Abuja is Nigeria’s capital city with good road network when compared with other Nigerian towns. But this good road infrastructure has not solved the challenges residents and commuters face every day in the city. In this report on the nightmare that besieges commuters’ movements, our Abuja Correspondent, Ikechukwu Ogbonna, examines the daily rituals and their effects on the city. Part of what he discovered is that in the midst of the hiccups, the taxi business in Abuja holds a hidden opportunity for the unemployed.
The struggle for taxis en route Mpape from Beggar and Area One junctions in Abuja is an endless hassle so long as the insufficiency in transportation in Abuja remains an issue. The difficulty becomes much once day begins to draw to a close as individuals retire home after the day’s activities.
That is the plight of an average Abuja resident who depends on commercial taxi drivers for movement. With the difficulty in getting taxis to places of residents increasing daily, one is forced to ask if the situation is as a result of the taxis not being enough, or that the population in demand of taxis or cabs increase daily.
“The case of people living in Mararaba, Nyanya, Karu, New Nyanya, Masaka and other towns in the neighbouring state of Nasarawa, where people come to work in Abuja from is getting pathetic. I leave my house as early as 5 am for me to arrive at my place of work before 7.30am”, said Mr. Sunday Ajani a staffer of one of the five-star hotels in Maitama.
It is not only that the cabs leaving that early are not enough, the traffic jam is crazy, so any day you leave for work after 5 am, be ready to get to work by 10am and face the penalty of lateness.
Mr Paul Chima, a resident of Kubwa Federal Housing Estate, lamented the scarcity of vehicles once it gets dark. He lamented, “Once it is night, it seems as if the whole of Abuja decided to come out to move from this Berger to Kubwa. Honestly, I am tired!
“The best thing for someone to do is to try to own a small car in this Abuja, to aid transportation and movement around.
Despite being the nation’s capital, with good road network and sound transportation infrastructure, the taxis in Abuja seem not to be much enough for the teeming population.
Considering the fact that there is little competition for the taxi drivers and operators in Abuja and its environs after commercial motorcyclists popularly known as ‘okada’ were banned from operating within the major roads, highbrow areas and Central Business district, the taxi drivers still struggle to service the need of the teeming population.
According to a taxi driver who operates in one of the highbrow areas, Mr. Haruna Mustafa, he considers a day to be good if he meets up with a daily target of ten thousand naira after fueling his car. He went further to enlighten this reporter. “The taxi business in Abuja is very, very rewarding, although stressful, if you are committed to it. It can give you a comfortable life even if you run it in your spare time.”
Despite regulations by the Area Council Department of Transportation in Abuja that mandate taxi drivers to paint their cars with the approved colour (green and white) for taxis operating in the Nigerian capital, private individuals still engage informally as cab drivers with their private cars making it difficult to detect which is a taxi or not.
An unregistered taxi driver who pleaded for anonymity said, “If you paint your car the official green and white colour, there are areas in Abuja you cannot gain access to like the Aso Villa, the Three-Arms-Zone, some parts of the International Airport, and even some estates do not allow painted cabs. Meanwhile if you refuse to paint it, you can be arrested by some law enforcement agents or harassed by touts who masquerade as licensed agents empowered to stop cab operators who are not registered. So it is a dicey thing for us. All the same, if we take into account the fact that whether registered or not, we still make good money, I can tell you that taxi driving pays well in Abuja.”
The enterprise and business model built around taxi driving in Abuja is what makes it worthwhile, according to our findings. An agreement can be reached between owner of a car and someone who intends having the car used for taxi operation. There exist two main ways of such agreement which is common: It is either there is an agreement based on the hired-purchase mode where a certain amount of money – with respect to time – is agreed between the owner of the car and the intending buyer who first starts out as a driver. Upon the completion of payment often spaced at each other’s convenience, ownership changes hands as the driver becomes owner.
The other is that there is a set standard where there is a weekly remittance, done in two ways: the driver remits twelve thousand naira weekly but takes care of the overhead cost of the car as regards maintenance or possible breakdown of any part of the car; remits fifteen thousand naira weekly but takes care of repairs and maintenance of the car, except when the repair is intensive that the owner has to share in the expenses.
At the entry of corporate taxi firms and internet taxi hailing phone applications like Uber and taxify, one would have thought of the end or reduction in patronage of conventional cabs, however, it still tells the story of how difficult it is that someone who is already late or in a hurry would sit down and wait for the arrival of a cab he hailed using the application for it.
In the heat if the rush hour, it is a common sight to even see men and women who upon their return from work use their private cars as commercial taxis. Mr. Aigbe Eghosa, an employee at one of the private transport firms based in Abuja said, “For me it is a matter of just picking up people to make the little money that is needed to fuel my car for work the next day. Once the day is over and I am returning home, I pick passengers who are headed towards my direction.”
In an interview with this reporter, the Chairman, National Union of Urban Taxi Drivers, Mpape Abuja, Mr. Kassim Lawal, said that at the moment, concerted efforts are being made to ensure that there is strict compliance to the law that regulates the trade in the city.
On the issue of the arrests of drivers of unpainted cabs, he said, “We cannot allow people who are not fully committed to the business, take over our source of livelihood. That is why we are working with the government to ensure that only registered members will ply their trade with ease.
“This is done to ensure that every cab is registered; to avoid hoodlums who masquerade as taxi drivers robbing unsuspecting passengers of their belongings and even cause harm. This is good also, so that in cases of crime, we can easily trace the cab driver and owner.
On the issue of deductions and fees paid by taxi drivers and operators daily to the Union, Mr. Lawal declined comments but stressed that the charges are in line with the agreement between the government and the operators.
It remains uncertain if the challenge insufficient taxis to service the demands of the growing population of Abuja will be solved in the nearest possible future. However, the big picture is that shuttling around Abuja by commercial and private cab drivers reserves an opportunity for the unemployed.