FEATURE… Hard job, low income: Agony of Nigerian commercial drivers
Amid increase in fuel price over the years, coupled with bad roads and insecurity in Nigeria, many commercial drivers have pushed on, counting losses and persevered the hardships. ABDULGANIYU ABDULRAHMAN AKANBI reports from Sokoto.
It was 10am on a cloudy Sunday in February, in Baba Tashar, the largest park in Sokoto, North West Nigeria. Clad in cardigans to suppress the biting cold, local drivers stood in their numbers waiting desperately for passengers.
“Lagos or Ibadan,” some drivers beckoned anyone they saw passing. “Asaba, Abuja, Kaduna,” others interjected. The park was scanty of passengers as many buses were empty.
Bashar Muhammad was seated in a 16-seater Toyota bus. He looked weary as though he was hungry. Though he was young in age, he has many years experiences in driving. At 27, he now shuttles Sokoto, Asaba, Enugu and Port Harcourt.
When he started driving, Bashar was very optimistic that his job would cater for him and his family needs. He couldn’t envisage he would encounter hunger which lasted three days without having something to cook in his house. At the start, he could make excess gain if he carried passengers from one destination to another.
“When I started the job, the price of petrol was very affordable and I got a lot of gain in return after a trip. By then as a driver, if you buy petrol and go out for your driving job, you would come back home with a gain of more than N100,000. I used to get double of what I’m getting now,” Bashar said, his voice full of dissatisfaction.
But this narrative changed for Bashar when the price of fuel kept increasing. With this increases, his gains reduced and his trips have not been frequent as it used to be due to low patronage of passengers in the park, caused by the increase in transport fare.
“Like now, we rarely get passengers. And if you load passengers, even money to buy food is hard to get. And if you don’t come back home with money, you will get in trouble with your family,” an exhausted Bashar added while reacting to his current situation.
Bashar’s situation conforms with the plight of many commercial drivers in Nigeria who engage in driving jobs from one destination to another.
Hard job with low income
Drivers interviewed by this reporter said their work did not justify their gains. They said they engaged in a very hard and risky job but got minimal income in return due to the high cost of petrol. They also revealed that they embarked on onerous travels sometimes at the expense of their lives to fend for themselves and their families.
Mallam Jabir, 30, is also a commercial driver plying the southern and eastern parts of the country, from Sokoto. He said at the start of his driving career, he could save huge amounts of money due to the gain he made from his daily trips.
According to him, driving from one place to another in Nigeria now is risky as security of live is not guaranteed.
“A major problem we drivers used to encounter on the road is the case of robbery and kidnapping. Robbery operations are very rampant to the extent that we hardly go for a trip successfully without being robbed. In fact, on my last trip, I encountered a robbery operation,” he said before taking a pause.
After a few minutes, he continued, “Everyday, they kidnap our members. After kidnapping, they would demand a huge amount of money like N100m when we don’t even earn up to N100,000 as drivers,” he added.
Like Jabir, Mallam Muhammad is faced with a lot of security challenges in the commercial driving job. Despite the high price of petrol which he said they mostly bear because they don’t have any alternative, continuous attacks have been a great concern for him.
“What’s also bothering us much is this issue of insecurity. Once it is evening, we drivers refuse to continue our journey because of insecurity because if we continue, we would risk our lives. By this, we operate at a loss, because we waste many hours which could have been used to reach our destination.
“Even though this is the only source of living we have, many of us have refused to go on long journeys while others have avoided some parts of the country due to insecurity,” Muhammad declared.
Recalling his plight, another driver, Alhaji Abdullahi, 50, said insecurity had prevented the drivers from embarking on some journeys and posed a threat to their lives.
He said, “As I’m speaking with you now, one of us is currently at the den of the kidnappers who are demanding a huge amount of money. We are now contributing little we can so that we can rescue him.
“Both the drivers and passengers are now afraid of travelling by road as a result of the high rate of kidnapping and armed robbery on our road. Due to this problem, some drivers have stopped travelling though they have no option and now they depend on the little income they get from short trips.
“Yet, after risking our lives, we only get a low income at the end of the day,” Abdullahi said in a sober voice.
