Vehicle remodeler meeting mobility needs of challenged persons

Rasheedat Oladotun-Iliyas

At the bus stop in Oro town, Irepodun Local Government Area of Kwara State, North Central Nigeria, commercial vehicle operators take turn to pick up passengers. Soon it was Bayo Isaac’s turn, so he drove his vehicle forward and leaned out of the window to call out to passengers going to his route. Soon his vehicle was filled and he drove out of the motorpark using his hands to peddle the break and accelerator.

Bayo’s vehicle is different. It is a tricycle built to resemble a four-wheel-drive car. Every other part of the vehicle looks like a car except that it is three wheeled. The vehicle was reassembled into a hand driven automobile to meet his specific needs as a physically challenged person, who could not possibly drive using his legs.

According to Bayo, with his vehicle used for commercial transportation, he has been able to feed his family members and meet other obligations.

Bayo is not the only one using a remodeled vehicle. According to Olusegun Bamidele, the self taught vehicle remodeler who designed Bayo’s car, he has remodeled over fifty vehicles including bicycles, motorcycles, tricycles and cars.

To the community of physically challenged persons in Kwara State, North Central, Nigeria, Bamidele is providing for them an essential need.

“Going Out Then Was Not Dignifying.”

In most cases, vehicles sold at automobile stands in Nigeria are those designed for able bodied persons. Except on request, marketers give little or no consideration for people with special needs who might have the financial capabilities to purchase a hand driven car. This, indeed, limits their freedom of movement to specific places.

Freedom of movement is a human right, but this is not so for many physically challenged persons as their freedom of movement is usually not considered when putting up a public or private infrastructure. Their ability to move around would then depend on the degree of their disabilities.

Aside from the fact that the roads are not structured with them in mind, so also are vehicles, making it an herculean task to board a vehicle or cross the road.

Bamidele, who used to make a living as a cobbler, narrated how his ordeal with commercial vehicle operators propelled him to venture into car remodeling. An act he has been engaged in for over twenty years.

“Going out then was not dignifying. When we get to the carpark they will say the vehicle is full. Sometimes they will say they are coming back to pick us and they will not. It would seem like we are begging for alms. So sometimes, I resort to engaging a motorcycle operator to drive me on the highway to Ilorin, which is about 40 kilometers, to buy materials for shoemaking even though it was quite risky. That was how I had to rethink, that for safety and convenience, I need to change my situation.”

Bamidele (with cap) and his apprentices working on a motorcycle.

Bamidele soon abandoned shoe cobbling for vehicle remodeling because of his dissatisfaction with the manner people of his kind were treated by commercial vehicle operators. And with the help of online videos and tutorial, he has been fine-tuning his trade.

“The first day I did it, people gathered at my home to see what I was doing. It’s for disabled. All the system is removed from the leg to the hand. I didn’t learn it from anywhere. It’s an inspiration. Road Safety officials have been here and checked the vehicles which they confirmed are roadworthy. Even policemen used to stop me by the roadside to take a good look at my vehicle.

“The benefits of the remodeled vehicle are many. There is no day I wake up now and get frustrated about how to move around for my daily needs. There is no place I cannot go again. The physically challenged persons who are my customers can travel anywhere. They no longer hide at home as they are free to move around for their needs without being dishonored.

“The manufacturers are making vehicles for physically challenged persons, it is only not very much available in Nigeria. To remodel tricycles, I now charge about $2,000. However, formerly, I did it for less than $1,000, that includes both purchase and conversion. Remodeled motorcycles now cost about $1,000 while bicycles now cost $10 as against $5 it was before, both for purchase and conversion.

“It moves well on the road, although the leg driven vehicles could be ten minutes earlier. The fuel consumption is the same as the other ones. All car features are embedded in it. Safety belt, lighting and the likes,” Bamidele explains.

Bamidele buys vehicle parts from the popular Ipata Oloje spare parts market in Ilorin. And mostly, he uses his remodeled tricycle to carry out his services. According to him, on a normal working schedule, it takes three months to complete remodeling of a bicycle and motorcycle to be hand driven, that of tricycle takes only one day, while a car takes six months

He charges as low as $25, depending on the task, to convert each of the vehicles to suit the specific needs of his client. He also offers rental services on compassionate ground.

