The Lagos Taxi Driver Mentality: A Metaphor for Decline, By Simbo Olorunfemi
The Lagos taxi driver mentality finds expression in the poor quality customer service from both private and public service providers, who carry on like they are doing the consumer a favour. It finds expression in the lackadaisical attitude in government, at the different levels, operating with analogue mind-sets in the age of artificial intelligence.
“Iṣẹ̀ Kékeré, Owó ńlá” – Yoruba aphorism
I was at Ikeja City Mall in Lagos the other week. Done with my meeting, I had to get a cab home. Phone was down, and I couldn’t hail Uber. At the insistence of my friend, we had to approach the car-hire guys at the mall for a ride. As one would expect with them, they were insistent on pricing themselves out of sense. We had to settle for one eventually. My friend, who was paying, didn’t have the kind of patience one has to exercise, when caught in such situations.
On my way home, I engaged the driver in a conversation. How could he and his colleagues be this adamant about a non-competitive pricing model in the face of stiff competition and the erosion of their clientele-base by Uber and Taxify? In response, he launched into songs of lamentation on behalf of Uber drivers. He told me how the Uber arrangement was not worth it for the drivers. His argument was that it only benefited the riders and not the drivers. He went on about how it simply does not make sense making multiple trips, bla, bla, bla. Bottom-line, this oga is of the school of Iṣẹ̀ Kékeré, Owó ńlá. He would rather wait for that one mega-trip than embark on regular multiple trips, as the Uber model suggests.
Easily, one forgets that the Lagos taxi business model has not always been the way we have come to know it, for some time. Once, in this city, we had the taxi drivers operate the ride-sharing model, as operational outside Lagos. The Lagos model might not have exactly been like the Ibadan or Abuja models, as we have it, but passengers were able to share a ride. That was then. Lagos taxi drivers soon started flying empty around town, looking for the select few, not necessarily there, to pick up. As it seemed only ‘senior girls’ could afford them, hence Lagosians christened them ‘Ọkọ-Asẹ́wó’.
Then, Lagos taxi drivers took to setting up their parks all over town. Highly territorial, a colleague driving past dare not stop to pick a passenger around these parks, otherwise a war would ensue. A customer approaches them for service, only to get an earful. The drivers now have their comfort-zones. They are ever too busy gisting or sometimes, playing Ludo, that coming in to ask for their service can be almost irritating for some of them. They pass you from one person to the other. They paint a gloomy picture of your destination, lining up a million justifications for some outrageous charge. Those ones at the Airport deserve a gold medal in luxury marketing, with a service priced higher, not necessarily because it is of better quality but because a higher price is assumed to equate with quality. They are professors in the school of Iṣẹ̀ Kékeré, Owó ńlá. It is a simple model really – one passenger pays for the hours of idling and gisting.
Here comes Uber and the taxi drivers are up in arms. I hear the ones at the Airport often take it out, now, on the poor Uber drivers. They think the problem is with someone else. They do not see that there might just be a need to re-jig a model built around spending hours idling away, with the park decorated with their favourite car – the one they named ‘big-for-nothing’. It just has to be someone else’s fault. The same way molue drivers took it out on LSTC buses, back in the day, thrashing some of, for hitting into their market, in the mistaken belief that mass transit transportation in Lagos will always revolve around them. Where are the molues today?
A social media version of this article resonated with many, who shared their experiences. Kay Lord recalls his experience last year, after dropping his car for repairs at Ikeja, Lagos and needed to get back to the office.
“I walked down in front of the Shrine again to call another Uber but I discovered my phone was flat dead. O gosh! I moved to the taxi park right there to take a taxi to my office on Toyin Street. I realised none of the taxi drivers were ready to take me to Toyin Street for less than N1,500. What?
For goodness sake, I just took an air conditioned, neat car with a courteous driver to and from Maryland at N950 for each trip making N1,900. Here is a dilapidated and rickety taxi and the driver telling me it’s N1,500 or he’s not going. I then asked, you don’t have an air conditioner? Then, another driver responded, oga my car has an AC but it would be N2,000 to Toyin street. At that point, I was livid and I decided to hop into the one which asked for N1,500.
In the face of massive disruption in the transportation sector, which is even global in nature, with the taxi system feeling the heat, the Lagos taxi driver’s approach is to supplicate before Ogun, the god of iron, for a solution. Someone says most of the car parts, these days, are made from aluminium, plastic and composite materials!.. They might as well start talking to the god of plastic!
On our way, this conversation ensued:
Me: Why do you people charge like this? I just took Uber to and from Maryland, it cost me N1,900 but here you are taking me to Toyin which is nearer and you charged me N1,500 in this ugly car of yours with springs piercing my bumbum.
Driver: Uber met us here and they would soon leave and we would still remain here
Me: Is that how to run a business? Why not try and be competitive in order to make sure they don’t take your customers away from you.