Nigeria’s Grim Poverty
While commercial drivers in Nigeria work harder to meet up their individual responsibilities, the outcome of their labour is very meager. As such, these drivers’ inability to fulfill their obligations is not unconnected to the worsening poverty in the country.
The World Bank Commission on Global Poverty defined extreme poverty as those living below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day. The international poverty line is the universal standard for measuring global poverty that helps measure the number of people living in extreme poverty while comparing poverty levels between countries.
As of 2022, 91 million Nigerians live below the poverty line, a report by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) at the launching of the Macro-Economic Outlook of the Group in Abuja, revealed.
An analysis of a report by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) showed that about 27.4 million Nigerians earn less than N100,000 yearly.
Nigerians who spend less than ₦377 daily (or about ₦138,000 yearly) are considered poor, according to the NBS.
This report substantiated the claims of many drivers who struggle very hard to make ends meet but at the end of the day still fall in the range of poverty.
High cost of Fuel, Low Turnout of Passengers
Drivers would not have been so concerned about the high cost of fuel, if the number of passengers and gain they make justifies what they spend. But the reverse is the case. Low turnout of passengers has been a source of worry ever since the fuel price kept increasing, the drivers interviewed by this reporter noted.
While recounting his plight, Bashar noted that he had been unable to go for trips as he used to. He also said he considered passengers’ complaints over fare increases so as to sustain his means of livelihood.
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“The rise in fuel prices has seriously affected us. Due to this increase, the price of the bus also increased. But many passengers complain that they couldn’t afford it. Since I have no work other than this to cater to my family, I’m left with the only option of reducing the transport fare at my own expense,” he said, pointing at his fellow drivers sitting in anticipation of passengers.
He added, “Before, I do convey people from Sokoto to Asaba for N4,000 but now it is N9,000. A few years back when the price of petrol was normal and had not been increased, you would see a lot of passengers anytime you come here. But now, as you can see, we are just sitting down and we only record low passengers.”
With a similar experience as Bashar, Muhammad explained how he lost thousands of naira whenever he reduced transport fares as a result of complaints over high fares.
“Since the price of petrol keeps increasing, most of the passengers complain that they can’t pay the amount we charge and we don’t have any option but to reduce the transport cost even if it affects our gain. By this, I have lost thousands of naira that is supposed to be my gain,” Muhammad recounted.
In five years, transport costs increase by 283 percent- NBS
An analysis of data from the Transport Fare Watch of the National Bureau of Statistics shows that the cost of intra-city busy transportation has increased by 283 percent or N384 in five years. Meanwhile, the average cost of bus transportation within Nigerian cities skyrocketed from N122.83 in January 2017 to N470.83 in December 2021, reports said.
The report said in 2017, Abuja witnessed the highest within-cities bus transportation cost at N290.55, while Borno had the lowest at the rate of N50.
However in 2021, Zamfara had the highest intra-city bus transport cost at N700.22 while Abia recorded the lowest at N294.44, the data reveals.
The data further shows that the lowest cost of bus transportation within Nigerian cities is 2.4 times higher than the average cost in 2017, while showing that the average cost of bus transportation from one city to another increased from N1,430.63 in January 2017 to N2,784.92 in December 2021.
Meanwhile, as the cost of bus transportation encountered a higher increase, the average price of petrol increased by only 11.48 percent within the period under review. Though the average price paid by passengers for premium motor spirit rose from N148.7 in January 2017 to N166.77 in December 2021, the data shows.
More Tales of Hardship
While gains from driving should have fully taken care of his responsibilities as he thought, Bashar said he had passed through hard times due to low income.
“There were even some periods when things got hard that I borrowed from fellow drivers to take care of my families. Also, there was a time my car was faulty for a month and I didn’t have money to repair it.”
(Another pic of Jabir)
On his own part, Jabir said due to the current situation in respect of fuel and low income, he no longer had savings as family responsibilities were too much to bear for him.
“Before, a trip’s gain was very reasonable and from that, we saved money after catering for our family. But now there is a high cost of petrol and that’s why we are unable to save money anymore,” Jabir narrated.
Muhammad, on his part, mentioned that his responsibility as a father and breadwinner of the family was no longer as effective as it was due to rise in fuel price and low income.
