribe of Borno state in North East Nigeria.
Baba started the car and we headed towards the motor park then I asked him if he could take me to Kaduna having considered the good state of his car and he agreed for a price of N7,000. So we started our journey to Kaduna as I prepared to have a good sleep during the trip as I had been studying the previous night preparing for my official assignment. I asked Baba how long he thinks the journey would take from Abuja to Kaduna and he looked at me and said in pidging English “Oga, you know say everything dey God hand” and I simply nodded my head in agreement of the obvious fact he had said. If we are lucky , he continued, and the road is good enough we should be able to make it in 2 hours, but with all these police and Area Council people stopping painted taxi on Intercity journey one can not predict but I pray that God will not let anyone of them stop us on the road. We saw the first police checkpoint close to Zuba but we were not stopped by the police or the Area Council Agents so we joined the Kaduna express way, and then our discussion started purely in pidging English. The stories and the lessons learnt therefrom was to change my perception of life in so many ways as you would soon find out in my narration below.
His previous working experience:
You know this car I am driving is good for me, Baba said. I was a driver to one woman until about 3 months ago, she is a politician and she took me to Kano with a salary of about N15,000 I took the job then because I had no other one and I had just collected my driver’s license. Women are very difficult to work with and especially when they are rich, she was maltreating me and treating me like her slave and it was a good thing that I left her work for her. I was staying in her house in Kano with security guards and she was feeding me very well, but she had bad manners and was embarrassing me in the presence of her friends. If I take her somewhere she would ask me not to seat inside the car, I must stay outside in the sun while she is inside the house, she did not allow me to have friends and always complain whenever any of her friends gives me tips. There was an incidence when I took her to one of her friends place and I found a mobile phone on the floor outside the compound, I kept the phone with me and I did not mention it to her. Later that day when I got back home, the phone was ringing and I picked it to hear a woman’s voice which I recognized to be my oga’s friend, I told her I found the phone but she was rude to me and was calling me thieves so I hung up. Shortly later, a man called the same line and he introduced himself as the husband of the owner of the phone, and I told him how rude his wife was to me, he apologized and offered to know my location so that he could pick up the phone. He eventually came and I handed over the phone to him, he offered me the sum of N1,000 which I shared equally with three friends with me as at that time. I asked him why he decided to share the money equally with his friends, and he said, you see money is not everything, I knew that God that provided that one would give me many more.
The story of the phone found and the money given to him did not go down well with my Oga and she accused me of stealing phone and one day I told her that Fulanis are slaves to Kanuris and she got angry, that was shortly before I left her job in Kano.
Baba’s story of his life time touched me so much that I shared some of it with my colleagues when I got to Kaduna. His first major ordeal was when he realized at age 6 that he was not circumcised, it was usual practice in his village for young children to be going out naked, so he realized one day that his genital was different from that of his playmates and decided to correct that. He approached old men who usually move from one house to another that his father sent him to be circumcised; he offered the man the sum of N20 which was a big money for such task in that village as at that time, the man refused and offered to see his father who sent him. Baba’s cry and insistence made him have his way and he was circumcised at the age of 6 without the knowledge of his father. Baba was born in a village in Borno State as the first child of his father; he did not have the opportunity of going to any school until when he was about 9 years old when he left home for an Islamic School in a Village far away from his home. He narrated how they used to go out begging for alms to eat as “Almajiri” in those days while staying with the Mallam who was teaching them. I asked him if his father was aware that he left home alone and he said he later knew, and he would come to his Mallam’s village sometimes to buy things and they would exchange pleasantries, the father never bothered to ask how he was taking care of himself at 9 year old. He returned to his home village about 6 years later when he was 15 years old to assist his father while he was building a mud house. I asked him about his mother’s where about and he said, I did not know my mother as at that time. My father had a wife, he continued, who I took as my mother but realized later that she was not my biological mother. There was an incident that occurred between me and one of my younger ones and he reported me and the woman was calling me a bastard. I was so angry and bitter at the same time, especially because I never knew she was not my mother until that time when I was about 17 years old. So I poured gasoline on our house and wanted to set the house on fire, my father came back later that day and said he was proud of my action because I had shown myself as a brave man.
