By Hussein Adegoke
I quitted some job I do in Lagos on May 30, 2019. So, I left the city for elsewhere. Recently, when I returned, and as it has always been with the ever-evolving city, many things have changed. There were more buildings; more construction works at hand, albeit, I could see fewer people. I thought that perhaps since many have lost their jobs in the spate of the Covid-19 crisis, they have departed for their hometown. Or, maybe, for my late arrival on a Friday evening, people have retired to bed and for their weekends.
In that meantime, I was greeted with a scenario that had a woman almost refusing to render her full transport dues. The driver, one who seemed to have gulped down a liter of alcohol, would be known by his prattles. He insisted that the woman should add more money for her extra luggage. But the latter pleaded with him in God’s Holy name to accept her token. All pleas had fallen on the driver’s deaf ears. “Na ‘God’s name’ I dey take buy fuel?” he queried, rhetorically. “Abi na ‘God’s name’ dey buy my car’s absorber (engine) wey una luggage go spoil?” he had further lamented. “‘God’s name’, ‘God’s name’, as if say na that one my wife go take buy food for market!” he rattled on. It was apparent he had conceded to the woman’s plea but would just keep letting out his inherent frustration, albeit, in a farcical form of umbrage. Watching the scenery, I was drooling without reservations. It would be the same jocular man at the wheels who would later adduce reasons to his car’s shut “windows” with the “fact” that airplanes, too, do not fly with opened side-ends. Such frantic reasons?!
So, by Saturday, I was leaving Alákùkọ for Iyana Ipaja and the Dafnfo bus I took had knocked halfway, precisely, at Abúlé Ẹ̀gbá. The driver had had to pull over with hopes of transferring us, all passengers, to another bus. Sensing what was amiss, we all had exercised some patience, but for a man, a passenger, too, who would be in his forties. He hurled insults at the bus conductor for, as he alleged, wasting his time. “You are mad,” he stated, showing no flicker of remorse as he launched his vituperation. Thankfully, the conductor was younger and calmer. If he was the opposite of these, we could have spent half of that day (and eventually, wasting more time) wading into an ensuing fisticuff that would just have been unnecessary.
I got to Ìyànà Ìpájà and would hop on another bus that leaves for Yabá. The freight was summarily egregious and exorbitant. We had learned some “Agbèròs”—a sobriquet for the insane people who specialize in the manipulation of road users to pay tainted sums—had, by the consequence of their action, hiked the sum. The transporter had just six or seven passengers in his 12-seater space bus—no thanks to Covid-19 and social distancing—and these cankerworms had yet demanded a third of his total gain. This sheer exploits would, of course, linger in the pains of any driver. And maybe it was just this or the transfer of aggression that caused the driver to get into an altercation with a woman, who would alight from his bus abruptly. For what crime lies in going to Maryland and not Yaba, but joining a Yaba bus, and even getting to be billed at an equal rate? “But you should have known there is no bus terminal in Maryland?” the driver protested. Well, not until a rain of curses and an exchange of bitterness had granted the two impatient adults a malevolent shower, the fire of this encounter never doused.
I would be departing for home in the evening of that Saturday, following a heretic day at the “business of concern” and yet, another sordid incident would grace my sight. This would have a semblance with the first gist I narrated earlier on, albeit, it was a more terrible one and the greatest eyesore in all I had witnessed. A man had only ₦300 to pay for his freight (one that had earlier been stated as ₦400). God, alone, knows if he actually knew not the actual freight charges, as he later claimed, but he was seen surrendering ₦500 and would be expecting a return of ₦100 (“change”).
“What ₦100?” the conductor flared up. “Them no tell you say na ₦400 we carry Alákùkọ before you enter?” he charged.
“I was only told it is ₦300.” The man was soft.
“By who? How? When? Where?” the conductor boiled.
“The passengers told me that it was the ‘price’.”
“And shay na from passenger’s hand you suppose dey ask that kind question?” the conductor retorted.
“You were not around when I had to ask…” the man asserted. And, really, there was a time in the middle of rallying passengers that the conductor had withdrawn himself.
Both men went on to advance logic for their actions as, in the meantime, the bus trod along. “I guess I might have to come down” the man confessed.
“Come down jor” the conductor ushered intemperately. But just then, a fresh argument had erupted. Both parties had to bristle over how much the conductor was to take for the man’s journey, then thus far. But not to bore you anymore with the intrigues of that gist, may I just say peace finally prevailed but only after the “peasant” was dislodged from the vehicle and invectives had reigned over the generations of both combatants. The “clippie” had afterward confessed to us how he had been enormously exploited by the Agbèròs and had become shortchanged thereafter.
Well, I think the imports we can derive from all of these anecdotes are: one, frustration lingers so much in Nigeria that every citizen, at any slight reason to be provoked, vents anger and spits venom on his fellow compatriot. It is only when people are displeased with (even) themselves, perhaps for the meager earnings they receive or for their hard labours that do not commensurate with pay and sustenance, that they would wait to explode at the misgiving of their counterpart. The rich do not get riled so easily as the poor do, and would even not dare to invite curses upon their persons and mighty fortunes.
Hussein Adegoke is a Public Affairs Analyst.
Two, and to narrow down this conversation to the street Agbèròs, the insane lots who by themselves would own no bus, they offer major backwardness to road transport. They would pull overdrafts on the transporter and he, too, would in turn shift the burden to the innocent passengers. Where do we have to go from here? I would demand that the government wades into this sector until I learned that those renegades survive in their antics only with the government’s “license.” The COVID-19 pandemic has even created a formidable ground for malpractices to thrive. VIOs, Police Officers, the Road Safety agents, all swim in the dirtiness of street corruption. Right at the moment, it would be no overthought to reason that some “officers” who get “returns” (or the excesses of these exploits) would have, quite literally, twice their salaries on roads before the coming of the formal one by every month ending. It appears then that the poor masses are swindled from two ends: “from the top” as it has typified governance and democracy, and from a clandestine bottom. Whose help then should we beseech to assuage this horror?
Hussein Adegoke is a Public Affairs Analyst.