Moses Olalekan joined Uber, a ride-sharing app last year when his yellow taxi business wasn’t bringing in enough money for him to take care of his wife and six children. “This country is hard,” he told Saturday Sun while puffing his cigarette. “I had no choice but to sign up for Uber app as a driver so that I can be making good money for my family but the experience has been both good and bad.”
Olalekan revealed that in the course of taking his passengers from one to place to another, he now knows how deep moral decadence has eaten into the society. He swears that if any of his female children live the kind of life some of the young, female passengers he offers his car services to live, he would skin them alive.
An experience with a female passenger
He said he has had female passengers who would wake up in the morning, hop into his taxi and move from one hotel to another just to meet with their male clients. He added that some of these girls change their clothes in his taxi, not minding his presence.
“One day, one girl told me to take her to a hotel in FESTAC Town, Lagos at about 11 am,” he recalled. “When we got there, she told me to wait for her and I did. She came out four hours later and told me to take her to another hotel in Ikeja. When we got there, she insisted again that I wait for her because she would have to hit a club at the Island.”
Olalekan couldn’t hold himself anymore when she came into his taxi after spending hours in the hotel in Ikeja. He asked her what job she does and she laughed at him, calling him old school. This passenger later told him after changing her dress in his taxi that she sleeps with different men for money. She said she was an undergraduate in one of the federal universities and sleeps with different men to raise money for her school needs.
According to him, when he dropped her at a popular club in Lekki, she thanked him and paid him for his patience. She also gave him a generous tip. But all the same he felt bad that such a little girl would live her life having sex with different men just to make ends meet.
Getting passengers to pay for service
He said that while sometimes he becomes an emergency therapist for some of his riders who share their problems with him and ask for his candid opinion, he has also had his own fair share of unruly and evil passengers.
“I took some guys to a party venue sometime last year and they refused to pay me the complete fare when we got to their destination,” he told Saturday Sun. “They claimed I hiked the fare. I tried to explain to them that it was the right fare since it was peak period, but they refused. One of them pushed me and the other tried to punch me. I was lucky I was strong because I fought back and insisted they paid me. They grudgingly did and I drove off.”
A man’s reason for going into the business
Life lost meaning for 42-year-old Olutayo Adewusi when he lost his job three years ago. Adewusi was a hardworking, diligent and proactive marketer with one of the banks on the Island.
On that fateful day, he came to work as usual and ready to do his best but he got a rude shock instead. He was informed that the bank no longer required his services. His heart sank immediately. He thought of the fate of his wife and three children with him jobless and tears flowed down his face. He told Saturday Sun that life after that was hell. His wife who was working in an insurance company and doing petty trading by the side was crumbling under the weight of the financial responsibilities of their family.
“Things were hard. Eating good food became a luxury my family could no longer afford,” he said. “Some months after, a neighbour introduced me to Uber. He said I could make ends meet by riding Uber taxis. Seeing no other alternative, I agreed.”
Adewusi had a Honda Accord car that he rarely used after he lost his job. He thanked his lucky stars that he didn’t sell it when things became tough financially for his family. He borrowed money from his cousin and fixed the car. Then applied to be an Uber driver and a new chapter started in his life. But he didn’t really think about the challenges and dangers that are associated with meeting different people and taking them to their destinations especially at night.
Many months after he started making ends meet by riding Uber, he read news reports about how some criminals lure Uber drivers with false pretense, snatch their cars and even kill some of them in the process.
“Fear gripped me. Since then, I became paranoid when two or more guys enter my car. I bought a pen knife for my protection even though I knew it won’t be a match for these criminals who move around with guns,” Adewusi revealed.
According to him, “if I get any request after 9pm, I ask the rider where they are going and if I don’t feel comfortable going there, I cancel the trip. Unlike before when I could go to almost anywhere in Lagos at anytime, now, I prefer to move around my area in Ikorodu road when it is very late.”
Risk of carrying passengers with drugs
Benjamin Udom, another Uber driver who joined the platform recently, said apart from security threat, many riders also have drugs on them while taking their rides.
“On several occasions, our riders have drugs on them, especially during weekends,” he claimed. “A lot of people use Uber for different kinds of things. They put boxes in your boot and you don’t know what is inside some of these boxes. It is unfortunate that the police will know that you are an Uber driver who doesn’t know anything about your passenger’s life and still want to implicate you.”
