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05.11.2021 investigations ROUTES OF HORROR: Deaths, Disappearances… Travails of Bolt, Uber Drivers on Lagos Roads

Published 5th Nov, 2021

By Emmanuel Uti

Death puts everything into perspective, they say, but blindness did it for Tomi Waziri, a 27-year-old former Bolt driver.

Waziri was stuck in traffic on Apongbon Bridge, Lagos Island, at about 8 pm on September 12, 2019, with a passenger who was heading to Maryland, when he saw two men suspected to be teenagers walk to the direction of his car. He thought they were returning from their place of work, but they stopped by his car and began to hit its door.

“I immediately told my rider to keep her belongings because we were about to be robbed,” he tells FIJ.

By this time, one of the boys was hitting the mirror, asking Waziri to bring all of his belongings.

“Your phone! Your phone! The boy by my mirror screamed,” Waziri says. “With a gun in his hand, I began to shiver as I reached out to give him my phone. It was the first and the last time that I saw a gun.”

29 PELLETS IN THE HEAD

An x-ray of Waziri’s head after the incident

As he wound his mirror down to give the men his phone, what followed was a gunshot. “Blood of Jesus!” was all he said as he fell to the ground in pain, realising that he might never be the same again. Had Waziri been shot with a modern gun, he might not have made it. He is thankful he was shot with a locally made gun that did not end his life.

“The pellets scattered all over my face, pierced my eyes and entered my mouth and head. I had 29 pellets inside my head,” Waziri tells FIJ. “The one that entered my eyes did not touch my brain, but my eyes got ruptured and since then I’ve been blind. The doctor still wonders how I am alive.”

For the three months that followed, Waziri stayed in the hospital where he contemplated suicide before he decided to live an inspiring life despite the doctor’s bad report that he would be blind forever.

“I had a dream of being an entrepreneur, but I cannot be one again. I’ve now decided to live my life inspiring others, letting them know that it is how they choose to react to what happens to them that matters, not just what happens to them,” he says.

BOLT’S N250,000 REACTION

Waziri continues to wonder why it took Bolt days to contact him.

“What broke my heart the most was Bolt’s arrogance towards me. A top staff member of Bolt, Justin assured me tirelessly that the company would send its staff to sympathise with me. Till now, no one from Bolt has reached out,” he says.

On September 25, 2019, Bolt wrote a letter to Waziri, stating that he did not subscribe to its Driver Shield Insurance package and would only get N250,000 to treat himself. This was after he had spent over N1.7 million in the hospital.

Since Waziri received Bolt’s N250,000 in 2019, no one from the company has communicated with him. Waziri, who refers to himself as an ambassador of love, now lives with his wife and survives on what well-meaning people give him.

UBER DRIVERS ARE ALSO IN DANGER

Dr Steven Morenikeji would not ride Bolt. Adesanwo Adeola, his fiancee, said he preferred Uber to Bolt because he thought it was more secure.

Adeola began to worry when Steven had not returned home at 12 am on September 5, 2021. For someone who would go to work in the morning, it was odd that he was still out at midnight.

“He always shared his Uber trips with me, so I knew he was on an active trip. I called him to know why he was not yet home, but his number was switched off. I became scared,” she says.

“He is always charging in his car, so I became super worried. I had to call the company who gave him the car to notify them that something was wrong. They tracked the car and sent the address of where it was to me.”

At dawn, Adeola stormed 2, Oyadeyi Close, Ekoro Road in Abule-Egba, the address the car company sent to her. She knew something was really wrong when she got to the spot.

“His car was there, but his plate and a tyre had been removed. I took some pictures and went to the Meiran Police Station,” she said.

At the police station, she was told to pay N20,000 before officers could accompany her to the area. She paid N15,000 after much pleading. Then some officers drove to the spot.

“The officers met a mechanic working on the car when they got to the street. Then they asked him for the contact information of the owner of the car,” says Adeola.

“Before he called the men who dropped the car, he explained that the ‘owner’ told him he had a minor accident and he needed it repaired. Immediately the supposed owner arrived, the police arrested him and two other people suspected to be his friends.”

All the while, Adeola did not know her fiance was dead. The police only told her they could not guarantee that Steven would be found alive. She later learnt that her fiance died after being hit in the head, and his body was dropped on the Abule-Egba bridge.

