By Fortune Eloagu
It is not unusual for people to operate “kabukabu”, Nigeria’s parlance for unregistered cabs. What is, however, news is that it has gradually become a way of life especially in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), for most civil servants.
Residents of the nation’s capital have come to accept it as a part of the city’s transport system. Daily Sun findings indicate that there are two types of kabukabu operators; namely, those who do it for livelihood because of unemployment and others who are duly employed but make out time to use their vehicles as “kabukabu.”
The latter are mostly public servants who use their vehicles to comb the city to pick up commuters or passengers especially while coming to work in the morning and returning home after work. Some others still operate during work hours. They include civil servants who may have less to do in the office, policemen, soldiers, and personnel of other paramilitary agencies like the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC).
Investigations reveal that personnel of the prisons and immigration services also indulge in “kabukabu” business and their preferred route is the Airport Road, ostensibly because their offices are located along the road.
This trade is no longer exclusive for men. Some women also traverse the city with their vehicles engaging in “drop and pick.” The few women involved either ply routes outskirts of the city centre like Lugbe and Nyanya-Mararaba, while those who cover the city centre are usually seen on the Berger-Area 1 and Federal Secretariat-Area 10-Area 1 routes.
Why people operate “kabukabu”
The origin of “kabukabu” is not really known but it started becoming popular about 12 years ago when the former FCT, Malam Nasir el-rufai’s bulldozers demolished settlements including people’s means of livelihood. The lure in the construction industry in Abuja has also not helped matters.
Though people run “kabukabu” for various reasons but operators agreed that they do it to augment their income. Due to the recent hike in the pump price of fuel coupled with the attendant hardship induced by the economic downturn, many people do not want to waste money on fuel driving to work and returning home after work alone in their vehicles. So, each time they are coming out or going home, they pick up passengers. In addition, some persons leaving their offices to other parts of the city may also pick up passengers in order to make more money.
A Gwarimpa resident, Mr. Samuel Ademola, did not see anything wrong in the “kabukabu” business: “I do not think that any day would pass by without my carrying passengers in my car. Everything is becoming expensive, even to buy noodles for my daughter; the price has gone up. By carrying passengers every morning and evening, it gives me a little more income.”
Another civil servant at the Old Secretariat, Area 1, who gave his name as Mr. Gabriel Eze heaped the blame on the doorstep of the recent fuel hike. He resides at EFAB Estate Lokogoma: “I don’t have a choice, the price of fuel is so alarming. Each time I leave my house, I make sure I carry passengers regardless of where I am heading to.”
Like Eze, Mr. Kelechi Utah, a resident of Nyanya said he would not leave his area without carrying four passengers. But James Atah, another “kabukabu” operator gave an idea of how much a civil servant could make weekly from the operation: “The APC change has really changed me. I have no choice but to look for extra means of making income. I go to work everyday so I make at least N4,000 a week by carrying passengers, which is manageable. We will always find a way to survive in this country.”
Investigation showed that some persons who devote more time to it, especially after work sometimes make up to N5,000 daily after refilling their tanks.
An FRSC officer who operates “kabukabu” with his car bus but pleaded not to be named said there was nothing to be ashamed of. He reasoned that many Nigerians even with big degrees do much more menial jobs abroad: “So, why should I not pull off my uniform and make money, or do you want me to steal?”
The hardship in the land notwithstanding, a staffer of one of the security agencies who gave his name as Inah commended President Muhammadu Buhari for blocking areas where public servants pilfered money. Inah, who operates mainly from Bolingo Hotel to the airport when not on duty stated that the present government has made Nigerians to be more creative and hardworking, noting that only lazy persons are really complaining.
Operating “kabukabu” is not all rosy. Operators bemoaned the recent hike in fuel pump price, which they said has seriously affected their operations because people do not have money. So, it has been difficult for them to increase their charges too. While at the same time, they lamented that an operator may run round the city, wasting fuel without getting a passenger in the afternoon, especially now that the schools are on holiday.
Besides, they complained about the unwholesome activities of criminals known as “one chance”, who use their cars and pretend to be “kabukabu” operators. These criminals in most case dispossess unsuspecting passengers of their valuables and sometimes harm them.
The fear of “one chance” is one factor militating against “kabukabu” operation in the FCT. In fact, this same reason made the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), to always clamp down on “kabukabu” operators. It also makes an operator a ready prey for overzealous security agents on the road.
But Mustapha Ahman, a civil servant in one of the agencies of the FCT Authority insisted that “kabukabu” has come to stay, noting that any attempt to outlaw it would be anti-people. Rather, he urged the transport department of FCTA to fashion a way of integrating them into the transport policy:
“Since the urge for survival forced people into it, the government should find a way of regulating it by registering and taking details of those who operate “kabukabu” in Abuja. Once you register the vehicle, it would be difficult for the user to indulge in criminal ventures.”