On 20 December, I received a call from a lady working with Ibile Holdings - operators of Lagos Ride, the e-hailing taxi service which is the initiative of the Lagos State Government in partnership with a private company, CIG Motors Company.
That call was followed by a message to my WhatsApp which reads in part:
"Congratulations! You emerged as our driver of the year and we would love to reward you with a night out with your family. You also have the opportunity to stay in a Deluxe Room for the night."
The ceremony was held the following day (21 December) at Ebony Life, Victoria Island, Lagos.
We first checked into a hotel.
Then, we watched a movie.
Later in the evening, we had a dinner where I was given the award and we spent the night at the hotel.
I went with my two wives and Mrs Shukurah Rufai, the wife of my identical twin, Kehinde, who is based in Turkey.
My name is Taiwo Adewale Rufai, a native of Igbaja in Ifelodun Local Government of Kwara State but my twin and I were born - on 13 May 1982 - and raised in Mushin, Lagos State. We lived at 1 Adedokun Street, Olorunsogo, while my dad, Alhaji Abdulrazaq Rufai had his record store at Ogunmokun Street, before its demolition in 2003. His shop was popularly known as Alhaji Rosco 2. He is in his late sixties.
My mum, Sinatu Rufai, used to be a goldsmith but she now sells food at Oko Afo. She is close to mid-sixties. Besides my twin brother, I have an older brother, Dauda, an older sister, Shakirat and two younger sisters, Idowu and Alaba.
I got married to my first wife, Aramide Ajasa, in 2010 and the second, Amudalat Agbeke, in 2016. Together, we have five children, four boys and a girl.
I attended Fehintolaolu Nursery and Primary School on Adedokun Street and I knew that I was a sharp boy then. I used to take the first position in class and my brother, Dauda, always bought me gifts for my performance.
I went to Oduduwa Primary School, Mushin, passing out in 1993. Same with my twin brother.
We also attended Oduduwa Secondary School together. He left in JSS Two while I did in JSS Three.
I had demanded from our dad that we must know our hometown, because our mates kept telling us that we were not Lagosians. Besides, during the Ileya (Eid el Kabir) festivities, my dad and his dad, my grandfather, used to travel to Igbaja, leaving us behind in Lagos. I was eager to know how the festivities went there. So, our dad then arranged that we went to complete our secondary schooling in Igbaja, which is popularly known as the home of ECWA (Evangelical Church Winning All). Kehinde left for the town before me. He continued at ECWA Secondary School while I wanted to go to a Muslim school and I attended Muslim Secondary Commercial School (MUSECO). I am always determined to get what I want.
I was bright there too but I neither won any prize not was a prefect. There were more brilliant students. But, I was in the school's relay and football teams. I passed out in 2002 because I had to repeat the JSS 3 when I transferred from Lagos. Same thing with my twin brother.
I enjoyed the time I spent in Igbaja and I have also been going there for Ileya.
In 2002, I sat and passed my West African School Certificate Examination and National Examination Council.
I had attempted to gain admission into the University of Ilorin to read accountancy. I had a score of Two Hundred and Thirty but I was denied admission, even as I had the required cut-off mark.
In 2008, I tried to see if I could go for a part-time programme at the Lagos State University (LASU) but I stopped while my brother went on with his course - marketing - and graduated. He left for Turkey in 2018.
Back in Lagos and finding my own feet
I felt pained that I could not get admission into the University of Ilorin after secondary school, so I decided to return to Lagos and I joined my dad at his record store.
I also travelled with him to sell records in Abuja, Ijebu Ode, and some other places, during Ramadan when Sheikh Muyideen Ajani Bello toured around to deliver his Yoruba Islamic lectures. It is through this process that I got to know many places in the country.
Anyhow, in 2007, I moved from Mushin to Alagbeji area on the Lagos Island, for a change of environment. Kehinde and I were accommodated by my mum's older sister's son.
We wanted a place to stay for about three months or so before getting our own apartment. We spent like four months.
