“Oshodi! Oshodi! Oshodi!” many of the bus conductors shouted at the top of their voices as they hung on the speeding buses. Some of their voices were so loud I could hear them as I was coming towards Ikeja-Along bus stop in Ikeja. I checked the time. It was 6:15 pm. As I crossed the road to get a bus to Oshodi, I saw a flood of passengers waiting for buses to commute them to Oshodi. There was desperation around the bus stop. As the clock ticked and the sun travel farther and farther in its journey across the sky, many passengers joined us. People were rushing to get on any available space on the bus. By the time it was 6:35 the number of passengers had gone down a little. Before I would jump on the bus, I thought to myself, I must calculate the amount of money I had left especially as I watched the conductors increased the bus fare from 100 naira to 150 naira because of the growing number of waiting passengers. My mind told me it could be increased to 200 naira as soon as the light began to fade away and darkness began to set in across the sky.
As the scrambling for spaces on the buses continued, I confirmed I had 850 naira left. If I pay 150 from Ikeja to Oshodi, it would be an unfair deal to me, I thought to myself. That extra 50 naira that had been added might not make me get to Ajah that night. With the experience I have with bus conductors, I believe I could get a bus for 100 naira when the number of waiting passengers had gone down. But one thing was clear. The more I delayed in getting on a bus from Ikeja to Oshodi, the more I am risking paying an exorbitant bus fare from Oshodi to the Ajah. At a point it seemed there were many others like me that are not ready to pay the increased fare. And so we waited. We knew 50 naira might not necessarily do us anything, but we waited. It was wrong for the drivers to increase the fare unfairly. Our faith in getting a bus at the normal price was increased and it was strong at the same time.
“Bolade 100! Bolade 100! Bolade 100! Hold your change o!” one lanky bus conductor was shouting as the bus came towards my direction and parked some meters away. That was the real deal, I said to myself as I jumped on the bus. From Bolade to Oshodi bus park where I would board another bus this time going to Ajah, it would take me about five to eight minutes of intense trekking. Other people joined the bus too. A short evening trek wouldn’t do me any harm, I thought to myself as the bus began to move.
“Oya, everybody come down! We don reach Bolade!” the lanky bus conductor commanded us as if we did not pay for the ride. But that was not my concern. I checked the time again. It was 7:02 pm. Everywhere around Bolade was dark around this time. I put my hands in my pocket to safeguard my phone and my 750 naira. That part of Lagos is not where you walk without being guided. Even a slight body touch, experience had shown, could mean money or phone being taken off one’s body without suspicion. In Oshodi, you can’t afford to be a “butty” especially as you walk past angry and brutish-looking men with fearful faces and in dark places always ready for action. Some women had by that time displayed their wares on the pedestrian walkway. Inasmuch as you are in a hurry, you must be careful not to step on anything. If you leg should stray and find its way to scatter anything on the walkway, you might not leave the place the same way you came.
“700 l’Ajah jare! To ba ti lowo ko koshi danu kuro nibi bayi!”* I heard a guy with cigarette smoke coming out of his nose and mouth saying to a woman with a child strapped to her back. The woman and her child were both tired. But the guy didn’t care. It’s either 700 naira or you are not going to Ajah. As I heard the price from afar, I decided against it. Wasn’t it the same bus I paid 250 naira to enter while coming in the morning? I asked myself. What had changed roughly ten hours later? The driver of the bus was not ready to cut down the price. For him, trekking to Ajah is not a bad thing.
Of course, the bus drivers that ply the Oshodi/Lekki/Ajah route are smart and exploitative at the same time. They are smart because they know many of the people that would enter the bus are working class people and several others are people with handiworks that would pay anything to get home on time so they could prepare for the next day. They exploit the vulnerability of these passengers to get rest on time by mindlessly increasing the bus fare as soon as the clock ticks towards 6:00 or 6:30 in the evening especially when they get calls from their friends about possible traffic congestion from Oworonshoki through Third Mainland Bridge and down to Dolphin Estate or Adeniji. This exploitative act was always activated from the Oshodi park and it is very unfair.
The drivers know many people are always on the move between Oshodi and Lekki/Ajah. In the morning, they act like people with mercy by fixing the bus fare at a considerable amount like 250 or 300 naira. If the price is considered unfair in the morning, they know they would be doing disservice to no one but themselves as there are car drivers that always opt to take people to Oshodi even at a cheaper amount. At anytime of the day, BRT buses are not always easy to find on the Lekki-Epe expressway compared to major routes in mainland Lagos. This always put numerous passengers at the mercy of bus drivers especially as the rush hour traffic congestion begin to take shape. It is always an exercise in futility to haggle with the driver or the bus conductor over the bus fare. For while you are still haggling for the price, other passengers for whom you thought you are fighting and whose desperation to get home are greater than yours would hop on the bus and even fight among themselves on mundane things such as who sit where.
