BLESSING AFOLABI writes about daily activities of truck drivers regarded as highway bullies by other road users
Forty-seven-year-old truck driver and a native of Nasarawa State, Shammah Yakubu, sat in his truck sleeping like a newborn as our correspondent walked up to the lorry park filled with trucks, ‘motor boys,’ and drivers.
At the entry to the park, diverse mercantile activities were going on. There is a police station inside the park which looks like an abandoned gas station. Most of the drivers/motor boys were servicing their trucks.
Further into the park, a mosque rests eastwards and at about 1pm, some occupants of the park rushed to the mosque to observe prayer after ablution. A road path with potholes filled with water towards the left area of the park leads to some shops and suburban houses.
Our correspondent approached some men fixing vehicles at the entrance to the park. They described where to locate the drivers in the park. Apparently, they were motor boys and mechanics.
Yakubu, earlier seen in his truck sleeping upon entry into the park, was one of the drivers who spoke with our correspondent. He said that he had been driving trucks for over 29 years. He stated further that he started driving a truck after trying out other jobs. He said that truck driving was risky, stating that insecurity and bad roads impeded smooth navigation on the road.
He said, “No job is easy. But one must endure it especially if it’s a legal job and it fetches one money. We work round the clock, which is not meant to be. Louts (agberos) threaten, extort us and break our side mirrors sometimes. Many uniformed men also ask money from us but the louts disturb us for levies as if we owe them money.’’
Yakubu’s motor boy eavesdropping on the conversation with Saturday PUNCH spoke from under the vehicle where he was effecting repairs with a mechanic. He said, “The road no good o, abeg help us tell the government. The agberos, kidnappers, and robbers sef dey disturb us.”
Yakubu said that the job afforded him little time to see his family since he had to be on the road for days, adding that he was lucky to have escaped deaths on many occasions on the road. He said, “In my 29 years of driving trucks, I haven’t had an accident. I am usually careful while driving and it has helped me. I don’t drink or play music in motion. I only listen and communicate with my engine.”
The truck driver stated that he took adequate rest whenever it wasn’t his turn to load, noting that he also wasn’t into drugs to stay vigilant.
He said, “One cannot cheat nature. When it’s time to rest one must rest. Some drivers deceive themselves by taking drugs thinking it will keep them awake and they end up dozing off while driving, causing accidents. A good driver must park his vehicle when dizzy.”
In past years, truckers’ recklessness had caused accidents, deaths, road blockage and others. The truckers blamed the development on bad roads, extortion, fear of government agencies’ levies, and insecurity among others.
The PUNCH reported that in Lagos State only, 340 accident cases involving trucks and tankers were recorded between January and July 2022 and truckers blamed human factors, bad roads, and fake spare parts as the cause.
The Association of Maritime Truck Owners vowed to proffer solutions to factors responsible for constant accidents of articulated trucks on the roads. The association also lamented a high rate of inflation, joblessness, decayed infrastructure, massive urban slum, insecurity, acute food shortages, and mass hunger in the sector.
Other drivers’ accounts
Narrating his experience, 34-year-old Maniru Umar, a former truck mechanic, held a cigarette in one hand while fixing his faulty vehicle alongside other mechanics. He told Saturday PUNCH that he started driving trucks nine years ago, stating that he had encountered robberies and kidnappings including accidents caused by the bad roads.
He stated that occasionally he was on the road for a week or two as he didn’t drive at night and always parked his truck to sleep at night.
“I usually ply the Lambata-Lapai-Bida road in Niger State and it is in terrible condition. Sometimes, we have to spend days on the road. Apart from bad roads, we battle robbers. Some of them hide on the expressway to perpetrate evil,” Umar said.
The indigene of Plateau State stated that there was no rest on the job, adding that there was little time between loading and getting on the road to deliver the goods. This, Umar said, made him feel constant pains on his body, causing him to take drugs for relief.
Umar, who said he is married with kids but lost three of his children, added that he wanted to take a second wife but the condition of his job didn’t permit him as he barely had time to see his family.
Another trucker, Amoo Sodiq, lamenting the state of roads in the country, said he was often frustrated by the situation.
