There is no entry level qualification for this job––or is it vocation, or, as we say in local parlance, ‘hustle’?
Let us skip that. What’s important is that this Lagos Conductor ‘thing’ is a free-for-all affair. There is no religious bar neither is there ethnic consideration. Now whether you are from Ijesha or Kaura-Namoda, you are qualified to get to the peak of your ‘career’ if you choose to be one. So if you are contemplating becoming a Lagos conductor, you may find this manual quite helpful.
First, to be a ‘professional conductor’ in Lagos, you have to be creative. You should have that ability to chop off syllables from names of popular places around the city in a way that your passengers would still relate with. And because time is a very important asset in this hustle, you should be good enough to quickly make ‘Keja and ‘Shodi and ‘Balende sound familiar to passengers moving towards those places in no time. Like everyone in this city, you must race with time as though you want to overtake your shadow.
As a budding conductor, you may not be able to afford a good accommodation in the early stage of your career. But the beauty of this hustle is that you may never need one: there are junctions and parks and commodious spaces inside Danfo buses to ‘crash’ in until you graduate into an experienced nuisance. Of course, when you finally settle down, you’d notice that apart from the very, very few ones among your colleagues, many others who can actually afford rent in the city would rather want to remain on the street. That’s how best to live; nothing beats sentencing oneself to a life of eternal homelessness.
Again, a prospective conductor in this city must be skilled in the art of throwing expletives. The job requires that you hurl insults at recession-ravaged passengers who may choose to transfer all the aggression accumulated from the economy on you or your boss, the driver. Well, except you don’t want to keep this job, you must be combatant-ready––– to attack passengers and, inevitably, those stick-wielding ubiquitous Agbero boys with artificial gap-tooth.
Now talking about expletives, you must understand that no statement should be taken literally in this business. When the Agbero promises to deal with you, you may confuse that for threat of an attack on your mother. “Maa fo iya l’enu” (I will deal with your ‘mother’) is a regular refrain amongst them. Do not mistake the statement for an assault on your mother because, here, in the linguistic parlance of transport workers, you are your mother. And if in the heat of an argument with an Agbero in Oshodi, you mistakenly drop the gauntlet thinking your mother in faraway Ilara-mokin, you have your mouth broken already, literally. And so whether there is kerfuffle or there’s none, the golden rule remains same: ‘always guiding’.
Listen, this hustle is a modest one and so you don’t need much clothes and designer wears to operate. A single pair of jean and a t-shirt is good enough. It will sustain you from Monday through Saturday, and you may wish to wash it on Sunday. Again, if you aren’t really energetic on Sunday, due to the hustle and bustle of the week, you may suspend the washing till the next Sunday; no problems. Of course, you’d continue this cycle until, well, you get another pair.
Now I understand the NURTW, the umbrella body of transport workers, has some (un)written dress codes for its members. Also, I hear the Lagos State Government also plans to recommend uniform for your colleagues soon. Never mind, even the body flouts its own rules many times. So nobody would question you if you choose to wear a pair of jean and t-shirt for twenty-seven days. It has its own advantages.
See, your one-clothe-for-twenty-seven-days philosophy is a weapon in your struggle with recalcitrant passengers: all you need do for anyone who, like true Lagosian, chooses to throw up unnecessary argument over transport fare is to simply move closer to the person and let him feel the fragrance of your clothe as you explain how the increase in fuel price shot up the fare; he’d give up. The Lagos English-speaking passenger display little craze in the face of such heavenly fragrance.
To be a successful conductor in this city, you must understand the art of delaying balance––or, more appropriately now, ‘change’. The golden rule is: “be quick to collect your fare but never be in a hurry to give out balance”. Lagosians are like other amnesic Nigerians who vote their tormentors into office once they get repackaged after a few years. So chances are that when you deploy this ‘delay tactic’ effectively, you’d realise more than double of your normal fare from forgotten balances. Be wise.
Oladeinde Olawoyin–––Journalist, satirist and critic–––tweets at @Ola_deinde and dwells on Facebook as Oladeinde Olawoyin.