If I hop on the bus for 700 naira, that means I would end up spending more than half of the bus fare that would take me from Ibadan to Lagos on a journey between Oshodi and Lekki/Ajah, I thought to myself as I strayed away from the Oshodi to Ajah bus. That is the sad part of moving from one point to the other in Lagos and shuttling between Oshodi and Lekki/Ajah – you are always at the mercy of the bus drivers who would do nothing but exploit your desperation to get away as quickly as possible from Oshodi. Up until now, I haven’t unravelled the cause of the desperation I always feel to get out of Oshodi anytime I find myself there. Maybe it’s because of the tales I had heard about the place especially as it is often told in my ears that night-time in Oshodi is always dreadful and an otherwise cool situation could suddenly turn awry and everyone would have to scamper for safety.
There must be another option, I said to myself as I watched the clock ticked towards 8 pm. I heard my stomach rumbled. It immediately occurred to me I hadn’t eaten anything all day. But even at that moment, eating is not an option. I don’t know how I would get myself out of Oshodi first. It would be foolish of me to spend money on food yet. As I was walking towards a BRT bus that I thought was going to Lekki/Ajah route, I heard a man said he was going to Obalende. That was it. My analytical senses were activated. Between Oshodi and Obalende, nothing would make me spend 400 naira, I quickly calculated in my head. I was right. The man with the car demanded 250 naira which I paid without hesitation. Except the world would come to an end that night I was sure I can’t pay more than 350 naira to get to Ajah from Obalende. The drivers around Obalende are not as merciless as those in Oshodi. Besides, there’s a guy I once saw at the park that ensured the bus fare was fair to everybody. There was nothing like that in Oshodi, or maybe I didn’t noticed it.
Getting to Obalende was faster than I had thought. It didn’t take the car more than twenty five minutes to get there. It was past eight already. I located the bus that would take me home and I paid 300 naira to get on it. During the day, it would have been between 200 and 250 naira. I cared less in so far I wasn’t paying 700 naira for a direct bus to Ajah from Oshodi. However, what follows after the engine revved into life was more heart-rending than I can succinctly describe here.
I should have known the bus and its driver were not in good condition before hopping in. But the desperation to get home on time, probably before 9:30 pm, blinded my eyes. In fact, everybody in that bus that night were people who couldn’t wait to get home after a long day at work. We had thought the driver would take the Onikan route down to Ozumba Mbadiwe, but we were wrong. He took the Moloney route down to Keffi street from where we would connect to Falomo roundabout in Ikoyi through Awolowo way. We passed Keffi street in peace until we got to Awolowo way and noticed there was a gridlock that was typical of such nights. Around the place that we were, the road had been narrowed to a one-way drive. There are about three to four petrol station that flanked the road. On one side are Total and Mobil that are only some metres apart and on the other side are NNPC and Forte Oil. The gridlock on that route is always around Total and Mobil petrol stations. But for the numerous impatient drivers, the gridlock could be averted. However, none of the drivers didn’t want to give way to another driver to get ahead of him. Therefore, many drivers are therefore struggling to pass the route at the same time, leaving no stone unturned as they struggle to get out of the one-way drive. As we connected to the Awolowo way properly, we noticed a good number of cars turning back to take the Onikan route instead. These drivers had seen the gridlock and they were sure it was too bad to face at that time of the night. Stuck along Awolowo way to Falomo route, we had two options – either to face the gridlock and struggle with other vehicles or turn back and take the Onikan route down to Ozumba Mbadiwe avenue road instead. Our driver surprisingly chose the former option because he wanted to get petrol at a NNPC filling station that it would take longer than thirty minutes to get because of the gridlock. It was a stupid thing to do especially as a Total filling station was just beside us on the road. He could switch to the other side of the road, get the petrol from Total and get us out of the gridlock by taking another route to Ajah. But the recalcitrant driver didn’t. We should have known there was to come.
“Wetin be your problem self?” I heard a tired voice exploded beside me. It belonged to a lady that was completely worn out and had probably gotten on the bus with her last energy. “Why you just dey stupid like dis self?” she asked again. “See Total for here. You say you wan go NNPC as if no be the same petrol dey for both Total and NNPC,” she ranted on and on. No answer came. It’s obvious the driver would not listen to any of our pleas. Who would blame him when he had collected money from everyone on the bus? If anyone decides to get down from that bus, s/he would simply have to forfeit the 350 naira bus fare when we hadn’t even covered a quarter of the distance from Obalende to Ajah.
For over thirty minutes, we were manoeuvring our way through the gridlock just so we could get to NNPC petrol station to refuel the bus, a decision that was made by an obstinate driver who preferred NNPC petrol to Total petrol. That was part of the experience one would have riding on danfo buses in Lagos. Getting down from the bus and trekking all the way down to Falomo was a no wager. Besides, there is no money to pay another danfo driver. It was after nine already. As we advanced in the traffic, the heat in the bus grew. Two guys came down from the bus and said they would catch up with us at the front. That allowed for more space inside the bus. It needs more air too. My legs are too weak to walk with. All I could do was endure the stupidity and selfishness of the driver.