As Sodiq spoke with our correspondent, one of his colleagues who refused to give his name due to fear of reprimand from his boss, added that several rules frustrate their operation in Lagos State. The truck driver affirmed that state and federal task force teams, Federal Road Safety Corps officers, men of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency and other non-state actors chased their trucks, thereby compounding their predicament.
He said, “When we drive into Lagos during the day, these uniformed road officials demand some things from us such as fire extinguishers, tyres and wheel spanners. If a tyre bursts or the truck develops any mechanical fault on the way, they extort us instead of assisting. We are charged N150, 000 for our trucks to be towed in such cases. Trucks are unpredictable and can develop a fault at any time. Even humans get tired and break down when stressed.
“We cannot steal but the people are frustrating us, and this act is encouraging more societal ills. I cannot watch my family suffer so I have to work. Most of us are artisans. We do this job to fend for our families. We are treated like trash and sometimes beaten with wheel spanners and other objects while embarking on journeys. The agberos destroy our side mirrors.
“In developed countries, people are not treated that way. If we don’t transport food from one location to the other, how will people feed and survive? I have been driving for over 12 years. The issues in Nigeria are disheartening. If we vote next year, what is the assurance that things will get better. Motorists see us as bullying them on roads but things are also not easy for us with the way agberos and others treat us.”
On insecurity, the artisan-cum-trucker stated that there were some routes they did not use once it was 8pm, adding that they had to study the road, guessing safer time for them to journey on. He said, “We cannot ply the Ife-Ilesha route once it’s 8pm because either one is kidnapped or robbed.”
He added that his family lived in Ibadan, Oyo State, and he usually visited them during the weekend to rest.
Also, 31-year-old Muritala Muhammed a truck driver who has been on the job for over eight years told Saturday PUNCH that he resorted to driving due to fund paucity to further his education and fend for his family.
He stated that his experience commuting on the highway was similar to that of other drivers as he encountered robbers and bad roads while travelling, adding that he had however mastered routes that helped him manoeuver his way to escape robbers.
Muhammed said hotly, “Robbers place stones on the road to cause gridlock to make it easy to rob us. I avoid travelling early because of them. I usually drive from the South-West to Kaduna, Gombe, Sokoto, and other parts of the North. Sometimes I stop over to see my family when I make trips. I get to rest when there is a gridlock in areas with dilapidated roads because the journey of a day may take three days.
“The issue with the attack or accidents sometimes is due to the brakes and lack of vigilance. If one wants the truck to halt at a particular point, one must have pressed it some meters ahead. When this doesn’t happen, it can lead to an accident.
“I don’t sleep when driving. I am always on alert because one doesn’t know when one will encounter robbers. I focus on the road and quickly jump off the vehicle when I sight robbers. At that point, I only think of my safety.’’
On his part, 35-year-old Salisu Mohammed stated that he learnt to drive under his boss’ supervision 16 years ago, adding that upon completion of his basic education, driving was the only job he ventured into which met his basic needs and allowed him to successfully teach others how to drive trucks.
Mohammed noted that the job was tedious, saying that entertaining fear would limit one on the job. He added that he was rather optimistic when embarking on a journey since one’s negative thoughts could materialise.
He said that the major issue was bad roads, pointing at a bad portion along the park.
Mohammed said, “This road is an expressway compared to the ones we use when we drive to the North to deliver gasoline. A journey of two hours could become two days. Whenever my tanker develops a fault on the road, I’m usually stuck. I rarely get help because the trucks coming cannot get to where I am on time.”
He told Saturday PUNCH that he usually took time to rest with his family after offloading goods.
Similarly, a native of Jos, Plateau State, 36-year-old Ishaku Awaal, stated that driving was his passion although he faced challenges on the job such as bad roads which impeded smooth navigation during trips.
Awaal said, “We drive throughout the day and face challenges from kidnappers and robbers. It is perplexing for us. When I drive for a while, I take two weeks off to be with my family to stay sane. Sometimes, when I return from a trip, it takes seven days before loading so I utilise that time to rest appropriately. The job begins during loading so there is no rest until it’s completed.’’
He, however, said that despite the challenges, through proceeds from the job he married, have children and built a house.
