Travelling by road in Nigeria is a herculean task because of the bad roads, multiple police checkpoints and probable kidnap attempts but what’s travelling by road in Nigeria like for women? I spoke to nine Nigerian women about their experiences, here’s what they had to say:
I used to travel by road a lot and I felt safe. I was only scared of road accidents and I’d ease myself by listening to music or reading a book. But now, with all the stories of kidnappings happening in the South West, I am getting increasingly scared. I travelled to Lagos five weeks ago and I haven’t been able to leave because of fear. I don’t want to be a hashtag.
I lived in Delta and schooled in the north so I would travel in a big marcopolo bus with over 40 other people. It was so big that people would buy tickets to stand. It’s a long journey and the drivers try not to stop at night. One time when I was 19, I was making the trip back to school as usual and sometime in the evening, I offered a man that had been standing all through the trip a space to seat. I slept off shortly after.
At about 2 am I noticed someone was touching me. I waved it off and slept again but ten minutes later, it happened again. I kept my eyes closed and waited, only to discover that the man I gave a space to sit was touching me. I screamed and guess who got blamed? Me.
When I was in a long-distance relationship with my partner, I used to travel a lot. I was a student, so I would make the trip after classes. She lived in a state that was quite far from mine. I never felt safe travelling. One time, I woke up to this man rubbing my thighs. I shouted at him and he adjusted. I was really tired so I slept off again. This time, I woke up to him moving my dress up.
I couldn’t sleep again. There were four other men in the car and I didn’t want to make a fuss so I just sat there feeling violated till the trip ended. Do you know this idiot had the guts to ask for my number?
Road travel has made me hate travelling. I’m always anxious and constantly thinking of how to protect myself. There’s also the fact that male passengers can be extremely mean to female passengers for no reason. One time, I was travelling with my sister and the driver stopped so people could ease themselves. My sister went to buy tissue paper first so she took a bit more time than others. One of the male passengers started calling her names and slut-shaming her for wasting time. When I tried to stand up to him, another guy threatened to slap me for talking like that. Another thing is if a woman is complaining about an issue, the men either try to shut her up or ignore what she’s saying until it affects them too. It’s so disgusting.
In December 2016, I travelled to the village for my sister’s traditional wedding. I had to go alone because my parents had left already and my other siblings had work. The journey went on smoothly until I got to my final destination, Aba around 12 am. My sister who was supposed to pick me up couldn’t because the park was too far from her house and it was late.
All my family members were worried. My father eventually spoke to the driver who said he’d look after me till the next morning. He gave me a space in his bus to sleep and turned on the air conditioner all night. He even offered me food. I was so scared but nothing bad happened to me.
The next day, trust men, he asked for my number. I told him to give me his and I never called. When I was going back, I used GIG.
In April, I was travelling with two of my friends — a girl and a guy, when police stopped us on the road. They told the guy to come down because he was the only guy in the vehicle. They searched his phone and his luggage. I was worried they’d check my phone next and see all the queer pictures and then they would out me to my parents before extorting me. They let him go but that incident left a scar.
My mom, sister and I used to shuffle between Lagos and Anambra or Owerri between 2011 to 2018. My dad had relocated to the East and we always wanted to spend holidays with him. Travelling by road is the ghetto. Paying for 3 flight tickets was expensive, especially around peak periods so we either took a bus or my mum drove.
With Public transportation, men disrespected us a lot. We would book a seat and someone else would take it because we are women. I hated having to wear jeans or some other uncomfortable clothing so that if anything happened, I could run easily. Another reason I wore jeans was so that in case anyone tried to rape me, my chances of getting away safely were higher. The disadvantage of wearing jeans is that whenever the bus stops for bathroom breaks it’s a struggle to pee. Those toilets are the fastest places to get infections so you have to do your business outside. This means finding a place by the road that is open but still secluded enough to keep your private parts covered. By the time you’re done, all the men are complaining about how women always take time.
Travelling in a private car with my mom driving is a different story. The security personnel on the road stop us and say things like, “Madam this work na oga suppose dey do am.” We would also have to leave late when we are sure there are enough cars on the road and only buy fuel at popular filling stations. Also, motorists get more hostile when they realise it’s a woman behind the steering wheel.
Travelling by road is not safe for women either way; not in our private car and definitely not in public transport.
I was travelling back to Ife from Ibadan a couple of years ago. I remember being comfortable at the back of the bus as the bus wasn’t full. I was sitting next to a man in his 30s and I had a lot of stuff on my lap that I couldn’t put in the trunk. After about an hour on the bus, I decided to rearrange the things in my lap and what did I find? The man next to me had his left hand in my crotch. Like between my legs. I honestly became paralysed. I was shocked because how the hell did I not notice? I felt like I caused it because I wasn’t vigilant enough — I was too relaxed. I shouted at the man and he started acting like he didn’t know what happened. He said it was a mistake. He came down before I did and apologized again. That made me even more confused because was it really a mistake? I wasn’t alright for days after the incident.
Safety while travelling by road in Nigeria depends on how much you can spend to travel. If I’m not booking a flight to the east, then I’ll just enter one of those private siennas. It’s almost like travelling in your own private car. It is safe and you get space to yourself but that is interstate travel though. I feel safer travelling interstate in Nigeria than just commuting within Lagos. I used to trust Uber or Bolt but even those aren’t safe anymore. Whenever I’m in Lagos, I have a bottle of pepper spray in my bag. If you come close to me try anything funny, I will spray your daddy!
In 2015, I was returning to Akwa from Lagos. I was only 18 at the time. When we got to Benin, a guy on the bus I boarded asked for my phone to make a call, but I politely declined. He got angry and started shouting at me. I said, “This is my phone, why are you upset?” He started threatening to beat me. He actually tried to hit but I defended myself — thanks to my fingernails, they did a good job on his face. After the fight, he kept threatening me.
Everyone else kept quiet and pretended they weren’t seeing him harass me. I noticed the guy texted his friends to meet him at Onitsha, that they had something to fix. I got scared and called the driver’s attention to it. That was when everyone started shouting at him and I think it’s because they also felt at risk.
Immediately we got to Asaba, the driver stopped at the nearest police checkpoint and handed the guy over to them, that was what saved me that day.