I traveled to Lagos one weekend, and my head did an immediate switch; happy to have malls, ice-cream, and pizza within thought distances. Then I returned to Abeokuta and the first thing I noticed was a strike by members of the Union of Road Transport Workers. The cause of the strike: an over hundred percent increase in taxation had been placed by the State Government. That, in a city where passengers perennially haggle for the lowest fares conceivable, and some plead to pay twenty naira for some distances! It was simply impossible. A deliberate act of cruelty which could neither be allowed nor accepted. For a minute I stood at the garage and just stared at people walking down the long road; a vision of colours, luggaged backs, and stretching legs.
At the bus-stop, there were some parked cabs. There were also men beside them occasionally in conversation with people as they walked. The people often walked past them shortly after. On rare occasions, the people got into the cab. I guessed that some few routes were bereft of protesting Union staff; hence safe for cab drivers to ply. Hoping my route was among the ‘safe’ ones, I took contemplative steps towards them.
“Shey nitori strike? Sebi awon egbe yin naa l’on fa wahala? Ibo ni k’a ti ri? Ko ni da fuun yin. Ebi l’o ma pa yin ku. Shey thirty naira ori e yen lo ma je ke la? Oloriburuku oko asewo…*”
I felt my jaw fall, but couldn’t lock it back. A woman had gotten to the cabman I’d heard calling destinations along my route just before me. And she was cussing him out because of a thirty naira increase in the fare.
Is she bloody joking?
My mind couldn’t grasp it. I had mentally prepared to pay a hundred percent increase in the fare, and she was going crazy over a less than fifty percent increase. When the financial risk he ran for operating at a time his union members were protesting was –at the least– over ten times the fare he was requesting. I was shocked!
You see enh, in Lagos: when anything happens to cause a driver any inconvenience -whether or not there’s a risk attached to it- passengers compensate with higher fares. Rain falls; you pay for the inconvenience of his being on the road, instead of cuddling in bed with his wife. At rush hour, you pay for the ribald tales, pepper soup, and bobbing, laughing stomach which should have been his at any of the many bars sprawled all over the city; if he hadn’t been driving you. On any random day, you pay extra if you’re too impatient to wait for another vehicle, and he needs money to make up his children’s school fees… or give his woman for that fashion accessory all her friends want/have…. The list is maybe endless.
While the woman’s tirade and my thoughts debated, I slipped into the cab. The people already in the cab were divided; some empathized with the driver, others lamented the increase. I looked at them closely; then smiled. The ‘lamenters’ had tribal marks that proclaimed them from Abeokuta; while the others bore travelling bags, and soon began to speak of other cities.
Aah, I thought, case dismissed.
“Is it because of the strike? Isn’t it your colleagues who are causing the trouble? From where do you expect me to find the fare you request? It would not be good for you. It is hunger that would kill you. Is it the thirty naira increase that would make you successful? A no-good person, husband of a prostitute…”