“As you see me, I have three wives and 20 children who I must take care of and I don’t have any job other than this. As the situation is now, I don’t perform my responsibilities like before due to hardship,” Muhammad said.
Unlike others, Abdullahi suffers from trouble of peace of mind due to his current situation. He said he works hard but gets little as gains and had no savings after taking care of his family.
“As someone who is doing a job, our desire is to have peace of mind and be free. But now, the peace of mind is not there. If we work, we gain little compared to our efforts. In my house, I feed 36 people together with four wives. Unlike before, what I’m gaining now is not enough to feed my family. I don’t have any savings again,” Abdullahi said.
While seeking government intervention, these drivers pleaded for empowerment, reduction in fuel price, loans and grants, among others and urged the government to combat security challenges bedeviling the country.
Though drivers want a reduction in fuel price in order to enhance their economic strength, this demand cannot be met if fuel subsidy is removed, thereby leading to a further increase in the fuel price.
Bad roads, Death-traps
“You know the profession of driving is a risky one, so accidents often occur because of bad roads. If I recall, I have had accidents twice in my driving job,” Alao Babajide, 44, said while tecalling his encounters in road crashes due to the bad roads.
This awful experience is not peculiar to Babajide. Adewale Sheu has similar experiences. According to him, he has been in the driving job for more than three decades.
Sheu, identified as the chairman of the park, said he couldn’t recall the number of road accidents he had encountered due to deplorable conditions of highways. Among them was when the wheels of his bus went loose on a journey.
“You know we lack good roads in Nigeria. Our government is just siphoning money while they refuse to fix our roads. The deplorable state of our roads causes me more accidents. The last one I had was a ghastly accident when the tire of my bus got loose while I was on speed,” Sheu recalled.
Another driver, Segun Ayoola, said the dilapidated nature of Nigerian roads is nothing to write home about as potholes on the roads cause accidents.
He said, “The holes on the roads are unavoidable. While driving, I was on speed when I eventually entered a deep hole and I sustained an injury.”
41,709 Lives Lost To Road Accident in Eight Years – FRSC
Road accidents, according to the Federal Road Safety Corps, are among the leading causes of deaths in Nigeria.
In 2016, the Word Economic Forum (WEF) noted that road traffic deaths were the eighth leading cause of death for all age groups and the leading cause of death of children and young adults between the ages of 5 and 29.
As obtained from the data published by both the FRSC and the NBS, between 2013 and 2020, at least 41,709 persons have lost their lives to road crashes in Nigeria. According to the data, 2020 saw the highest death toll from road traffic accidents.
An analysis of the data reveals that except for 2014, all other years recorded a minimum of 5,000 deaths annually in the period under review.
Expert Weighs In
Jide Ojo, A public affairs analyst and development expert said that problems facing Nigerian Drivers are not exclusive, but rather general, while also noting that the nation’s economy has been affected a lot.
“The issues facing Nigeria commercial drivers are not peculiar issues. The issues of the economy which affects every Nigerian, particularly micro small and medium enterprises which are actually the bedrock of every economy have been badly affected with a number of factors,” Ojo said.
He also noted that the level of insecurity in the country had practically affected every aspect of the Nigerian economy, including the transport sector.
He maintained that due to the level of insecurity in the country, many Nigerians were now running for their lives for fear of being abducted.
“So, arising from the insecurity of the roads, many passengers are now squeezing themselves to fly if they are going for a long distance journey. By this, a lot of Nigerian commuters have abandoned two hours of traveling by road.”
While speaking further, Ojo stressed that Covid-19, high cost of doing businesses and bad roads are affecting the effective delivery of Nigerian drivers and contributed to their losses.
“Covid-19 has also affected businesses of Nigerian commercial drivers. During the lockdown in 2020, the Federal Government directed that drivers should carry only 50% of their capacity in order to create balanced social distancing. At the time, nobody was allowed to go out or talk of traveling. This alone negatively affected commercial driving.”
“High cost of doing business; what we called high overheads. Arising from the bad economy, we recall that in 2017, Nigeria entered recession and in 2020 we entered another recession. Everything had increased substantially, including the price of fuel,” he said while stressing that the menace of bad roads also accounted for high billing of commuters by the drivers.
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