Kings Of The Road

•Dangerous Ride…An Okada rider conveying pupils to school

•Dangerous Ride...An Okada rider conveying pupils to school

Eleven years ago when I came to the Centre of Excellence, as we used to call Lagos in Kaduna then, I was so excited I couldn’t wait to go round the city, to feel its pulse and perhaps drink of its beauty. I also wanted to meet the classy and sophisticated people, as I was told Lagosians were.

•The driver of this car died after after a container fell off the truck and crushed the car

I boarded a Volkwagen kombi bus, popularly called Danfo in Lagos, at Aguda, Surulere. The bus was going to Ojuelegba, another area of the same Surulere. It took me over thirty minutes to get the names of the different bus stops that the conductors were calling. It was totally strange to me; they called three names together, as if it were just one: “Stadium-Barracks-Ojuelegba”, he screamed in a  hoarse voice, it was quite difficult for a stranger to understand. When I got to Babajide bus stop, where I was supposed to alight, I started telling the conductor in my normal voice, though in Hausa language, that “A kwoi” which means “O wa o” in Yoruba, which in Lagospeak means I want to alight at the bus stop the conductor called last.

The conductor and driver looked at me as if I was not normal, so also did the passengers. They later ignored me and moved on to the National Stadium, the next bus stop.

I started speaking in English still in a low tone: “Sir, please I want to get down, and he answered angrily that: “O de! (fool) Why you no talk since?” When I explained to him that I had been saying, “A kwoi” since we got to Babajide bus stop, they all bursted into laughter saying: “Ha! O se se de, shine your eyes, Eko lo wa yi, omo Mallam,” meaning: “You have just arrived, open your eyes wide, you are now in Lagos, the lady from the North”. I was so embarrassed.

Many people have undergone such experience in the hands of danfo drivers in Lagos, and they believe that it is almost impossible to board a danfo without having an argument with either the bus driver or his conductor.

The attitude of these drivers to passenger can best be describe das callous; they have little or no respect for passengers that board their buses.

If one takes a bus from a location and one tells them where he wants to alight, they will assure the commuter of dropping him/her at the exact point, but most of the time they end up dropping you, sometimes forcefully, before or after the place you both agreed.

•Dangerous Ride...An Okada rider conveying pupils to school

Some of them may ask you to alight and join another bus against your wish, and you have no choice than to obey them; and they will not even refund your fare.

Mrs Essien shared her experience with this reporter. She had boarded a kombi bus from Mile 2, and the conductor had said it was going to Okokomaiko, along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. “On getting to Agric bus stop, we were asked to join another bus, with the driver claiming to have paid the other conductor our fare for the rest of the journey.

“After the driver had taken off with his conductor, the new driver said that I was not among the passengers whose fares had been paid, so I should either pay him or get off the bus.

“I felt so cheated; you know how arrogant and rude these people can be. The worst part of it all was that I did not have enough money on me that day, I had to trek to Iyana Iba, with the N20 on me.

“I took another bus to Okokomaiko, with the conductor raining insults and curses on me because I could not pay him the N50 he charged. And this is a boy that is not old enough to be my third child. On that day, I regretted coming to Lagos,” she lamented.

If it was just the rudeness of these drivers that one has to endure, maybe many Lagosians wouldn’t have been worried, but the manner in which they hike transport fare, regardless of the distance, is alarming especially at rush hour and during the rainy season.

The factors that determine the fare, as far as these drivers are concerned, are time, weather, traffic situation and luggage, if you have any.

These same factors also determine the movement of Lagosians, because if you find yourself in any of the above situation, in this crazy and busy city, one ends up paying dearly for it.

The situation is so bad that if you do not have enough money before leaving in the morning, you may end up walking home.

Critics believe that most Lagos danfo drivers drink or smoke Indian hemp, even openly in their motor parks. Commuters know this and they are powerless to do anything about it, except perhaps pray to get home in one piece.

•Danfo buses waiting for commuters

These drivers believe that the only way to maneuver during traffic is by stuffing their heads with gin, a local spirit, popularly called ogogoro. A high percentage of them of them can’t drive without an assistant driver; a bottle of ogogoro.

Because Lagos is the most populated city in Africa, and the government has not provided enough commuter buses, there is always business for these death and injury peddlers.

