Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Molues

This article was first published in September 2013.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”  

The opening words of the book-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870)


“Change is inevitable. Change for the better is a full-time job.” Adlai E. Stevenson II.


A Tale of Two Cities is Charles Dickens’ second historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, was published in 1859 when Charles Dickens was 47. The novel is set in London and Paris during the French Revolution, a time of significant upheaval and reassessment for both cities. The theme of duality—”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is prominent in the novel. Dickens’ portrait of Paris emphasizes the turmoil of the capital. In summary, change was one of the underlying themes of the novel. The book is a collector’s item. Though Lagos State is not in turmoil but there certainly seems to be an upheaval in the transportation sector.

In Lagos, it is glaring to even, the most benighted observer that the cosmopolitan city is rapidly evolving (on the surface of it). When a city begins to evolve, changes are inevitable. The changes whether they are directly or collectively beneficial must be responded to not reacted to. So when it was reported that Governor Fashola of Lagos State banned the ubiquitous molue buses from plying the Lagos Island route, a lot of molue commuters were livid and vexed. I believe a majority of the commuters who are predominantly traders must have screamed and yelled “who, we thought was our Moses; we have discovered is a Pharaoh.” Others who must have felt aggrieved must have eloquently professed that “we would refuse to kowtow to the whims of the capitalist cabal in Lagos State.”

When asked, what the colour of Lagos State is, the available reply would have to be yellow. From Ojuelegba, Apapa, Okokomaiko to Maryland, Ikorodu, Ojota, Obalende and the popular Oshodi, yellow buses are everywhere. In the 80s, when news reels of Lagos State were shown on the screen, Oshodi was the favourite part of Lagos that was shown. Oshodi was probably the same shot/scene used by artists or painters. The yellow colour was ubiquitous and still is; not minding the covert attempt to erase the grand daddy of all the yellow commercial buses better known as molue in these parts.

As aforementioned, change is inevitable; no doubt, but the challenge I have would be illustrated in this article. Several years ago, molues were barred and banned from the Oshodi-CMS route and in its place was the white City Buses. But presently, a lot of the white City Buses have turned into moving relics; not more that a decade after these buses took over the Oshodi-CMS route. Some years ago, the Lagos State Government introduced the red BRT buses.

These buses (LAGBUS) were brand new, fully air-conditioned and everyone had to be cultured once onboard these buses. Shouting, fighting, religious semi-crusades, merchandising and hawking were prohibited unlike what is obtainable and can be found onboard molue buses. Lagosians began to conform to societal civility and they began to be patient on long queues in order to board the buses. An unbelievable and uncharacteristic trait of Lagosians in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s.

But what is the present state of the Lagos State operated BRT buses? Kindly board a state operated BRT bus from Ajah to Obalende and CMS or from Oshodi to Sango-Ota and environs and you would wonder if it were the same Lagos State operating other versions of the BRT buses operated by private firms.  Majority of the BRT buses have transmogrified into classic molues. Don’t misconstrue the previous sentence; molue is part of our national heritage. No matter your social strata, if you haven’t boarded a molue, then you haven’t experienced Lagos in its entirety (lets skip the poshness, glitz and glamour for a while).

Not having that molue experience in Lagos, is like pretending or confessing that you haven’t tasted locally prepared honey beans (better known as ewa ganyin) with “just escaped from the bakery” Agege bread. It is like saying you have not tasted “pure water”-(water in a sachet). It is like a Russian or a Chinese saying they haven’t boarded the locomotive trains and the bicycles, in their respective countries. It is like a Mongolian who lives in the country’s capital-Ulaanbaatar (pronounced Ulan Bator) saying he/she doesn’t know anything about herdsmen, animals and their role in transportation(when the nation is a nomadic country). It is like a Londoner saying he/she hasn’t boarded the ubiquitous red double-decker buses or the train tube. No one can be as aristocratically refined, sophisticated, polished as Prince Charles, who rides the tube once in a while. Let’s discard any over bloated poshness for this article. With certainty, there are and would be influential Nigerians who have boarded molues in the past.

A Molue bus is a Mercedes Benz 911. Practically all the Molues in Lagos are on their last breath. An average Molue is rickety (so also the BRT buses) with a body that has visible tales of several decades of harsh weather-bashing and panel-beating. Some have to be pushed and kick-started before their engines are revved. Most of the engines are best left in World War 1 and 2 museums. On board a Molue, there are five classes of passengers. The face to face/self contained apartment, which is right beside the main entrance and the driver. There is the three bedroom apartment (which can be quite comfortable if you are by the windows and not on the extreme end beside the standing committee passengers). This section is comfortable if you are not seated on the second row. This is so because if you make that mistake, you would be bombarded by a sales person always seated on the first seat. The bombardment isn’t confrontational. It begins when the Molue begins her tedious journey which would be elaborated upon much later.

