I can’t remember the last time I took a bus. Actually I can, it was sometime post the June 12 protests in Lagos. It was the only means of transport available. Nigerian buses are smelly, crowded, randomly timed (buses don’t move till they are full) and high risk modes of transportation because you never know whether the driver is actually licensed as he hurtles down bad roads at 120 kilometers per hour.
The English bus service is as civilized as the British of course, on time, clean, and only crowded during rush hour when the natives commute to and from work and they are generally happy to stand in orderly queues to board the bus and are sure that there will be another one coming if they miss the first one. The UK bus service is geared towards a structured economy, while I think the Nigerian bus services have always reflected and serviced our super entrepreneurial hustle economy.
In Nigeria we have the molue, the danfo and the luxurious. In the good old days of my misspent youth the ‘luxury’ buses were called by their company names – like The Young and Chidiebere. They usually had quaint philosophical anecdotes written on the side like “At all, at all Na em bad Pass”. In the UK you have coaches, with free newspapers, free wifi and lots of advertising.
I came across a site that calls itself Buses Around the World, not a single one of the more than 20 galleries featured buses from Africa (South Africa does not count here right now for inexplicable reasons). I googled ‘buses around Africa’ – all I got back were bus schedules for – did you guess right?- yes, South Africa. Apparently they are the only African country with scheduled bus routes online.
There is barely any mention of the quaint buses of Dakar, brightly colored and more than just a means of transportation, they are little works of art themselves. Perhaps a photographic project for the future ‘Buses Around Africa’. Or is it too late already? Have we forgotten them in our mad rush for sleek modernity and copy cat western inspired progress and development?
I wouldn’t say anyone bus is better than the other by the way, I enjoy the diversity. I would like to say that in Nigeria specifically and in Africa more generally we should do more to preserve the unique nature of what is ours. Lagos BRT buses are so soulless and without character, but I guess Lagosians are just happy they get them to their destination on time and in one piece I hear, and I get it.
Of course like all Nigerians I’ve been slightly embarrassed by the molue and the danfo in the past. It’s not clean or standardized or meet any of the other standards of oyibo and western life and living. I guess it reflects our general unhealthy embarrassment with things African and ancient. It took a trip to the UK to make me see that? Let’s hear it for the molue, even though I shall probably never get on one.