By Tessy Igomu.
•E-haling drivers during a protest
Following incessant attacks on e-hailing drivers working for two ride-sharing companies in Nigeria – Uber and Bolt (previously known as Taxify), findings revealed that double standards are being adopted in tackling insecurity threats they face daily.
Researches, interactions and verifications carried out indicated that preventive security steps and safety features put in place to checkmate such incidents in countries such as US and South Africa, are either non-existent in Nigeria, or have been jettisoned, thus leaving Nigerian drivers at the mercy of criminally minded individuals. This is even as insurance coverage, meant to act like a buffer in case of an eventuality while on active ride, is fully enjoyed by their counterparts in these countries.
Endangered species On the night of June 10, 2021, Sunday Adeyanju, an e-hailing driver with one of the ride-sharing companies in Nigeria, accepted a ride request from an elderly man to Ajah, Lagos State, to be paid for in cash.
Minutes into the end of the trip, he felt his blood go cold when the man, who hitherto appeared harmless, pointed a gun at the base of his neck. As Adeyanju slowly steered his car to stop by a pedestrian bridge along the axis as he was directed, two menacing looking men appeared from the shadows, stripped him naked and robbed him of his valuables. They later escaped aboard two motorcycles.
Over time, this has become the daily experience of e-hailing drivers across the country, as they are robbed, maimed or killed by criminals hiding under the cloak of riders (passengers).
There is no doubt that the emergence of ride-hailing companies that provide app-based, on-demand transport services have made commuting easy, affordable and comfortable for many Nigerians. Besides, the app platforms have provided jobs for the unemployed and those eager to have multiple sources of income.
In Nigeria and Africa as a whole, practically all the cities enjoy the presence of these app companies.
However, the thriving business, which involves the engagement of independent contract drivers, who earn based on commission, gathered, has seen them basically being denied the rights and protections obligatorily enjoyed by employees and their counterparts abroad.
Making their job a difficult one is the security risk they face daily, which has cost some their lives, and left many with disabilities and permanent traumatic scars.
Their greatest concern and fears, however, lies in the fact that nothing was being done by the ride-hailing companies to put adequate security and safety measures in place to protect them.
But bent on surviving the harsh economic conditions prevalent in the country, the e-hailing drivers told our correspondent that they are positively determined to face the risk associated with their work one day at a time.
One of them is Victor, who described e-hailing drivers in Nigeria as endangered species.
For him, nothing best captures the personality of his colleagues, who are alive to recount horrid tales of their experiences with men of the underworld.
Victor lives with the traumas of two life-threatening encounters he had not long ago while using both Bolt and Uber apps. Because of the experiences, he ends his job daily by 6pm and does not accept ride requests from certain pick-up spots.
“Some requests are declined and are out of bound to me, no matter the surge at the time and the money I stand to make,” he told our correspondent.
Recalling his close shave with death, Victor said while on the Bolt app, he accepted a request from a male passenger for a ride to a location in Ketu.
He recalled that as soon as the man dropped at his destination and he tried to drive out of the street, he was surrounded by young men armed with cutlasses and cudgels.
He recounted, “I was told to wind down and had to obey because there was no escape route. One of them slapped me as I pleaded for them to spare my life. They collected my two phones, ATM cards, driving licence and the money I made for the day, before allowing me to go. The crime was later reported at the Alapere Police Station.’’
He said the second experience still gives him goose bumps each time he remembers it.
The e-hailing driver, alleged that the response from the two ride-sharing companies for the losses he incurred was sorry, adding that no attempt was made to trace the riders.
Victor lamented that not profiling riders had done e-hailing drivers unquantifiable damage, adding, “It is sad that we are always in the dark about who we carry daily, while the companies have all our details.”
Mr Oche Oche is another that escaped death by a whisker on several occasions.
Looking crestfallen, the Benue State indigene, said he recently lost a friend and colleague, Morenikeji Oluwaniyi, while on active ride on September 5, 2021.
The 27-year-old was a medical doctor, who converted his Toyota Corolla to an Uber ride to make ends meet.
The young man accepted a ride booked by one Ahmed, who requested to be conveyed to Ikeja around 10pm on Sunday. He was reportedly strangled by the suspect and his three accomplices that later joined the ride at the Abule Egba area of Lagos State.
They dumped his corpse and made away with his vehicle, but were later apprehended with the aid of a tracker in the stolen vehicle.