He then went to illustrate his point with a deeply personal story: “There was a day I took a guy to Ikeja, Lagos and he had hard drugs on him. The police stopped us on the way and found out that the guy had drugs on him; it was around 11pm. Meanwhile, I had called a friend that I was coming to see him after I drop my passenger so he was expecting me. In fact, while the policemen were still searching, the guy called me and I told him that I was in the middle of an issue and would talk to him later.
“But the policemen said they wanted to speak with the guy. At the end, they insisted that he and I had been doing the business together and were using Uber as cover-up. Yet I knew nothing about the whole thing. The guy was arrested and they wanted to arrest me too. But I had to use the money I had on me to rescue myself out of the mess. I was sure once I got to the station, they would delay me there so I had to give them N20, 000 and they allowed me to go.”
Paying for female Uber driver’s service willy-nilly
Abigail Martins, a female Uber driver in Lagos said that she will never forget one night when she took a couple from Ketu to Ajah at 10pm only to discover they didn’t have cash to pay her.
“On getting there, the man said he did not have cash and needed to withdraw from the ATM at a bank there but the transaction failed. Then he said he would transfer the money to my account but that also failed. I could not fight them or raise my voice because we are not expected to do that.”
Martins revealed that there was a way she could report such situations on the ride-sharing application under fare review but it has to be done before ending the trip and she had already ended the trip before the problem came up. She felt helpless because she really needed the money for her brother’s hospital bill the following day.
“I reported it later using another platform where I could report problems on the application. They got back to me and said since I didn’t do it on fare review, there was nothing they could do. The amount was N5, 300. It meant that I just wasted my time, but what would I do?”
Two weeks later, Martins said she picked a guy from Surulere and headed to a popular restaurant on Lagos Island. On their way, the guy started telling her how beautiful she looked and wondered if she was interested in getting to know him better. She declined politely and told him to allow her focus on getting him safely to his destination because he kept touching her head and shoulders.
“I was scared when he got angry and started screaming at me,” Martins said. “He called me a prostitute who was pretending. He said that only prostitutes become taxi drivers to seduce different men. He even declared at a point that he won’t pay me a dime when he gets to his destination.”
But luckily she knew one of the policemen at a checkpoint close to the restaurant her irate passenger was going. She parked and reported his threats to the police who insisted on riding with her till she drops him off. Martins revealed that when she got to the restaurant, her visibly angry passenger paid his complete fare while cursing her under his breath and eyeing the policeman.
“That was the first time I was very scared for my life as an Uber driver,” she confessed. “I didn’t know what would have happened to me if that policeman didn’t help me. I felt so helpless being touched inappropriately by a man who didn’t respect my hustle. I am just doing this to raise money for my own business.”
Devising self-defence strategies
Another female Uber driver, 36-year-old Prisca Ebohon doesn’t ride at night for fear of being robbed or kidnapped. She recalled a scary experience she had late last year when a man, she picked from a location, was joined by three other men and they were looking at her suspiciously all through the ride.
According to her, at one point, the one sitting with her in the front seat tried to touch her laps while his friends burst into laughter when she warned him to desist from his action. She kept praying for them to get to their destination on time so that she would feel safe again.
On another occasion, she picked two men who looked suspicious. It was almost 9pm and they were talking incoherently all through the journey. Her fears heightened when they got to their destination and claimed that they didn’t have cash to pay for their fare.
They insisted she drove them to a nearby ATM point so that they could withdraw money and give to her. She did and they withdrew the money and gave to her. “On my way home, I thanked my stars and told myself I won’t ride at night anymore,” she toldSaturday Sun.
Right now, she is attending self-defense classes where she is learning tactics like Taekwondo, Judo, Karate, as she plans to ride Uber for a long time because she enjoys driving and sharing little talks with her passengers. In addition, she keeps an army officer’s number on speed dial and she has befriended some police officers in many parts of Lagos for safety sake.
“Riding Uber as a woman in Nigeria is double challenge because some guys believe you are free meat for them,” she said. “Once they see you, they assume they can touch you anyhow, treat you anyhow and you can’t do anything about it. I always shock them when I tell them not to mess with me.”