I am currently one of the drivers with the highest number of trips on the Bolt ride-hailing service in Lagos, Nigeria.
My name is Ifedayo Olaleye, although I am Stella on the app.
I was born in Kano, northern Nigeria, the eldest of the children of Solomon and Comfort Olaleye, although my mum was always bringing one extra sibling to the family that, at the end of the day, you would be trying to remember who your actual biological siblings were, because the house was always full. But we are three: I have a sister and a brother.
I grew up in Kano, and loved it there, but we had to relocate to Lagos because of the Reinhard Bonnke religious riot (in October 1991) which claimed lives and property. I had a communal upbringing, where everyone looked out for one another. Sadly, that is rarely the case now.
My father was a staff of Union Bank, Kano. His father, Prof Oriwu, was a lecturer at Bayero University Kano (BUK). My mother was a pharmacist at the Ideal Hospital, Kano. While my father remained in Kano for a while after my mum, my siblings and I relocated to Lagos, and my grandfather was there for much longer, till 2012/2013. He lived on the campus and had a farm as well.
I attended St Louis Primary School in Kano and Reagan Memorial Baptist Girls Secondary School, Yaba, Lagos, from 1991/2 to 1997. This was a different kind of experience for me, as this was the first time I was in a girls’ only school. We had fantastic teachers who impacted me a lot. Our principal then was Mrs Dawodu and the vice principal was Mrs Adebisi. These are great and lovely women. I remember Mrs Faturoti, my Yoruba teacher. Then there was Mr Ayorinde, our English literature teacher, who always insisted that we should read and speak impeccable English. I can easily switch to Queen’s English now, and it is all thanks to him.
I then attended The Polytechnic, Ibadan, where I read public administration. My father says I still owe him a bachelor’s degree, and it is because in Nigeria, people do not see HND and bachelor’s degree as equivalent. He also did not want any of his children to pursue a career in banking. According to him, banking had become a stereotypical kind of job. He wanted us to go for any course that would allow us have time for entrepreneurship. I think that I should appreciate him here: I think he saw the future. In my third year in secondary school, my dad insisted that I should go and learn tailoring, although I wanted something else, but he said that there was no skill that was a waste. And, even as my mum was a good tailor, my dad insisted that I should do the learning outside of our home. So, every Saturday I went and learnt tailoring. At home, when my mum cut the cloth, I helped in the sewing and finishing. I guess that was why my dad insisted on tailoring: to support my mum. I also learnt how to use beads on blouses and all that.
I sat for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (by the Joint Admission Matriculations Board), passed, but I could not get admission to either Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife or University of Lagos which were my preferred institutions. I was interested in mass communication and insurance.
I succeeded with “Poly JAMB” and I was admitted into The Polytechnic, Ibadan, in 1999. I took up the admission despite my dad’s objections.
I had been selling chin-chin before I got the admission. My aunt used to sell in bulk. I bought from her, repackaged it and supplied to the petty traders and provisions sellers in our area, Old Yaba Road, Ebute Metta, and made little, little profits.
At The Polytechnic, I continued the trade. I either came to Lagos to buy or have the consignment sent to me. I supplied to people with strategic locations on campus. Now, it was not that my dad stopped supporting me financially, it was just me always finding something to do to keep me busy and make money. I do not know how to draw. I do not know mathematics, but I know how to count money.
I also delved into student politics. During my HND, I was elected the rep in change of students’ welfare, and I was the only female so elected.
It was reading public administration that made me like politics. I learnt so much about the diversity of this country. I also learnt a lot about our political structure. I do not intend to go for any elective position but I can always speak on issues, hoping that, one day, my voice helps in changing the narrative. I was quite popular in school. They called me Margaret Thatcher, because of my voice: you cannot talk me down. I always like to be heard. Even if I am saying rubbish, let me express that rubbish to the best of my ability.
We had great lecturers too. Mr Adedokun, who later became our head of department; and Mr Adeyeye….
Still on my knack for keeping busy and being enterprising, I also sold groundnut oil - one of the best oils to come out of Nigeria, extracted directly from groundnut.
I am good at marketing. If you have anything to market, just bring it or call me on +234 704 634 8553 and I will do the marketing, sell it, make my profit and give you your own proceeds.
My friends always said that I cannot conform to a 9-5 job; they are right.
My name was missing from the NYSC call-up list, so I had to wait one year. So, I went to learn hairdressing. Now, as an adult and able to take decisions for myself, I decided to finally learn what I had always wanted to learn, other than tailoring. that my dad made me learn... I also learnt pedicure, manicure and facials from my aunt, Tope Akpan.
Interestingly, I had my one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme in Kano State. I was posted to Bichi Local Government, and I taught English Language.
Yes, of course, I was also into commerce.
I would buy stuff such as guinea brocade, gold, kaftan, abaya, onions, tomatoes in Kano and take to Lagos on weekends, and when returning from Lagos, I would go with plenty of adire fabric which I sold in Kano.