Awaal who said he started driving 10 years ago, described his first experience with kidnappers sometime ago while on his way to Kaduna State as devastating.
He said, “I was driving to Kaduna on that day when I suddenly bumped into some kidnappers. As soon as I sighted them, I jumped off my vehicle into the bush because I knew they were after my life and not the truck. After some hours, I returned to the truck when I was sure they had gone and continued the trip.”
In his account of near-death experiences, Umar said, “My brother who is a motor boy was kidnapped along Birnin-Gwari road, Kaduna State, alongside another passenger some weeks ago. The driver escaped during the attack. They were beaten mercilessly and haven’t been able to wear shoes since then. The rate of kidnapping is high in that area because the road is bad. If we have good roads, the rate of kidnappings and accidents will reduce. The government and well-meaning Nigerians should take action in providing security.
On his part, Salisu stated that in his 16 years of driving, he had been lucky to escape robberies or accidents on the highway, stating that many drivers faced such issues constantly. He said, “Those people causing havoc on the road are unpredictable. They can be on the road at any time of the day. One can bump into them when one least expects,” he added.
We don’t torment others on roads –Drivers
Yakubu said that drivers who terrorise other road users were unprofessional, adding that doing such was simply being unnecessarily boisterous on the road. He added that some drivers drove carelessly and intimidated others on the road because they took hard drugs and alcohol while driving.
“I am a professional driver and would not behave unruly while driving. I maintain my lane every time. Intimidating other road users can cause accidents. One doesn’t know the state of the driver in the next car or the passengers. They could be hypertensive. One has to be professional even to honk. If I have to honk then it’s either I’m trying to alert the oncoming/ongoing vehicle that a truck is approaching or to keep me cautious when I feel sleepy. Professional drivers will not use their trucks/honks to scare other road users,” Yakubu said.
Besides, Umar stated that he would not scare other road users or honk unnecessarily. “I only do that when I need to alert that there is an oncoming truck. I guess some scare people because they are frustrated, drunk, or to avoid agberos on the way,” he noted.
In his contribution, Sodiq stated that the country’s situation frustrated his efforts which made him behave unruly on the road and transfer aggression to other commuters.
He said, “When the uniformed men and agberos frustrate me, do you expect me to be friendly on the road?”
Awaal said that some drivers of smaller vehicles were fond of driving in an uncoordinated manner hence the intimidation from them.
He said, “Some of the small cars drive recklessly. We harass them so they can be alert and stay in their lane. I honk when I notice a driver is lost, bringing their attention back to the road. This act helps us to prevent accidents.”
Similarly, Salisu told our correspondent that sometimes they harass other commuters to alert them since he had encountered some who lost concentration while driving. He added, “It happens a lot of times, some drivers of smaller vehicles get lost in thoughts maybe because they are facing a hard time. When you honk at them, they become conscious.”
Narrating his encounter with truck drivers, a graphics designer, Mr Ola Omoye, said that he had experienced their reckless driving many times on the highway. He said, “I was in a private car with my boss at night and all of a sudden a truck hit us from behind, smashed the door and damaged the tyre. The truck driver zoomed off and I told my boss to chase him with the damaged tyre and that we will catch up with him.
“Luckily for us, we caught up with him and demanded that he pay for the damages. I climbed onto the truck, furious, and broke his window. Later on, some policemen intervened and drove him with the truck to a police station. He was released after he paid half of the cost for the repair of the door, which cost N600, 000. We later realised he was drunk. Most of the truckers drive recklessly because they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
Similarly, a middle-aged man, identified only as Olamilekan, said that his experience with truck drivers made him have his first road accident.
He said, “The first time I encountered a boisterous truck driver while driving was during the day while I was stuck in traffic. Suddenly, I heard a loud sound from my car. It was a truck that hit my car from behind. I made him pay N5, 000 for the damage. The second encounter was at night while returning from work. I wanted to overtake a truck when the driver abruptly double-crossed me. I tried to move away to avoid a collision, but unknowing to me, there was a car parked beside the highway which I bumped into. I had to pay N25,000 to the owner of the vehicle I damaged. My car also got damaged and was towed that night.”
