Uncommon people doing weird jobs on Lagos roads for survival
THE General Overseer of The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye, was testifying about the capability of God to use anyone and anything for His own when he told a story of his encounter with a mentally challenged man in a country located in the eastern part of Africa. According to him, the leader of the said nation had engaged him beyond the allotted time and he was running late for his main crusade in the capital only to run into a total traffic hold-up, which held no hope for him getting to the crusade venue in time. While seated in the car with the full complement of riders and siren-blaring pilot vehicles which wasn’t making any impact on the traffic meltdown, he said a stark, drooling, raving madman suddenly showed up from nowhere and started banging the cars ahead of his and violently motioning them to give way for him. Within minutes, the traffic that wasn’t responding to normal human security men had yielded to the “insanity” of a man with the “Midas” touch. After clearing the highway for his convoy, the man of God said the madman came to the side of the car where he was seated and bowed, before motioning his driver to move. The famous pastor said those in the car with him were so bewildered that he had to calm them down by saying, “My Father (Almighty God) is the Commander-in-Chief of all hosts, including the hosts of hell. Even demons obey His commandments and He can use anyone, including demon-possessed madmen, to help His own children”.
A mentally challenged person in Lagos identified simply as Sunday is also likely to be under the same “anointing whenever he is “controlling” traffic at Toyota Bus Stop.
Saturday Tribune observed that Sunday usually takes charge at the bus stop, considering the heavy inflow of vehicles from Tin Can port to the mainland. Every evening, Sunday is usually at Toyota Bus Stop, en route Airport Road and Oshodi along the Oshodi Apapa Expressway, where traffic gridlock is a rule rather than exception.
Anytime from 5-6 p.m., the traffic gridlock would be so severe that every motorist wants to seize the smallest opportunity to escape the bedlam.
However, in the absence of traffic control agents, and with sanity practically absent, it’s Sunday’s “insanity” that usually brings sanity as he assumes the role of the much-needed traffic official.
Usually clad with stick on one hand, an aluminium plate under his armpit, Sunday is always seen weirdly dishing out instruction and woe betide any driver that disobeys him.
“Hey, stop there, you hear? If I knock you off the road, you’ll see hell”, he was heard bellowing at motorists, particularly commercial vehicles drivers, who appeared obstinate. With the dexterity with which he demonstrates his hand waving in the course of signalling vehicles to either move or stop, one cannot but wonder how useful Sunday would have been were he to be “normal”.
Lagos is home to uncommon sights. Probably because of its size and liberality, many residents engage in weird, or abnormal, jobs for survival. It is no longer strange to see Sunday’s kind-of-sight with those not expected to be involved in certain public assignments doing them and almost always for “free”.
One of those providing such freebies for the Lagos populace is Sani Labaran. Though Labaran is physically-challenged, he is a self-appointed traffic controller. However, in the course of helping the society, he hasn’t forgotten the need to provide for his family by riding tricycle, popularly known as Keke NAPEP. Despite his condition, the father of two made a decision not to beg as some others do to survive.
“I have been in Lagos for the past 15 years. I was a bicycle repairer before I came here to hustle. Due to my decision not to beg, I started controlling traffic. I have worked around Guinness Road, Toyin Street, Olowu and Eko Idumota. Some people give me money when they see me working.
“I have been disabled for as long as I can remember. If I wasn’t, I would have loved to be a soldier. But with things being this way, I still struggle to survive. I have a wife and two children who are in Zamfara with my parents. Aside from helping the community to manage the traffic, I drive a Maruwa. It is not mine; I pay N1,500 to the owner from the N3,000 or N3,500 I make daily. What is left after fuelling it is what I take home. I dream of owning a Maruwa and being empowered someday. My name is Sani Labaran. My friends call me Sani Abacha. I am 35 years old and hail from Gumi Local Government Area of Zamfara State,” he said.
A woman’s world
The story of Inspector Josephine Ogene of Sabo Police Division is known to many. An outstanding traffic controller at St. Agnes Junction, Sabo, Yaba, she has been feted by numerous organisations, including banks and media houses, for outstanding performance on the job she has consistently done for 20 years. By the time AIT was honouring her in 2017, she has chalked up 10 special recognition awards. The woman, who isn’t particularly young, has through her exceptional performance, reportedly won scholarship for her children from an appreciative bank. “I feel so happy doing this job. It gives me more joy when people appreciate me on duty,” she said.
Mr Emeka Udo, a commercial driver who was part of the 2017 event, was quoted as saying, “Ogene’s performance is outstanding. I am not surprised that she received the award. We call her ‘Iron Mama,’ whenever she is on duty, no traffic around here. She knows the job and she does it smiling.”
Josephine isn’t an everyday traffic controller, she is a special officer on a special assignment, reason she is consistently regarded as number one in the state, despite being in a male-dominated system.
Mr Mufutau Musa is a physically-challenged person trying to make a difference around Alapere. Touted as the chairman, Disabled Lagos Waste Management Authority Association, he is one public-spirited Lagosian enjoying the fruits of his “labour of love.”
Musa was just helping the society when Mr Ola Oresanya, the returnee boss of Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) decided to take up the sponsorship of the education of his child.
He tells his story: “Before I started sweeping Alapere, I was welcomed to the world of disabled bridge sweepers in the Estate area 10 years ago, and now, I am at CMS pedestrian bridges after the death of the original sweeper in the last two weeks. I used to beg for alms at Maryland but I thought that if an oncoming vehicle hit me, I might lose my life. But then, I noticed that pedestrians use the Alapere Bridge regularly, so I decided to start sweeping it.
