The Lagos amputee trike rider explains how he defies the odds to fend for his family
It takes an extra skill for any motorist to navigate Lagos’ chaotic traffic successfully. But Michael Akoma, a 52-year-old amputee commercial tricyclist, needs more than just a particular skill.
A resident of Akiode, Lagos Metropolis in downtown Akiode, Akoma combines stamina and tenacity to operate his rickety tricycle with one hand. He prepares every day for chances to support his wife and four children, shuttling between the Berger-Ogba axis of the state.
The intricate way he applies speed with his right hand and quickly flicks the same limb on the throttle to rev the engine is appallingly taxing.
“If I want to apply speed, I’ll use the severed limb to hold the clutch in style, use the right hand to apply speed, and flip it quickly to increase throttle,” Akoma revealed during an interview with our correspondent on Wednesday.
“The tricycle will shake for a moment, then move normally. When stuck in traffic, I hold the clutch with the severed limb and accelerate. Then I release the clutch when the traffic drops.
Such has been the grueling daily routine the Abia State native has been doing for a living since he lost his left arm in a horrific accident in 2014.
“I was carrying passengers in Ikeja when a trailer suddenly hit me in the side and crushed my left arm,” Akoma recalled, clutching his face at the painful memory. “I landed at Ikeja General Hospital and was admitted for about eight months.”
He said company representatives visited him in the hospital and paid his hospital bills.
“The tricycle that was involved in the accident was not mine. It was badly damaged, the company also paid the owner. Also they gave me N2m,” Akoma said.
Determined to have another chance at life after being discharged from hospital, Akoma renewed his house rent, started a small business for his wife, and bought two tricycles which he gave to two riders for higher purchase. .
Things were going as planned. He used some of the money donated by the riders to take care of his family while saving the rest to buy two more tricycles.
A few months later, his plans began to fall apart like a deck of cards. The drivers stopped refunding and returned the tricycles in poor condition. In the days that followed, Akoma’s family fell into financial difficulties, living each day at random.
“One of the riders paid up to N250,000 while the other handed over N300,000. The tricycles had become rickety when returned. Things got really tough for us, so I sold one of them.
“It was bought for 25,000 naira because it had become old and lost value due to the ban on tricycles in many parts of the state at the time. I didn’t sell this one (showing the one he’s riding) because I wanted to have a property that I could show my kids,” he recounted.
Ride as an amputee
The aftermath of the October 2020 #EndSARS protest in Lagos saw the return of commercial tricycles to the highways they were previously banned from driving.
Akoma did not give up. He borrowed 50,000 naira from a microfinance bank to repair the only tricycle he had left without worrying about the strict conditions attached to the loan.
After the repair, he looked for an honest rider who would make daily installments in vain. In December 2020, he gathered his courage to ride a tricycle.
“As I was leaving the street where I live, a boy carrying a load signaled my tricycle. At first I hesitated to wear it. He paid N500 when I took him to his destination. I was happy and that’s how I started to function fully again. I make between 3,000 and 5,000 naira a day,” he added.
However, heavy traffic, especially during peak hours, poses a huge challenge to Akoma.
He said: “It is difficult for me to operate when the traffic is heavy. I usually pack my bags and wait for the traffic to calm down so I don’t hit someone’s car. I will continue to work when it calms down. If the road is clear I ride smoothly and since I started using one hand I have never hit a vehicle. I drive carefully.
“Some passengers don’t know I have a hand until I want to shift and the steering shakes. Some will take advantage of me that I don’t know how to drive but when they realize that I use one hand to operate everything, they salute my courage. Most of my passengers feel sorry for me and some don’t even touch change.
“On the other hand, some people don’t allow me to wear them once they see my condition. There was a day when I carried a passenger. As soon as he found out I had a hand, he asked me to stop and he got off. I asked him why he landed but he said I shouldn’t worry. Inside me, I knew it was because of my condition.
Experience with AgberosLASTMA managers
Due to his physical condition, transport union leaders do not collect Akoma’s ticket fee. The constant harassment by touts commonly known as agberos in car parks is a hindrance, however.
He said: “The Agberos are unhappy with the union leaders’ decision not to collect the fine from me. So they usually chase me whenever I want to carry passengers. Their bosses had warned them not to ask me for money.
“At first the LASTMA (Lagos State Traffic Management Authority) officials were harassing me because I was driving with one hand, but then they stopped out of pity. Sometimes when my keke breaks down on the road, they tell me even help push it. Some of them call me ‘wawa’ because I don’t stay in one place. I work hard so I can take care of my family.
“We live in a two-bedroom apartment and I pay N300,000 rent every year. I finance the studies of three of my children who are in secondary school. A church helps sponsor the education of my youngest daughter who is in a private elementary school.
Once upon a time there was a businessman
Akoma told the Daily Trust he was doing well in a palm oil business before it suddenly collapsed in 2005. A vehicle carrying his goods from the east of the country had an accident. According to him, the vehicle overturned and all 10 drums of palm oil it was carrying fell to the ground.
“Everything was wasted. When I couldn’t afford to continue the business, I started riding motorcycles. I got married as an okada rider and started raising children. I got into tricycling in 2008. This accident is still a mystery to me but I thank God for the gift of life,” he said.
The Akoma Support Family
Recounting how the family went through turbulent times, Akoma’s wife Hope said things were so difficult at one point that she almost gave up hope.
The woman said she was with Akoma in the hospital throughout the eight-month admission and had to send their children to the village.
She said, “It’s not easy. It was God who helped us with the support of the people. I tire myself many times when it seems that there is no more hope. Life was so terrible when my husband was in the hospital. Our children had to stop school for a year. I sent them to the village to stay with my parents while I was with my husband in the hospital.
“Fortunately, the children are cooperating. They are happy with everything we give them and they pray for things to get better. Their father took very good care of them before the accident.
Amid the challenges fate throws at him, Akoma never surrenders to his weaknesses. He tries to stay in a good mood. And in his spare time, you never get bored.
“When I’m not doing anything, I engage the neighbors in political discussions. We were joking one day and I told them that I would become president in 2023. Since then, many people have started calling me Excellency,” he concluded, sporting a broad smile.