On Tuesday 12th November 2019, residents of the Federal Capital Territory woke up to the news that the FCT Minister, Adamu Bello had effected a ban on commercial tricycles in all major routes within the metropolis and suburbs.
The Minister also constituted a “Ministerial Joint Task Force” on Keke comprising of the Military, Police and Civil Defense to enforce the ban. While commuters bore the immediate brunt of the Association of Tricycle owners held a protest in Abuja calling for a lift of the ban.
Making my way home from a symposium where I, Peter Obi and a couple of other politicians and activists had waxed lyrical about young people and the future of Nigeria yesterday, I noticed from Jabi to Life Camp, people were trekking in herds. Little children and teenagers in uniform, adults, traders with wares on their heads; it was quite the sight.
The Taxis were not enough for the surge, and taking advantage of the surge in demand, they hiked their prices. It was clear, the banning of commercial tricycles (Keke) in the Federal Capital Territory had come into full effect and the class of people who constitute the majority in our artificial city were feeling the full effect.
On Nigeria and a history of lazy, anti-people policies…
The banning of commercial tricycles popularly known as “keke” in FCT is another addition to the long list of banning quick fixes the Nigerian Government leans on when indiscipline and corruption within a deeply rotting system prevents government from putting in place strong systems to effectively regulate activities in different sectors.
The Political Angle… On February 26th 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari was declared winner of the 2019 Presidential Elections. The chaos that ensued from the celebration will forever be imprinted in the minds of residents of the FCT. Keke drivers took over inner streets and major streets, in some locations, harassed people, and damaged vehicles in celebration of Buhari’s victory. The Polls and mood on election day showed a lot of Abuja people did not vote for Buhari’s second term. There was resentment on both ends. But let us look at the numbers and critical mass as well as the build up to the 2019 elections.
I was integral in the campaign of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and I can recall clearly the meeting between the Keke driver’s association and the office in charge of publicity. Prior to this meeting, I had gone over and beyond to bring the party and the publicity team of the PDP Presidential campaign to pay attention to Keke drivers. To and from work during the campaign, I noticed no one had engaged them and unlike 2015, Keke drivers and many poor people in the FCT were not emotionally invested in any candidate. A major disservice the opposition party did was not targeting the emotional investment from the populace. The election was the oppositions to lose. It was right there for the taking. I may or may not write an in-depth article on “How to lose an election” to expand on this from an insider’s point of view but for now, let us stick to the tricycle part of this conversation.
I approached the National Publicity Secretary severally stating that we needed to engage Keke drivers within the FCT. Save for Kwankwasiyya, few political stickers were visible on tricycles in the FCT. Every time I came forward I was told it was a brilliant idea and the National Publicity Secretary would look at it eventually. Abuja wasn’t the only place, Kwankwasiyya boys from Kano and other young Northern volunteers pled with the leadership severally. There was no bigger branding, name retention and recognition strategy than getting the buy in of commercial tricycle association who would in turn evangelize to the millions of commuters who depended on them.
In my neighborhood I reached out to an influential kiosk owner; Mallam A to reach out to the Keke association office close to the house. He returned with good news, they were willing and eager. The game was in the party’s court to mobilize.
January 2019 I turned up at legacy House for work and some leaders of the Keke Drivers Association in Abuja made it to the Publicity Secretary’s office. I was elated to see them. The National Publicity Secretary looked at me and said ‘Ehen Ndi see your people” I felt relief. If we did not go to engage the Keke drivers, the Keke drivers Association has finally come themselves to engage us. Surely this would be taken seriously. The next couple of weeks became increasingly frustrating with Mallam Abdullahi A and Mallam Usman A calling repeatedly for updates on next steps to take with other drivers. There was no response from our end (Yes! Even at this point, there were barely stickers on Kekes round FCT), the officials called again. The last call was to let me know there was pressure from the ruling party and that once they gain access, they may not be able to hinder that conversation from happening. I apologized profusely and promised to get back to them.
The end of the next week which was the first week of February, Buhari and Osinbajo stickers flooded the FCT. I drove out of my neighborhood to see 4+4 everywhere. We had this in the bag, we scuttled it.
The thing with political branding and PR is that it just like everything else, is an attempt to convince and sell yourself or your candidate or your party. It is no different from introducing a new product into the market. You have to aggressively sell that product. If there is a product already in domination the market you want to dominate, you have your work cut out for you. As it is with a new dishwashing agent seeking to topple Morning fresh, so it is with Presidential candidates seeking to unseat another. It is erroneous and I am pointing it out now as I did then, to think that Nigerians being dissatisfied with Buhari’s rule meant they considered PDP the answer. They partly had to rebrand, repackage and reach out to the people.
I have experienced grassroots politics, though expensive because of the large number of people involved, it is cheap per individual. A poor Nigerian especially those of Northern extraction will remember you for a gesture as simple as handing face caps to them or giving them a shirt or even your sticker to adorn their Keke. It is not cash but it means you thought of them. If a recognizable face met with them, it would have been everything. One party thought of engaging Keke drivers much later than the other but then that party moved and did something. We lost that battle.