For Isaac Olomide, he would not forget the day a truck damaged his vehicle on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway. He said, “He honked loudly for me and I tried to avoid him. The next thing was that he swerved to my side and damaged it. As I stopped my Toyota Camry car to look at the damage but his ‘motor boy’ put his head out from the car and shouted that I should go and repair. He zoomed off after.’’
In his comment on the issue, a professor of geography and regional planning at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, Bamidele Badejo, stated that the major issue with the transport sector was the faulty transportation policy, adding that the focus of the current transportation policy was on passenger movement without concentration on the movement of freight (goods/cargo), which he explained was indirectly affecting other commuters.
Badejo, who is also a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, further said that the poor road network was due to the initial design of the roads, stating that the failure of the railway system transferred the movement of goods through the heavy goods vehicle to the highways meant for passengers, light vehicles, and goods.
Badejo said, “The roads designed to carry someone my size, now carry a 40-footer container. That’s why our roads are in bad shape. Since there is no deliberate design/provision to accommodate trucks, they park on the highway, and because they do not have signals or reflectors, cars ram into them leading to a road traffic crisis. The design and infrastructure are faulty, to remedy it, the development approach of the transportation of goods must be holistic.”
He added that another issue was poor regulation of the truck operation, stating, “How can a truck leave Lagos to Maiduguri, Abuja, or Benin City without being properly regulated? No rules or guidelines guiding their operations. In the developed world, one cannot drive continuously for more than two hours but over here we want to make multiple trips as much as possible, in the process, violating the speed limit.
“The enforcement capacity is more of extortion than compliance. Truckers are rarely arrested, taken to a police station, and charged to court. There is a lot of overloading, speeding, dangerous driving and bullying on the highway without appropriate monitoring.”
He noted that the trucking business was dangerous in Nigeria, adding that the poor truck terminals and road network compounded traffic during loading and unloading.
“When travelling on Ore road for example, there is usually a chain of trucks on the highway. When there is a fault, the repair is done on the highway. Some states such as Lagos and Kano are attempting to create a solution to the issues of truck operation. If truck activities are channelled to railways, then there will be a prolonged lifespan of the roads being reconstructed,” he said.
Badejo advised the government to establish a guideline for truck operation and set up infrastructure development to provide for the truck needs along major highways in the country to prevent indiscriminate parking and constituting nuisance.
He added that the railway infrastructure development should be fast-tracked to create an east-to-west railway line for prompt movement of goods. According to him, doing so will reduce the pressure and presence of trucks on the road.
He said, “The inland water system in Lagos connects 28 states out of the 36 states in Nigeria. Calabar, Port Harcourt, Warri-Sapele port also connects to other states. We need an integrated intramural transport system for the movement of freights and containers. It reduces the burden and deterioration on the road transport system.”
On alleged drug use and intimidation of other road users by truckers, Badejo stated that insecurity and extensive hours of driving resulting in fatigue could prompt drug use and reckless driving.
He stated, “These issues should be addressed urgently. The drivers behave unruly since there is no one to penalise them. The law enforcers must ensure strict enforcement and compliance and desist from extortion. A campsite should be created for truckers for adequate rest. There must be a comprehensive blueprint for the development of the entire transport system.”
In his contribution to the issue, a Professor of transport management technology at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo State, Callistus Ibe, opined that inadequate training of truckers was responsible for the unruly behaviour and bullying they exhibited. He stated that proper training and orientation regarding road signs, highway codes, relationship with other road users, and conflict management would help them develop empathy for other road users and see them as complementary.
Ibe said, “Their job is an essential one but truck owners have failed in training their drivers. Truck owners should train them on the essentials and demands of the job, emotional stress and road conflict management, and compliance with road rules.”
He noted that the long hours of driving which resulted in fatigue, also contributed to their behaviour, stating, “After driving for long hours without adequate rest, they get tired and what we see as bullying is their coping mechanism. If anything threatens them, they become irrational. There should be enforced restrictions on prolonged hours of driving.”