After a long battle with other drivers as the bus jostled inside the gridlock, we finally got to the NNPC petrol station. The driver stopped the engine and refuelled the bus. By that time it was 9:25 pm. It occurred to me I had spent about four hours on the road from the time I had left Alausa in Ikeja to Ikeja-Along down to Oshodi and then Obalende and home was still far way. But that wasn’t really a problem. I had spent longer than that from TBS to Ikeja under bridge.
Another round of angry outburst rented the air after the refuelling and the bus refused to start. We managed to push it and the engine came back to life. That looked like the final phase of the night ride, but it wasn’t. Some meters away from Falomo roundabout, the bus started making some funny sounds. The sounds were inexplicable. We didn’t want to assume the bus was faulty because it would only compound our wows for the night. But the bus ground to a halt in front of Forte Oil, close to MTN Nigeria head office at Falomo roundabout, Ikoyi. There was untold anger in all of our voices. How could the driver be so mean? Who on earth dares put a faulty bus on the highway between Obalende and Lekki/Ajah? So after the whole suffering in the gridlock, all we could get was a halfway drive home! My disappointment could not be measured. And so were those of other passengers. Curses and abuses of all kind started flowing in the air. The driver, a man with the look of an embittered discharged soldier from Borno said nothing to defend himself. He knew he had been stupid all along to try commuting over such a distance with a faulty bus. He was lucky there weren’t really tough guys on the bus. Otherwise, he could have been beaten. Besides, had it been it that happened during the day when LASTMA officials were still on duty, he could have landed himself in a big trouble. The attitude of the driver from Obalende to Ikoyi had hitherto been distasteful and he was left alone to fix the bus by himself, assisted grudgingly by the bus conductor who confessed to warning the driver before passengers started hopping on the bus at Obalende.
As we were all tensed up, anger boiling in our blood, our countenance fallen by the unconcerned look on the driver’s face, a drunk and dishevelled “agbero” appeared from nowhere to inject comic relief into the tensed atmosphere. He started by threatening the driver to move his bus away from the road, commanding him as if he were a LASTMA official of some sort, or he would remove something from the bus. The driver and the bus conductor both managed to contain their anger as they buried their heads in the bonnet trying to desperately fix the bus . The agbero wouldn’t stop with his threat. After some minutes of great disturbance, the agbero moved to remove the side mirror. That was it. I heard something sounded like a thunderbolt strike. Other people heard it too. As the agbero was struggling with the mirror on our side of the road, two loud and deafening slaps landed on his face. It was quick, but we all saw it. Still trying to make sense of the situation and probably attack his attacker, there was a jab that caught him again below the chin. The jab left him struggling for fitness amidst a rapturous laughter from all of us. The agbero needed no telling to know he had messed with the wrong guy. As he was a lone ranger, he surreptitiously walked away from the scene when we were laughing at his stupidity.
After about some minutes of waiting for the bus to get back to life so we could go out way in peace, another danfo came to park beside us on the road. It was empty. After much persuasion, we entered the bus and left Falomo roundabout at about 10:05 pm. Of course, the driver paid our fare as it’s often dine when a bus couldn’t get its final destination for one reason or the other. We enjoyed a swift ride from Falomo roundabout through Law School to the toll gate without any problem. But as soon as we passed the toll gate, and was close to Lekki roundabout, the bus started its own trouble. It finally stopped somewhere after the roundabout. There was no fuel left in the tank, the driver told us remorsefully. He apologized to us. Instead of bursting out in anger, we were only laughing. Like they say, when a situation has gone beyond crying for you simply laugh at it. At that time of the night, we had no energy left in us to fight the bus driver. We watched as he rushed to a nearby Forte Oil petrol station to get five litres of petrol. He was back in a jiffy, long before we could start complaining about the irritating smell of urine coming from the our side of the road. We didn’t expect him to be back so quickly. But it was a good thing for us. We watched him refuel the bus. He started the bus minutes after. The last stretch of the night journey began. Getting to Ajah was really fast thereafter as the Lekki-Epe expressway was rather free that night as we only encountered traffic congestion around Jakande Housing Estate. By the time I alighted from the bus that night, it was 10:13 pm. It was hell of a night. But it was a good thing I got home safe.
Traffic congestion in Lagos is a terrible thing. But it’s one of those things Lagosians have learnt to live with. Living in Lagos sometimes meant spending productive time manoeuvring your way from one gridlock to another. It’s not easy especially getting stuck when you needed to get something done on time and you couldn’t drive your way out of a long stretch of cars. These days there have been news of drivers getting down with cardiac arrest because of long hours they spend in the traffic daily. I even know of one of the contractors with a company I used to work for in Lagos. He simply pulled out of the road, parked his car and tested his head on the steering wheel to sleep and never wake up. Traffic congestion in Lagos is one bad thing that puts many people off about the city and I am beginning know why. As far as riding around Lagos is a beautiful thing to do, the incessant traffic congestions on major roads are just going to spoil the fun for you. Although the government always talk about managing the traffic and it seems they are trying, more still need to be done even if it means getting rid of the small buses and replacing them with long ones that could commute a good number of people at the same time.

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