17 February 2018

Nigeria: Surviving the Inner Recesses of a Lagos Danfo Bus

Photo: Premium Times
Danfo.

The popular Lagos commercial shuttle, Danfo, is a staple of the cosmopolitan city. Painted in yellow and white, the bus is arguably the most popular across the metropolis. Well, after the long overdue demise of the old rickety 'Molue', that is. Danfo, indeed, is to Lagos what the tiny Micra cab is fast becoming to Ibadan, and what the tiny 'Korope' is---some would say 'was'---to Osogbo.

But a caveat: because Lagos is a microcosm of Nigeria, every moment spent inside the Lagos Danfo is akin to life inside Nigeria: crazy and funny, breathtaking and intriguing, and of course, risky and life-threatening.

Yet, with tact, native intelligence and 'street cred', one could safely shuttle the city in Danfo, quite comfortably.

First, nowhere is safe, or more appropriately, comfortable, inside the Lagos Danfo. The entire space is a haven of chaos the passenger can only endure on each journey around the metropolis.

The front seat, located just beside the driver, is by default the most comfortable in a Danfo bus. But when one considers the reckless driving that is Lagos Danfo driver's inseparable twin, it is the riskiest.

Of course, sitting in front confers on you an additional responsibility: the driver makes sure you are called upon to help position the 'side mirror' every now and then, or, in some instances when the Danfo has no mirror, the passenger becomes the 'side mirror' himself, helping to monitor other reckless drivers on his side of the road.

On such occasions, the Lagos Danfo driver becomes the world most humble human, and the default language takes a mild and appealing form, far away from the violent and eccentric diction he's known for: "Bros, abeg help me check your side na... "

The regular Danfo has a double seat in front, spacious enough to be occupied by two passengers aside the driver. But even when some buses come with a single seat aside the driver's, the ingenious Danfo driver doubles it with a 'Joko' or an 'Apoti', a makeshift seat stuck between the gear and the driver's seat. The 'joko' is an object of inconvenience, invented with the sole intent of commerce, and with no thought for the passenger's comfort, thus making it the most inconvenient spot to occupy in a Lagos Danfo.

But the occupier of the 'joko', inspite of the whole troubles he has to contend with, has a little reason to rejoice: unlike his closest neighbour on the far right portion of the front section of the Danfo, he has no rope dangling around his neck.

Naturally, the Lagos Danfo has no proper seat belt, both for the driver and the front seat passenger. But because some rapacious men of the LASTMA are always out for commerce, with little or no concern for traffic control, the danfo driver invents in place of seat belt a twine, or a rope, that which could pass for 'Okun eran' in Yoruba colloquial parlance. And because it is Lagos-made, and unlike the normal seatbelt, the Danfo passenger can't fasten it himself; the driver or conductor has to 'use' it for him: wrap it around him and tie it violently to the seat, almost literally.

The seat on the window sides are Danfo's most underated seats in terms of comfortability. There is the possibility that the fear of the ubiquitous gala and 'pure' water sellers thrusting their goods into passengers' faces, ultimately, chases Lagosians away from these seats. Yet, nothing makes one immune from body odour and fart and other associated Lagos Danfo gaseous exchanges like the fresh air (coming from outside) one enjoys when one sits on one of those window seats.

Experience has shown that the back seat is another one Lagosians run away from, largely because they are always in a hurry to jump off the bus. And, of course, there is this irritating delay that comes with staying at the back, especially when one has in front of him a bodily-endowed passenger who would need to be granted the grace of several minutes to roll off the bus.

But with the back seat, one becomes unaware of the driver's reckless stunts, the conductor's body odour,

and the craze of other passengers. The downside, however, is if one has among fellow passengers a locust bean seller, or a Ponmo merchant, who has his or her goods kept in the booth. The backseat passenger, much more than others seated elsewhere, has all of the luxuries of the Ponmo and locust bean odour to himself, in that case.

My favourite seat in the danfo is the seat beside the conductor's, just at the side of the door. The Lagos Danfo waits for no one to hop in, just as it doesn't wait for passengers to alight; hence, the seat just before the conductor's facilitates easy entry and, most definitely, easier exit. And so the conductor's odoriferous emission notwithstanding, this luxury is no doubt unbeatable, even if one needs to hold his breath throughout the trip.

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