Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

14 Jun Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

Waiting for a Ride

The glory or gory days of araba are over. The days of heady driving are gone without a trace. The mini-bus driver and his conductor have been forced into retirement, sent back permanently to wherever it was they emerged daily. From their anarchic tendencies, I expected that they would try to flout the policy banning their operation in the city centre, sneaking into town with their rickety green buses, meandering in traffic, trying to avoid police or road safety officers, and then comply after a few impounded vehicles. But no, they did not resist. They took their fate and left, leaving behind thousands of passengers.

The streets are full of commuters, people stranded at bus stops waiting for the new high-capacity buses that rarely come along. The life of the common man, the wretched of Abuja, is on full display in the evenings on the sidewalk of the stretch of Herbert Macaulay way between Zone 5 and Zone 6. They are of mixed backgrounds. There are workers trudging along, hoping to catch a bus back home across the several kilometres that they had come in the morning, workers who in a different city might have had a chance at a more decent lifestyle. There are the wait-and-take passport photographers. There are the second-hand clothes sellers, the booksellers, and the sellers of sundry goods. There are the pure-water hawkers and the gala and soft drinks hawkers. It is raining season so the maize sellers with their mound of wrapped goods make regular appearances. And there are the environmental taskforce officers out to give them all a hard time. This is Wuse, not Oshodi.

The new transport policy has succeeded in reducing the number of vehicles on the road, but it has also succeeded in multiplying the number of persons on the streets per time. The overcrowding detracts from the beauty of the city.

With the exit of araba, it is reasoned that crime rates will surge, else, how will these ex-conductors survive? There are suspicions that they are among us already, lurking in the streets; pickpockets waiting to slit your bag. But they are not the only threat to the stranded commuter who has to wait over an hour to get a ride. A lingering man becomes the preacher’s congregation. Armed with a megaphone, he, the preacher, talks of the way to heaven to people who cannot find their way home.

When a high-capacity bus eventually arrives, there is a dash for it, except it is shuttling within the city centre. At its entrance there is shoving. Only the strong make it in. However, chivalry is not entirely lost in the stampede. A young man having beaten a lady to secure a seat relinquishes his space immediately on realising that his contender had been a woman with a baby strapped on her back. These buses are spacious and cosy, almost worth the fight, but they move at an unhurried pace. A journey of twenty minutes takes an hour.

The cab is often the saviour, whether it is the private car owner turned occasional cab driver or a professional cab driver. Though he realises more profit from hiked fares, this driver is not jubilant over his new fortune and relevance. He is in fact paranoid. The authorities, he is certain, will extend this policy to them soon.

‘Why would they ban you?’ I ask. ‘What have you done?’

‘Wetin araba do them?’

Next he points to a horde of passersby and accuses them of complaisance. ‘This is the problem with Nigeria,’ he says. ‘We accept anything government says. We don’t protest.’

No passenger joins in to criticise the government. We are too tired to be angry.