The deceased, Oche said, was among the many whose lives were cut short and accused the app companies of not empathising with families of deceased drivers or those that have suffered losses on the job.
“You can’t contact them when in distress. All they are after is their 25 per cent commission. There is no form of insurance for the drivers. If something happens to any of us, they won’t follow up.
“The doctor was my friend. We were together in the morning before he was killed at night. I have friends that have been attacked, wounded and their cars, money and ATM stolen at gunpoint. Tomi Waziri, a young Uber driver lost his sight after he was attacked by robbers. It has not been easy for us. We operate in fear,” he lamented.
Like Victor, Oche bemoaned non-profiling of riders, noting that it should be the first step towards addressing cab hailing crimes.
“Riders should be profiled with valid and traceable means of identification. The app companies have our driving licences and have gone on to ensure that we get verified after providing Bank Verification Number, National Identification Number and passport photographs. Meanwhile, they don’t have details of riders, only phone numbers.
“A passenger can have up to seven phone numbers and open different accounts with them, because what the app companies request is just a rider’s phone number. Those with criminal intentions have capitalised on it to register accounts with fictitious names. You can imagine when a name comes up on your app as lion, tiger, demon, code, ghost, nikita or jakau.
Continuing he said, “Riders can be verified by being mandated to provide their BVN. But with fears over hackers accessing accounts with BVN, NIN can serve because it automatically provides the identity of a phone user. The Federal Road Safety Corps provided the app companies with a database with which they can verify a driving licence just by imputing the number on the licence.
“These app companies can liaise with those that developed the software and request a template with which riders can be verified. All that is needed is to input the NIN linked to the phone number and the network provider will give every required detail. If the name provided doesn’t correspond with the phone number, the rider should not be activated.”
A distraught Oche alleged that Bolt recently made it possible for a rider to end an active trip without the knowledge of the driver, noting that criminals have taken advantage of it to unleash mayhem and short-change drivers.
E-hailing drivers targeted elsewhere Attack on e-hailing drivers is not limited to Nigeria. Based on research, countries such as the United States, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico top the list.
In December 2019, following several public complaints regarding the safety of Uber in the US, the company released its first ever comprehensive safety report, which revealed that 3,045 sexual assaults and nine murders were carried out in the US within 2018 and part of 2017.
According to the American technology company, of the 3,045 reported sexual assault cases in 2018 (up from 2,936 in 2017), 235 were rapes and the remainder were varying levels of assault.
The report, however, revealed that 42 per cent of those who reported sexual assault were Uber drivers.
Based on crime data obtained by Reuters covering January 1 to December 31, 2016, attacks on Uber drivers rose from an average of 13 per month in the first seven months to 141 per month in the rest of the year, in Brazil, especially in Sao Paulo.
In South Africa, attacks on e-hailing drivers are at a record high, especially from metered taxi drivers, who feel threatened by their presence.
According to a report published in The Guardian (UK) on February 6, 2020, with the headline, ‘Rough ride-share: Why drivers are also at risk of violence,’ some Uber drivers said they resorted to self-help by carrying weapons and adding safety features to their cars for protection against attacks.
In the report, a driver nicknamed, ‘Angry Uber Driver’ said he stockpiled and concealed an arsenal of weapons in his 2016 Honda Civic.
In the report, the co-founder of Legal Rideshare, a law firm that specialises in Uber accidents and injuries, Bryant Greening, noted, “Crimes against ride-share drivers are grossly underreported.
“We get calls every day from drivers who have been victimised by passengers. It’s much more common than anybody really understands,” he added.
Different clime, different cab-hailing rules However, discovered what could be likened to discriminatory treatment by Uber, as it chose to adopt measures to curb attacks on its driver-partners in the US.
Following the 2019 report, Uber developed new software to protect their drivers, known as the “emergency button” on Uber’s driver app.
Once the emergency button is activated, key details such as location, licence plate and car model are automatically sent to a 911 dispatcher, who responds immediately.
Also part of the security measure was the new “selfie check” feature, which enables a driver to match a photo with a face before the passenger enters the car.
Made available to drivers in the US is the RideCheck App, which can detect rare events such as unexpected long stops on a trip or possible vehicle crashes.
The technology, it was learnt, proactively checks in with riders and drivers to see if everything is fine, and the app provides tools that they can use to get help, if needed.