There is the two bedroom compartment which has two seats. Sitting by the window is the best option. This way, you also avoid the standing committee members with odoriferous smells like offensive halitosis (bad breath) or induced flatulence, which if released into the already congested Molue (God help you if someone decides to drop a toxic S.A.M-Surface to Air Missile). Curses would rain down like Majek Fasek’s classic tune (Send Down The Rain) but the culprit wouldn’t own up to his/her fresh chemical gas-like crime. In fact, the culprit might be among the vociferous abusers.

Then you have “the bungalowers”. They are usually between 6-8 people sandwiched on the longest bench or seat at the back. For these ones, the only source of ventilation is usually a tiny window on the left side of the Molue but never from the second entrance, because the two conductors would need to pack more “impromptu” standing committee members. The standing committee passengers are sandwiched between all the other seated passengers. These are people who can’t afford the “exorbitant fare” for the seats or who are in a hurry and don’t want to wait for another molue. It takes more than guts and an overdose of patience to be a regular member of the standing committee. Woe betides the “brethrens” of the standing committee in traffic lock-jam spots like PWD-Ikeja, Mongoro, Iyana-Ipaja or Meiran-Ijaye-where several years ago, traffic jam records of between 3-5hours or more were broken every other blessed day.  

The disadvantages of the standing committee are numerous. You stand through out the journey unless someone seated, alights. And even at that, your reflexes have to be faster than a gymnast’s and that of Usain Bolt put together to secure the vacant seat. You are likely to get your pocket picked (without your authorization!). You are at the mercy of the driver’s incessant swerves and brake-induced sudden halts; making you constantly gripping anything “grippable” and I mean anything in sight.

Also, some standing committee brethrens are regular hitch-hikers. They usually don’t have money to move around and they inform the conductors that they don’t have any money. The conductors might shout for all the care in the world, but these no money commuters would stick to their story and eventually get their wish. Then, there are some who would never pay their actual fare, telling the conductors “jo soju nu/ba gbe”-loosely meaning overlook the money /take it like it is. Also, there is no space/elbow room for the standing committee members. It is as up close and personal can get. And finally, you have the “hangers on/let me manage crew” who hang by the first and second entrances.

If by some ill-luck you were seated on the second row, you would be directly opposite the official sales person who would be seated on the first row. And when the Molue begins her journey, the sales person would get up and in most cases, lead all the passengers in praise and worship and a prolonged prayer session to concretize it all. You might be thinking he/she is a prayer warrior, only to realise that after the marathon prayer session, the merchandising begins. All kinds of products could be advertised or “medical” tricks demonstrated for the passengers viewing. Drug sellers with unverifiable fabled tales which have been well-rehearsed; begin their craft. Products advertised could range from, instant success and money, wealth attracting soaps (which allegedly would make you rich once you buy and use them).

We also have packaged or wrapped herbal remedies, leaves, sticks and powder (some claim to cure all ailments simultaneously, making some passengers look with awe saying “wonderful” in several languages). There is the “Gbogbonise” (loosely meaning “it does everything/a jack of all trade” kind of drug). You would definitely find the tooth decay powder/toothpaste wonder that “automatically” closes up a tooth hole or permanently stops tooth decay without a visit to the dentist. Or rather those who sell this locally made toothpaste would readily tell passengers that the toothpaste would remove the “kokoro” in someone’s teeth-kokoro-loosely meaning ants. In some rare cases, products which have high propensity to be popular in markets and shops begin “testing their waters” in molues e.g. Aloe Vera products and the popular Jinzing sweet- Chinese sweet.

And here comes “el grande uno”-the big one; various kinds of home-grown aphrodisiac (men usually fall over like soldier ants to purchase this product. And it sells faster than box office movie tickets). There are instances whereby the sales person would have painstakingly marketed goods but no purchase to show for it. But once the aphrodisiac is brought out from a bag, the response is usually Usain Bolt-like with lightening speed. The response is usually breathtaking as you see both men and women (who buy for their partners) purchase the “wonder” stimulant with accompanying questions on its usage and any side-effects if after an overdose. Also, there are those who don’t sell any products but would rather turn the molue into a moving religious service culminating with well-rehearsed pleas for donations for the ministry to move forward and impact lives. Most times, these molue proselytizers would alight at another bus stop if donations aren’t forthcoming; cross over to the other side of the expressway and board another molue going to the same direction they began their journey. (The “man must survive” mantra is also in them). 

