In many big Nigerian cities today, movement between one point to another has become a Herculean task. Besides the terrible states of most roads, the large number of vehicles squabbling for available space has also added to the problem. As a result, controlling traffic in such places can be a big task for those saddled with the responsibility. Though in the past, the job used to be mostly done by men, these days, women – very beautiful and smart ones – have also taken up careers in the management of traffic on major roads across the country.
But undertaking such tedious task has not been easy for many of the women, who have found themselves in the job. Apart from contending with unruly drivers and louts popularly known as ‘area boys’ in local parlance, female traffic controllers have also had to deal with the menace of amorous men, who indirectly and openly pester them for sex. A handful of women in this category whom Saturday PUNCH interacted with, indeed confirmed that managing traffic on busy roads has come with its own pains and a few times – gains.
For example, an official of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority stationed at a very busy axis around the Ojodu, Berger area of Lagos, who gave her name only as Yemi for fear of being reprimanded by her superiors for speaking with a journalist without prior clearance, said that confronting different categories of road users every day, especially unruly drivers and men with sinister motives, has made her job more difficult.
According to the lady, who managed to speak with our correspondents after a male colleague relieved her for a few minutes last Wednesday afternoon, the occasional soul-lifting compliments from some road users and a few handouts, are some of the few things that energise their spirit on the job at times.
“I really enjoy the job I do even though it is energy consuming,” she began. “I do this with passion because I feel that I am playing a vital role in the society by clearing up the road and allowing people to reach their destinations in quicker times.
“But the attitude of most drivers on the road especially the commercial ones, is discouraging. They don’t care about the safety of their passengers but it is our job to make sure that they follow traffic rules,” she said.
The 39-year-old Higher National Diploma certificate holder, who got into traffic management after failing to land the type of jobs that she had desired, told Saturday PUNCH that there has been more bitter experience than sweet ones in the course of duty.
“While on duty, many men give me their complimentary cards so that I can call them for help. Some genuinely want to help but many just want to take advantage of you. It all depends on you and how you carry yourself while on duty.
“If you don’t give men ideas or funny signals, then they will think twice before approaching you. The ones who approach me in this manner, I let them know immediately that I am not interested. I let them know that if they genuinely want to help me, I am fine with it, otherwise they should not bother because I can never have anything to do with them sexually,” she added.
On a visit to the Secretariat end of Alausa in Ikeja, not too far from where Yemi operates, is another female traffic controller, this time a policewoman – Patricia. Looking completely worn out when our correspondents came across her that evening, she did not waste time in reeling out what bitter experiences she had come across on the job – especially the menace of crazy drivers and men wanting her body.
“I’ve been in the force for about 12 years now and I get posted to different parts of Lagos. Mostly, the roads get busier from 6pm each day; it is when the real work begins.
“This job is not easy and people don’t want to understand. They feel because we work for the government, everything is good with us. The drama I encounter here every day is more than what you can ever imagine.
“Sometimes I get really tired because after spending the whole day controlling traffic, I still have to find my way home through the same traffic at some other places. It’s really tiring.
“But the most annoying one is men trying to ‘toast’ you when on duty. Some even have the guts to park at a corner, call on you to come around and then start telling you rubbish.
“There was a particular man that approached me like this about three months ago while I was busy controlling traffic under the sun. He parked at a spot, honked for me to come around and inside his car. I refused to enter his car and insisted on standing and listening to what he had to say. He then told me that he had been observing me for a while and was interested in taking care of me as a way of rewarding me for the good job I was doing. He gave me his complimentary card, N5000 and asked me to meet him somewhere around Ojota the next day by 7pm. Of course I collected the money but never called or went to see him. The next time he drove past and called my attention, I simply ignored him. After two more trials, he left me alone.
“All these things happened despite wearing my police uniform. Imagine what would have happened if I was in mufti, the disturbances would have been too much,” she said.
Narrating her own experience, Lola, a LASTMA personnel stationed around the Ogba area of Lagos, told Saturday PUNCH that she had learnt to accept and cope with the menace of all category of road users especially the “troublesome” ones.
