Sitting on a mosque pavement with a bicycle under repair gripped between his legs, Mukaila Atobajaiye popularly known as Akere watched the to and fro movement of a boy who had rented one of his bicycles as minutes tick into seconds. The boy’s excitement would soon be short-lived by Akere’s commanding voice which he is indeed acquainted with. “Óyá gbe sílè!”. He suddenly bellowed at the boy in Yorùbá- an indication that his rental time had elapsed. Though excitement still glinted on his face, the young boy obliged to Akere’s voice as he parked the bicycle alongside other vacant ones waiting behind Ita-Elewa’s Youth Centre. Akere resumed his repair of the bicycle wheel held between his laps as he took Blackbox Nigeria through his childhood journey and how became a bicycle rental and repairer despite his disability.
Many outside the boundaries of Ikorodu may not know Akere, but he is a known name to almost every young man and women who grew up in Ikorodu town centre, particularly the ones who had to learn riding bicycle the hard way partly because their parents could not afford the luxury of buying a bicycle back then. Akere is also known to most parents, as he serves as distraction of most young people when sent on errands. Many a time, Parents come to Ita-Elewa playground to drag their wards off Akere’s ubiquitous rental bicycles. No doubt, Akere is an unsung community hero, with many sides, despite his disabilities, he has remained able.
Can we know you Sir?
My name is Mukaila Atobajaiye popularly known as Akere. I’ve been paralyzed since I was five years old. I was raised in an extended family and I happened to be my mother’s second born. My mother (now late) struggled to get me back on my feet because I was not born this way. But all her efforts proved abortive. Regardless of my condition, I attended Local Government Primary school, Ikorodu, and Ikorodu Grammar School in the 1980s. I am a junior brother to Honorable Wasiu Adesina, the Chairman of Ikorodu Local Government. Though he had been of great help to me, I chose not to be going to the Council because people there will take me for a perpetual beggar. So I prefer being here in my shop.
What led to you starting Bicycle rentals?
It is God that led me to this source of livelihood. I’ve been in this business before I got completely crippled. Then, I could still manage to walk as it was only my left leg that was paralyzed. But it wasn’t long before my right leg got broken which led me to using wheelchair. Aside this bicycle business, I also ventured a gambling business all because I don’t want to be begging for money. I kept striving to be somebody. My gambling trade, however, attracted several criticism as members of the community accused me of hosting thieves. Eventually, I was arrested by the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) and later transferred to Special Anti-Robbery Squad’s (SARS) office where I was heavily tortured. They accused me of arms possession which I never had. I was tortured to the extent that I suffered a dislocated shoulder. As you can see, my left arm is disjointed from its socket. Days after, I was granted bail with a sum of 500,000 Naira. Also, I once sold weed since I cannot afford to steal or beg for alms. There are people who, at the sight of you, will think you want to beg for alms and as such tell their gateman to inform you that they are not around. During Isemo day, I do help my mother to roast corn for sale too just to make ends meet.
How old were you when you started this bicycle business?
I can’t say for sure. But I know I was very young then. I don’t know my actual age but I know I was born in May 5, 1969. I haven’t dreamt of marriage when I’ve started this business.
In what ways have this business being of benefit to you?
Without this business how will I be able to feed myself? I have benefited a lot from it. Everybody here loves me- both old and young. I have also received a lot of gifts and encouragement from people who are impressed with what I do. I spent forty days in SARS custody. When I was released, several people visited me and gave me gifts.
How do you retrieve your bicycles when stolen?
When I could still walk a bit, I don’t do anything. Then, I get called by people who had helped me retrieved my bicycle. They have found my bicycle in areas like Imota, Agbowa, Ijede, and other places across Ikorodu. It is those who see it there that do call me and whenever I get to the place it was found, I will definitely see it. There was a time the King of Agbowa personally handed over my stolen bicycle to me after I had disrupted traffic flow on the road. The King gave me one thousand Naira which was very valuable then. He also gave me escorts that brought me back to Ita-Elewa with my retrieved bicycle.
How are you able to identify your stolen bicycles?
I do put a mark beneath the pedal compartment which I no longer do. Sometimes, I would see the edges of each tyres and fix them back. So once people ask for proofs that the bicycle are indeed mine, I would tell them to check those marked areas for evidence.
What is your view on Ita-Elewa community?
Ita-Elewa is a good community if you don’t pass your boundary and you know what you are doing.
How many children do you have in total?
God gave me Ruka (now deceased), Zainab, Ruka, Wareez, and the youngest, Roqibat. Fortunately for me, their mother is educated. I’m the only uneducated one among them.
How do you get the name Akere?
I got the name from a character played by a cripple in one of Abija’s movie. Due to his flexibility, the character could fold his legs behind his neck among other stunts. I could do all these too which led to people nicknaming after the character.