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A day in the life of a Lagos bus driver

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I reside in Lagos, the city of hustlers, where everybody – traders, their customers, commuters – is in a hurry. A city where some dress all formal in the scorching sun. Lagos is where noise depicts a normal way to live.

Walkers get picked on the regular and if you are not ‘street’, you go part with your cellular.

When you’re driving, I suggest you check the rear-view mirror. Be careful because an okada just might have glued to your car. These guys could leave you with just a wing mirror in seconds. In Lagos, they are a pain in the neck.

An okada rider would auction for the little space available like a business trader or make way for himself like Moses did at the Red Sea.

Well, the mistake you mustn’t make is to knock one of them down. If that happens, the rest gonn’ tear you into pieces.

If you already reside in Lagos, it’s just apparent I do not need to welcome you as that would sound like preaching to the choir. In that case, my welcome message is reserved for those who came here on a visit, the person who just relocated, and others on the Lagos JJC (Journey Just Come) list.

Welcome to the jungle, where the Danfo drivers always tryna fumble. Rush hour bus stop, like the way you rumble. When the BO runs things, all we do is grumble, everybody red eye, ain’t nobody humble.

“Trip or tumble into the eternal abyss, half of the people hold their guards.” These were the words of legendary Nigerian rapper Modenine describing Lagos in a song titled “Stylee“.

For me, what symbolises Lagos are the iconic yellow buses popularly known as “Danfo.” Ever wondered what it feels like to be a Danfo driver in Lagos State, especially on the mainland?

How these guys manoeuvre their way around the ever-present gridlock on the mainland is something that will marvel you. Even the legendary Formula one great Lewis Hamilton will be stunned at their skills.

A Danfo driver in Lagos on a daily basis has the Okada riders, tricycles, and private vehicles to contend with. This list does not exclude the trailers and trucks with heavy behinds. 

Continuously, a bus conductor would yell, “Jibowu! Palm Grove! Maryland! Ojota!”  trying to woo passengers onto his 18-seater bus at Sabo bus stop in Yaba.

Gradually, the bus fills up and when left with two passengers to make that load, the driver starts to sound a note of warning to passengers in Yoruba language.

The driver would sound the warning as though he is in a battle with the passengers, “kosi change o, emi o ni change o. Knowing how smart he had to be on the Lagos road, the driver would want nothing to slow him down, so he had to warn the passengers to come in with lower denomination notes because he doesn’t have it.

Officials of the Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) are always sharp, their eyes and brain in sync. Just as the two last passengers rest their behinds on the danfo seat, the officials would walk up to the bus in their white shirts and green trousers.

Maybe you’ve heard it or not, these officials in white-and-green outfits are also called MC Oluomo Boys. MC Oluomo Boys exist on Lagos soil for nothing than to religiously collect a particular sum that serves as a levy for each trip a driver embarks on. I was once on a bus on which the driver paid N200. 

Moments later, the conductor who hung on the bus door by his right arm found himself a seat as two passengers alighted at Jibowu Bus Stop. He could then shut the door because there was no way he would have done that with him in the door’s way earlier.

Our journey continued. The breeze that gushed over my face had let up The road was quite free as it was just 7:23am by my time.

As we approached Fadeyi Bus Stop, there were streams of passengers waiting for buses to convey them to their various destinations. They littered the road as empty water sachets would litter the groud of an owambe scene.

Just as we got to Fadeyi, the unexpected happened.  Two tattered-looking guys hung on to the bus, demanding money. I was indifferent about the whole scenario as I had heard stories about those guys which many referred to as touts, thugs, or agbero. I bet I don’t need to tell you that here in Lagos, you don’t sound refined by calling them touts. Bros! For Lagos, these people na tout!

They wouldn’t stop harassing the bus conductor and the driver in what was like a five-minute argument.

“I am just coming out. I don’t have enough with me. I have paid my levy at the garage. I still have to buy fuel. It’s my first trip this morning. I will give you your money when I return on my next trip.” The driver lamented in Yoruba, arguing and appealing by giving a thousand reasons he couldn’t pay yet.

