When Aisha Vatsa confirmed her interview date with us, she was on her way back from Makurdi, a trip she made on her power bike. This is one of many such trips that she has taken, and it appears she is not stopping anytime soon. When I first reached out to Aisha for an interview, I did it with the knowledge that she is a biker. I thought to myself “a female biker is one of the coolest things that I’ve ever heard of. I need to speak to this woman”. Yes, I needed to speak to Aisha, but Aisha is more than just a biker and this revelation, I promise, is enthralling. Our conversation was “all over the place”, but as you’ll see, in the most spectacular way!
Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Aisha M. J Vatsa, I hail from Niger state. I am the last in a family of four kids, my dad was late when I was quite young, my mother was a farmer, who raised us on a farm. My elder sister and two brothers, both now late, were all lovers of technical stuff. I am an entrepreneur, farmer, philanthropist, and adventurer who loves motorcycles.
Those are four very specific words you chose to describe yourself. I’m curious to know more about them
Well, I’m an entrepreneur because I run my own business. I think I’m about the only female in Nigeria who now deals in motorcycles and motorcycle parts as far as it goes. I own FG bikes, logistics and accessories. We deal in motorcycles and powerbikes. We also do the regular dispatches from location to location in Abuja, Calabar and Ekiti states for now.
For the farmer part, I think I’ve always been a farmer because I inherited that from my parents. I operate a farm in Kaduna and another in Calabar. This has been the family business that is how we were all trained.
I’m a philanthropist because I’m involved in a few charities that have to do with different things like the girl child and orphanages. This is also via motorcycle clubs that I belong to because the majority of them are NGOs and they enjoy giving back to the community.
I’m an adventurer because I enjoy travelling, most especially on my bike to different parts of Nigeria as well as outside the county.
Okay. Let’s start with farming. What kind of farming do you do?
For now, I pretty much do crop farming; we do yams, maize, beans, palm kernels, and cassava. Those are the main crops I’m focused on right now. We used to own poultry but I had to close it down because poultry is quite tasking and demanding. You can have just one flu and your entire stock is gone. Your heart has to be strong for you to go into poultry. I do want to go back to poultry, but just not yet.
So, if farming is sort of your profession, what is biking to you? A profession or a hobby?
For me, biking is a hobby. It’s something that gives me joy. It is an escape from whatever I go through every day that weighs me down. It could be anything, from family, emotions, business, but once I get on that bike it’s a release for me. Biking has given me a gift, to be able to see my beautiful country in a way that many people have never seen. I’ve been to Abeokuta, Makurdi, Kaduna, Jos, Bauchi, Gombe, Oyo, Owerri, Calabar, Obudu… One day I was trying to mention all the places I’ve been to and I couldn’t…
Outside the country?
Yes, I have travelled to Benin republic, Togo and Ghana on my bike.
Did you have a defining moment?
How can I say this? I think growing up, I’d always loved the adrenaline rush type of things you know. I learned how to ride a tractor at a very young age because of the farm. So things like that are things I gravitate towards. I wasn’t driving because I wanted to go to a friend’s house, I learned how to drive because it was a utility for the house. Biking for me was something that goes as far back as I can remember. You know in school when you see people on power bikes pass, you’re like “oh power bike! Power bike!” And it happens now, when we pass communities, kids come out and they go “ooh power bike!” They give us thumbs up and high fives. We visit schools to give talks and the looks on kids’ faces when I take off my helmet and they realize “mehn that’s a woman”, it’s priceless.
So, there was no specific moment when you realized that you were interested in biking?
My late mum always knew I was interested in powerbikes and things like that but as this tradition, when you learn how to ride, you hide it from your parents. I would occasionally see a power bike, and I could move it from point A to point B. It was something that had been at the back of my mind. So, when I came back from school I think in 2008, I decided. Someone came to the house and the person rode a powerbike and I was like “okay look, I need to save up and get me one of those.”
So I saved up and bought my first powerbike. There was a guy in town named Steve that came from Lagos, and he was riding a power bike. I called him over to the house to come look at my bike because they parked it and gave me the keys and as at then, my liver never gree me start the bike. Steve came over to the house, like “yeah yeah we’ll find an abandoned area over the weekend and I’ll take you to teach you how to ride” and I was like okay! So he put me in a pillion, which is when you’re carried on the back seat of the bike, and drove off to a remote location where there wasn’t traffic and parked the bike.
