Two things came to mind the very first time I read the news of this initiative by the Lagos State Government; they were either staging a costly prank or the media were at it again by exaggerating the actual concept being portrayed by the LASG. Further reports and publications only confirmed what many had presumed was a completely ignominious empowerment scheme and until the announcement was made, the existence of an association that oversaw the activities of Nigerian bus conductors was unknown to many. According to the president of the Bus Conductors Association of Nigeria (BCAN), Comrade Israel Ade Adeshola, “presently Lagos state government through the Lagos State Drivers Institute, LASDRI is training and accrediting conductors in the state, adding that after the training the graduands would be employed as Bus Conductors and would be on the payroll of the government with a salary worth of N50,000 per month. The objective is to make the job of bus conducting attractive, respected and dignified as obtainable globally.”
The concept behind this may be lost on many of us who feel there are better ways of empowering young university graduates than giving them jobs which have come to be identified with moral vices. However, things could have been done differently with resulting positive public reception. Lagos State is home to more than 20 million people and is currently the most populous African city. Therefore, there is absolutely no question about the lucrativeness and viability of its transportation system if properly structured.
If you have boarded a blue BRT bus in the last few months, you’d realise the appreciable adjustments that have been made by the Ambode administration in areas of customer welfare. While they still allow ‘standing’ on these buses, passengers no longer have to bother about heat, noxious fumes from neighboring vehicles among other dissatisfactory environmental factors. All blue buses have now been modernized to bear high-performance AC units with vents located at strategic angles in the bus as well as subtle entertainment – a mini-TV that displays commercial ads, music videos and Nollywood trailers from time to time. Not that all of these are essential to individual growth, they merely serve as laudable value propositions to commuters who may intend to travel conveniently – and at the cheapest rates available in the market.
A closer look at the BRT system further reveals an expansive workforce organogram that almost easily explains how things are done by the Lagos State Ministry of Transportation. Basically, the various positions could be subdivided into bus drivers, ticketing agents/inspectors, monitoring and evaluation agents, crowd control executives among other standard names that could be ascribed to different positions. In addition, the blue BRT system comprises up to 200 – 300 buses transporting commuters to various locations in Lagos State. Add that to the number of red BRT buses and you will have more than 500 buses in total. Bear in mind that these are fair estimates of the active buses (red and blue combined), though the actual number could be markedly higher. Now, we could simply juxtapose the analysis above with the number of unemployed graduates with first degrees in Transportation Management, Monitoring & Evaluation, Record Keeping and perhaps Human Relations.
Furthermore, the LASG may in fact require the services of graduates to fill up these fields in order to boost the quality and efficiency of the BRT system while also entrenching collective youth engagement in government administration as a result. However, you may be right to opine that it’s a rather condescending career path for promising individuals who laboured through tertiary institutions but what would you rather have them do in the mean time? The proposed salary is certainly nothing to write home about given the surge in price of goods in the country and this is perhaps the most daunting part of this scheme. A self-dependent graduate may consider this a waste of time considering the personal expenses incurred on a daily basis but could the same be said of another who only seeks gainful employment regardless the pay?
As the popular saying goes, ‘to each his own’, so, the public perception and reception of this scheme will remain amoebic until it has been launched. The LASG on the other hand will have to work more on how information is disseminated to the public to minimize eventual backlash. It’s one thing to conceptualise a citizen-oriented scheme, another is the execution. But in the communication process lies a key determinant of the project outcome. First impression they say, matters a lot. So, an individual who only hears the negatives of a government initiative may be less inclined to participate regardless the potential benefits therein. The LASG will also need to work on the branding methods which would bolster public appeal. This branding phases would detail the prognostic and sustainability strategies of the schemes through the effective use of digital marketing among other key communication tools. Most importantly, the LASG may need to start formulating a plan for salary increment (if they already haven’t) as this is bound to determine the direction in which the pendulum would swing in the long run.
Summarily, top consultancies with proven skills in communications strategy could deploy their services to ensure the objectives of such initiatives are effectively communicated, ultimately saving the government enough time and workload.
- Adesegun Damazio, Brands Advisor at Zenera Consulting