‘Excelling in a male-dominated field feels awesome’
Young and daring, Fehintoluwa Okegbenle is a female biker who recently conquered a feat as the first Nigerian female biker to embark on a lone trip across Nigeria, Togo, Benin Republic and Ghana borders. In 2020, she made news for traveling alone from Lagos to Onitsha and back in one day, spending a total of 17 hours and hitting 1000km.
The final year accounting student of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife started riding her bike with the aim of visiting and discovering places in a bid to promote tourism and create awareness to the motorcycling community.
Born and bred in Lagos, the Oyo State native had her primary education at St. Saviours, and secondary education at First Zion High School, Ijegun, Lagos. She currently runs an online men’s fashion store, an event planner and serves as brand ambassadors to micro businesses. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her experiences from the lone trip, and the excitement of visiting 20 states across the country.
How did you develop the love for biking?
I developed a love for biking as a teenager. As a child, I always used to play car races, need for speed games and the likes. My future ambition back then was to be a Formula One driver or ride a power bike. That’s how the love for biking has been in me.
At what point did you start thinking about biking from Lagos to Ghana? What prepared you for this journey?
One thing I love to do is to travel and I love to do this on my bike. I have always said I would love to tour Nigeria and West Africa and if possible Europe, on my bike. I will love to get to as many places as I can on my bike, as long as it’s possible.
I have been to a lot of places in Nigeria already, so I started thinking about biking outside Nigeria in May this year. I don’t know what really prepared me for this journey, but I will just say I prepared myself. The fact that I wanted to, made me prepare.
What was your experience on the road?
Other than the fact that getting to the border was one hell of a job, because the road from the Lagos State University, Iba Campus to the border is terrible, I faced a lot of challenges with that road. But from the border all the way to Togo and Ghana was really awesome.
I was able to see how people drove in other countries; they had a saner environment to drive. Although there were a lot of bikes in Benin Republic and Togo, it was still a wonderful sight. Their roads are really good so it’s really easy to just ride all the way.
What challenges did you face with immigrations, especially with stamping of passports across borders?
It was quite expensive and more than I actually thought it would be. I didn’t think crossing into an African country would be that expensive, considering the fact that we are neighbours. I also think I was ripped off and taken advantage of; I feel like they should do better. There were lots of questions and insinuations, but all in all, I passed through.
What was the feeling traveling on a bike?
The feeling is awesome. Being a female biker and hitting major milestones, I feel opportune exceling in a male dominated field, where even some males have not been able to achieve this feat. It feels awesome threading a path that is not so easy, but I am making wave in it.
This is not my first trip; I have been to 20 states in Nigeria currently, and I decided to go further and visit another country. The feeling when traveling is beautiful because you get to see views of mountains, rocks, lakes, terrain, anything. The road is smooth and easy to ride on, so you are facing the road not bothered or thinking about any other thing; you just focus on your journey.
So, the feeling you get when the cool breeze is hitting you, you are going against the wind, sometimes your hair is in the wind… it’s an awesome feeling I cannot explain if you haven’t experienced it. It feels like you are standing at the beach with your arms wide open while you are savouring the breeze of the beach.
What difference did you experience in terms of people and environment across borders?
The difference is the language barrier; Togo is a French speaking country and at some point, I missed my way, especially when I was in Benin Republic. So, I needed to ask for directions. But luckily, I remembered a few French from secondary school, so I was able to communicate a little and they pointed the direction.
Also, I noticed that we look alike, because we are all Africans so it wasn’t obvious that I wasn’t from there; they see you and say ‘hi’. I feel that they are very friendly, because they immediately greet you like you are one of them and they are ready to help strangers.
How long did the trip take and how did you cope with fuelling and mechanical issues?
I left Lagos on Friday and came back into Lagos on Sunday. For fuelling, I made sure my tank was full at the border; I knew fuel was quite expensive at Benin Republic and Togo, so I bought full tank. By the time I got into Togo, I had two thousand left and the Togo rider who visited me, decided to pay for my fuel.
For mechanical challenges, when I was coming back into Nigeria, my chain had slacked, unfortunately I do not know how to fix my bike and so all I did was ride slower than I would usually do to help me get home.
Having actualised this milestone, do you feel challenged to do more?
This milestone, I feel really good about it. First and foremost, it wasn’t easy being the only one going across the border. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think any female has picked up a bike and travelled across the border on her own. Yes, people have gone across the border in groups, it is rare to see someone go alone. I proved to myself that I could do it; I was scared at some point before going.
But I really wanted to go because there was no one to go with me at that point, so I decided to go alone. Now that I have done it, I can’t wait to go further. I am waiting for the borders to be opened up; I would like to get to Ivory Coast, the Eastern part of Africa… anywhere my bike can get to and is possible to ride to, I would love to visit the place.
What was the motive behind this trip?
There was really no motive behind this trip asides visiting a different country on my bike. I just wanted to ride, see what other countries do, how the places look and if it’s different from our country; that is all I was thinking about
Do you see yourself doing something similar in the future?
Yes, I definitely see myself doing something similar in the future. Like I said, I will love to get into Ivory Coast, I would like to go into Ghana and tour, Burkina Faso and further more.
Did people perceive you differently being a woman?
Yes, people were surprised. I remember being at the Togo border and the immigration officer couldn’t believe that I rode the bike all the way. At the Nigerian-Cotonou border, there was a guy who actually recognised me from my previous trips and news about me riding from Lagos to Onitsha and back on the same day. So, when he inquired if I was the same person, I said yes; people didn’t believe him.
At Benin Republic, I stopped briefly to meet with fellow bikers and I was told that there was no female biker in the whole of Cotonou and that was surprising. In Togo, there are female riders, but I didn’t get to meet them because it was a short stay. They were, however, surprised I came on my own. When people hear my voice, if I try to speak to them or ask a questions, they were caught off guard and taken by surprise to hear that it was a female riding the bike and the fact that I was alone, they kept smiling and I could see the surprise on their faces.
Share with us your growing up?
My growing up was regular; mom, dad and two siblings. I am the last of three children. I think I used to talk to my dad and watch him a lot. I like to do mechanical things, I liked to work with my hands; I look at the car and generator while they were being fixed. I just used to enjoy mechanical work and a little bit of sports like racing, that’s it. I had a normal upbringing; I was always home with my family. I went from school to back home and I had little friends.
How did you family take your decision to embark on this trip?
I didn’t share my decision to embark on this trip with anyone, but my sister because I don’t like getting others worried about my trip, especially that I know my mum will definitely be concerned and call so often, which could be a distraction and would put so much fear that it can discourage me. So, I didn’t tell them before I embarked on the trip, but the moment I got back I spoke to my dad about the trip.
Any plans for group biking?
I ride in a group from time to time; last Sunday I rode with three other bikers and we went to Ado Awaye in Oyo State to visit the suspended lake, which is one of the two in the world.
What’s your advice do you have for young ladies looking at taking up such challenging adventures?
My advice to ladies would be to just do it; they shouldn’t let anybody put fear in their minds, as there is nothing difficult. As long as you do the right thing, get through the right process, seek for advice, do your research and pray.
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