Our driver finally succumbed, “Figo lo wa ooo, funmi ni change.” He announced that he had no change. He got N400 in return after he gave them a N500 note. This time, it seemed the figure on the note frowned more than usual.

As we forged towards Anthony Bus Stop, the bus driver began to grumble as he was furious at his conductor, “Fatai, you’re dull. How could you have allowed that riff raff to hijack my bus? You should have alerted me. Why didn’t you close the door?” he ranted endlessly, using curse words for the thugs.

While all this was going on, I was seated in the passenger seat right beside the driver. I solemnly consoled him as he initiated a conversation with me. “That’s how they behave, they will never give us rest. Those boys are terrible people. This is just my first trip. I still need to fuel my bus,” he lamented profusely, raining curses on them.

The whole time, his left elbow rested on the door while he held the wheel with his right hand.  We all began to laugh inside the bus as his curse words sounded hilarious. Before we knew it, he had joined us in laughing. 

While the tension was doused, I asked the bus driver in Yoruba, “Are those guys from the union?”

He frowned, and answered swiftly, “‘Union ke! No. They’re just a bunch of unfortunate jobless boys who work on the directive of one Baba Isale who gives them orders to collect money from us.

Here in Lagos, we use ‘godfather’ to mean an individual who has power, can influence others to do anything whatsoever, and support them fully. So, whenever you hear ‘baba isale,’ let our definition of ‘godfather’ ring in your mind. Not the meaning you know.

He continued, “This Baba Isale has affiliations with MC Oluomo, (the king of the white and green boys). He gives the baba isale access to control some territories as he remits a particular percentage to his pocket. That is how they operate everywhere around Lagos. They collect this money, morning, afternoon and at night.”

While the conversation went on, a very huge old-looking man contributed, giving a historical background to the whole scenario. “This rubbish became prevalent during Obasanjo’s government.”

The ex-president wouldn’t have envisaged being dragged into that matter at the time. Though, he probably would be somewhere in his Abeokuta home, unbothered by the woes of the Lagos driver.

“He withheld the Lagos State allocation and Tinubu, who was Governor at the time, used these boys as a means to generate revenue for the state government. But when Yar’Adua came into power as President, he reimbursed Lagos State but then there was no going back. The method of using these thugs to generate revenue had eaten deep and the elites in Lagos state were enjoying it.”

I was awed at that revelation. Soon, we approached Anthony Bus Stop. Another set of bus-expectant passengers waited like a groom awaiting his bride. 

This time, Fatai and the bus driver were on high alert. Fatai began to yell Maryland! Ojota! While some passengers alighted, others at Anthony hopped on.

As this transpired, Fatai spotted another crop of thugs approaching the bus to collect money. With what seemed like the speed of light, he shut the door so forcefully that the sound would have forced a secretion of adrenaline in some. He prompted the driver and the driver stepped on the gas, though not as fast as Will Smith did in ‘Bad Boys for life.’

Everybody laughed with excitement at what happened. The driver ranted profusely again, “Useless people, it will never be better for them. Can you imagine they just want to spoil my day?”

Moments later we got to Maryland Mall. Slightly by the overhead and a short distance from the bus stop, there was a traffic stop and I seized that opportunity to alight. As I waved the driver goodbye with my face mask hiding my smile, he waved back and smiled back at me. That wouldn’t have been possible without the traffic jam though.

In those moments when we encountered those thugs at Fadeyi and Anthony bus stop, I observed that there were at least two to three police officers as well as LASTMA officers who could have easily intercepted those boys for harassing the bus driver. They saw the entire incident and looked away on both occasions while they could have s’oro soke.

This leaves me with a few questions. Does the law enforcement have a hand in these extortions? Do they also get a share from the extortion?

These and many more questions are still left unanswered as these thugs persistently continue to harass bus drivers daily.

Contact Segun Michael Adeyemi through sagunadeyemi@gmail.com

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Segun Michael Adeyemi
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