Abule-Egba bridge

“The autopsy report revealed that his brain exploded before he died. He struggled to survive, but the men overpowered him. He was so full of life and non-judgmental. If his killers knew who he was, they would have let him be,” she says.

Now, the men who killed the 30-year-old radiographer have been remanded in Ikoyi Prison, while his family mourns his loss.

Steven had installed an Uber application on Adeola’s phone so she could monitor his trips and know where he was at all times. On the evening he was killed, she knew he was on an active trip. Days later, she could no longer see Steven’s account on the app as it had logged her out.

DISAPPEARANCE

Carol Ebenezer, 35, is unhappy. Fending for two kids with profits made from selling fruits by the roadside in Surulere makes her miss her husband every day. She welcomes this reporter almost in tears. Silence occasionally punctuates her words.

Her husband, Ebenezer Ademola, 42, was a photographer who decided to partner with Bolt. He promised her a special treat on February 14, 2021, Valentine’s day, but never returned home to keep his promise.

“Around 9 pm, he called to say he would prefer to eat eba when he returned,” Carol says. “He said he was on his last trip for the day. I did as instructed before I slept off.”

By 1 am, she could no longer understand why her husband had not returned home. She called several times, but his calls went unanswered.

“By 5 am, I called again, but this time, his phone was switched off. This was when I couldn’t hold myself together again,” she tells FIJ. “I called his brother and informed everyone in the area of what had happened before I went to my shop.”

By 5 pm the following evening, Ebenezer had still not returned.

“This was when his brother said we should file a report at Itire Police Station. We reported a missing person, a stolen phone, and a stolen car. Three days later, the case was transferred to Panti”, Carol says.

She reached out to Bolt to ask if they knew where her husband was, but Joy Ezinne, a representative of the company, said she had to get a police report before any information could be provided. When Carol presented it, Bolt told her that her husband’s last trip was at Elekutu in Ajah and gave her the rider’s phone number and name.

“An official at Panti asked that we pay some money so a tracker could track the last calls he received. We paid. But aside from a lady in my area who the officers reached out to, they refused to identify the other two people,” says Carol.

She thinks her husband may be alive. Seers and prophets have told her several times that he is alive, but in the den of kidnappers.

“A famous Ifa priest in Ijebu who told me the colours of the clothes my husband wore on February 14 assured me he would return someday,” she says.

“To date, Bolt is yet to reach out to me. They have neither called nor sent anyone to me. They only care about their money.”

FOUND IN A MORTUARY

For four weeks, Mrs Atama, with the help of her husband’s siblings, searched for Ismaila Ibrahim Atama, the father of her two children, but to no avail. One day, a call came in from Mainland Hospital Mortuary, Yaba. He had been found dead.

Ismaila left the house for work on March 12, 2021, but never made it back home. The 42-year-old filmmaker had a premonition that something may go wrong that day but still set out to work to make ends meet.

“When we were tired of looking for him, we contacted Bolt to provide us with the information we could use to locate him. But Bolt said we needed a police report before they would attend to us,” a female relative tells FIJ.

With a letter and an officer from Elere Police Station in Agege, the family went to bolt. Weeks later, Bolt told them they had replied to the police and if they needed further information they should go to the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) at Ikoyi, Lagos.

“We were thinking of how to go to the SFU when we discovered his corpse. We immediately took his corpse to the village and buried him according to Islamic tradition,” the relative says.

IRT OFFICERS COULD NOT HELP, BUT THEY TOOK A BRIBE

Ismaila’s sister remembers that while looking for her brother, the family visited the Intelligent Response Team (IRT) in Lagos, but to no avail.

“We gave the IRT the N240,000 they demanded. They said they were petitioning the Inspector-General of Police, but to date, they have not got back to us,” she says.

Bolt later told the family they could not locate the whereabouts of Ismaila as the trip he must have embarked on was offline – that is, not on the Bolt app.

“Bolt told us Ismaila had already ended his trip in Mushin and was offline,” she tells FIJ.

“What is surprising is that while my brother was missing, we went to a branch of his bank with a police officer to know if the money in his account was intact, and we found that Ismaila withdrew all the money in his account himself,” Kazeem Atama, one of Ismaila’s brothers, says.

ATTACKED BY RIDERS

Adeniji Olanrewaju, 33, a Bolt driver, was wearing a casual t-shirt on August 28, 2020, when he was stabbed three times in the neck by riders in Lekki.