Struggle to survive
After the incidence that happened in his village when he was 17 years old, he decided it was time to leave home and start struggling to survive as a man, he headed down south to North Central City of Jos in Plateau State without any plan. The only mission he had as at that time was to survive on his own. He entered Jos City knowing no one and having no idea what to do, so headed for the Terminus central market where he was sleeping along with many other homeless people in makeshift cover made with carton sheets in the extremely cold weather of Jos City. He would wake up as early as possible to have his bath in the public toilet and go out to fight and beg for food like many others like him. He then made some friends with some young boys like himself who were into nail cutting business; he would follow them around, learning the art of cutting and polishing nails. In the evening they would all gather at the market square, they would buy food with little money they have made during day and eat together. No one knew I did not have a house to sleep then, he said, I would have a good haircut and look good in my own little way. He was able to gather some money with his friends later to rent a room, about 6 of them were sharing that room and as at that time he had started the nail polishing business fully on his own, with a pair of scissors, razors and handkerchief, he was ready to make a living.
After doing this work for about 2 years, he decided to return to his Village in Borno state, the mission was to find and locate her biological mother. He went straight to his village to meet his father and enquire on how to locate his mother, all the father could tell him was her name and the name of the village where she resides few kilometers from Maiduguri. So he set off for the journey to an unknown village to look for an unknown woman who has abandoned him for 19 years, he did not have slightest idea of what she look like. On getting to the village, he was asking people at the motor park for the name of her mother and after long hours of waiting, he met a man called Aliu who claimed to be a cousin to the woman he was looking for. Aliu offered to take Baba to the house where the woman resides but on the condition that he would not follow Baba inside the house, he agreed and they went in the direction of the village center. Aliu showed him the house and went on his way; Baba entered the building and asked for her mother’s name, he was directed to an open place where he met two women in their mid 30’s sitting down. One of the women was very fair like a shuwa Arab, on sighting him and after he introduced himself as Baba mentioning his village, the fair woman started crying. Her friend sitting with her was not sure of what was going on so she asked her why she was crying on seeing the young boy, he is my son, she said in a very low tone. You know I told you I had a son about 19 years ago, this is him and he had not seen him since she left his father. They were both there for many hours discussing and when it was getting dark Baba decided it was time for him to go back since he had accomplished his mission. Efforts by her mother to make him stay a little longer were abortive as Baba had decided to go back to Jos to continue his struggle for survival. Baba returned to Jos the next day in the evening and continued his nail polishing business which he did for almost one more year when he decided to relocate to another city.
After working for almost three years in Jos doing nail polishing, the money from the business was no longer sufficient for him as he would have to contribute for payment of rents along with 5 others, feed and do many other things. He decided to go into shoe polishing/cobbler, a business his father was doing back in their village. He bought hammer, polish, brush and few other materials needed and it did not take him very long time to master the art of polishing shoes. While doing this some of his friends told him of how lucrative the business would be in Abuja (Nigeria Capital City), he thought of this for several days and concluded that he would have to relocate to Abuja. With his shoe polishing materials and few naira notes with him, and without prior knowledge of Abuja he embarked on another journey to Abuja City. Baba arrived Abuja having no idea where to start from, he found himself somewhere in Utako district of Abuja. He went straight to a village settlement in the district and after much search of where he could stay, and with money just enough for him to feed for like two days, he decided to stay in a nearby Church. Baba was staying in this church for many months, he would sneak into the premises late in the night to sleep and wake up very early in the morning to go for his shoe polishing business.
