“Many of this okada men no just get sense. Dem go just dey drink anyhow; monkey-tail o, ogidiga and all that rubbish. Some of them dey even smoke skunk. Useless people”.
This was the first time I will hear an Okada rider speak about his colleagues in such a distasteful way. As we maneuvered another muddy pot-hole, I asked him if he is a teetotaler and his answer left me in shock. What kind of commercial bike driver neither drinks nor smokes? Was I just over-generalizing and blowing things out of proportions? Was I just being too judgmental? How could I have possibly thought all okada riders were irresponsible?
Chairman had been taking me from the bus-stop to my parents’ house for about 5 months now. We had migrated from being mere strangers to acquaintances with a level of rapport though. He appeared, sounded and acted way smarter than most bike men. He would even offer me a free ride home if I didn’t have the exact amount he wanted and he didn’t have change. ‘Next time,’ a smiling Chairman would say as he drops me off. Ours was a weird kind of comradeship. He never knew my name just as I never knew his. He knew me by my address as he had also dropped off other members of my family at other times. I called him ‘Chairman’ and he called me ‘Oga mi‘. It wasn’t long after before I moved out of that hood. I didn’t get to Chairman for over one year.
A fortnight ago, I visited my parents’ hood. After hours in traffic and drenched in my sweat, I got to the last bus-stop. As I jumped out of the rickety bus, I could see two touts trading heavy punches. One seemed to bleed through the nose but fought even harder. Some on-lookers appeared to enjoy the spectacle. Phones-in-hands, they recorded and snapchatted away the moment. I crossed over to the other side and there I met ‘Chairman’ who was eating roasted corn as he leaned on his motorbike which looked worn-out. Immediately he saw me, he beamed a smile, that type which could heal a broken heart.
As we rode to the house, Chairman told me how he had missed me a lot. He went on to tell me he had just completed the NYSC scheme. I was shocked as I never knew he had tertiary education. He explained to me that he had been a student of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma all the while and only resorted to his Okada business during the holidays or strike actions.
He asked if I had a job for him. He asked if I knew anyone who could help him. He told me how he enjoyed serving in Owerri despite the culture shock. I told him how I completed mine four years ago but still had not been gainful employed. He said he will keep managing his little okada business till something better comes by. I assured him that we will be fine but I knew I wasn’t as confident as I sounded. He dropped me off and blatantly refused to be paid. ‘Oga mi, no worry,’ he said. I tried to explain to him that there is no room for friendship when it comes to business but he sped off and left me swallowing the words I was yet to blurt out.
I wished he waited a few seconds more to at least tell me his name or ask for mine.