Luckily, many of my customers in Lagos gave me referrals to people in Kano. Along the line, some of them were also requesting for cows whenever they had parties. I went to Wudil or Kaya Local Government to make the purchases. I was lucky to have a godfather and mentor, by name, Mr Oyaleye, who helped me with soft loans to finance such transactions.
Even as I was making money, it was also about catching fun for me.
When the service was over, I got a teaching job at the Federal College of Education, Bichi but I did not take the appointment, and it is one of my regrets today. If I knew what I know now, I would have probably taken the appointment, work my way up the ladder in the Federal Civil Service and possibly seek a transfer to the south. I could still have had time to be involved in some sort of trading.
My other regret is marrying a wrong person.
I married someone from Osun State, while in the north. I feel that, at the time, I was not prepared for marriage, but it was also a case of wanting to please my parents. If I had followed my heart, I possibly would not have married the person I did. I was young and naïve.
Anyhow, back in Lagos after NYSC, my buying and selling was on a new dimension. I started business with my ex. I got a small retail store in Balogun, on the island, and our business name was Angels Arcade.
I sold all sorts of colorful and unique items – my ex was good with colours - while trying to look for a job, but everyone was like, why was I searching for a job with all the skills I had and my penchant for commerce.
Trading in Balogun was a new learning experience for me. It was strange and completely different from what I knew. I faced some hostility because I was a ‘book person’ even as I did not show off myself as one. I was open to learning the intricacies of the job without any ego. Gradually, they discovered that I was human too. I made friends, some of whom became family.
Sadly, there was a fire incident which affected my store, and, looking back, one of the bad decisions I took then was not insuring my business. I went into a huge debt, because I also took loans from family and friends to stock up. Coupled with a lot of irreconcilable differences with my ex and some other bad, unrealistic, decisions which I took without foresight. I never saw myself being a single parent – I have two children. I grew up in a happy home. It was hard for me to strike a balance. I went into depression and even had suicidal attempts when the marriage broke down completely and there was no business to run any longer.
But, you see, my survival streak would not allow me to stay down for too long and be dependent on others. It is also the Ondo in me.
Thanks to the support from my family, particularly my dad – my mum had passed away – my siblings, my friends and people such as my pastor’s wife, Mrs Adenuga, who gathered around and pulled me out of the low ebb I had sunk into. One thing I learnt from that experience was that I found out that I was not the only one going through issues. The thought that you are alone makes it hard to bear most of life’s challenges. There are so many stories that I have heard that made me realise that, above all, resilience is the most important thing, as challenges would always come. Rising above those challenges is the most important gift you owe yourself.
Back on my feet again, I began to make moimoi in leaves. I did everything involved in the process except the wrapping in leaves, so I got someone to be doing that. I sold the moimoi in my neighbourhood in Ijesatedo, Surulere, and I was making a lot of money.
I also went into cooking, making home-made foods and delivering to people. I went to clean people’s homes, in Lekki, Ajah, Victoria Island…. Little by little, I was making money to settle my debts and pay my children’s school fees.
Then one day, I think in 2017, I met an elderly man, named Afolabi. I had gone to do home-cooking somewhere in Magodo, and they were trying to be funny, rubbing my body and all that, and as soon as I found myself out of the place, it was this Mr Afolabi, a Uber driver, I ran into. I think that he had just completed a ride. I begged him to take me out of the environment as quickly as possible. We got talking and he asked if I had a driver’s licence. I told him, yes, he said I should come and do e-hailing, That was how I got into this business. I used to have three vehicles – a Rover, SUV and a bus - and I sold them all when trouble came. And nobody was ready to give a woman a car to drive; it was like what was I looking for in a man’s business? One Mr Alex gave me a car, but it did not have a comprehensive insurance policy. A few weeks after I had a contract with him, I had an accident on the island. So, I could not continue with him. Uber blocked me. Eventually, to relieve me of staying at home, Mr Afolabi, saying he could always get another car, took me to the owner of the car he was driving then, and after establishing that I had no problems with driving, he gave me the car to start driving. I was meeting up with my obligations to the owner; it was not easy, but I got by. Mr Afolabi, and a couple other friends, Ayo and Yemi, helped me learn the ropes. I was always staying in Lekki, I seldom went home, but, gradually, slowly, I found that I was paying my bills; I was having fun and meeting a lot of people….and here we are today.
It has been a pleasurable experience and I thank God.
TO KEEP US GOING
This initiative which started as a demonstration project for an intern of The Journalism Clinic has, before our very eyes, taken a life of its own, demanding a lot more resources than envisaged.
Your kind support will keep us going. You can do so securely here.
May I also request you to kindly join our community by subscribing to our newsletter so that we can deliver the toris directly to your inbox, hot and fresh. Please fill the form here. So, as we keep growing the brand, we will be sufficiently ready for long-term support through product placement and sponsorships.
Taiwo Obe, FNGE
Commonwealth Professional Fellow
Founder/Director, The Journalism Clinic
+234 818 693 5900