I had an appointment at Alausa and while there, i got another call to report to Amuwo Odofin urgently. I decided to leave the car at Alausa, board public transport to beat traffic and also save the fuel i had as the fuel scarcity had built up. As i stood at the bus-stop a blue Toyota Sienna pulled up and discharged some passengers. I saw the elderly lady driving the car and i thought those were her staff that she dropped off but she remained for like 3 minutes and i noticed the man beside me asking her if she was headed to Ketu she said no and her faint voice replied "Ojota". Since i had spent about 20 minutes waiting for a bus going to Oshodi i decided to follow her to Ojota and then board another vehicle from there.
Like 2 minutes into the trip i advised her to put on her seat belt and she told me that it chokes her as she is diabetic, and just returned from admission in the hospital because her blood sugar level spiked terribly. Two things i noticed immediately were her voice which was very calm, confident though low; and the polished and courteous manner she replied me.
These now pricked my interest to hear her story and it turned out to be very disheartening.
Her name is Mrs Felicia Chidi (Chief Ugonma). She is 58 years old and from Enugu State. She told me that she had lived in USA and UK and she is a trained nurse and worked in these countries as a nurse.
She had lost her husband several years ago and she has two female daughters who are married and resident in America but can't come to Nigeria for now. So right now she lives with a little girl that keeps her company and helps her with house chores in a border town in Ogun state but comes to Lagos daily to hustle with her commercial driving to raise funds for her daily upkeep pending when ever she gets money from her children who can't work yet.
So what brought her back and why did she settle for driving a 'kabu-kabu' commercial vehicle?
I had directly asked her this question and had then informed her that i would love to write about her. At that point i only had in mind to celebrate her hustling spirit but her answer was most pathetic.
Chief now informed me that like 2011 she was summoned from her base abroad that her properties in Nigeria were being claimed by some land-grabbers.
She informed me that she had built a mini estate comprising of 3 duplexes, 6 shops, 1 bungalow, 2 flats, on 43 Ogundana street, off Allen Ave, ikeja, Lagos.
But as she rushed back, she realised that one Yoruba family had laid claims to her entire estate which she said she has all her documents to including Certificate of Occupancy. But the family claimed that they are the rightful owners. And had taken her to court in her absence and judgment was also deliberated and served in her absence transferring ownership to them.
That was how she became homeless and houseless and moved from being a landlady of an estate to becoming a tenant living outside Lagos State.
She said she engaged the services of a lawyer who collected N1,500,000 from her yet did not make any headway.
She now cried to the family at Ikeja that sold the land to her and they also demanded another huge amount from her before they would agree to bring out their original family land register and testify on her behalf.
In the course of going through all these the same family that forcefully took over her properties, sent thugs armed with guns to her house and kidnapped her daughter, took her valuables including plasma television sets and packed all into her Toyota Sienna bus and told her to hand over her original title documents to the said properties which she refused. They then told her that before they would release her abducted daughter she would pay a ransom and they took her in another vehicle to the bank where she withdrew her final savings and paid them before they released her daughter.
This event has also made her daughters so scared of returning to Nigeria. And as a widow now battling ill-health and no money again, she got to her wit's end and ended up using her Toyota Sienna to run commercial transportation.
Even doing this has not come easy as she had to contend with different unions and her fellow male drivers who found it very difficult accepting a female driver in their midst. As she was enduring the physical and psychological trauma, her car was also taking some bashings especially deliberate ones from the drivers who wanted to frustrate her out of their park. But knowing that she won't have another source of livelihood, she stood her grounds, enduring all sorts from human beings and from ill-health as she was now taking ill more frequently, spending the little money she makes on only food and medications.
Moreover, her life is still not safe from those who had stolen her estate and even kidnapped her daughter released only after receiving ransom payment.
I had great pity and paid her for my fare, gave her more money and told her to close earlier that day so she could rest. Immediately she collected the money, she prayed for me and told me that her priority right then was to go to Ikeja Under-Bridge and buy a used handset because she no longer even had any to make or receive calls. She promised to call me once she gets a handset and reactivated her line but as i type this, i haven't heard from her. Though as soon as possible, i will still go look for her.
I promised her that i will write about her and pray that she gets justice.