Driver: Oga, leave matter. I said, they met us here and they would soon fizzle out and we would still be here…
Me: Wait, I have seen your car parked on the same spot since morning and right in front of you there, I have patronised 2 Uber cars today with better services and at cheaper rate. They are making a good quick turn over per hour, while you stay in one spot saying they would soon fizzle out?
Driver: ‘Ogun lakaye’ (Yoruba god of thunder associated with anything made from metal) will soon get rid of them. Ise ogun la’nse, O de ma gbeja awon to fe gba onje lenu wa (We are working for Ogun and he would fight our battle from those who want to run us out of business).
Me: Oga driver, I am stopping here. Here is your money. (I got down in front of my office thinking, why in the world did you enter into conversation with this man).
Driver: Oga, eyin e mo wo o, won o to lo funwa…ase wa Ni t’ireke ( Oga, you just watch, they would soon leave the market for us).
I was totally dumbfounded.”
In the face of massive disruption in the transportation sector, which is even global in nature, with the taxi system feeling the heat, the Lagos taxi driver’s approach is to supplicate before Ogun, the god of iron, for a solution. Someone says most of the car parts, these days, are made from aluminium, plastic and composite materials! Who knows, though? They might as well start talking to the god of plastic!
Lagos taxi drivers, especially the yellow ones, have refused to re-invent themselves, insisting on an out-dated model, not realising there has been a disruption on how the business is done. The Fashola reforms were largely resisted, with the Fashola cabs reminding one of what might have been the first leg in a chain of reforms. The same ride-sharing model ditched by the Lagos taxi driver is what is catching up in parts of the world today. I know one or two Nigerians have also developed apps built around pushing the ride-sharing model. Abuja Airport drivers were smart enough to bring that model on-board, with two passengers sharing one car. But even at Abuja airport, the fear of Uber is the beginning of wisdom now.
We must be like the good Uber driver, ready to take a chance on every ride, looking out for the opportunity on offer. Disruption is all around us. It redefines how we do what, where and when we do what. It comes with a baggage, but it opens for us a million opportunities, if we will see and seize them.
It is a mind-set. One that has been (can be) applied to other sectors and how we see life and work. It is a philosophy and way of life. The Uber mentality is about using what you have to get by. It is about incremental income-generation, not hitting the jackpot on account of one ride, then going over to the next Mama-put joint to order ẹsẹ̀ bàbá’n Kánò, pọ̀nmọ́ and bọ̀kọ̀tọ́ọ̀ soon after. It is about delayed gratification. It is about thinking outside the box – for everyone involved in the value-chain. Some of the drivers use the opportunity offered to sell other services they render to potential clients, who they otherwise might not have met, who they now have as captive audience. I have met quite a number who render all sorts of professional services, riding Uber, while they wait for other opportunities to click. Uber is about getting busy while waiting for that next call or that big job.
Of course, the Lagos taxi driver mentality is not peculiar to only Lagos taxi drivers. It is a mentality that is resident in many of us. We despise the little, but regular, while waiting for the mega that might never come. We are there in our comfort zones, waiting, idling in comfort, while waiting. We are too big to get our hands dirty. Not for us is the thought of volunteering and internship, which, as I have repeatedly canvassed, government needs to institutionalise, borrowing from the German-Igbo trader models.
The Lagos taxi driver mentality finds expression in the poor quality customer service from both private and public service providers, who carry on like they are doing the consumer a favour. It finds expression in the lackadaisical attitude in government, at the different levels, operating with analogue mind-sets in the age of artificial intelligence. It is there in what I had once labelled the ‘Ise-Ijoba’ syndrome, which as Professor Agbakoba put it, makes us see the idea of public service, in the manner configured, as alien to us, as ‘ise-ijoba’ was assumed to mean ‘white-man’s work’. That faulty foundation and understanding gave birth, even then, not only to corruption but it has birthed a culture of detachment and aloofness from the responsibility and essence of public service by the public servants. That has transformed, with time, into full-blown lethargy, inefficiency, corruption and the anti-people posture that have made our public institutions ineffectual today.
Yet, the world has moved in a completely different direction, while we grapple with the basics. We must realise that work is no longer necessarily a place that we go to. It is the gift that we have, what we are all about, what we do wherever we are, with whatever we have, whenever, in providing solutions to the myriad of challenges we are buffeted with, from all sides. We must remember that we are our own solutions and that our solutions are there, embedded in our challenges.
We cannot keep flying around, empty, like the yellow taxi driver, quick to take the frustration out on others on the road. We cannot sit still in our comfort zones, playing Ludo, turning down opportunities. We must be like the good Uber driver, ready to take a chance on every ride, looking out for the opportunity on offer. Disruption is all around us. It redefines how we do what, where and when we do what. It comes with a baggage, but it opens for us a million opportunities, if we will see and seize them. We can hardly ride the new wave with the outdated Lagos taxi driver model.