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Finding my way to Orolu Street, in Ajegunle a suburb in Lagos by 10pm is something I hardly do. The last time I was out late in Ajegunle was 12 years ago when I was still a bachelor and adventures was my hobby. Ajegunle is not as it used to be in the past. It was a popular ghetto where everything goes. It was actually known as a hub where you will find different kinds of people from every tribe in the nation. It was a world of its own. Most people have known Ajegunle for the wrong reasons irrespective of the fact that some talented musicians and professionals have emerged from that area.
The story is not about Ajegunle but a job that most people have not really paid attention to or have looked as unimportant. On the 19th of December, 2018 at about 9pm home I was opportune to go to Orolu Street for an ambulance to convey a dead body to the village.
Orolu street, I came to find out is famous for having private operators of ambulance services. After settling the price, I was asked to sit with the driver of the ambulance we had chosen to give him directions.
As I sat down inside the weather beaten and old 90s model Volvo wagon, I felt some eerie atmosphere. The upholstery were gone on the seats were gone. There was no comfort inside the vehicle. Mr. Tony in his early 50s looked weary and stressed out. I looked at the time it was 10:30pm and he was ready for the journey to the eastern part of Nigeria that night. He was the driver of the ambulance.
As soon as he started the car, to take my mind away from the spooky feel I was having I got Mr. Tony talking when I asked him about his job.
According to Mr. Tony, it was his 28th year of driving the dead. He had started the private business as a young man. His job was to convey dead bodies for his clients to any part of the country. His clients are mostly from the Southern and middle-belt of Nigeria. According to him, the northerners don’t convey their dead home because of their religion.
Bodies are prepared by embalming them locally to preserve the body so that it won’t decay before they get to their destination and then placed in either a body bag or wrapped with a thick nylon sheet. Body bags are rented for N3000 (three thousand naira) and it is re-usable while the disposable nylon sheet is sold for N1000 (one thousand Naira).
One of the challenges of the job was robbers. He said they experience lots of robberies on the road. Most times, it is not the drivers that they rob because they are scared of them. They believe that the drivers have deadly charms on them. He said he had experienced about 6 robberies this year and that two of his clients that accompanied the body was beaten mercilessly because they were not having money on them. Personal stuffs such as phone handsets, bags, wallets etc have been lost to gentlemen of the highway.
Another challenge is sleepless nights. He said that their jobs are done at nights especially in situations where their clients do not have death certificates. He said they do not get enough sleep and that their vehicles serve as their homes.
A third challenge he said was the exposure to certain health risks because they do not know what ailment killed the person had died from. He said during the time of Ebola, without a doctor’s report they will not convey any dead body.
Other challenges include car breakdown, Police men (despite the fact that they registered with the Ajeromi Police station in Ajegunle), hoodlums who force them to pay money before the dead can pass through their villages etc.
There is a spiritual angle to conveying of the dead as believed by a lot of people which Mr. Tony confirmed. He said there are times when the spirits of some departed are reluctant to go. He said he had witnessed it on some occasions. He said those who have had some body parts taken from them by their cults such as Ogboni will seek settlements and also those who were forcefully killed and are yet to come to terms that they were no more.
He said in some cases their vehicle will stop to move forward but can go back and that the driver will experience some external force struggling the steering with you. And the solution is for someone whom they respect to do some pleading and prayers offered.
I asked him if any of kids were willing to take over from him; he said no and that at the end of this year he would retire because it is not a job that he can advise his kids to be involved. It was a dangerous job and health wise it was not ideal as there was no form of protection for them.