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Monday, 2 April, 2001, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Two wheels good in rural Nigeria
A woman pushes a load on her bicycle in southeastern Nigeria
Rural women rely on the bicycle as a beast of burden
By Sam Olukoya in Nigeria

As a married woman in rural southeastern Nigeria, Comfort Nwogu of Umuakuru village has to go to the stream to fetch water for her family, and to the forest to get wood for making fire.

On market days, she has to transport harvested crops from her family farm for sale in various villages - some up to 10km from her farm.

It would be difficult for any married woman to function without the bicycle

Francis Nwankwo
She uses the same mode of transport for all three tasks: the bicycle.

"I need the bicycle to carry out these tasks," she says.

In the rural areas of southeastern Nigeria, the bicycle more than any other thing keeps people moving.

Without bicycles, transportation in this region would virtually come to a standstill.

Contrast with capital

The use of bicycles in the countryside contrasts sharply with what happens in Nigerian cities like Lagos, the commercial capital.

Guards have been posted to watch bicycles in market towns
Guards watch bicycles at Umuechem market
It is almost a taboo to ride a bicycle in a place like Lagos, where the latest brands of cars compete for space on the busy highways.

But in the countryside, the bicycle has become a part of life after decades of use there.

Francis Nwankwo of Umuakuru village, in Rivers State, says that in his village, the bicycle has become a part of the customary gift to a newly married woman.

"It would be difficult for any married woman to function without the bicycle," says Nwankwo, who has been using a bicycle since the 1930s.

Beast of burden

For millions of women like Comfort Nwogu, the bicycle is simply the beast of burden that makes it possible to transport heavy load from one place to another.

Umuechem is a village about 5km from Umuakuru.

A rural Nigerian woman carries heavy loads on her bicycle
Village women convey heavy loads by bicycle
Market days in Umuechem are a classic case of how women like Comfort use bicycles.

Thousands of women from various villages convey heavy sacks of cassava, bundles of plantains, bananas and other farm produce on their bicycles for sale in the market.

The number of bicycles at the market on such days is so great that some of them are stolen from where they are parked.

To stem the tide, security men guard bicycles in special sections that have now been created in the market.

For Paul Nwiadoh from the village of Bori in Rivers State, the bicycle is not so much a beast of burden as a vehicle of pleasure.

He travels to his farm and to nearby villages to visit friends on his bicycle.

All aboard

The bicycle has other uses in Bori - including serving as a taxi.

Here we have succeeded in proving that the bicycle can carry almost as many people as a car can carry

Paul Nwiadoh
Strangely the bicycle has a lot of room for commuters.

It is a common sight to see as many as four people riding on one bicycle.

"Here we have succeeded in proving that the bicycle can carry almost as many people as a car can carry," Nwiadoh says.

For people in the countryside in southeastern Nigeria, the bicycle has some advantages over the car.

Unlike the car, the bicycle can go to farms and streams which are not accessible by road.

In addition, in a country that suffers from perennial shortage of petrol, the bicycle - which has no need for fuel - is obviously more reliable.

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