Commuters sit in these buses with their hearts in their mouth. It is just like sleeping with one eye open. Ajibola Olaoluwa, a secondary student in the state, said that he prays to God seriously whenever he boards a bus to school or when coming back. “I fear for my life everyday, because Lagos drivers are too reckless. They never obey traffic rules. With the connivance of corrupt traffic wardens, road safety officials and policemen, they always get away with it,” he stated.

Mr. Femi Oye, a bus driver in Mushin opined that: “Despite efforts made by the authorities to ensure that drivers use seat-belts because their lives may depend on it, the average danfo driver feels that this is one burden too many, since they sometimes have to get down quickly to fight with the street guys who claim to be members of the several transport unions.

He added: “In other cases, at different bus-stops, some of them do not have conductors, so they get down to open the door for their passengers, not minding the fact that others have got appointments to keep. This is why some people have named them kings of the road in Lagos.

Another king operating on Lagos roads are the ubiquitous motorcycle riders, known in local parlance as okada. To really understand the magnitude of damage, caused by these set of people, one needs to pay a visit to a ward in Igbobi Orthopaedic Hospital, Fadeyi, Lagos-Ikorodu highway. Aptly called Okada Ward by both visitors and even some of the staff, most of those on admission here are victims of Okada accidents. It has been estimated that over 60 per cent of road accidents in the state is due to the recklessness of Okada riders.

Some of them are commercial motorcyclists during the  day and armed robbers at night. Many hapless Lagosians have fallen victim and learnt the hard way not to trust these seemingly innocent okada riders.

Along the LASU-Igando road from Iyana Iba, many unwary okada passengers have been declared missing, as if something on that road swallowed them. This is why most commuters prefer to take a bus rather than risk life and limb in that area.

In recent times, the population of okada riders in Lagos State has increased. Majority of the riders are illegal immigrants from the Republic of Niger, though many claim to have come from Northern Nigeria. This majority has also succeeded in adding salt to injury, since the number of okada related accidents has soared.

Though many have agreed that okada riders from Republic of Niger and Chad charge very little for a long distance trip, they do not speak English or know their way around.

Aboki is the name everyone calls them in Lagos. Very few of them understand road signs and traffic lights. Everyday, an Aboki okada rider is involved in an accident, not because the roads are too bad but because they don’t know how to ride these motorbikes and can’t communicate properly.

With this deficiency, some okada riders still carry more than one passenger; some of them even carry up to three, especially school children who can’t afford to pay much. This is quite common in suburbs like Ayobo, Akute, Ipaja and Ijegun.

In many parts of the state, the okada is a law unto itself, refusing to wear safety helmets, riding against traffic, over-speeding and broking all known laws of the land and common sense.

Commercial motocyclists have their usefulness but many agree that they have become a nuisanse in the state. Whenever there is crisis or a slight disagreement involving a motorcyclist, they will gang up to harass and even beat up whoever is involved. Many times, such incidents have led to unnecessary death or injury through the administration of jungle justice.

The big question is, can Lagosians ever do without these kings of the road? Maybe, maybe not.

Many had thought that the introduction of the Bus Rapid Transit, BRT, scheme would put an end to the predominance of okada on the highways, but here we are today, no thanks to a huge population that keeps growing.

Despite the risks of taking this mode of transportation, residents have refused to stop patronizing them.

“The traffic situation here is very frustrating, in a typical Lagos traffic jam, one can be on the road for over five hours for a journey of 30 minutes, so imagine what we will go through without okada, I know it is very risky but then, what can we do?” Mrs. Ebenezer Agbo said.

Recently, the Lagos State government, again restricted the operations of okada riders to certain areas because their lawlessness is at its peak, but like they always do, they are resisting, maybe trying to test the will of the governor.

Danfo drivers and Okada riders are not the only problems.

In the last few months tankers, trailers and drivers of flat-bed trucks who haul containers from one point to another have surparssed the exploits of the danfo driver.

Several times fuel-hauling trucks fall on the road, spill their contents and set everything in its path ablaze. At other times, containers fall off the flat-bed trucks and crush hapless Lagosians, killing some and maiming others.

These kings on the road have turned Lagos into a dangerous city, turning many residents into animals, chasing buses instead of queueing, screaming, fighting every imaginable thing.

—Kashimana Beba