Life is like a journey with an unpredictable destination. The Spanish poet and playwright, Antonio Machado (1875 – 1939) aptly captured life’s unpredictability in his poem: “Oh Time, oh Still and Now, pregnant with things impending. You travel the cold path with me, arousing restlessness and hope.” Friday Ake is one of those who set out for a good life but had to settle for the bitter side. Mr. GABRIEL EWEPU spoke to him and this is his story.
Many people are yet to understand that the vagaries of life blow like a wind, which can carry them to destinations unpredicted. While in that situation they begin to wonder and say, “Why me of all people’, ‘I never thought it would be like this’, ‘I pity myself.’
Mr. Friday Ake had never imagined in his wildest dreams that he would remain a commercial motorcyclist (okada rider) by this time of his life. But today, Ake and his family survive on his earnings from his okada business in Mpape, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja.
Ake wakes up as early as 5.30am to ferry people through the ever busy but untarred roads of the densely populated intra Mpape roads as business men and women, civil servants, company workers, students, pupils, and even applicants rush out of the Government Rejected Area (GRA) to board commercial buses and cars to different parts of the Abuja city centre.
These people rush out of their brick houses, block apartments, and make-shift zinc buildings to flag down Ake and his compatriots, who are heavily kitted in warm clothing to ward off the cold and dusty wind blowing from the surrounding rocks in the early hours of the morning.
Most of the passengers are conveyed to the junction called Area 1, which is the junction to the only Mpape link road to the Kubwa expressway passing through Maitama to AYA at Asokoro. Also, Area 1 is the junction of Ajegunle in Mpape, which is like the infamous Ajegunle in Lagos State.
Mr. Ake said life has not being too nice with him since he came into the world in 1955. Born into a poor family, Friday managed to complete his primary education in 1969 in far away Onicha-kwani in Udokwa West Local Government Area of Delta.
Ake said, “I have been a dropout after I managed to complete my primary education in 1969, my father could not send me to secondary school. This left me frustrated and in 1972 I left for Agbor, a town in Delta State too, where I was a waiter in a restaurant called Blessing Restaurant.
“However, the son of the owner of the building housing Blessing Restaurant took me to Warri, where I also worked in Ricardo Hotel from 1973 to 74,”
However, in 1975, his father was worried about him and brought him out of Warri to his home town, Onicha-Kwani. The reason: Being the first born and only son, Friday must be empowered to be productive in order to meet the enormous challenges ahead as the man of the family. His father enrolled him in a tailoring shop at Obiaruku, a village close to his home town, as an apprentice.
“I was trained to be a tailor specialised in men’s wear from 1975 to 1978. I came back to my village to set up my own shop, however, I could not as result of financial constraints,” said Friday.
Saddened and frustrated with the second major disappointment in his life, Friday moved out of his village to hook up with his friend who is a tailor also at Utagbaunu, a nearby village.
“My friend told me that he would not be able to pay me as his worker, which I accepted and worked for him free of charge although I went along and was using my sewing machine which my father bought for me.”
Later he was able to rent his own apartment where he gradually started his own tailoring business. “In 1981, I was able to buy a tailor table, scissors, and other sewing materials and I had some customers whom I sewed clothes for. With this I was able to sustain myself.”
Unfortunately, Friday’s customers for reasons he is not aware of and cannot explain began to desert him and gradually his business wilted and finally collapsed.
Undeterred by his collapsed small business, he got married in 1981. He said, “Life was miserable for me. My feeding was a problem after my business crumbled. To feed my family was a problem. I was forced to go into farming to sustain my family, although my first child was born in 1983.”
In 1999, he left Utagbaunu as a result of a mysterious occurrence in his family. What is the mysterious occurrence? He disclosed, “Seven of my children died mysteriously in the house I was living in Utagbaunu. I was left with six of them. My younger sister in Abuja was very concerned when I visited her with my last child. She saw my poor situation and that I had no job. She said I should settle down in Abuja with my family. I later got a job as a security man, which fetched me N3, 000 (Three Thousand Naira) a month. My wife was frustrated with my financially poor condition and left me in 2002.”
By then, he was living at Karmo, a suburb in Abuja. However, his home fell victim of the demolition by the FCT Authority under Mallam Nasiru El’Rufai. He relocated to Mpape in 2003 and went to train as an excavator operator at Arab Contractors Construction Company. He earned a certificate for that training but was unsuccessful in securing another job with it.
He had no choice but to settle as a commercial motorcyclist. Friday said, “I became an okada rider in 2003, while I was living at Karmo before my home was demolished. I was in the business while being trained as an excavator operator.”
He continued in the okada business In Mpape and has managed to provide a measure of sustenance for himself and his family.
On a happy note, his wife returned to him in 2009, seven years after she left. Their children were able to reconcile them and they have remained together and happy ever since.
Well, Friday has been able to feed himself and family, sponsor his children’s education, and also pay his house rent. “I realise about N1, 000 (One Thousand Naira) a day.
I am not keen to stress myself and make huge profit.”
Being a serious-minded person, he acquired a vocational training organised by his church on soap-making in 2011.
But he has not been able to establish the business. “I can produce soap, but my challenge at the moment is capital to start the business. I need about N50, 000 (Fifty Thousand Naira) to kick-start the production.
“I am tired with the okada business, as the hazards in it are life threatening, also considering my age and health; I want to quit this job. In fact, I have made a resolution that after I return from my journey to my village, I will not ride this okada from where I will park it.