It was my first BRT ride. I had always wanted to just hop on a BRT bus and ride, with no particular destination in mind. Just ride from A to B, and back to A. I got on at the National Stadium bus stop in Surulere, envisaged on my round trip – Lere – CMS – TBS – Lere. If you need to see the whole of Lagos, hassle-free, the BRT offers the best options. For an extra fee, I am told, you get the double-deckers, with their sawn-off tops – still on their shocking London red! Funny how we only get to see them at the Fanti carnival? I took a seat near the back of the bus, on the driver’s side, intent on watching on avidly as we flew by traffic, couched comfortably (well, it was better than being packed like sardines in a danfo bus, or better still, a far cry from Fela’s “44 sitting 99 standing!”). The BRT remains the only option that has defied the demons of Lagos traffic norms. Oh! Lagos has tried everything – movement restrictions, odd and even codes, brutal militarized enforcement, park and rites, and anything else that did not work.
When the Fashola administration first envisaged the BRT system, I recall being one of those who initially resisted the idea. I had done my research then and observed how rapid mass transit schemes had operated elsewhere around the world. In Europe, South America, the United States, India, etc. I agreed it was the next best option to solving the traffic situation (obviously, the best would be to get masses of commuters off the streets entirely – only by an effective rail network!). My grouse, with the Lagos version, then under construction, was based on the method of approach. I was concerned particularly about the huge boulders placed on the expressways to demarcate the bus lanes. I was bothered about how many accidents and possible deaths we would have to endure on the highways, before we finally get accustomed to the permanence of these ‘alien’ structures? Do we have statistics of how many lives were lost to those concrete dividers? Did we give a thought to the families of the lost ones? It seems the worst is over now, and, in hindsight perhaps, some sacrifices had to be made to appease the gods of the land. I shake myself back into the present. A bunch of rowdy school kids had boarded the bus at CMS. Their unforms had obviously once been white (sometimes I wonder why the advertising regulators permit the detergent products to continue to deceive the average Nigerian mums with their “superwash”, “dirt-resistance” “whiter whites” baloney. While materials can only remain white for so long, especially when worn by a Nigerian student. End of story! No amount of “super-strength detergent” would change these “once white’’ greys and browns that surrounded me on the bus).
The kids had an interesting argument going on. “Mikel was man of the match, jor. Me I never see am play like dat before”.
“Which Mikel? You no see Drogba? Once ball touch Drogba head, na goal be dat. Nobody fit play like Drogba.
“Even dat penalty…”
A beg, lef am, na Ikpeba brother…” I couldn’t help but join in the laughter. The entire bus joined in. It was raucous fun. It seemed everyone on the bus had watched the Champions League Final. A passenger somewhere upfront’s voice rose above the din. He had on an AIG branded top…ehm…the now quieter side of Manchester, since…the ‘noisy neighbours’ had just won the league, remember?
“Dem say Drogba charter plane go Yamassoukro two days before the match”.
“See beef! Bad belle! Wetin him go do, nah?”
“How you tink say Robin take miss dat penalty?”
The entire bus was in uproar. As the divergence of views began to expose the different camps, my mind sought escape again. As we meandered by Onikan Stadium, I remembered the days when the vibrant Lagos League was still on, when the Flaming Flamingoes (Stationary Stores, or Adebajo Babes, or Super Stores, or simply just ‘Super!’) reigned supreme. Once upon a time, Nigerian football buffs supported clubs like Stores, WNDC (later IICC), Shooting Stars (or Sootin), Rangers, Iwuanyanwu, Abiola Babes, Mighty Jets, etc. The only relationship most of them back then had with English football was based on pools betting. (I must confess, I dabbled a bit into that myself, and was so good at producing draws and safe bankers that I actually had a following of friends who hung around me on Friday night!)
I remembered once watching a much at the King George the Fifth (oh! Sorry! I meant Onikan), I think it was Stores versus Iwuanyanwu. The referee seemed so biased in favour of the visiting team that as soon as he blew the final whistle, he immediately took a dash towards the exit. The fans had obviously suspected he would attempt such. A chase began. I think he was caught under the turnstiles. That was then. Those were the good old days. Now our local football is dead. How do we revive it? How do we revive Nigeria? Nuff said! I never knew I had been lost in my thoughts for so long. The bus was quieter – seemed most of the uniforms had gotten off. The United supporter must’ve also hopped off. The stadium bus stop was in sight. Time for me to get off. I’d recommend a BRT ride to you, if you need to get around the city in a jiffy, or if you need to clear your head a bit while you watch Lagos fly by. But watch that driver! I am told most of the BRT drivers were former ‘molue’ and ‘danfo’ bus drivers, so the tendency is to often go back into former recall.
I once had a nasty encounter with such a BRT driver, who had swerved directly into my lane and cut me off completely. He would’ve rammed into me and cause serious havoc, if I hadn’t been alert to the possibility of his action. Intent on further inflicting injury to my person, he was rude and unapologetic when I drove up to him sideways, complaining about his rough driving. He railed the most horrible expletives and abuse I had ever heard at me. He was appalling. I promised him a day like this would come. These are his bus numbers, to whomever it may concern. 188/XW376GGE. The day was March 23, 2012. Time: 8:15am.
God’s guidance, always.
This piece was first published in YES INTERNATIONAL! of June 26, 2012