It was under the regime of a former president, Olusegun Obasanjo that what has now become an acceptable means of transportation-the tricycle, popularly called Keke NAPEP-was introduced. It became very popular in various states across the country, when motorcycles, generally known at that time as Okada, were banned because of the dangers they posed to the society. In Rivers State, just as in other parts of the south-south, keke riders are everywhere. In some states, their operations have been restricted to certain parts of the town. EUNICE OLALEYE, in this special report, discovered that many of those operating the Keke are graduates. In the course of the investigations, she encountered one operator who studied medicine, but now makes a living through the tricycle in Port Harcourt.
Chukwudi Ifesinachi's desire was to be a medical doctor. He set out to achieve the dream. As first child of his parents, he dreamt of that day when he would graduate and be crowned as a medical doctor.
So, when he got admitted into the Imo State University to study the course he had always dreamt of-medicine-he felt on top of the world. He knew he was getting close to his place of glory. But that was short-lived. Two years into his studies, he had to drop out because his parents could not afford his fees again.
Then he searched for and secured a job as a security personnel in a bank. But the job did not also last. He told TNN how he ended up as a keke rider.
“I am the first child of my parents out of six, I gained admission into Imo State University to study medicine but had to drop out at my 200 level because my parents could not cater for me and some of my younger ones who later got admission then.
“This made me to go for a job as a security in a bank in order to be able to assist my family members. As time went by, I decided to go back to school, this time around to run a part time programme in the University of Lagos for five years still in the line of medicine in the year 2002, after which I did my houseman ship in a teaching hospital in Lagos state.”
Yes, Ifesinachi eventually fulfilled his dream of studying medicine. He did. But he could not practice. Hear him: “Looking at me very well, you can see that I am married and not just married but with two kids. So this was too much for me, taking care of my family, my younger ones and parents too. This situation brought me into the keke driving business, of which my parents kicked against initially but have now settled with it, since they take me as the breadwinner of the family.
“Starting this keke driving business, I was faced with the challenge of not being able to buy my personal tricycle; so I went for a hire purchase, which price was too high and I had no gain, unlike you having your own keke, combined with the N600 ticket we buy every day, except on Saturdays, which is N200 levied by the task force group.”
Ifesinachi also told TNN that apart from the issue of levies, he and his fellow keke riders were confronted with the challenge of getting criminals on board their keke as passengers, who, sometimes would rob them and other passengers. “We also face the risk of being attacked by thieves and bad boys/cultists, who act as passengers but end up stealing our money, phones and sometimes our tricycle, ” he said.
Is he ashamed that after studying medicine, he is now riding keke in Port Harocurt? His answer is no. He said he did not regret being involved in the keke driving business since it was the only thing he could do at this time.
He is not the only graduate that is now riding keke in Port Harcourt. Precious Nwabuoke, a 2006 graduate of banking and finance is one of them. He completed his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in the year 2007, after which he learnt a skill in aluminium furnishing. But he said he had to join keke driving because of the inability to secure a job.
“If there is no connection, no job. I joined keke driving because I didn't want to stay at home doing nothing, although I don't enjoy driving keke because of the risk involved in it”. I have escaped from trouble several times, thank God for his mercies. Some boys stopped me one day asking for a ride to a long distance but I refused, since I knew I won't be paid. Someone else carried them of which we heard that his hands were cut off by those boys who claimed to be passengers”.
TNN also interacted with other keke riders on their experiences in the state capital. Chidebere Emmanuel, popularly called lover, boy complained of the bad roads being an issue to keke drivers causing damage to their keke.
“It also makes us not to meet up financially at the end of the day, because we now have to go through a longer distance, avoiding the shorter route which is bad. Government should please help us fix the road”, he pleaded.
Mr Blessing Iheanacho who is also a keke driver told TNN of the challenges he faces along with his colleagues. He complained of the task force harassments when drivers refuse buying tickets or go against the rules. “There are too many groups with each having their own ticket to pay and buy from. In this business, you must learn to manage yourself to be able to have enough to take care of yourself and your family,” he said, adding that “another problem we face is the issue of getting good parts; I mean original parts for our keke when it gets bad. There are lots of fake ones, I don't know if it's because of the increase in the number of keke nowadays.
“I enjoy my business because its fetches me money everyday even if it is not much , at least with it I will be able to manage myself , it is better than staying idle. I just wish this business won't be banned like that of the motorbike as I don't have any qualification. I am using this to manage myself” he said.
Mr Okudere Joseph who prefers to be called PC said he doesn't really have a problem driving a keke, but complained of the insults he receives from passengers, “may be because I'm a keke driver”. His colleague, Mr Amadi Everest also a graduate of accounting from Imo State University, said he enjoyed his business since he could not secure a job anywhere.