‘Some Car Owners Are Heartless’ – Abuja Taxi Drivers Talk About Pains Of Business

Since creation in 1976, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city has struggled with evolving a sustainable transportation system that would enhance commerce within the city and with its fringes.

As a way to resolve this challenge, in 2003 the Federal Capital Development Authority of the FCT initiated a review of the Abuja master plan. The intention was to revise the original master plan where necessary to better suit society’s needs so that development could continue in an orderly and sustainable manner.

One of the component of this review was  the study of the public transportation systems with a view to providing fast, affordable and direct public transportation for the FCT.

Unfortunately, the city has continued to grapple with challenges of modern transportation leading to the emergence of various public and private intervention efforts.

One of such efforts is the Bolt and Uber Taxi services that provides online platforms where riders request taxi services. In this report, Kingsley Benneth examines what life as a taxi driver in Abuja means.

“Please I need a car for Uber. I’m a good driver and I really need to get myself engaged in some form of income stuff.”

This was Kayode (not real name). He lost his job in 2018 as a result of the 2015 national economic nose dive that saw many companies shutdown and Nigeria’s economy once reputed to be the fastest growing in Africa falling to an estimated 3.2% in 2015, the lowest rate since 1999.

Kayode worked with a media company in Abuja (that was before the national economic tsunami) where he earned well over two hundred and fifty thousand naira ($ 656.17) as monthly salary.

Meaning, besides other pecks and benefits, the 37 year old Computer Engineering graduate from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, gets N3,000,000 ($ 7,874.02) as annual salary from his job as a Business Development Strategist.

This guaranteed him a decent living even after paying N 450,000 ($ 1,181.10) rent for his two bedroom bungalow in Karu, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory.

With his fairly decent pay, the six foot, five inch tall, fair complexioned Ogun State born man who likes to live on the edge could explore his fantasies.

He got everything going for him until after that fateful Saturday in 2018 when Ekrute, the company’s Human Resource Manager placed the unexpected life altering call across.

He recalls “Hi Kayode,” Ekrute’s voice oozed from the receiver end of his Samsung’s phone.

“She normally doesn’t call at weekends. In fact I don’t think she ever called me at weekends since I joined the company in 2013. So I was surprised when I saw she was the caller,” he supplied.

It was that ill-fated call that took Kayode down a trajectory of loses, anguish and that saw him grappling at straws in a bid to survive.

Ekrute cut to the chase, he said, as she announced management’s decision to downsize the company workforce. Sadly, he was one of those cherry-picked for sacking.

Six months after his sack, his house was burgled while he was in the village attending to his sick Dad.

Upon his return, his Toyota-Camry-Pencil-Light car which he had been operating taxi services with, was also stolen, leaving him with nothing to make income with.

At this he felt like committing suicide. “My friends, except Dozie, started avoiding me. Even family members despised the mere mention of my name.

I became a pariah. A curse that nobody wanted around.”

It was Dozie who linked him to Alhaji Ado (Ado for short), who would become Kayode’s employer from 2018 to 2021.

He started operating Bolt taxi for Ado. 

Kayode said that by the terms of the contract he remits N 25,000 ($ 65.78947) to his employer every week regardless of whether business was favourable or not.

His words, “my brother, wetin man go do. E no better than to sit down for house. At least you get wetin dey take you commot for house make your wife no insult you put (he asked in street pidgin English)”

He added, “some of these car owners are heartless. You see most drivers like me remit N 25,000 ($ 65.78947); some others remit N 20,000 ($ 52.49), yet there are car owner who understands that the driver should have something worthwhile to take home. And so they ask their drivers to remit between N10,000 to N15,000 ($26.25 – $39.37) weekly.

“If you’re lucky to have an employer that charges less, you’ll enjoy the job. That means you’ll work at a more reasonable pace to be able to remit the money at the agreed time”

Unlike Kayode whose remittance is N25,000 every week, Stanley remit N20,000 at the end of every week.

Both men are responsible for any maintenance on the vehicle above five thousand and seven thousand naira respectively.

On his part, Usman Adeleke told THE WHISTLER that besides remitting N 15,000 weekly, his employer is in charge of every maintenance on the car beyond five thousand naira.

According to him, working for his employer has made life easier as his weekly take home which is  N10,000 enables him to provide for himself and his family.

The father of three who is expecting the fourth baby by August 2021, beamed with satisfaction as he narrates his experience.

“Before I met I current Boss, I used to work for a man who asked me to remit N25,000 every week.

“O boy, it was not easy. I had to struggle to meet the target. Often times after giving him his money I’m left with barely five thousand. 

“What can five thousand naira do for me. Feed my family or what?” he mocked.

Such is the fate of the multimillion naira taxi industry in Abuja.

But Tseve Andrew said it’s not the fault of car owners.

According to him, the car owner and his/her hired driver are victims of the high cost of living in the city.

“For instance, you buy a car at N1,900,000 ($4,801.09) and you give it to a driver for Uber. Remember it is business you’re into and you’ve calculated how long it will take you to recover your capital and then make some profit.

“Say I give the car to a driver at N25,000 ($ 65.78947) a week. That is N100,000 ($252.69) monthly remittance.

“So at the end of the year you’re looking at N1,200,000 ($3,032.27), not even up to the original cost of the car.

And you’ll maintain the car remittances, and perhaps also use some of the money for other things.”

He said it is an investment that ties down one’s finances for long and with a low return on investment.

Andrew believes that the business is also fraught with danger as one’s car could be stolen or be involved in an accident.

“You see my friend (he points to a man seating next to him) was into the business. He had five cars. One was involved in an accident barely three months after he gave it out to a driver for Uber.

The driver of the other one ran away with the car. Now he is left with only three cars.

Who repays him for the stolen or damaged car?” Andrew asked as he smirked his lips in disgust.

He would later reveal that hardworking drivers make gains from the business.

“There are lazy drivers out there. See, if you’re serious with this business, you can make up to two times what you remit to the owner of the vehicle.

“Many of these guys don’t rely on what the platform gives them. They develop special relationship with clients who hire them, sometimes for distance travels.

“So it’s up to a driver to be creative with how he meets his targets, and not waiting to be spoon fed.”

It is clear, despite its shortcomings, that the online taxi industry though in its more or less nascent stage in the FCT, is a ready alternative to the widening unemployment gap in the city.

The challenge therefore that stares the sector in the face is the need for a quick government intervention to regulate on issues of remittances.

The point here is that the health of the driver, some of who put themselves under immense physical and psychological pressures to be able to meet with deadlines and remittance targets set by vehicle owners, is inversely proportional to the safety of passengers who request for their services.

Gabriel Chijioke (an Uber Driver) recalls his experience conveying a passenger to Mbabe (a suburb of the FCT).

“I had worked all through the day and I was tired. But I had to remit to my madam the next day before 11am unfailingly.

So I had to work through the night. I was driving up the Mbabe hill when I dozed off. Luckily my clients didn’t notice what happened because as woke up as soon as I had dozed off. And this did not happen once. It has happened at several times.”

Hassan Hadejo shared similar experience. According to him, “I was lucky. I dozed off just when I was making the turn into my street. In fact I jerked awake when my car ran into a concrete, creating a dent on the side.

“O boy, thank God I was not speeding. Who knows what would’ve happened” he quizzed, eyes wide open with hands  thrown in the air in a sign of surrender?