On the truckers’ claim of extortion, insecurity, and bad roads, the transport expert noted that the state and local governments contributed to the situation, adding that unregulated taxing of the transportation management was the major reason for extortion and consequently, aggression from the truckers. He said that proper regulation and payment of tax to appropriate channels would reduce extortion.
Ibe stated, “The state and local governments have abandoned road maintenance and are only concerned about revenue. They keep tasking these trucks not knowing that it inversely increases the cost of goods. The inappropriate tax structure has created room for multiple taxations becoming unbearable for the drivers. The cost of transportation is then levied on the consumers of these goods, leading to starvation and high cost of food items.’’
The transport expert further explained that multiple taxations, harassment of drivers on the highway, and the toxic environment contributed to the intimidation and unruly behaviour truckers exhibited while on the road. He added that the environment was harsh for them and steps should be taken to relieve the situation, recommending adequate training of drivers and an appropriate taxing structure to check the situation.
NARTO, FRSC also speak
In his view, President, Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners, Mr Yusuf Lawal, stated that people perceived truckers as bullies due to the size of the truck compared to other vehicles, adding that fatigue owing to bad roads could be responsible for their irrational behaviours.
He, however, added that there was no justification for unruly acts on the road.
He said, “The road is worse now due to the rains. Drivers spend long hours on the road so this could make them aggressive. But we do not condone this attitude that is why we organise a training school for drivers twice a year on ethical behaviour. We also kick against night trips to ensure the drivers get adequate rest. Usually, if a driver flouts the rules, we either suspend them or withdraw the vehicle from them.”
Lawal urged drivers to avoid overloading their trucks and driving at night for their safety and protection of goods. He advised the government to fix the roads to ensure smooth trips.
On the levies paid by the drivers, Lawal said that it was a serious issue especially in Lagos State, South-East and the South-South. He added that some of the non-state actors caused mayhem on the road by stopping trucks on the highway and demanding levies.
Lawal noted, “These non-state actors would climb the trucks and cut the connection pipe. When the truckers need to use the brake, it doesn’t respond and this causes the truck to tumble. We are trying to interface with state governments to sensitise them for effective security in their corridors. As much as we want to ply the road to distribute goods, we need the assistance of various state governments to enable us to exercise our franchise.”
On his part, the Assistant Corps Marshal, Corps Public Education Officer, FRSC, Mr Bisi Kazeem, noted that the attitude of motorists remained a big challenge towards enthroning safer road culture, adding that the syndrome wasn’t peculiar to truck drivers but cut across motorists.
He stated that there were sanctions in line with the provisions of the National Road Traffic Laws, noting however that as the nation’s lead agency on road traffic management, the FRSC also initiated programmes and policies to engender best road safety practises among truckers. He identified the programmes to include the Road Transport Safety Standardisation Scheme which required fleet operators across the country with more than five HGVs or trucks to ensure minimum safety standards in the areas of driver training, vehicle maintenance and transport policy.
Kazeem said, “There are strategies utilised by the FRSC to dissuade drivers from driving under drugs or alcohol influence. We use alcolysers to carry out routine checks at various motor parks to detect drivers who operate above the required basic alcohol content. Such drivers are usually handed over to transport union leaders for proper sanctions. We also collaborate with the NDLEA to carry out seminars and advocacy programmes to sensitise the general motoring public on the inherent dangers of drunk driving.”
On extortion of drivers, he stated that the corps wouldn’t condone any form of sharp practices or patrol misconduct among its personnel. He noted that it took two to tango, advising drivers to desist from inducing FRSC officers with any form of gratification by possessing road-worthy trucks, driving licence, and obeying traffic rules.
The FRSC Corps Marshal said, “Towing of vehicles or obstructions form part of the FRSC statutory mandates towards safer road use in Nigeria in line with the FRSC Establishment Act 2007. Towing of broken-down vehicles or stationary trucks is non-negotiable because they are a potential road crash and it’s our duty to confiscate such vehicles without any delays. We charge them some amount of money when we tow vehicles. The distance covered by a towed truck to remove any obstruction determines the charges.”
Kazeem advised drivers to ensure proper vehicle maintenance and routine checks, adding that they should maintain a healthy state of mind, respect other road users and take precautionary measures to avoid any form of collision with other vehicles.