My name is Mr Matthew Okotie. I was born in 1960. I am from Isoko North Local Government Area of Delta State. I have Standard Six which is equivalent to today’s First School Leaving Certificate. After that, I couldn’t go further to secondary school because of lack of funds. But since our level of education then was far better than what we have now, people think I have a degree (laughs).
When did you take up cab riding?
I first worked in the Nigeria Air Force as a driver. I was there for some time but my mom was unhappy because of the schedule of the job. People always feel being in the military is not safe. She kept lamenting about the job till I resigned in 1977. After some time, I went to work with a company, Vase Nigeria Limited, which was around Anthony Village, Lagos, then. I worked with them for about 12 years as a driver. When I saw that the salary was not enough to see my children through school, I decided to leave the job. That was when I began driving a taxi. It has been over 20 years now I have been a professional taxi driver. I have four children. My oldest child is 41 (years old) while the last born is over 20 years old.
Is it true that in January a passenger forgot a laptop and other valuables in your taxi and you returned them to the person?
Yes, it is true. I work at the Ikeja Central Park, Lagos. But that day, we were posted to the Raji Fashola Station, which was where I picked up the passenger, Mr Dimeji. He told me he was going to a hotel in Ikeja. When he alighted and paid, I asked him if he had carried everything he came into my taxi with, and he said yes. I drove away only to notice later that he forgot his laptop under a seat at the back where he sat. I was so worried. I was trying to eat that day, but I couldn’t. I was troubled. I knew I had to locate that man quickly and return his laptop and other items which were in a bag to him. I left my food and rushed to the hotel. On getting there, I told the receptionist what had happened and she told me that I should drop the laptop with them because, according to her, the man was very worried because the laptop contained valuable information and it was the property of the company he worked for. I asked if she (the receptionist) had his phone number and she said she did. She called the man and he thanked me and asked that I drop the laptop at the hotel and come pick him up at the railway station. I insisted that I would take the laptop with me to the railway station where he said he was. When he insisted that I drop it at the hotel, I did and went to pick him up. We got to the hotel and he told me to wait for some time. Perhaps, he went to check if anything was missing from the bag or the laptop. When he came back, he told me that he didn’t have much money else he would have given me like N100,000.
What did he offer you?
He gave me N3,000. He asked that I come and pick him up again at the railway station the following day and I did. When I went to pick him up, he kept asking me how old I was and why I chose to do this job at my age.
Did you have any regrets when Mr Dimeji gave you that money?
No, I didn’t at all. I was happy. The laptop is his. He only forgot it in my cab. Giving it back to him was the right thing to do, and whether or not I got rewarded, I am satisfied. I was trained by my parents not to take other people’s property, be it money, phones, laptops, documents or anything else. I will search for you and give it back to you.
I remember I picked up one expatriate one time and he forgot his phone with me. He called the line and I returned it. He was so pleased that he told me that he would remove his SIM and memory cards and give me the phone. I refused. I told him to keep his phone and cards because they were his. He was so pleased that he gave me N20,000. He said he had not seen such an honest man all his life. That alone gave me great joy that I did something right. What then will I do with someone’s laptop? What if he asked the police to trace me and begin to embarrass an old man like me? No. I cannot do that. I am very happy with the N3,000 that he gave to me. On another day, the man came to the park and gave me a Kampala material. I have sewn and worn it. Those are the benefits of honesty.
Honesty is indeed a virtue with many benefits. However, it is lacking in our society. What would you like to say about this?
I am not like other taxi drivers. I have a record I must present to my creator on the last day, so I don’t toy with honesty. Honesty pays. I remember one time a man entered my car and forgot a valuable document. I didn’t even know there was something under my seat till the next day when he came with the cops to apprehend me. I was confused. By the time he checked where he said he kept the document, it was still there. You can never catch me compromising. When one compromises, it would be hard to live a fulfilled life. I may be poor but I am not greedy. I only take what is duly mine. This is what I teach all my children. A customer, one time, left a hair comb in my car and my daughter saw it and wanted to take it. I said no, that the owner might come back for it. You won’t believe that the woman came back a few days later to ask for her comb. Imagine if I had let my daughter have it. What would I have told her?
You are quite old. What challenges are you experiencing on this job?
The major problem I have has been my car. The former one I was using was not mine, so I decided to buy mine on hired purchase. I have to pay N100, 000 to the seller every month. It has not been easy. As an old man, sometimes I may not be able to come out to work at all because of some ailments. Other times, I may have to close early. Now, we have all these e-hailing services, too, which makes it easier for people to book a ride and all that. The job has been challenging.
Has there been a very bad experience on the road?
Yes, I have. I picked one young lady and when she alighted, she started crying that I slept with her in the cab. I was even surprised. I didn’t understand what she meant. I was driving in front. She was at the back pressing her phone. It didn’t even cross my mind. She was seriously crying. I was lucky it happened around my area. I had to call my people to help me. They later found out that she didn’t even have any money to pay so she had to lie that I slept with her. We told her to follow us to the station to lodge a formal complaint about how it happened, but she refused and started to run away. They almost beat her up but I told them to leave her. Some people will board my cab without having money to pay the fare; and would just jump down at their destination without paying because I am an old man. It is not a job for old people at all. Lagos traffic is also an issue.
Do you have plans to stop working as a taxi driver, considering your age?
I have a plan that if I have money to start a small business, I will stop.