Pondering on passengers’ safety while commuting on Lagos roads
Lagos will show you. In more ways than one, you will experience the city and all it has to offer, both the good and bad. And so it was, many years ago, that a colleague and I got a taste of the city’s underbelly one fateful night after work.
Our office was in Lekki phase 1, and we had hitched a ride with another colleague to the mainland. She was going to Ketu and we were going towards Oshodi. She had dropped us off along the express leading to Ketu just after the Iyana-Oworo bus stop. We then crossed the pedestrian bridge to the other side of the express to take a bus to Oshodi.
The bus stop was crowded; it was a struggle to get into the next available Oshodi-bound bus or cab. After waiting for what must have seemed like hours, a cab pulled up and parked right in front of my colleague and me. We forced our way into the cab immediately we heard “Oshodi”. She squeezed into the front seat where a guy was already seated. I forced my way into the back seat with two other guys who had also arrived with the cab.
A couple of minutes after departing, the driver turned towards the Third Mainland Bridge instead of taking the right turn leading towards Oshodi! At the exact moment that we realised this, the guy sitting beside my colleague grabbed and shoved her in between himself and the driver. The guy on my left did the same thing to me, placing me between himself and the other guy at the back.
We were manhandled. They took my Nokia 3310 phone, my tie, and all of the money I had on me. My colleague’s money, gold chain, and phone were also taken from her. The guy who took my phone removed my SIM card and handed it back to me. They dropped us at the point the Third Mainland Bridge descends towards Ebute-Metta/ Yaba. We crossed to the other side of the road/ Not a single passing vehicle stopped to pick us up, so we started walking back to Iyana- Oworo bus stop without a clue as to how we would get home. We eventually found a sympathetic okada rider who agreed to drop us off at the bus stop.
On getting there, I asked a random guy if I could insert my SIM card in his phone to make a call and surprisingly, he obliged. I called a friend who lived in Gbagada, and the same okada rider took us there. My friend paid him, gave my colleague and me some money, and we found our way home.
What we experienced is called a “one-chance” situation. You find yourself in a vehicle, most likely a commercial bus or car, only to discover that the driver and conductor (and possibly the people you assumed were passengers) are out to dispossess you of all your belongings and perhaps, your life. I have heard so many stories of other people’s experiences. Aside from losing valuable possessions, some have been beaten, thrown out of moving vehicles and sustained serious injuries or even lost their lives.
Such was the case with Bamise Ayanwole who got on a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) bus to get home, was reported missing, and subsequently, her dead body was found on Carter bridge. The shock across traditional and social media has been intense. Thankfully, she was able to do a recording of the bus and send messages to a friend, so the police got useful leads to follow up with. The bus driver has also been apprehended based on the information from the messages.
To be honest, these things have happened in the past. I know that one-chance situations were rampant many years ago, but I haven’t heard as much in recent times. What was most shocking about this incident was that it happened on a BRT bus. These buses are operated professionally by a private firm under regulation by Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA). The drivers are employed full time and have to go through a vetting process to be ascertained fit for work.
The whole idea behind the BRT buses was to introduce a safer, faster, and more efficient means of transportation for Lagos citizens. That was why the state procured the buses and created dedicated bus lanes on the road. People who take BRT buses do so because it eases the stress in their commute. They do not expect to be harassed nor do they expect to be robbed or even killed.
I had initially hoped to hear that the bus had somehow been hijacked and that the man identified as the driver was not an official driver. Maybe this would have kept some faith in the BRT system, but as it is, doubts now exist. As a preventive measure, the government has had to suspend BRT operations for fear of reprisal attacks, but how long would this last? The BRT is essential to addressing the traffic situation in Lagos hence increased hassles for commuters while the suspension lasts. And when operations eventually resume, would people have sufficient faith and confidence to take the BRT buses? There are issues either way.
This incident further highlights the various infrastructural and security issues existing in Lagos state. A BRT bus should be lit internally while operating at night. It should go through an established route and make stops at all official bus stops along the official route except the bus is full and there are no alighting passengers. At this point, I believe each bus even needs a tracker installed to ensure that drivers operate their buses as scheduled.
Even the roads should be well at night; this could be a deterrent for people with ulterior motives. As things stand, driving at night in Lagos requires the visual acuity of an owl: one can only see so far ahead when the roads are only lit by the full glare of other fast-moving cars. Traffic lights also need to be fully operational. Maybe if the bus had stopped at a traffic light, Bamise could have called for help. We also need a more responsive police force who act out of duty rather than expecting mobilisation to do their work. Our laws need to be properly enforced: people who flout them must be properly dealt with.
We the citizens also have a role to play. We need to be our brother’s keeper at all times. If you see something dodgy or experience something untoward, report it to someone and the police. If Bamise had not thought to make the video and send chats to a friend, the police may not have been able to apprehend the driver in good time.
I do hope concrete action can be taken regarding this case, and safety on our road transport system, not just with the BRT but across all transporters. May our roads be safer for all commuters. This is the way I see things today.