Bilyaminu’s story: how drivers in Nigeria are making a difference with ETS

Bilyaminu Mohammed is a volunteer Emergency Transport Scheme (ETS) driver from Adudu Ward, in Obi Local Government Area (LGA), Nigeria. He is the fifth of twenty siblings in a very large family of farmers. He lives with his wife – who runs a small local convenience shop – and two children in his father’s home, a large house that they share with in-laws and a few of his siblings.

ETS is a free of charge service in which volunteer drivers from the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) take pregnant women to health facilities if they are in labour or experiencing complications. Bilyaminu became an ETS driver in early January 2018, seeking to make a difference in his community by ensuring that more people, particularly women, have access to the health services they need. Inspired by his faith to serve others, Bilyaminu volunteered in the hope that he could help people through his profession as a commercial driver.

Bilyaminu with Amina – a mother who has benefited from ETS – and her baby Maimuna

Although he is now juggling two roles as both an ETS and commercial driver, the voluntary service that Bilyaminu provides has not affected his business negatively. On the contrary, he believes that his business has benefitted from his commitment to ETS.

Since the arrival of ETS, Bilyaminu has seen a shift in the way National Union of Transport Workers are perceived in the community. In Nigeria, NURTW drivers are often considered “park boys” or “area boys”. Bilyaminu explains that these terms mean “people who hang around the motor-parks waiting to collect money for their work”. The reputation often comes with a level of mistrust from others. But this has changed since the inception of the scheme. ETS drivers are now valued and appreciated for the work that they do, and Bilyaminu has seen an improvement in his business as well as his standing in the community. As awareness of ETS grows, the drivers’ status has risen within their communities and people praise them and give them blessings for their role in improving women’s health.

The scheme has also equipped Bilyaminu with important first aid skills. During his ETS training, Bilyaminu learnt how to manage an emergency situation involving a pregnant woman who is unconscious or unable to walk, as well as how to safely move her to a vehicle. Representatives from organisations such as the Red Cross/Crescent and the Road Safety Corps provided their expertise during the training, so Bilyaminu now feels confident to share what he has learnt with others. This knowledge, he says, has made him a better driver – and a driver that can make a real difference.

Bilyaminu has also seen a change in the attitudes towards maternal health in the wider community. Before the arrival of ETS, many men were reluctant to let their wives leave the house to travel to a health facility for delivery for cultural reasons. Through advocacy, stakeholder meetings and community engagement, ETS drivers are raising awareness on the importance of delivering at a health facility. Bilyaminu has seen a shift in attitudes towards care seeking, both from those who believe in more traditional home births, and those whose financial status poses a barrier to accessing health care.

There have been maternal emergency cases in both Bilyaminu’s immediate and extended family, in which he was able to provide prompt assistance as an ETS driver. His family are proud of his role for its impact on both his family and the wider community. Bilyaminu believes he is carrying out his work as an ETS driver for a higher purpose, which is why he is committed to advocating for women’s maternal health and providing free emergency transport in his community. In the fourteen months he has been an ETS driver, Bilyaminu has already transported over 20 pregnant women to health facilities, filling up the pages of his first logbook where he records his ETS journeys. During the busiest periods he has transported up to two women per week, with his longest journey taking a total of 80 minutes.

You can read more stories from the Emergency Transport Scheme here.