“In the end, the moral strength of any community will be measured by how we have treated our most vulnerable citizens, not by how we ourselves have fared…”
“Baboon wey no work to plant banana, go still chop free banana…” -‘Shioze
It is amazing how many things we assume and end up believing ought to be true without first stopping to probe for sure. In the country where we live in, Nigeria to be precise, it is not enough pride saying I live in the city of commercial wealth, precisely Lagos, without showing that you actually do have a job, a place to live in, enough cash in your pocket, and maybe a car to drive you round and about.
To say that you live in Lagos with a smile dashing about your teeth will mean to every other person that you have the means of survival and the strength of a hustler. It is painstakingly sad that about half of the population of the inhabitants of Lagos are hustling not for themselves but for others in privileged positions. This is the situation where you have small gods amongst gods…if you understand what I mean.
Now, my small rant all boils down to the amazing relationship between keke drivers and the small gods that they serve daily. These small gods prefer to be termed ‘Agbero/Omo-nile/touts/Area-boys’. I am sure you have most-times heard of them.
So I was going out one sunny afternoon and I jumped on the next free keke I found. As usual, we got towards Ajah market and one small man moved to the keke, pulled up a blue marker, proceeded to scribble some rubbish in front of the keke’s windscreen and said bluntly,
I looked at the hungry looking man and wondered what the money he was collecting was for. As usual, I assumed it was keke road levy to which the keke driver pulled out a #200 note, without complaint and handed the guy, who walked away peacefully.
Just a few drive ahead and another unscrupulous old man walked up to our keke, pulled out a red marker this time and scribbled some funny rubbish on the keke windscreen and looked at the keke driver smiling without a word. The keke driver, of course smiled back, and handed him a #100 note, still without complaint.
I again, assumed it was some sort of road levy for keke since it looked like a mutual consent of giving and receiving. We had not driven too far off as the keke criss-crossed towards the parking lane, when the same keke was accosted by two different funny looking Agbero’s shouting,
“Ahn ahn…kilode? Owo e da? Ma fun mi #1000 oo, mi o ni shangii [change] oo”
“Owo kini?” the keke driver requested “Mo ti fun baba agbalagba olowo naa”
“Ma so rubbish oo, owo e da jare?”
The keke driver fumbled some words of cuss and complaint of how he had paid before and how they gave him one paper. The other dirty looking man replied saying he did not pay them, put his hands on the tricycle’s key proceeding to remove it before the keke driver opened his slosh-money hole handing them #1000 note saying,
“Mi o ni change oo, e fun mi ni change e joor.”
The ugly funny men fumbled between themselves and handed the keke driver some scrappy dirty notes consisting of #500, #200 and a #100 and walked to the next keke. At this point, I felt obliged to ask the throbbing question…
“Oga, why you dey give all of them money like that? Na by force to pay?”
“Madam, na so we dey see am everyday oo. If you no pay them, na wahala be that oo”
“Ahn ahn, which kain yeye wahala?” I continued probing “If person no pay, them go beat am or collect him keke?”
“No, but they go worry you taya and they no go let you carry passenger. They fit even cease your key join.”
I looked at him in amazement as I listened. The elderly man seated beside me spoke up
“So somebody will work tirelessly only to give out his profits to some jobless set of people. There is nothing we won’t see in Nigeria. I mean, I can just go and buy marker and join the jobless wagon, abi no be so?”
He finished, looking outside in a bid to come down from the keke and trek the remaining distance.
I looked at the keke man and asked again
“So how much do you pay in total?”
“Ha, e plenty oo. We dey pay #2,400 everyday.”
“Ehn? #2,400 everyday? For what now?” I asked angrily as the other woman hissed and said “Oloriburuku ni omo rada rada, #2,400 se kini?”
“Una no go understand at all. Na so we dey see am. You no dey see say keke no dey gree come Ajah? The money wey we dey pay too much. I f we increas price, una go shout…wetin we wan do now?”
I could not possibly understand why each keke that passed Ajah market had to pay #2,400 to the rubbish set of touts who just drink, smoke and eat dried fish all day and maybe buy a blue/red marker every week. I mean, these keke drivers have a family to fend for, some even have kids, some have to pay school fees, they still need to buy fuel everyday, they still need to remit money of weekly earnings to their boss who owns the keke [they may be lucky if they own it themselves] but then they also have to provide money for monthly checks and maintenance plus they have to feed themselves and pay rent and so many other thing that money demands.
So how does a cut of #2,400 out of the little money of about #5,700 to #6,400 they make daily help their situation? I questioned further [thanks to the traffic jam, I was able to stall] on how come the money they paid the touts amounted to #2,400 every day and the keke man gladly explained.
He told me that in the morning, they pay a total of #700 to some set of touts who claim that the land they keep passing is their father’s land. So when they come to Ajah as early as 5.00am-7.30am to drop the early risers in a bid to avoid the morning Lagos traffic, they have to settle 3 sets of touts by paying #100, #200 and #200 respectively; then they give the policemen standing on patrol #200.
I gasped! So policemen were also involved in the free-money-collection game and these touts already come out by 5.00am? Amazing!.
Then in the afternoon, they pay a fee of #900 to another set of touts who come out only in the afternoons. The #900 they pay in batches as well and if they are unlucky to drive by again and see a strange face that they did not see earlier when they had paid, they have to pay another #100 or #200 depending on the tout’s demand. If they refuse, the tout will also refuse them to drive away or just yank away something vital from the keke, thereby leading to extra costs. What do you have left to do asides from being ‘penny wise, pound foolish’?
In the evenings, they then pay #800 and this includes policemen levy as well.
I could vividly remember one evening when I was in a keke and there was this hold-up, only to discover later when we got forward that a certain baba was accosting keke drivers and holding them to ransom if they did not pay the compulsory #200. This certain baba was collecting the said money for the policemen on patrol.
How did I know this?
When the keke I was in had successfully passed the baba [after payment of course], we were stopped again by the policemen just ahead. I had thought it was some sort of regulatory control for traffic, only for one of the policemen to shout across to the baba saying’
“Baba Ado, shey oti gba owo’ eleyi?”
“Ehn, mo ti gba awon keke. E je ko lo.”
Eh! I did not just believe my ears. The police too? Just beautiful! The lady and the man seated with me just kept on complaining about the police and their continuous form of corruption and the keke man laughed. In his mind, hustle must still continue, no giving up.
We keep saying we need change, but how does that happen if we all don’t join together to create this change? I realize that everyone has his or her own struggle and only when you wear the shoe, do you realize how much it has been hurting the next person before you.
It’s not enough to complain and assume, it is for us to ask ourselves, if I were in the position of the keke driver, what would I do different than hike prices?
If I were the touts, what would I do different to stop keke bullying?
If i were the policeman on patrol, what would I do different for the keke drivers and the way-laying jobless touts?
If we succeed in answering these questions truthfully, we may realize just how far we are not from being different.
What are your thoughts? Please kindly use the comment section down below, it will be very much appreciated.