According to her, rather than fighting or abusing the men, who cross their limits while she is on duty, she tries to be friendly with them and re-orientate their minds against doing wrong.
“I have indeed encountered crazy people on the road several times while on duty,” she opened up. “Some drivers know very well they are not supposed to park at a certain place but would go ahead to do so once they realise that it is a woman that is on duty. Whenever I encounter people like this, I just let them go; otherwise they could harm you.
“I remember one incident at Ogba when there was heavy traffic. One driver decided to drive against traffic and I tried to signal to tell him to stop but he ignored me. Luckily for me, my patrol team was on ground, I put a call across to them to let them know that there was a car coming. I thereafter boarded a commercial tricycle and followed him up. When I got to his car, I tried to enter and this man pushed me. When I tried to force my way in, he moved his car and I fell to the ground and injured myself.
“It was later discovered that the man was a soldier. The mobile policemen that had gathered at the scene rather than condemn his action, instead talked to him gently. I was left alone to bear my pains; there was nothing I could do to him. That is how the matter ended,” she said.
The 54-year-old woman went ahead to tell our correspondents that besides the menace of crazy drivers, they also contend with health challenges emanating from inhaling fumes from smoking vehicles and also sustaining injuries when certain drivers lose control of their vehicles due to malfunctioning brake systems.
“The health challenge we contend with is very serious,” she said. “We inhale dusts and thick fumes from the vehicles and you know these things can damage the body system and eyes too. It can even cause lung cancer.
“Apart from that, sometimes these big trucks experience break failure, so when you’re on the road, you have to be on alert because anything can happen.
“There are even some drivers that would target you while on duty. Once they see that you are carried away with work, they spank your buttocks and zoom off. I have experienced this a lot of times but how many of such people can you chase? You just leave them for God to deal with.
“Some men give me complimentary cards. They will ask me to call them because they want to offer me help one way or the other. I call some but only for them to start professing love to me even when they know I am married.
“They promise me a better life and job if only I accept them but I can never do that because I am a married woman. I have passed that stage in my life when such could move me.
“Some will even be bold enough to tell me to come and meet them at a relaxation spot when I close for the day but immediately I leave my duty post, I go straight to my husband and five children. This type of harassment is something I deal with almost every day,” she said.
The experience is not different from that of Peju, a young and charming female personnel of the Federal Road Safety Commission. Working across different parts of the city with her team, the 30-year-old told Saturday PUNCH that her job has brought her in contact with good and “crazy” men over the last four years since she joined the agency.
“We also encounter danger at times when we go out for routine monitoring and patrol duties,” she explained. “Though we don’t control traffic as such, we also work to ensure that the roads are safe and freer especially during major accidents and emergencies.
“In the process of carrying out these duties, I have been approached several times by men who don’t even hide it that they like my body and want a feel of it. There was a particular man who pestered me for love and sex for almost four months but eventually we became friends when he realised that I was not going to give in. Now, he respects me more and has even helped some of my friends to get jobs.
“This type of experience is something I have become used to. Even though I have yet to marry, I don’t mix pleasure with duty because it could lead to my downfall. But the truth is that it has not been easy coping with these disturbances from randy men,” she added.
But beyond the menace of unruly drivers and amorous men, female traffic controllers across many parts of Nigeria have also found great reward as a result of the way they carry out their duties. For example, the First Lady of Oyo State, Florence Ajimobi, in August 2016, celebrated a policewoman, who did her job even under the rain. She was rewarded with a certificate of diligence and cash gift for her efforts.
In similar fashion, a popular female traffic warden attached to the Sabo Police Station in Lagos, Insp. Josephine Ogene, has received over 10 notable awards from members of the public. This is aside other numerous gifts she had got from people for her diligence to duty as well.
“I feel so happy doing this job. It gives me more joy when people appreciate me on duty. I have got 10 awards on this job.
“But I will never forget a day when a bullion van hit me while controlling traffic. It was scary but I didn’t allow that to deter me. I am grateful to God and people for appreciating my work,” she said