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Akumbu Uche: Final Bus Stop

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dreamstime_m_49492241I won’t lie; I was disappointed to learn that the Lagos State Ministry of Transportation plans to employ 1,000 University graduates as bus conductors.

Considering the recession and the rate of unemployment, I should be happy with any measures to help Nigerian youth earn an honest living, right? Yet, I can’t help but feel sorry on their behalf. All those sacrifices their parents made to fund their tuition; all that studying, the exams and final-year projects…. Is this what it has all come down to? When they filled in Accounting, Pharmacy, Law and Engineering on their JAMB forms, did they ever contemplate that at the end of their four, five, six-year academic journey, their only reward would be a piece of paper that simply qualified them to shepherd people in and out of tottering danfos and ramshackle molues?

I completed my youth service in 2013. Optimistic about starting my professional life, I moved to Lagos to hunt down opportunities. I remember hating the daily rain but loving the straight-forwardness (when compared to my former abode, Abuja) of the public transport system. On one of those rides, the conductor was surprisingly, courteous and neatly dressed. From his diction, I could tell he was well educated. I remember thinking how wonderful it would be if more bus conductors were like him yet how hopeless my own prospects seemed.

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry for too long. I was able to find a job doing something I love. However, telling people that I teach has made me self-conscious about my own snobbery. Sometimes, I get the condescending “Oh. You must be a very patient person.” Other times, I am asked, “Do you really love children or are you managing it for now?”

On such occasions, I am rudely reminded that I will always be someone else’s bus conductor.

My Anglican catechism teaches me that “the Church upholds the dignity of labour, whether it is in productive or service work, or whether it is in the rearing of children and the maintenance of the home.”

As much as I appreciate an ideal where all occupations worthy of respect, the reality is that we live in a status-driven society where basic rights have been converted into privileges accessible only to those on the upper rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Accepting this uncomfortable truth can push us to improve our circumstances, as celebrated in the likes of the 2006 biographical movie The Pursuit of Happyness. However, the rules of the game keep changing and the cycle of inequality keeps spinning – which is why on getting to what was supposed to be the Promised Land, many of our youth will have to eke out a living as conductors transport assistants.

Perhaps they’ll bring in a much needed professionalism to the trade, decked out in crisp white shirts and slim black ties, wishing us all a nice day as they hand us our ticket stubs. Maybe they’ll adopt the faded singlet and saggy jeans uniform of their predecessors and the necessary street smarts.

Either way, I hope it doesn’t turn out to be their final bus stop.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Akumbu Uche holds a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Jos.She teaches Creative Writing and her own writing has been featured on Bella Naija, Brittle Paper, The Kalahari Review, Medium, Nowhere Magazine, qarrtsiluni and Saraba Magazine.She enjoys dramatic films, travelling and listening to music. Follow her on Instagram.

7 Comments

  1. Hannah

    November 8, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks for this thought provoking write up. I once studied and lived in Europe (France). They have there a greater sense of dignity of labour. The minimum wage is such that the average employee (be it banker or cleaner) lives comfortably.
    I love the statement we live in a status-driven society where basic rights have been converted into privileges accessible only to those on the upper rungs of the socio-economic ladder” because it is very true and lays at the foundation of our societal problem in Nigeria.
    In my humble opinion, to have a Nigeria of our dream, a Nigeria that is the envy of other nations, we need a major social restructuring and the aim of the restructuring should be DIGNITY FOR every citizen and resident of the country regardless of status.

  2. Nunulicious

    November 8, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    Dignity in labour. Hmm. The ticket sellers of the BRT are graduates you know. But still, it’s somehow. Go to school only to end up being a “transport assistant” when there are many uneducated folks who can and should be doing such.
    I thought the world is now in a knowledge based economy. How come the most progressive state in Nigeria is converting its knowledgeable demographic into menial labour? It’s somehow sha.

  3. lounge

    November 8, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    I like the write up. Th provoking y saddening.