He had picked up three riders at Mega Chicken in Lekki around 5 am and headed to Okota when one of his riders said he wanted to ease himself.

“When he entered the car, the operation began. The rider at the back brought out a small knife and stabbed my neck. The one who went to urinate began to punch me,” Olanrewaju explains.

“When they beat me to their satisfaction, they threw me out of the car. That was how I lost my black Toyota Camry. I went to Ajiwe Police Station to report the issue, but passed out. Till today, whenever I notice anyone behind me, I get triggered.”

COURAGE IN THE FACE OF DEATH

After struggling for his life at Onikan Bridge on May 13, 2021, Abama Phillips, a 36-year-old Bolt driver, swore to never accept a rider beyond 7 pm.

One of his riders had requested that he park his car on the bridge because he would like to urinate. It was odd, but Phillips did as instructed to please his passenger

“As he entered the car, he punched me in my eyes. Then the one at the back brought out a pistol and said he would kill me if I failed to cooperate. He said they needed my car for an operation and I had to give it to them. By this time, they had beaten me well,” he tells FIJ.

“In annoyance, I went all out to fight with the man who slapped me first. I didn’t care what would happen because I felt bad a man like me beat me. When I had beaten him and sat on him, I began to shout for help. That was when well-meaning young men came to my rescue. On sighting people coming, the one with the gun in the backseat made away with the vehicle.”

RIDER’S VIOLENCE AND AREA THUGS

Olalekan Babjide has had two terrible experiences in Lagos as a Bolt driver. In March 2019, two men broke his side mirror to take his phone and that of the rider. He could not do anything more than hand his phone peacefully to the men to prevent them from hurting his rider.

In December 2019, he was stabbed in Ikorodu by a rider after two of her accomplices ran away on sighting the police.

Kuton, a Bolt driver, who asked not to be named, was heading to Ajao Estate shortly after the government lifted the COVID-19 lockdown when he noticed he was being trailed.

“I decided to slow down to verify if they did trail us. In a blink of an eye, these men brought out a Dane gun and aimed at my face, but it hit my windscreen. I had to drive out of that area at high speed”, he says.

BOLT AND UBER’S REACTION TO SECURITY ISSUES

From the experiences of several Uber and Bolt drivers who lost their relatives to the insecurity in Lagos, it is evident that the companies do not compensate fallen drivers’ families.

In 2020, Bolt introduced a trip insurance cover for the safety of passengers and drivers. The insurance, called Bolt Trip Protection, is underwritten by AIICO Insurance PLC in partnership with AutoGenius.

According to The Cable, it covers emergency medical expenses, disability and even accidental death. The insurance is said to be available in all the 11 cities where Bolt operates across the country at no cost to passengers and drivers.

However, relatives of drivers who were either killed or missing told this reporter that they were treated with haughty disdain.

“Bolt did not even care to know how we felt,” the wife of a missing driver says. “They arrogantly requested a police report before they provided us with the details of my husband’s last trip. Since then, they have not contacted the family or even checked on us.”

Uber announced in 2019 that it had expanded its Partner Injury Protection coverage for driver-partners to include a daily payment benefit at no extra cost to the beneficiaries. In a statement, Uber hinted that a driver is covered from the moment they accept a trip to pick up a rider till the trip ends.

But Uber is yet to reach Adesanwo Adeola, whose fiance was killed on September 5, 2021, while on an active trip, or confirm her claims.

This reporter sent messages to Bolt and Uber via their Twitter handles to inquire if they had taken any action or had a plan to reach out to these families, but received no response.

FIJ also placed several calls to the companies’ phone numbers, but it wasn’t reachable. Messages sent to the company’s

HOW E-HAILING DRIVERS RISK THEIR LIVES

FIJ’s independent investigation revealed that the attacks on e-hailing drivers usually happen at night. And this is because many of these drivers work overtime to make ends meet.

For every trip, Uber gets a 25 percent commission from the drivers while Bolt gets a 20 percent commission. By evening, when many of these drivers begin to retire to their houses, they are either left with almost nothing. In most cases, this is after buying fuel and remitting money to car owners.

Uber, for instance, charges N77 per kilometre, N13 per minute, and a 25 percent commission. Bolt charges N70 per kilometre, N13 per minute, and 20 percent commission per trip. Some Lagos e-hailing drivers are paying for their cars in instalments, while others rent on a weekly basis. To remain in business, such drivers are expected to cover 150 kilometres every day.