He then showed me some basic things, you know, “this is the front tyre, this is the handlebar, this is how you start the bike, oya try it let’s see.” And the funniest thing happened. I got on the bike, started it and I rode home and left him there. He had to take an Okada back to the house. And he was like “Come come, why didn’t you tell me you knew how to ride?” And I was like “well I didn’t know that I knew how to ride” and ever since that day, I have been riding. I have owned a few bikes over the years, some have kept a lasting impression on me, some have come and gone.
So, you are a biker who also sells bikes. How did you go from one to the other?
I had a bad experience with the first bike I bought, and that was what made me decide to become an entrepreneur in biking because I thought women were going to come into this thing and they needed to have somebody that they could trust and say “Get me the right bike” without fear of being taken advantage of.
Do you mind telling us about this bad experience?
Well, I bought a bike from someone, they brought it to the house and unbeknown to me, it was a bike that had a knocked engine. So, they parked it, assuming “well this girl doesn’t know too much about bikes”. But I’d always had a love for engines. When you hear a bad engine, you hear a bad engine. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a bike, a car, a plane, or a truck. A bad engine is distinct. I wasn’t home when they brought the bike. I came home to start the bike and the sound was horrible and I called the guy and I’m like “this bike is not sounding right” and he goes “no-no, this one na power bike, na how e suppose sound”
And it so happened that my brother (God rests his soul) had come over to Calabar to visit. I attribute what I know about engines to him because my late brother is what I would call an engine himself. So, he started the bike and was like “nope this bike is bad”. Immediately, he collected the phone and said “Oga better come and listen to this engine because this engine is bad”. So the guy comes over, starts the bike and went “Ah! What happened? Oh no no, I’m so sorry my sister, I’ll take it away” and it took him a while to refund my money.
The second bike I got, I had to call about 3 people to ascertain that the bike was okay before I picked it up. That first experience for me was something I never wanted to repeat. I felt small because I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about even though I knew what I heard. It felt like I shouldn’t have been there in the first place let alone have a voice. That’s how it made me feel.
Someone else told me they wanted to buy a bike too and got sold a bad bike. I was like okay, I will learn everything I can about bikes without becoming a mechanic or engineer and make sure that people don’t fall victim to what I felt because I felt really bad.
What kind of people make up your client base?
Well, I would say I’ve been blessed. Of course, you do have the occasional worrisome customer but FG bikes have been officially registered with CAC now for 2 years although I’ve been selling before that for about 4 years. We have been blessed to have customers who want to work with us.
Some of them come to me with a blank canvas – they don’t know what they want. They just know they want a bike and they want to ride. Some people do it for status updates like yeah you parked a bike, you’re a biker. Some want to ride a sports bike because they have an adrenaline rush that they just want to get out of their system. Others want to ride adventure bikes because they want to travel from point A to point B in comfort and not have to worry about an aching back. Some just want to commute especially in Lagos because of the traffic. So different kinds of people come to us with different needs and we try our best to fulfil their needs and so far, we have done a good job.
I’m curious, do women buy bikes regularly?
Oh yes, they do! Currently in Nigeria, if I was to give you a rough estimate, I would say female bikers that I know personally are about or more than a hundred. There are female bike groups, I belong to one of them called Amazons MC, and there are also female bikers in groups that are not clubs. but they just ride together in different states. We have people from different walks of life; we have doctors, military personnel, we have fellow entrepreneurs, just different works of life. There’s a forum we have – if there is a female rider somewhere that just started riding, we add her to the group, just so she can have people of like-minds to communicate with if she has any issues or questions about riding. We also have the oldest female biker who is about 53, and she has been riding for years.The oldest female biker in Nigeria is about 53 years old and she has been riding for years!#WorkinWomxn; The Farmer Who is Licensed To Fly A Plane, Sells Automobiles For A Living And Rides Powerbikes For Fun Click To Tweet
There is also a race that happens every November and it’s been happening, I believe, since 2014. It hasn’t happened since Covid because Covid changed a lot of things but I was opportune to participate in 2018 and 2019. Let me just say that we did not categorize men and women. I raced with the boys. We had quite a few female racers on the track too. Quite a few have gone on to make men “eat dust” like we like to say.
Let me draw you back to the topic of school because I read somewhere that you studied aviation. Tell me about that decision
Well, I started with mechanical engineering then I took a break when my mum was ill and going back was a problem because they said I didn’t take the proper time off. It’s a time I don’t like to think about because it was quite ugly. And my mum… I remember very vividly, my mum walked into the room in the morning and sat on the edge of the bed, you know how parents talk to you and she said, “my daughter you have done so much by coming to look after me but I want to know if you had a choice to study anything anywhere, what would you study?” And I told my mum I wanted to be a pilot. She nearly fell off the bed. And she was like “Say that again”, I said, “mum I want to be a pilot”. She said, “You want to drive aeroplane????”