To revisit the wild celebrations of the Keke Drivers it has been stated by the leaders of their organization that they are over 40,000 in FCT. If up to 1000 Keke drivers were involved in the vandalizing of properties on the day Mr. President was declared winner, the FCT would still be reeling from the effects of that day. So let’s say at best 500 and this is a gross exaggeration because they were not nearly up to. If 100 Keke drivers crowd a street to celebrate, the traffic jam may take a day to clear up. What we are looking at then is two things; Keke drivers like many other Nigerians were not emotionally invested in any candidate. Secondly, the celebrations on the day Buhari was declared reelected was carried out by a small group of people who were able to cause damage because of the failures of law enforcement.
Having said this to counter all narratives of “They deserve this because they voted Buhari”, I also want to make it clear that everyone is entitled to their vote. This is a democracy.
On the tyranny of the Middle and Upper Class in Nigeria… Every civil society conversation I have these days in centered on how to get a critical mass of Nigerians emotionally invested in the activism for a better Nigeria. I remember several mentions on how Nigerians will go to the end of the world for BBNaija contestants but will not for causes dear to the nation.
The truth is for the poor in Nigeria, suffering is constant, it doesn’t matter who is in power. The GDP calculations we speak of are alien concepts to them as the flawed system that keeps them oppressed remains and as the gap between the haves and have not’s continues to widen, resentment grows. Resentment among the poor is easily fueled by the growing stream of charlatans and demagogues with messages no one seems to be able to curtail. This also needs its own article.
The reaction to the ban on Keke revealed that gap. While people trekked kilometers on Tuesday and Wednesday, privileged residents expressed gratitude that the menace of Keke was out of their way. “How can a capital city as developed as Abuja be stained with Keke all over the place?”, “Have you seen how these guys drive?” was the general reaction. Some FCT residents even went as far as saying that the discomfort the people trekking were facing was a sacrifice they (who were not trekking) were willing to make. It appears middle class and elite Nigerians do not see poor people or the Nigeria of the poor. We can only relate to certain brutal realities when it hits us and then we rise and use our platforms to call for a better Nigeria; A better Nigeria for who? And when we call for this better Nigeria we seek the buy in of people who have never known a better Nigeria. For them this is their normal and when we get the changes our privileges seek, we rejoice and continue to live in our Nigeria while they continue in theirs.
Also we view the proletariat not as beings with their own lives and rights but only with relation to serving us; our maids, security officers etc. and can only point issues because of the proximity to us and how their own discomfort affects us. We also see the poor as a discomfort in our way, clogs in the way of our daily elitist activities that are not up to as much importance as we are. This divide has far reaching consequences.
Is Keke the Menace? According to Nairametrics, by the last quarter of 2018, Abuja recorded 20,573 Drivers Licenses issued. These licenses for car drivers in 2018 alone count for over half the Keke population in the FCT. Of the total number of accidents (3,495) recorded in the 2018, cars accounted for the highest numbers involved with a whopping 1,312. A combination of minibuses, motorcycles, trucks, tankers and trailers shared the remaining number. If the total number of cars nationwide is at the 11 million mark, Abuja which is densely populated will have at least a million cars. These figures should help us do the math on what populates roads in the FCT, what causes traffic, emissions, accidents and what should be banned if banning is the answer to everything. Some days poor people in the FCT wake up to a ban on buses and then after enduring suffering, the buses are returned. Some days taxis are banned and then reinstated. The constant however, is the discomfort of the poor in the FCT.
The revenge of the proletariat… A presidential candidate who went on to become President in Nigeria built his entire personality cult on a disdain for the well to do in Nigeria. These sentiments steamed from several cultures where the rich would put up glamorous shows for the poor to come out and watch. Reactions grew over the years from curiosity to amazement, adoration, indifference and finally disdain. You can draw a straight line between growing inequality and these reactions in that order. The poor may aspire but do not like rest of us. It is not envy; it is indifference and sometimes outright disdain. We have shown them time and again in individual interactions how disposable they are and we too have visited them with occasional injustice. They know us all too well and we are definitely not the same.
When you put the poor man’s voting choice on the table, you will see clearly the result of that disdain and where they exert it. You want your Senator stating key policies towards growth and youth but the youth you see are hardly theirs so while you’ll take a town hall meeting where you’ll get concrete promises; they’ll take Dino Melaye telling them about his sexual prowess. And when you tell them they need to vote for better, they know what better means to you and where it stops and that opportunity where they get to decide leadership for the rest of us, they give us the biggest middle finger and muddy the water.
Do they suffer the effects of their election choices? Yes they do! But no amount of Schadenfreude will change the fact that we all suffer it too and that because suffering is a constant to them, it makes next to no difference to their reality; at least they see it that way. Schadenfreude on their part is in watching you descend to that which you ignore and pretend does not matter. We are all in this together.
The Keke drivers have protested and threatened legal action and today Thursday, the 14th November 2019, they are back on the streets. Yes! they came out in rough celebrations, some of them almost scratched your cars to let you know that your joy about them being taken off the road was short-lived and Yes! life as we know it is back. But whatever that discomforts looks like, remember that in truth, we are all in each other’s way and something eventually has to give.