On board a molue, you know those who aren’t meant to be onboard by their mannerisms. They are the ones who would complain about the windows not shutting properly or complain about the rusty “roofing sheet” leaking during a heavy downpour. They are the ones who would complain or shout about another passenger being too close for comfort (the ready response to this complaint is usually, “why you no take taxi, make you sit down for the back?”). The molue experience makes you develop some talents. One is the art of struggling with others to board a molue and simultaneously being conscious of your phones, wallets, purses and bags. This is so because as there are innocent commuters struggling to board the molue, you also have pick-pockets who are mingled with the commuters but like archaeologists have dug their dexterical hands into unsuspecting commuters’ bags or pockets looking for “treasures”. You learn the art of getting out of a moving molue running with your body tilted backwards (you don’t alight from a moving molue; you get off sprinting because molues don’t usually stop at some bus stops. Alighting would take you on a nasty flight to the ground).

Also, you learn the art of surveillance; watching over your personal items. Also, you learn the art of keeping mute; just in case the next person who decides to get feisty has a “PhD in the art of raining abuses”. Another talent is that you learn to scrutinize all the currency notes given to you as balance (better known as change in these parts). This is because, some conductors are fond of dolling out fake notes or bad notes as change only during night trips when the dim lights in some molues play tricks on your vision. Also, you learn the art of getting ready to sprint or jump out of any of the impassable windows when a molue is about to be engulfed by fire. And finally, you can’t forget the conductor’s vehemently rude shout of “E bo le jo!”-get down, when the passenger about to hit the ground is being too slow or undecided (due to the moving molue). The conductors and some of the drivers usually “arise and shine” from the molues which could be their temporary or permanent abode; cleansing their mouth with several shots of locally brewed gin called several names like Shepe, ogogoro, opa eyin to name a few. All these local and crudely refined alcohol are needed by them so as to “shine their eyes “and not to “woju Uche” loosely meaning “be alert not” and “give a damn”; respectively.

Be that as it may and though the BRT buses prohibit hawking, preaching and fighting, one can’t but observe the gradual degradation and decline in the services rendered by the LAGBUS/BRT buses. Most times, you board BRT buses and you wonder if you boarded a molue as you discover that the bus is apparently also a moving refuse truck like the PSP/refuse trucks that move about collecting refuse from homes in Lagos! When the BRT buses were introduced, the BRT drivers were livid when you called them drivers, they initially told passengers they were pilots (due to the intense training they must have had). Presently, these drivers have the unmistakeable traits of unruly molue drivers.

In fact, there is a public consensus that most of the BRT drivers are former Molue drivers. BRT buses (LAGBUS) are gradually metamorphosing into molues. Some have the needless braggadocio to insult passengers trying to caution their Formula One-like driving. In some dailies of Tuesday, the 17th of September, 2013, it was reported that 3,400 drivers were partially blind in Lagos. One wouldn’t be out of place to request for the mental status of several BRT drivers. In the 80s, molues must have been a pride to Lagos, so much so, that a reggae artiste churned a hit single (and a lovely video) with a chorus going thus “it is a molue; Lagos city transport.” (youtube video).

While marking his administration’s 2,300days in office, Governor Fashola alluded to the fact that over 200 BRT buses were undergoing repairs at a facility in Ojota. Invariably, new buses would be needed. If Lagos State wants to do away with molues, the operators and commuters of molues should realise that change is the only constant currency. And if they won’t accept this change, they should know that, according to the writer Eric Hoffer “in times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Lagos is changing and a majority of Lagosians would accept this new transformation pertaining to the transportation sector, only if the new buses (either administered by the State Government or privately administered) to ply the routes vacated by the molues are administered as they should be and not just another avenue or cash cow for the emerging Sherlock capitalists and Oliver Twist moneybags in Lagos.  Anything short of beneficial change would be meaningless and self-defeating.

Bicycles are still and would forever remain synonymous with modern Amsterdam and rapidly developing China. The old locomotive trains are synonymous with some parts of Russia and her former Soviet states. The tricycles are synonymous with India and have been “funkily modified” in Nairobi, Kenya. The ubiquitous red buses in London which were the double-decker buses were a popular form of public transportation in London until they were retired from general service in 2005. They were replaced by more modern single-level buses that can accommodate people with wheelchairs. A worldwide symbol of London, the red double-decker buses are still used on special "heritage" routes popular with tourists.

My suggestion to the Lagos State Government goes thus; we can learn from the last example. Discussing with a bus driver on Saturday, the 21st of September, 2013; I was made to understand that the molues are almost non-existent in Oshodi; giving credence to the gradual easing out of the ubiquitous buses. Molues would or might be eased out successfully but the ubiquitous yellow buses can be a source of tourist attraction and revenue for the state by having a Molue Museum of some sorts. We can’t just erase our most popular national heritage because of ever-changing modernity.

“Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress implacably requires change”-Henry Steele Commager, writer and historian.


Dolapo Aina,

Lagos, Nigeria

dolapo@dolapoaina.com|dolapowrites@yahoo.com

www.dolapoaina.com| www.flickr.com/photos/dolapoaina/sets

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