MA’AM, HE IS YOUR DRIVER, NOT YOUR SLAVE
Saliu was approaching the Adekunle intersection on the third mainland bridge when he suddenly indicated with the trafficator light, swerved the car angrily off the fast lane, pulled up by the steel railings and turned off the ignition; he stormed out of the car and slammed the door angrily before turning behind it to come face to face with Mrs. Johnson who was stepping out of the car with anger and disdain written on her well ‘pancaked’ face.
“Saliu…Will you…” she made to say with a command tone but was cut short by Saliu who had come close to her and waving his index finger menacingly towards her face.
“Madam, madam, If no be becos of Oga, if no be becos of Oga, this thing wey you do ehn, you for regret am now now now…walahi, You for regret am here” he blurted out in anger as he charged towards her, Mrs. Johnson cringed in fear, she couldn’t believe Saliu, her driver was the same person before her, she quietly retreated into the car and called her Pastor for help.
Saliu had been driving Mrs. Johnson mostly for about 6 months; prior to that time, he had been with Mr. Johnson for more than 5 years as his official driver in the bank where he was working, but with recapitalization and banks merger which brought along mass retrenchment from the sector, Saliu and his boss were among the people that were let go from their bank. Mr. Johnson later decided to be his own boss and use his few contacts in the government to source for contracts; in few months, he had a breakthrough and due to the demands of his work, he needed to hire a personal driver. Saliu, who had relocated his family to his village in Osun state because he couldn’t maintain his house rent, was just trying to make ends meet by doing some menial jobs and sharing a room with another friend of his, until Mr. Johnson got in touch and promptly hired him because of their past working relationship from the bank.
But in the past 6 months, Mr. Johnson was either in Abuja or outside the country more than he was in Lagos, and Saliu was instructed to drive Mrs. Johnson, a full time housewife to wherever she wanted to go, be it church, market, social functions and anywhere else as instructed. But the problem was Mrs. Johnson’s high-handedness towards Saliu, she would shout on him if he delayed for a fraction of a second in carrying out instruction, if she thought the car was not squeaky clean to her standard, or if she thought he was driving too fast or too slow for her liking. But on this particular day while coming from Victoria Island, Mrs. Johnson lashed out at him for cutting across two lanes while overtaking a BRT, Saliu had revolted, demanding that ‘Madam’ should talk to him with some level of respect as an adult and a man who is a head of his own family; he was still stressing this when a vicious slap that led to the outburst landed on his face from behind. He reacted angrily and abandoned Mrs. Johnson, who could not drive herself on the third mainland bridge, and she had to call for her pastor for help; when Mr. Johnson came back from his trip, he would not have any of it, Saliu was eventually sacked.
The above scenario stresses how some women treat their drivers and other domestic workers as if their lives have been paid for or like they are lesser human beings. Some domestic workers (especially live-in domestic workers) have no clear division between work and private time as working days may run from 5.00 a.m. until 1:00AM, (some work without having any day off) and some ‘Madams’ simply can’t differentiate between instruction and insult when talking to their drivers especially the ones that were not employed professionally. I worked in a security and logistics firms few years back and I found out that most people are not ready to hire drivers professionally, maybe because when you hire a driver from one of those companies, the working hours are defined and technically, you don’t ‘own’ the driver as you are just one of the many clients of the driver’s parent company. The driver would have also been trained to be a professional on the job, such that when there is any conflict, instead of him reacting immediately or personally, he’d rather inform his office and the office will mediate appropriately, they might change the driver if the client has a valid complaint or issue about his services and attitude, but they can also point out to the client if he/she had gone outside the contract terms. But in the case of a driver employed directly without a third party, the employer, like most employers in Nigeria mostly have the feelings that they are doing him some big favour by providing him with a job and pay his salaries (even if they pay very late), and this thinking is what causes abuse most times towards a driver.
One TV presenter was telling me sometimes back how her Mum’s driver was like a big uncle to them, she said her mum would never allow any of them to disrespect the driver and she told them in clear terms that he was NOT ‘their’ driver, so if they needed him to take them somewhere, they must respectfully ask him for that favour and he is no under obligation to oblige them. Another woman I know never allowed her two children to call her driver by just his name; to them he is ‘Uncle Bayo’ and they were warned never to sit at the back of the car if any of them were riding alone with him. I believe when you do these things as an employer, you teach your children how to respect and value other people, and also how to treat people who are not as privileged as they are, even in the future. But to others, being a driver means “This guy is/will perpetually be under their feet and he should not even dare raise his eyes to look at me or any member of my family, because I am his boss, and I pay him money to feed his family” But we tend to forget that once behind the wheel, the same driver he holds the lives of everyone in the car between his hands and the steering, and God forbid he has a death wish someday. So, Ma’am, having a driver is not the same thing as buying a slave, we have to learn to treat people with some level of respect, especially those ones we erroneously believe could not do anything for us, especially those ones that hold our lives in their hands – literarily.