  4. Joke

    November 8, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    Me I no go lie. This will not be my portion or children’s’ portion in Jesus name and like you said, I hope it will not be a final bus stop Eg You don’t need a college degree to be a respected police man or woman in some parts of the world. You can go to an Academy after High School to get trained. Baba. God have mercy has it come to this. So why the Medicine, Law, Engineering, Economics etc. They should all have studied customer service then. It will be tough on some people psychologically. Better to do cabbi, comedy or act then if it is only about earning but what about fulfillment. Hmnn God have mercy, I will express the truth in my heart. I don’t want to become such after years of studying in Uni. I no go lie.

  5. That-I-May-Fly

    November 8, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    Why is it that sometimes people who have been fortunate to study or live abroad paint such an untrue picture of the abroad? Truth is the minimum wage in France is nothing to write home about and there’s lots of poverty in pockets of France. Yes, their poverty may not be as bad as ours because their government provides the majority with access to clean water, decent homes, electricity, functioning transportation etc. but to make it seem like people don’t struggle to make ends meet in France or other developed countries is frankly misleading, It has very little to do with dignity in labour. They simply have a different social and cultural system to ours. There’s a lot of dependence on the state and elections are won based on what’s on offer by the parties, unlike in Nigeria where we there’s a lot of dependence on friends and relatives causing the government to be lax in their provisions of social security for the citizens.

    And what’s this dignity in labour sef? Does it not mean being paid a living wage in whatever profession you choose or find yourself? It has very little to do with grades of jobs and how is that bus conductors can have dignity in labour if they don’t get paid enough to even live on?
    People complaining about Nigerian graduates being offered bus conductor jobs has very little to do with a lack of dignity in labour. People need to realise that tertiary education in Nigeria and most parts of the world is a scam! Why would you waste four years of your life to get a worthless degree? Most youths in Nigeria have degrees than they have common sense. The powers that be know that tertiary education to most does not get them that financial freedom they seek, but they still sell it as people’s hopes out of poverty! We need a complete rethink of the education system in that country. People should stop going to higher institutions to study old theories that have no place in the real working environment or where they cant stand shoulder to shoulder with many of their peers in other parts of the world. If all that money used in sending them to university was put together to start a business, they will be far better off financially. Many go to university and they cant even develop independent thought process beyond what they crammed in class. It’s a crying shame. There are so many mushroom universities whose degrees are worth no more than a toilet paper paper, yet year after year, many break their necks to get in then complain that they can’t find jobs later.

    • TeeS

      November 8, 2016 at 9:46 pm

      Well, I understand where you’re coming from, but many of us did menial jobs in college that were paying 8-12 dollars an hour. But we were all expecting that once we graduated we would be starting off at least 50grand a year. Which is very decent for a college graduate. To be thankful, I’m making more than that as an engineer. Why would I go through 5 years of college , sleepiness nights, paycheck to paycheck life, accumulate student loans and then someone tells me that oh. Sorry oh, we are offering you a job at the bus station for 10 an hour. Who really wants that?
      It’s not just about status it’s how much you’ve invested in your future just to avoid that 10/hr. It’s heart breaking to now be thankful to be offered Starbucks or Walmart job. Nah mehn.
      On the other hand if you studied history and you love what you do , then the money they’re paying you wouldn’t matter because it’s what you love doing.
      But who loves being a conductor ???
      I was a tutor for kids in the projects while I was in college and I loved it. I was happy to be investing in someone’s future so they become better people in life. But as a conductor , what are you doing? Collecting and giving money to passengers ?
      Why can’t Nigerians just even use a bus pass system ? Talk for another day

  6. smith

    November 9, 2016 at 11:14 am

    nice 1 I truly did enjoy reading this…my opinion about this, well that’s what it has come to there is nothing much we could do about it. It’s probable all the govt has to offer atm if the pay is good the buses are tush and the worker are respected then rad. Trust me when I say graduates are doing more f**ked up sh*t in lagos for peanuts *excuse my french*

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