by Jude Egbas
Lagos is one city where ‘members of staff’ of this nature love to show off.
It was approaching dusk when a friend and I joined a bus headed for Yaba from the Mile 2 bus terminus in Lagos. We had made a pastime out of escaping to Lagos for our Semester breaks if only to get some adrenaline pumping through our systems before heading back to our rustic University town. We sat huddled in the back of the rickety Coaster commercial bus as the clouds darkened outside. The rains were imminent.
I had dozed off mid-way through our short trip en route Yaba after paying our bus fares, when one of the most guttural voices I have ever heard shook me out of my slumber; “ Owo da?”(where is my money?)
It was the bus conductor belching smoke from his nostrils at another commuter. I must have heard the “Owo da?” a few times throughout my nap. But the intensity of the latest “Owo da?” offering may have dealt a fatal blow to my idea of rest. I sat up to watch the drama that was panning out. The Conductor may have repeated his “Owo da?” lines another twenty times before the subject of his inquisition returned fire; (and a little straight-faced too) with a raspy, “I be staff.”
He was dressed in a security outfit. My guess was that he earned a living keeping watch over a house in suburban Lagos. But by his own admission, he was a member of staff.
Lagos is one city where ‘members of staff’ of this nature love to show off. As a rule of thumb, members of the Police and Armed Forces are exempted from paying bus fares because they are ‘staff’. It could amount to a subject of research to find out who made the rule, but often times I have witnessed as the bus conductors ask everyone for their bus fares (as is common practice in Lagos) in that unpleasant ‘Owo da?’ tone except the uniform-sporting members of the trip.
Once, a member of the boys scout intoned rather belligerently while showing off the stripes on his worn out uniform upon being accosted for his bus fare on a trip: “Can’t you see that I am a staff?” His inquisitor (the conductor) had shot him a double take before by-passing him and moving to all the other ‘non-staff’ commuters.
‘My friend’, the presumed watchman of a house in Lagos; who was draped in a blue khaki uniform would not be allowed the privileges that come with being a ‘Staff’. The Bus Conductor had let fly more decibels from his voice as ‘Owo da?’ and more Yoruba invectives were now being tossed back and forth.
“I say I be staff”, the subject of his outrage intoned indignantly, “abi you nor get eye?” showing off his over-starched uniform now and getting ready to flex his muscles. The bus driver killed the engine and alighted to help in dragging the ‘erring member of staff’ from his shuttle.
‘I say I be staff, jare…you nor know who I be? Staff na staff, jare! You know how many years I don serve?”
“Serve for where?” chorused the duo of driver and conductor. They were visibly unimpressed.
I proceeded to settle the rancor by offering to pay the member of staff’s fare. When we arrived Yaba later than scheduled ‘I be staff’ took me aside, muttered his ‘thanks’ and left me a complimentary card. It read: ‘Femi Oludare, Chief Security Officer, Orile Landlord’s Association’.
This begs the question: who really is a staff in commercial buses? And should the police and members of the Armed forces pay their bus fares?
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