Bamidele and his son, returning from a farm with firewood for household use.

Pictures of remodeled tricycles and motorcycles.

“Except for cars, every other vehicle should stay off highways….FRSC

“Aside ability to drive, We also check mental health of drivers…VIO

The Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC is the Nigerian agency saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that drivers and commuters adhere to safety rules while on the road.

The Assistant Route Commander of FRSC Idofian Unit, in Ifelodun Local Government Area of Kwara State, Nigeria, Abioye Adeshina said that vehicle conversion is allowed because it is meeting the needs of the underserved community. He, however, cautioned that except for four wheel cars, every other remodeled vehicle which does not fall in the acceptable category, should not be seen on the highway.

“That category of vehicle, the law is against them driving on the highway. It should be intra. Safety is paramount. Tricycles are not allowed on the highway. If it is a car, it is allowed.”

Tunji Sikiru, an officer at the Vehicle Inspection Office, VIO in Ilorin also said that the agency is responsible for ascertaining the road worthiness of vehicles and issuing licenses to that effect. He explained that the agency has been issuing licenses to hand driven vehicles brought by physically challenged persons.

“The remodeled vehicles are acceptable. They have been coming to our offices for documentation. It is allowed if the driver is mentally stable. To avoid accidents.

“Also, we need to confirm that the vehicle is free of encumbrance, particularly when it is not a new vehicle. If it is a new vehicle, there’s no problem then.”

Wasiu Oluaye, a roadside mechanic

Wasiu Oluaye is a roadside mechanic who had been observing Bamidele’s work affirmed that converting vehicles to hand driven automobiles is a necessity.

“What he is doing is okay. He would have been relegated to the background because of his disability. There are people who desire what he does.”

“I Could Have Been Begging For Alms.”

Popular mobility aids for persons with disabilities in Nigeria are wheelchairs and walking sticks. When such persons want to go beyond their immediate environment, they seek the services of commercial vehicle operators.

Although the vehicle remodeling option is for physically challenged persons who can afford it, the flexibility of payment provided by Bamidele which allows his clients to pay in installments has made it convenient for more persons to own their own motorized vehicles either for personal use or commercial purposes.

One of his early customers, Olarinde Ajide who owns a barber’s shop in Oro Ago, said as a single father, he needed to be able to move around to provide for his children.

“I was the third person to patronize him. I made a motorcycle. It has been many years now and it doesn’t disturb me. He is getting better by the day. I also learned how to repair it from him so I can assist physically challenged persons in my community. I used to depend on my family members to wheel me around but now I go anywhere unassisted on my motorcycle.”

“I have a barber’s shop and do movie rentals but business has not been so good hence I have bought a tricycle which I intend to put to commercial use.”

Olanrewaju Akogun, also has a remodeled motorcycle which he claimed he had been using for over 12 years.

“The first one he made is not as good as the one I am using presently. There is no place I can’t go. The fuel consumption depends on the kind of vehicle one is using. Before then, I used to jump from one vehicle to another.

“He was the one who trained me on how to use it. I learned it for three days. I use it on my own. I’m so used to it now that sometimes I feel like taking it with me to the toilet. (Laughs).”

Olanrewaju Akogun with his remodeled motorcycle infront of his home.

SDGs and Implementing Discrimination Against Person With Disability (Prohibition) Act in Nigeria.

Nigeria has over 25 million persons with disabilities. Many of them are hardly seen on the streets and social gatherings unless of course it is one organized by them.

To foster a more inclusive society, recently, the National Commission on Persons With Disabilities said it would begin enforcement of the Discrimination Against Person with Disability (Prohibition) Act to ensure that public utilities meet specifications. The Act seeks to protect the rights of persons with disabilities and ensure that public infrastructure is easily accessible for them. The Act which was signed into law in 2019 is yet to be domesticated in Kwara State.

If the provisions of this Act is fully implemented, it would contribute significantly to the attainment of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 4, 8 10 and 11 which signpost the need for an inclusive and safe society for everyone.

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