Working Lives: The NURTW Agents aka Agberos of Lagos
The National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) is an exceptional union. Its reputation isn’t built on anything related to providing transport services. Rather, most Nigerians associate NURTW with providing politicians with the strongmen who snatch ballot boxes and act as “security” during elections. Working Lives often reveals a more complex reality. The men we spoke to seem to be ordinary Nigerians who have found themselves selling tickets for the NURTW due to circumstances; many of them can’t wait to leave to do something else. It’s a banal way to make a living for the majority, another Nigerian hustle. As one of the interviewees said, “People always see us as thugs. Well, some of us are and some of us aren’t. We really are just trying to make a living”. We have focused on how NURTW guys make a living and their dreams, rather than the wealth and grisly details of NURTW high office which some (prospective) interviewees asked to be paid to reveal. We refused to be tempted to stray away from our focus.
Working Lives: The NURTW Agent Saving to Open a Carpentry Workshop
People just insult you and see you as a low life individual. I am very good carpenter and I won’t just let the knowledge go to waste. I am going to make sure I put it to work and make a fortune from it. This is from my mouth to God’s ears.
Where are you from?
I am from Ondo State. I was born and brought up in Akure.
What school did you attend and when did you leave school?
I attended a public secondary school in Akure but I didn’t finish. I left in SSS1. My parents could afford to pay but I dropped out. I was just not interested in school. As a student, you will definitely know your capacity and how good you are in academics. I saw that I was not doing too well and I decided to drop out. My parents were very angry at first but they later got over it and told me to go and learn any trade I was interested in. This was in 2004.
Tell me about your family?
I come from a family of three. I am the firstborn, and my younger siblings are both girls. My dad is a cab driver and my mom sells akara, yam and sweet potatoes in the evening. I decided to learn carpentry. My boss was a very good carpenter, he was very experienced and I learnt a lot from him. I also became good at the job but I decided to leave Akure. I was fascinated by Lagos. My parents were worried because we didn’t have any relatives in Lagos. But I had my own plans. I had a friend from secondary school that was in Lagos whom I was planning to join.
When did you get to Lagos?
I got to Lagos on April 5, 2008. Ha, I can never forget that date. I squatted with my friend in Ikorodu for three years in a one-room apartment.
Where do you live now, how much is the rent?
I currently live in a one-room apartment in Ojota. I pay N5,000 a month. I was working as a carpenter when I got to Lagos. My friend connected me with a carpenter in Ikorodu who was very busy. I was working with him before people started giving me jobs to do on my own. I made sure I saved as much as possible.
How did you start working for the NURTW?
I branched out on my own as a carpenter but things turned rough when the jobs dried up. I was very broke and sitting at home all day doing nothing. There was this neighbor that stayed in the same compound with us in Ikorodu. He was a bus driver. I came across him one evening and we started chatting about how bad Nigeria was and stuff. I told him I had not gotten any carpentry gig in a while. He then suggested I come work for him as his bus conductor and that was how it started. Almost as soon as I started, I had a fight with one of the NURTW agents over N100. The usual fight conductors have with NURTW guys over money for tickets. I later made friends with that same guy. I later found out that he also lived in Ikorodu. He helped me get the NURTW job. I am making more money working for the NURTW than in the conductor job.
For how long have you been doing this job?
This is my 4th year on this job.
How does it work, what are you expected to do?
Well, all you have to do is register your name and just do some minor documentation. You then get a vest and trousers, that green-and-white uniform you always see us wear. And then you set out for the day and collect money from buses that stop at your designated bus-stop. We collect money three times a day. In the morning, afternoon, and night. There’s a way we identify those that have paid. We just mark their buses with marker.
How much do you make from collecting money from bus conductors in a day?
There’s a designated amount of money NURTW agents have to remit in a day. As at when I started it was N10,000:00. If you perform madness for bus conductors to make sure they pay you and not give excuses, you may be able to collect N10,000:00 for the NURTW before 2 o’clock. So anything you collect after that is yours to keep. That’s why you see most of us fighting with these guys. It’s really not our fault. We are just trying to make a living.
What’s your best day like?
Days when I get to meet my target amount on time. There was a day I was able to get N10,000:00 before 2 o’clock. I was so happy. I made an extra cash of about N7,000:00.
How many hours do you work in a day?
On good days when I get the target amount earlier than expected, I close work by 4 o’clock or 5 o’clock. So if I have been working from let’s say 8 am, that’s about 8 – 9 hours. But on days when I struggle to get money, I work all day, up until 10 p.m. sometimes.
How do your bosses check how much you have collected?
They just tell you what you are to remit for the day and you on your part will know how to go about getting the actual amount. Most of them also hang around to monitor you. Plus there are also seniors among us that monitor the way we collect the money.
How much do you remit to your boss daily?
As at when I started, I was remitting N10,00:00 daily but now I remit N15,000:00 daily.
How much do you spend in a day?
I really don’t spend much on transport fare because I am a “staff” so any bus I enter is free for me. I spend about N700 daily on food.
What rank do you hope to have attained in the next 5 years?
I hope to be a senior by then so I won’t have to be running after buses. All I have to do is just sit down under the bridge and supervise the new guys. Nothing much.
What determines your promotion?
It all depends on how agile you are and how frequently you always deliver your target amount for the day. Some people among us are not always able to deliver the target amount for the day and that of course will delay their promotion. Our bosses at the top will only promote you if you are remitting the designated amount for the day frequently. And there is also politics in this job. If you have a personal connection with any of the guys at the top that can hasten your promotion.
Do you see yourself becoming the next EmCee Oluomo?
Me ke. EmCee oluomo bawo? I don’t think I will be in this job in another two years. The stigma that is attached to this job is not easy. People just insult you and see you as a low-life individual. Once things get back to normal, I am just going to face my carpentry job squarely. I plan to save enough money to open a workshop and start making sofas for a start. I pray it all goes as planned.
Have you ever opened a bank account?
Yes. When I started the NURTW job, I had to. I was always having so much cash on me. And I found out that I wasn’t saving. So I opened a bank account with Polaris Bank.
How much do you save in a month?
I always save between N10,000:00 and N15,000:00 in a month. It all depends on how I get money for that month. I put N3,000:00 to N4,000:00 in the bank now and then during the week.
Are you married?
I am not married yet. But I have a fiancé already. Let’s hope this whole coronavirus thing ends soon. We planned on getting married this year but that can’t happen again. Maybe next year, I pray God sees us through.
Any other job or business you would like to do or you prefer to stay with this if you are sure of promotion?
Like I said earlier, I don’t wish to continue in this job. Let me just gather more money and start my carpentry workshop. I am a very good carpenter and I won’t just let the knowledge go to waste. I am going to make sure I put it to work and make a fortune from it. This is from my mouth to God’s ears.
How have you been protecting yourself from the Coronavirus?
Our bosses came to enlighten us the other day. They said we should always wear face masks and wash our hands frequently. So, I have been doing all that. The rest is in God’s hand.