At the port Harcourt International Airport Omagwa, drivers on online hailing platforms or what we call the app drivers are getting the medicine served their Lagos counterparts in potent and dangerous doses like I witnessed last month at the MMA 2 in Lagos.
In what looks like a normal afternoon on Sunday normal day, except that airport cab drivers are fighting bolt drivers. A closer look reveals that the fight is between traditional cab drivers in the airport and their online hailing counterparts on Uber, Bolt. The fight is so scary and onlookers are wondering what could be wrong this beautiful Sunday morning.
The reduced relevance of regular taxis and the resulting friction with app-based taxi services are not peculiar to Nigeria alone. Such cases have been reported around the world.
In Abuja, the quest to drive out online hailing operators, traditional cab drivers seemingly have an unlikely ally; the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN)same thing goes for port Harcourt. FAAN is the government agency in Nigeria charged with managing commercial airports. These acts are being perpetrated by people wearing lemon green vests bearing the insignia and initials of FAAN who sit under a large umbrella tree at the car park charged with collecting the fines from unsuspecting passengers and app drivers.
According to multiple reports from e-hailing drivers operating in the airport, most of them have been manhandled, searched, ‘arrested’ and made to pay fines ranging from ₦2,500 to ₦25k for picking up passengers at the airport.
After witnessing the free for all fight, Eastwest reports approached a driver who had just been harassed and he narrates his experience, my name is Udeme I am a Bolt driver ‘’ this is the first time I encountered these thugs. I had stopped to pick a passenger that had booked me online, they rushed into my car and attempted to wrestle my key from the ignition. I initially thought it was a robbery so I fought back. They told me I was not supposed to pick passengers at the airport, the passenger I came to pick is so frightened that she ran away thinking It was also a robbery attack, they told her to either use any airport taxi or trek home. After hours of begging, a woman at the SERVICOM kiosk convinced them to let me go. It was really embarrassing and scary.”
Other drivers are not as lucky as Udeme. offences ranging from loitering to illegal parking; all manufactured to ensure they do not operate in the airport.
All with similar stories to Udeme, many of the drivers confirmed that this treatment or rule is not extended to traditional cab drivers in the airport.
Another Bolt driver Johnson who had parked close to me and was observing the whole scenario from there told EWR that FAAN workers take their phones and search for an e-hailing app to confirm. He said one of their E-hailing driver, Bestman had told him not near the airport to pick up passenger but he didn’t understand until he got the airport this morning. As the FAAN thugs came to fight them, his passenger hurriedly saved his name as a contact and lie that Bestman was his driver to avoid what was becoming an embarrassing and potentially dangerous situation. Even passengers are not spared this experiences.
We gathered from the FAAN and the union leaders at the Port Harcourt airport ‘’that cab drivers at the airport pay group fees to FAAN to operate and this is why they are not letting bolt drivers come and pick their passengers without paying.”
We gathered that the e-hailing companies talked to FAAN, but were unable or did not want to meet up with the requirements. Most of them did not want to commit so as not to benefit the other,”.
One of the union Leader Elechi Amadi told EWR that “These e-hailing companies take a large percentage of our earnings. So it is only right they work on regulatory like this to allow us operate freely without disturbance. We have been writing them ever since without response to do this,” he continued in a tone that suggested they are aware but unwilling to pay the requested fees. Even airport authority has called their management and told them what to do but they have refused to do so, so we can’t allow them to come and kill our business.