My mum didn’t understand because that was the year that I believe we had about 3 or 4 plane crashes; That was a very bad year for this country. My mum was like “okay o. If that’s what you want.” And she just quietly walked out of the room. Needless to say that I was summoned by my uncles and they were like “your mother said you want to study aviation, are you sure?”,
“You want to fly plane?”
“Eh ehn, okay”
One of my uncles was able to get me an internship at the old Kaduna airport. They took me there to meet the crew, the chief pilot and he was like “okay, you want to do an internship, we haven’t had an intern in a while but you know it’s not easy stuff.” I was completely okay with it so, they told me to come the next day at 8:00 am. I was there by 7:30 am, and that was how my aviation journey started.
I understand my uncles’ point of view. They wanted to know that it was something that I was very serious about and I was very serious about aviation. I showed up. They tried to put me as close to flying the plane as possible to see if I was scared. Then they had a couple of the pilots take me up and at some point in time, the pilot told me “okay you have controls”, so I helped on the yoke and everything.
Aisha Vatsa aka Flygirl in flight school.
I had control, went to Zaria, did some touch and go, came back, parked the plane and he was busy writing. He sent a letter to my uncle and it turned out, it was a letter of recommendation, recommending me to go to flight school – that I had what it takes and all. So that made my mum think “these people are professionals, and they are saying my daughter can do this thing, so okay my daughter will do this thing”. So my mum put everything she had and had me go to school in FlightSafety Academy in Florida.
Have you ever practised aviation?
Not in Nigeria. I came back in 2008. My mum was late by then. I went into aviation because I wanted an opportunity to work so hard..maybe this was a kids mindset…to buy myself a plane to fly my mum around the world for vacation. And my mum passed away before I got the chance to do what I wanted to do. So, coming back for me was heartbreaking and my brothers were not big fans of aviation. My eldest brother hated flying and my immediate elder brother could not be bothered with it so when I got back it was a case of my brothers sitting me down and saying “you know this flying thing is not going to work right?” So I focused on other things like family, and for a while now I’ve not been involved in aviation.
To tell you the truth, the aviation industry in Nigeria for me, then, was not impressive. I went to an academy that I think at that time was one of the top-rated in the world and probably still is. We were taught that there are certain things you don’t take for granted because you have souls in your hands. I’ll give you an example. If you have a pilot who is going through an emotional incident that comes in and requests a day off, you don’t assume that the guy is a joke and just wants the day off. We’re talking about a human being here. You have to understand that that person will be flying with souls in their hands. For me, in Nigeria, a lot of things are not well looked at in the aviation industry. A pilot may go around a plane and see that this plane has issues and is like “I’d like us to ground it” and the operator goes “Are you crazy? Two hundred and thirty-something seats and you want me to just ground it because you think there is something wrong with the tyre. My friend better go and fly”
I think a lot of airline owners should try and be pilots themselves, I think we would solve a lot of problems.
That is very insightful and a bit scary
I know. A lot of people ask me “Aisha, why are you not flying?” My response is always, “I have my reservations”.
I had the opportunity to go back to the states and fly there, but then I would leave my family. Then I had the opportunity to stay here and not fly, but I would have family. I picked family. Till today, I have a lot of people that tell me I’m crazy but it really depends on what family means to you.
I will eventually go back to flying because the aviation industry is starting to have a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, but not commercial flying though, I think I prefer private.
What does the future look like to you in terms of racing, business, farming, and family?
In terms of racing, I would love to be able to compete on an international track because competing here in Nigeria, we had to deal with a lot of substandard things. We do our best, but we lack a lot of things. I want to know if at any point in time I actually had what it takes to be a racer.
For aviation, I will be back in the skies! That, I can guarantee. As long as there’s life, I will be back in the skies.
For my business, I’d like to be able to say that I either own or operate dealerships where you walk in and see quality, well-maintained bikes. Anybody Interested in being a biker or owning a bike for the right reasons can come in and walk out with a good bike. For farming, every farmer wants a good harvest every year. For my family, I want growth and good health. For me, I hope for better days.
I think my favourite part of my job is getting to talk to people that are incredibly inspiring and I think you are one of them. This has been such a wonderful conversation and I hope you never stop dreaming!