To cover 150 kilometres on Lagos roads with gridlock, an Uber driver, for instance, will spend at least 10 hours on active trips. An average driver might earn N19,350 per day after spending 15 hours on the road.

However, after deducting Uber’s commission and money for fuel, the driver is left with N9,563. Meanwhile, most cars on the platform might not cost less than N2.5 million. Drivers who remit about N30,000 to their car owner or dealer weekly might have to save up to N5,000 everyday for that purpose.

When asked the total amount a driver could make in a day, Philips Abama, a Bolt driver, said by the time he remitted money to both the actual car owner and Bolt, he would almost have nothing left.

“When you calculate your money, you may not get up to N10,000 by the end of the day. It is not as glamorous as it used to be,” he says.

“This is why I used to be on the road even till 1 am many times. I have to make money for myself. The 20 percent commission is too much, and even then, they still charge N20 for every trip. I don’t know why.”

Omilade Oluwaseun, a Bolt driver, said if an e-hailing drivers don’t set a fixed goal before leaving their house, they will likely be disappointed by the time they return home.

“I set a goal to make at least 10,000 on weekdays. That way, I would accept many rides and beat the commission. I usually get home by 12 am most of the time, after staying on the road for hours,” he tells FIJ.

FIJ learned that due to the e-hailing drivers’ desires to make a reasonable amount of income daily, many of them ignore red flags from riders that could land them in trouble.

With a SIM card and a smartphone, Bolt and Uber accept people as riders without scrutiny, and this is a major part of the problem.

“Anyone can be a rider on Bolt”, Okechukwu lectures. He added that on several occasions, he had got requests from riders with funny names such as “Fish” and “Snake”.

“Many drivers have gone missing, and some have been killed because they accepted the requests of unverifiable riders with funny names,” he says.

In April 2021, many of these drivers protested under the umbrella of the Professional E-hailing Drivers’ Association (PEDPA) to express their displeasure over the “unfavourable pricing” of the companies and its impact on their business.

HOT SPOTS FOR CRIMES AGAINST DRIVERS IN LAGOS

In a closed Facebook group for Uber and Bolt Drivers in Lagos, this reporter observed that many of the drivers had terrible experiences with riders at several locations in Lagos.

Prominent among these places are Okota, Lekki, and Oshodi. Findings revealed that many of the crimes committed against these drivers occur at night. While some areas are prone to insecurity, driving at night might increase the risk of falling into the net of car hijackers and thieves.

According to internet data, e-hailing drivers are assaulted not just in Nigeria, but also in more civilised countries. The United States and Brazil are the nations with the highest rate of driver attacks.

However, FIJ learned that Uber has introduced a new tool known as Emergency Button on its application to safeguard its drivers in the United States. When the button is pressed, critical information such as the location, license, plate number, and vehicle type is automatically sent to a 911 dispatcher, who reacts quickly.

Uber also added a new safety feature to its app in Brazil and Mexico that enables drivers and passengers to record audio during rides.

However, neither Bolt nor Uber drivers have access to these services in Nigeria.

PROFILE RIDERS AS MUCH AS DRIVERS ARE PROFILED’

Idris Shonuga, National President of the Professional E-Hailing Drivers Association (PEDPA), tells FIJ that Uber and Bolt cannot singlehandedly manage drivers. He says there has to be a synergy between drivers and the companies to reduce threats to the barest minimum.

“Uber and Bolt do not want to be responsible for the welfare of drivers, else they would put certain plans in place for them,” he says.

“It costs Uber and Bolt nothing to enforce the use of NIN-registered SIM cards to create an account with them. But they are not willing to do this. They only expose drivers to threats with their irresponsibility.”

Shonuga further suggests that if Bolt and Uber are serious about ending the security threats these drivers face, they should start by profiling their riders the same way they profile their drivers.

“This will solve the problem. Mobility is essential. If riders create an account with their BVN or NIN, the number of criminals who use the e-hailing apps would reduce,” he says.

FIJ placed several calls to CSP Ajisebutu, the spokesman for the Lagos State Police Command, but they were unanswered. He also did not respond to text messages sent to him.

Published 5th Nov, 2021

By Emmanuel Uti

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