From Taiwo Adeniyi (Abuja), Abdulkadir Shehu (Kaduna), Lubabatu I. Garba, Usman Balarabe (Kano) & Christiana T. Alabi (Lagos)
Life can be easier for plus-size people in Nigeria. Being a plus-size person comes with several benefits, as well as challenges in Nigeria. They are faced with stern and scornful looks as people struggle to avoid them in public transports, offices, restaurants and public places.
Life can be fairer for those who could afford some basic necessities and a bit hard on those using public transportation. While some motorists hesitate to pick them, others charge them extra fare. Co-passengers and people that may have an occasion to share a seat with them also avoid them.
In the fashion industry, plus-size women are identified as sizes 18 and above or sizes 1X to 6X and extended size 7X and above.
In Kaduna, a plus-size woman, Hauwa Saleh, who uses public transportation, said other passengers looked down on her, especially when there is limited space to sit. Hauwa Saleh, a resident of Kawo in Kaduna metropolis said bus and taxi drivers were usually courteous, but other passengers scorn her because of her size.
“The passengers often don’t feel comfortable because I take up too much space,” she said, adding that to avoid scornful looks and inconveniencing others, she takes taxi alone. But when she cannot afford it and has to board a minibus, she prefers sitting on the third row so that she doesn’t have to get up to make way for those getting in or alighting from the bus.
Her plight also extends to using pedestrian bridges. “If I am leaving Unguwan Shanu, I have to take Keke Napep (tricycle) to make a u-turn to where I can get a taxi easily because I cannot climb the pedestrian bridge,” she said.
Most taxi drivers in Nigeria take between three and four passengers at the rear seat and sometimes, two beside the driver.
A taxi driver, Ibrahim Usman, said that regardless of sizes, he must take the required number of passengers.
“We adapt to any situation we find ourselves. We carry plus size passengers any time they come to us. It is just that a seat that takes four people could take only three if you carry plus-size people. What we do is tell people to adjust so that we carry the needed number of passengers,” he said.
Another taxi driver, Daniel John said; “We work for people, and without them we cannot come out to work. Carrying plus-size passengers is not easy for us because their bodies occupy more space, but we cannot reject them because of how God has created them.
“We treat them the way they are. If we, as drivers offend them, they would not be happy and other passengers would have a negative impression of taxi drivers. Working and dealing with people is a difficult thing, especially in the transportation business,” he said.
A Kano resident, Fatima Mohammed (not her real name), said she experienced a lot of discrimination from people. She said her experiences started as a child. “I can remember when I was in primary school. You know students share seats with their colleagues, but none of my classmates wanted to share with me because of my size. It reached the point that our class teacher had to force one of my colleagues to share her seat with me.
“Whenever the class teacher came and asked about the noisemakers, the class captain must write my name, even when I was not making noise. It reached the point that my parents protested and threatened to transfer me to another school. Then the school knew about it and acted,” she said.
Abubakar Sadiq Abdullahi said he faced discrimination for his obesity.
“Well, you know obesity is highly stigmatised in every society. I have been through discrimination; verbal teasing in my life. Sometimes it is very depressing and worrisome. People refer to me as lazy or that I eat a lot. People of my size are treated with less respect than slim persons.
“There was a time I was walking and some kids were playing by the roadside. Immediately they saw me they started laughing and shouting in Hausa, “Kato Kato,” which means huge. I just smiled and ignored them. And you know, a person that can’t control his or her emotion will react negatively.”
He said he had to take up a race contest among his friends as an undergraduate to redeem himself.
Another resident, Safiya Bala, said the discrimination that plus-size people faced was not limited to public spaces as it is everywhere.
“Even at the workplace, the discrimination is also there as superiors think you have nothing serious to offer. I can do a lot of work that a slim lady cannot do. Some plus-size people don’t feel their weights, or I can say their weights don’t affect their working ability,” she said, adding that she was sidelined by her superiors until she proved her worth to him.
But Hajiya Aisha said she did not experience any discrimination.
“Although I am obese, I can say that I have never met people who discriminate against me on public transport.
“I use Keke NAPEP as my means of transportation and nobody ever discriminates against me as a result of my size. If I see two people in the Keke, I don’t go near them at all because I know I occupy more space. But if it is a single person, I enter. And I have never met a co-passenger who discriminated against me as a result of my size. And I pay the normal charges as any other person pays; the drivers don’t charge me extra.”
According to her, discrimination against plus-size people happens mostly on how they present themselves.
“As an obese person, you have to take good care of your body, otherwise body odour will be the first to greet people. And not everybody can tolerate body odour. That is why some people discriminate against them,” she said.
A Kano resident, Umar Musa, said discrimination against plus-size people was justifiable.
“Some of them have body odour. When you are trying to endure, drivers do not care about how you feel, but the number of passengers. It will be better for public drivers to either charge the plus-size people more so that other passengers can be free,” he said.
Another resident, Kabiru Hussaini, said he din’t discriminate against plus-size people.
“Why should I discriminate against them because of their sizes? Did they create themselves? The discrimination is not justifiable at all. I have many obese friends and I can say I relate with them cordially,” he said.
A plus-size woman in Abuja who works in the National Assembly Service Commission and pleaded anonymity, said she was tired of the discrimination and the disturbing probing looks from passengers and pedestrians.
“I always board Bolt to and from office because I cannot continue enduring the unspoken and spoken insults. Even when I do exercise in the morning, people take a second look at me, and it could be awkward,” she said.
Mrs Mabel Michael is a 40-year-old mother of three, based in Lagos. She said her size made people see her as a glutton, “which I am not,” hence her decision to burn some fat.
“The attitude of conductors towards me when I want to enter a commercial bus is not nice at all. They insist I don’t sit on a particular row because I am fat. Passengers too grumble when they see me want to sit close to them. You will see them begin to adjust so that they don’t feel cheated, having paid the same amount as me.
“What I do most times is to move around with Uber or Bolt, and in the case where I must use a public transport system, it is either I pay for two seats or sit close to people who are slim.
“People must learn to understand that we are not all created in the same sizes; while some are short, some are tall; just as some people are slim and some are fat,” she said.
Ms Olayinka Talabi, who is also a plus-size and works in a private firm in Lagos, said she was proud of her body and that she deliberately refused to be intimidated or looked down upon by anyone because of her size.
She said, “Since the plus-size people frequently suffer discrimination, especially by co-passengers, I have resorted to taking Uber or Taxify anytime I have the capacity to do that, and when the money is not available, I stay patiently to sit on a row where the persons are in smaller sizes. Ultimately, I am a proud plus-size person, I do not desire to be slim.”
Madam Nafisat Lawal, a plus-size young woman, explained how she is always uncomfortable walking in the midst of people, especially where the male folks are. She said, “I am not always comfortable as people, mostly men, embarrass me with different names when they see my backside.”
Mrs Titilayo Derrick said she would not discriminate against people who are on the big side. According to her, some of these plus-size individuals are just naturally fat and she does not see anything wrong with that.