After some years working as a cobbler in Abuja Baba was able to save enough money to buy a motor cycle to be used for commercial operations popularly called “Okada”, he then learn how to ride this through his friends. He was happy with the progress he had made and soon he was able to save enough to rent a room apartment in one of the local villages in the suburb of Abuja with his “Okada”. This success was however temporary as the government of the then Federal Capital Territory ban the operation of commercial motor cyclist within Abuja Metropolis, he was still managing to operate illegally until some months later when he was arrested by the special task force set up by the government. His motorcycle was impounded and he was detained in Police station somewhere in Abuja. Baba was kept in detention for three days and was released after the intervention of the police DPO after the incident that occurred the second day of his detention. In the night of the second day, the anti-robbery police squad had gone for their usual patrol and raiding of criminal hideouts the event went bloody and a suspected robber was shot by the police and his corpse brought to the police station. One of the police officers that went for the raid while at the station called Baba to come and identify the corpse saying” one of his (Baba’s) brother had been killed”, this statement enraged Baba and he was abusing the police officer which made the three police on duty to beat Baba cruelly. The next day he was summoned by the DPO and he narrated what happened, the DPO ordered the particular policeman to apologize to Baba and to buy him food since he not eaten for days. He was also to be paid his daily motorcycle delivery for three days he was kept in detention but his motor bike was not released to him.
Baba once again became jobless, and while struggling to make ends meet he did many things from mechanic and carpentry apprentice to casual labour joining hundreds of others for the early money rush for work at Mabushi Abuja. It was while in mechanic workshop that Baba was able to get some money and he gave the sum of ten thousand naira to a friend who promised to teach him driving and obtain driver’s license for him. After obtaining his license he tried his hands on about two taxi before he got the job as a driver to Hajia who took him to Kano.
I was following Baba’s stories with keen interesting and noting every lesson. We were approaching Kaduna at this moment and I could not help but asked him how he was able to speak pidgin English fluently, “I learnt the language from my friends”, he said. You know, he continued in pidgin English, God has been faithful to us you see, no stoppage on the road, but all these while I was talking my mind was on the sound of my engine, tyres and on the road, I must not loose focus. Is this your car? I asked. Yes, Baba answered. While wandering in my mind how he was able to raise money enough to buy a Golf saloon car, he explained how it happened.
There was this day after losing my driving job with Hajia and I returned from Kano to Abuja, one of my friends informed me of a rich man from our village who is now in Abuja. He is a politician, he added, so I decided to visit him in his office with my friend, surprisingly he accorded us warm reception and promised to assist me. Then after the general election of April 2011, he called me that he has gotten a car for me to help me sustain myself, the car was retrieved from the fleet used by one of the political parties during campaign with party logo on it, so I repainted it. I am happy now that I have a car of my own and I am making good money, Baba said, I make daily thrift contributions everyday as savings and he was actually going to deposit the money for the previous day before I met him.
We entered Kaduna and I looked at my wrist watch, the journey took a little over an hour thirty minutes, I described my destination to him and he drove straight towards Ahmadu Bello way. I asked if he was going to carry another passenger to Abuja and he said, he would try if the touts at the motor parks would allow him. I came down from the taxi, paid him the agreed fare and something extra and we exchanged telephone numbers. As I was climbing the stairs to the fourth floor of the venue of my official session, I was pondering seriously on the lessons from the true life story of a struggling “Almajiri boy” turned taxi driver. As I was making my presentation later in the day, I shared some of the lessons with my colleagues;
Family upbringing and the lack of needed support as a child from his parents, I thought of how a mother could abandon her child at very tender age without looking back for about nineteen years. At the age of nine, Baba left home without permission of his parent, and the father never bothered to look for him. It was a normal thing in many parts of the North for a young male child to be separated from the parents in the name of going to school in far various locations. Many migrated from neighbouring Niger Republic and Chad to Nigeria at will.
Baba at the age of 15 was revolted against his step mother and was ready to set the house built by himself and his father ablaze, this act was not condemned by his father but rather applauded. This gave me a good understanding of the restiveness being experienced in some parts of the country and where we got it wrong. Family value system and orientation.
A struggling Almajiri left his home town in faraway North East Nigerian state of Borno to Jos knowing no idea where he was going and what the future had in stock. He was not educated, not skilled but was determined to make it in life, from the homeless Almajiri to a taxi driver in Abuja. With determination we can achieve anything, imagine if he had good education and trained skills.!
In life not matter how hard things seems, there is always a way out, the conditions shall not be permanent but it takes more than wishes, they must be backed with actions.
The impact of government’s poor attention to citizens to ensure that necessary environments is provided for people to add value to their lives and that of the society.
Narrated by Nasir Ameen
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