One of the most interesting places in the world to live is Lagos, Nigeria. It is Nigeria’s commercial capital and as one financial channel on satellite TV would put it: West Africa’s Commercial Hub.
Life in Lagos is no stroll in the park; you have to be born sharp to survive the everyday intricacies of the common man. But we can’t afford to discuss Lagos and not discuss public transportation. Every mega city has its commercial lifeline hinged on the efficiency of public transportation, every city apart from Lagos that is. I cannot really say why but something along the lines of not planning the city properly by various past governments could be blamed.
Thank God for the Bus Rapid Transport, an initiative initiated in the twilight years of Governor Ahmed Bola Tinubu but has risen on the wings of success by Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola. Every time I sit in one I enjoy sanity. Usually I like to take it from the outskirts of the city to Lagos Island and considering the distance, I do two things on the bus: relax and imagine. The relative silence allows me to do that. At least no one is preaching a half-truth gospel, or selling a drug that does everything from curing a headache to identifying your HIV status. Most thankfully, no elderly salesman is selling a quick action sexual performance enhancing mixture with tales of his own sex life, how he is fast becoming an outstanding athlete in bedmatics with a tired wife and a growing battalion of children as his medal of honour. The silence is supposedly golden until you sit with a fellow with poor telephone matters or a loud discussion is going on among some passengers.
The secret behind the success of the BRT is a completely franchised system from ticketing to employment of Bus drivers.Private enterprises run different routes, properly supervised by the government, call it a private-public partnership and you won’t be wrong.
The story of public transportation is incomplete without the ‘danfo’, those precious buses coated in yellow with a touch of black along the body symmetry. They’ve surely outlived the ‘molue’ the symbol of public transportation in Lagos in the not too distant past, but which has become very rare these days. A ‘danfo’ bus ride is anything but pleasurable, as many danfos are old with worn out engines and terrible upholstery. A vast majority of ‘danfo’ drivers and conductors have an attitude that presents a case study in terrible customer service leaving many commuters more tired and offended than before they boarded.
Today I boarded a danfo from Surulere to Ikeja, two popular suburbs in Lagos, midway into the journey the driver (who was without a conductor) began driving crazily, engaging many of us passengers in a curse-match when we cautioned him. The journey was darted with brief stints of insanity and mischief here and there including stopping to fill his radiator with water.
“If you dey run, you no go drink water? If you go drink, motor sef go drink when ’im run finish.” He said justifying his latest stint of insanity.
Commuters like me have given up when it comes to the issue of Danfo buses, but the disparity between danfos and BRTs goes beyond a mere difference in service delivery or types of vehicles, it shows the difference in mentality and attitude between public and private enterprise in the Nigerian society.
In Nigeria, the word Public before anything automatically qualifies it for mediocrity, and poor treatment without a second thought. Just visit a public toilet, public school or board a public bus, you wouldn’t be shocked by how poorly maintained the facility or vehicle is. The same is the reason why many Federal and State Ministries around Nigeria are mediocre in terms of organisation, service delivery and strategic Management. Many Civil Servant arrive the office late, chit-chat away the day, deliver little and can’t stand a minute longer once it’s closing time. Who can blame them when their bosses are not any different and office equipment in many governmental organisations are out dated or non-existent altogether. We all don’t care: “This is government work, after all how much are they paying me sef?” the average civil-servant would say.
I was told by a friend of mine who was posted to a state in North-Central Nigeria to serve in a Local Government Secretariat during his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme that the staffs in the secretariat do not show up at work at all until payday. On payday they come, form a long line, collect their pay and bid each other farewell until another payday.
For a little over a decade, my parents lived in a rented apartment in Bariga, Lagos. It was in that apartment, I was born and raised until we moved, when I was nine years old. In the compound, was a public toilet that served a barbing saloon, a rental shop, and a store located in front of the house. I do remember my mother always quarrelling with the barber for using the toilet without taking care of it. Not that it was her business after all we had our own toilet in the flat, but the stench sometimes could be smelt in our rooms. It was often a terrible scenario of ‘the evil that men do, lives after them’. The barber was just doing what the typical Nigerian does with anything public: do your bit, take care of yourself and get out without a second thought about taking proper care of the place for the next person.
Nigerians often forget that those in government are not aliens who invaded the nation, they are products of the society, it only follows that the average Nigerian attitude is carried into governance.
Officials elected and appointed do in public office, what Nigerians do in public toilet: get in, relive yourself, wipe your butt clean and get out. The problem with our nation is not limited to those in government, it’s a collective problem of the Nigerian society in the context of attitude and societal values and no election whatsoever can change it. It’s up to a national transformation sparked by Nigerians one by one.
This is not to say that private enterprises are perfect. There are many private companies that are landmarks of corporate corruption but a limit is placed because of the compelling vision and desire not to be swept away by the competition. Corporate governance, strategic plans and industry rules well adhered to, make private enterprises what they are and the Nigerian people as staff and customers comply well. You don’t walk into a banking hall and see a teller attempting to sell puff-puff and Fanta to a manager behind a desk reading a newspaper with legs on the table. Customers are not seen crowding the teller demanding money without a line, discipline and order is glaring.
Is the solution to Nigeria’s national dilemma to privatise everything? Yes, is the answer it seems but we are quick to forget that not everything can be privatised! Can we privatise the Nigerian Police Force? I wish we could. Can the Nigerian Armed Forces be privatised? It is obvious that The Office of Governor of a certain state or The Presidency cannot be outsourced. Privatisation while commendable and an important factor in National Development is not a total solution.
If this flaw in our thinking and attitude is going to be corrected, it’s going to take collective effort. Every individual is going to have to accept that Nigeria belongs to all of us. And anything public is something belonging to all of us and must be treated responsibly, efficiently, diligently and excellently from public toilet to public office. This is the new Nigeria, we seek and no amount of occupying would take us there if we don’t decide as individuals that it is up to all of us, one by one to begin this change in thought and attitude.
When all is said and done, it’s all a tale of two buses, plying the same road transporting commuters from one destination to another but we know which bus wins with commuters every time.