Lagos — Mufutau Owokoniran, one of the operators of Molue bus in Iyana Ipaja area of Lagos is disenchanted that his business is no longer bringing the expected fortune and he is at a fix where to turn to in order to feed his family.
Mufutau, who started the business in the 70's told our correspondent that in addition to the low profit it generates, the cost of maintaining the bus is on the high side.
"There is virtually little or no profit in this business again unlike when I started in the 70's.We now faced many challenges some of which is the struggle to keep Molue in the reckoning of Lagosians because of the modern buses around the town now.
"Besides, to maintain this bus is not a joke. We spend a lot at the mechanics. Its built is fragile and the engines can easily develop problem',' he said.
Mufutau is not the only Molue driver who had suffered misadventure in the business. Many of his colleagues also have their sad story to recant, while some others have ventured into other businesses.
Although the buses are fast turning to an endangered species, few drivers still ply the Iyan Ipaja - Oshodi, Orile-Oshodi-CMS, Okokomaiko routes.
Molue buses locally fabricated on 911 Mercedes Benz chassis, came onto the transport scene in the 1960s to replace the "Bolekaja"--a wooden truck-- that had before then monopolised the arena in Lagos for decades.
The nickname Molue is a corruption of the words Maul Him, which was said to have been given by the city's intelligentsia who were amazed by the crowded nature of the bus and the seeming ordinariness passengers subject themselves to while enjoying the ride.
Molue became the King of Lagos roads for over two decades because of its affordable fare and they readily filled the gap the government could not provide.
That was why most marketwomen, students, job seekers, factory workers and low-income civil servants and pensioners saw Molue as their companion. Molue was also seen as the bustling and die-hard statement of the average Lagosian.
That was why the late Afrobeat musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti in one of his songs likened a ride in Molue to raging starvation, hunger and want in the country, which he corruptly tagged 'Suffering and Smiling.'
Changing fortunes of Molue
The emergence of modern government in the country also called for the renewed transport system which meant bad business for most Molue operators.
For instance, the introduction of Labour Mass Transit, and the commissioning of a set of blue Bus Rapid Transport, BRT, vehicles, with a definite road-map to cover the entire Lagos State by Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola on March 17, 2008 marked a gradual extinction of the Molue.
Also, the rising industrialization in the state behoves some employers to provide transportation arrangement for their workers swayed passengers from the Molue drivers.
Some die-hard patrons of Molue are however of the opinion that it is still fun, convenient and safe to cruise on the bus.
According to a trader in Idumota area of Lagos, riding on Molue is more fun-filled, adventurous and safer than ever.
"I still relive the fun and excitement while riding on this funky train. It is funky because you meet a lot of characters therein, who will crack jokes, abuse and even curse you. You will never get bored till you get to your destination".
The pains of maintaining Molue
Molue drivers who spoke with our correspondent lamented the cost implications of maintaining the buses, some of which have gone rickety due to the wear and tear.
Ademola Saheed, a Molue driver, said he usually develop problem with the bus engine and has usually visit his mechanic for repair.
Another Molue driver, Adeoti Kolawole, said the structure of the bus has caused him serious concern.
"I visit my mechanic frequently for the body renovation. Sometimes I also go to Owode Onirin to get some of the body work done. At times, I waved some of the work there due to insufficient fund to repair them. I must confess it is not easy to do the business again," he said.
An Auto mechanic in Obalende told our correspondent that there has been decrease in the patronage of Molue drivers.
"I cannot recall the last time I had a Molue driver as a customer. Some of them complained of bad business in recent times. But to maintain that locally built bus is not as difficult as some of them believe. It is just that they must constantly maintain touch with their mechanics".
How profitable is the Molue?
Drivers who spoke with our correspondent confirmed that profitability has alluded the business.
The chairman, zone six of the Road Transport Employers' Association (RTEAN), Mr Kehinde Sogunro said that the molue bus business has declined because officials of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) were fleecing the operators.
He said the union members collect as much as N11,000 on a bus daily, leaving the bus driver with barely N6,000 to deliver to the owner.
According to him, increasing cost of diesel was also eating deep into the running cost of the big molue that often move as many as 100 passengers sitting and standing at a time.
Sina Oguntona, a Molue driver said that the molue was actually on the way to self-extinction before the advent of luxury buses.
"Molue is seen as the easiest form of illegal funds by security operatives on Lagos roads as they always ask for 'settlement' in excess of what the bus can make in a day for every perceived infraction.Therefore, it's hard to find a molue bus driver who had never been detained by law enforcement agents before," he said.
Adeleye Oladele, another Molue driver on Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, said: "Today, we wasted much time at the bus stop looking for passengers. Before now, we come out and between 10 and 20 minutes, we get a full load but now we spend a minimum of one hour. It's too bad, we have our families to take care of and government is not thinking along this line."