I later met a man called Ismail Olosasa, and through him, I got into into the sand trade in Ajah, which I am still involved in. I help to manage his business which includes the hiring of payloaders, wheel loaders and other sand evacuation equipment.
It is through this business that I acquired my first car, a Toyota Corolla, and later, an Audi.
Becoming a LagRide captain
Sometimes in August last year, a friend, Nurudeen, called me and asked if I knew about the new Lagos Ride (LagRide) e-hailing service which I just needed a contribution of One Million Naira to join and I would be allotted one car and that was it.
One Million Naira?
I decided to go to the offices of Ibile Holdings at Kajola House, Campbell Street, Lagos, where I was told that it was Seven Hundred Thousand and not One Million.
I was told to go and register and be ready for medical assessment - blood group, vision, etc. The process was expected to take just a few days.
I registered and I was called for the medical assessment.
I was adjudged okay and I was asked to present my driver's licence, NIN (National Identification Number) and LASRA (Lagos State Residents Registration Agency) card.
The next stage was an interview.
I was asked if I had the required amount and why I wanted to do the job.
I told the interviewer that I had the money.
I added that I was doing Uber work but that was not entirely true because I had only registered for Uber but I had not started. I sensed that if I did not say I was involved in cab driving I would be asked to go.
The interviewer, Mr Yinka Onigbanjo, said he was not convinced and that I was lying to him.
He said I should come back the following day with my phone which I used to register on Uber. I left and returned with my phone which showed that I was registered with Uber.
Again, he turned down my request.
By now, I had already sold my Audi assured that I would be allocated a cab.
I therefore had to approach someone I knew who knew Mr Onigbanjo somehow. That one called him and he told me to go back to the LagRide office the next day.
Mr Onigbanjo called the man in my presence and told him that 'so-so person that you sent to me is right before me and I am denying him again.' Then, suddenly, he said, 'come back tomorrow and collect your allocation papers.' I sighed with relief.
I was given the car, a GAC4 saloon - on 6 September 2022.
I was excited to drive a new car.
Promise to myself
It was during the medical assessment that we were given orientation, and the rules.
We are not expected to go offline and negotiate rides with passengers.
We must drive responsibly by observing all traffic rules without any exception.
We must be courteous to our passengers. We must not use violent language on them passengers or even other road users.
We must not drive through the BRT lanes.
We must not go through One Way routes.
We should call the office whenever we have any problem we could not solve. I once had a female passenger whose fare came to Ten Thousand Four Hundred Naira but she said she had only Eight Thousand Naira. I called the office and I was told to let her go. The office paid the balance.
I promised myself that I would not flout any of the rules.
And, I have not.
Some of our passengers have expressed willingness for me to come and pick them at their locations and I have politely declined letting them know that I do not go offline.
I have always started work at five O'clock in the morning, so as to work and exceed the daily target of Twenty Eight Thousand Naira. I not only exceed the targets but, often, satisfied customers also give me good tips and rate me highly. So, I am able to save at least Ten Thousand Naira daily after all expenses, including charitable giving.
I think that what has also helped me is that I am familiar with many of the routes in Lagos. So, I know how to avoid traffic hold-ups. Some people marvel when I say this is my first commercial driving in Lagos or anywhere else.
So, when I received the call on 20 December that I was the first among the rest, I was happy that my conduct has paid off.
I hope to maintain this position and I hope that next year, that there will be cash prize.
Oh, I also got a gift voucher to spend Five Thousand Naira at Ebeano Supermarket.
I met Mr Onigbanjo recently and told him I had come to appreciate him. He said, 'Taiwo, they said you are the best driver. Congratulations.' He then introduced me to all his staff and said to them, 'Can you imagine that this guy never did anything as Uber.'
I guess he found out later.
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Taiwo Obe, FNGE
Commonwealth Professional Fellow
Founder/Director, The Journalism Clinic
+234 818 693 5900