He said, “It is a good citizen and the former (re-appointed) LAWMA boss, Mr Ola Oresanya, who has been sponsoring my child’s education.”
He, however, noted that some Lagosians make the job almost unbearable. “I live in faraway Ikorodu, an outskirts of Lagos (it is my small house), yet I come here every day. But some Lagosians are very repulsive; they will even bring their waste from their homes and drop them on the bridge. Sometimes I meet faeces here but I have to clean the place. The N10,000 they pay us is not sufficient but we usually lodge our complaints with the governor during the end-of-the-year party because we all have our families. We are pleading with the present administration to increase our salary. We appreciate the fact that we are being paid stipends but we need more. Some passersby have been here to make promises, which they have not returned to fulfil,” Musa said.
My initiative, not LAWMA’s –Oresanya
When contacted, the newly reappointed LAWMA boss, Oresanya, said he could not remember Musa but he said many of his ilk had benefitted from a special arrangement during his first time as LAWMA boss, the scheme wholly sponsored by him. He clarified that those being paid for engaging in such selfless public services are not on the payroll of LAWMA, but did not rule out the possibility of such persons being officially accommodated in the planned reform in the agency as he returns to its headship.
Don’t dare Abbey
Abiodun, popularly called Abbey, is another physically challenged individual who has made himself useful despite his disabilities. Slurred speech, unbalanced gait and stance, Abbey is probably a cerebral palsy sufferer but he has taken it upon himself to help conduct traffic at a junction along College Road, towards Ogba Bus Stop. At the peak of traffic, the young lad is seen directing motorists plying the T-junction.
For a road that has become notorious for traffic due to the impatience of motorists, especially when no uniformed officer is around to beat them into line, Abbey fills a vacuum that could make using the road very nasty at times.
As challenged as Abbey is, he would stand in authority to make sure no motorist disobeys his orders. Frequent users of the road have come to respect him for his resilience and discipline. However, some would want to take advantage of his disabilities.
One afternoon, Abbey and a young motorist were at it because the man in a Lexus jeep refused to stop for other motorists as directed by Abbey and he was having none of it. The guy kept making signals to Abbey to move aside for him to go but Abbey insisted those on the other side must move before him. Threat to beat up Abbey brought others to his defence. A keke NAPEP driver quickly advised the young driver to obey Abbey’s traffic rules as he had not done anything bad and that if he dared lay hands on Abbey, he would be given the beating of his life as Abbey does not work alone but there are guys who are well aware of what he’s doing and would defend him with their lives.
Further inquiries from a petrol attendant at the junction revealed that Abbey is loved by many around the area because he has proved that he can live above his disabilities. “He does not beg for money from motorists but when given, he shows appreciation, unlike some touts who pressure commercial motorists to give them money because they help conduct traffic.
However, during the weeks before and after the election, Abbey had given himself a rest from his philanthropic service as confirmed by Igwe, one of the men that also conduct traffic at the junction. He was full of praise for Abbey: “Abbey has been such a great help here. He would choose to conduct traffic when no other person is willing to. When we observed his dedication, we gave him a reflective jacket to reinforce his work and to serve as an authority. He will not complain and most times nobody complains about his conduct. I will say he’s well loved around the area.”
Rogues or helpers?
Another scene is the one involving three young men in their late 20’s whose self-imposed occupation is to fill potholes with sands on Bariga road. But the residents are not impressed because of the allegation that they are the ones who always destroy the spots under the cover of darkness. A similar set of people can be found on Itoikin-Ikorodu Road. Although they usually look to motorists for tips, they do not cause any trouble when not given.
Available as desirable
Lagosians appear to have taken these special people and what they do as part of their existence. They seem to be making do with what is available when the desirable isn›t available. But the state police command is issuing a red flag about the emergency traffic controllers.
Many residents appreciate the commitment of these people with gift items, including cash. This is a paradox of some sort in a state where physically-challenged persons and mentally ill persons are not allowed to roam the streets with a law even banning them from public sight, considering that street-begging is already outlawed and mentally challenged persons are to be taken to the state rehabilitation facility in Ikorodu with, or without, the consent of their families.
A resident, Mr Olayiwola, however, shrugged the concern off. According to him, «when the people who are supposed to do the jobs, for which they are being paid, aren›t doing them, what do they expect? There can›t be a vacuum. Even nature abhors it. Apart from these people you mentioned, even touts are taking charge with traffic and, God help you, if they just jump onto the road after doing their thing. If motorists in Lagos are not ready to be sane, maybe the insanity of the mentally challenged persons will help them cure their wrong orientation and disposition to road usage. Imagine people who think themselves better messing everywhere up for physically challenged persons to clean up. Government should please make a definite arrangement that would remunerate them at the end of the day.”
Risky venture –Police
The image maker of the state police command, Bala Ekana, described the involvement of mentally challenged people and destitute in traffic control as “risky” and advised motorists not to encourage them.
Ekana also said that the state police command had enough traffic officers and the capacity to adequately control traffic in all parts of the state and that they were usually trained and retrained for that purpose. He said: “That is not ideal. It is risky. They are not trained for that purpose, people should not encourage them. They may pass two vehicles at the same time and that may cause an accident. Who will be responsible for that?”