In Brazil and Mexico, Uber introduced a new safety feature into its app that allows drivers and passengers to make an audio recording during trips.However, when newsmen inquired from the Nigerian
e-hailing driver, Victor, if any of the aforementioned security provisions were provided for them, they said the only feature enabled on their Uber and Bolt apps is an emergency number linked to the Lagos State Fire Service.
“The number is of no use, as it is barely answered. If anyone responds at all, it would be hours after harm would have befallen the driver. We complained and nothing was done. The only feature which riders and drivers make use of is trip sharing,” he added.
Data banks Though there are no pointers to the fact that Uber profiles riders in the US, however, there is evidence to show that it has comprehensive details of riders as it harvests data and has long provided such to US law enforcement officials in emergencies and criminal investigations.
According to a report in Forbes, data from Uber was used extensively by public health officials to track riders and drivers, presumed to have come in contact with those infected with COVID-19.
Such data, according to security experts, could be used to trace a rider suspected of or linked to criminal acts.
However, in Nigeria, our correspondent learnt that in as much as information like real time location and phone numbers are documented, Nigeria’s flawed, centralised database that could confirm and synchronise a citizen’s information quickly, is non-existent.
Drivers, families in South Africa enjoy insurance cover In 2019, Uber revealed via newspaper publications that it has extended its Partner Injury Protection cover for driver-partners to include a daily payment benefit in Nigeria.
According to Uber on its website, it partnered with AXA Mansard, an insurance company, to provide e-hailing drivers with protection under the programme.
At the time, Uber General Manager for West Africa, Lola Kassim, said that driver-partners were covered from the moment they accepted a trip, while driving to pick up a rider, and until the trip ended and that riders would also be covered.
Kassim noted that in the unfortunate event of an accident resulting in an injury during a trip, driver and riders would have access to benefits such as medical cover, death and funeral payment, permanent disability and daily payment benefit for a driver injured or hospitalised for more than 24 hours as a result of an accident during on-trip and unable to drive because of the injuries.
Bolt on its part offers Bolt Trip Protection to both riders and drivers and much publicity was given to it on its South African blog.
Based on a publication on the blog, dated June, 2020, it was underwritten by Oaksure Financial Services, South Africa.
The money earmarked for the insurance (R50,000) is meant to cover unexpected injuries, emergency medical expenses, hospital stays, and trauma counselling for up to six weeks after the incident.
Our correspondent confirmed from Uber drivers that the Partner Injury Protection Programme was launched in 2018, but was stopped. They also claimed that there was no form of insurance for drivers on any of the e-hailing platforms.
They also alleged that Bolt on its part had never insured or paid any amount to any of its drivers.
“Nobody has benefitted from it in the past,” Benjamin, a driver with Bolt, claimed.
Meanwhile, newsmen discovered that a similar Partner INJURY Protection Programme by Uber, which had been in operation in South Africa since August 1, 2018, and managed by Chubb Insurance South Africa Ltd, is still active.
According to a report published on October 1, 2018, by Uber on ‘Safety tips for Uber drivers,’ on its South African blog, “As of 2017, driver-partners are covered with insurance against accidental death, permanent total and partial disabilities during any trip with Uber via Chubb’s South African Subsidiary, Chubb Insurance South Africa Limited.”
The insurance cover also has safety features and provides access to quality and affordable private healthcare cover for not only driver-partners, but their families on a voluntary basis.
Aside from having an effective insurance cover for e-hailing drivers in South Africa, other benefits include fuel rebates, special deals on servicing and maintenance including having the chance to choose from three vehicle insurance partner companies.
No insurance cover for Nigerian e-hailing drivers – PEDPA The Association of Professional E-hailing Drivers and Private Owners Association is the umbrella body of e-hailing drivers in Nigeria.
Its National President, Idris Shonuga, said contrary to claims by Uber and Bolt that it had insurance cover for e-hailing drivers, none of its late members or those that suffered injuries during active rides had benefitted.
He said that statistics showed that over 100 of its members had been attacked while on an active trip, while a record of over 20 lost their lives and others left with permanent disabilities.
“I was a victim of a vicious attack. We will get to know how functional the insurance is with the doctor that was killed on an active ride. Already, Uber has deactivated his account,” he alleged.
He alleged that the system of the app companies was porous and exposed them to all manner of people, noting that members of the association had observed strikes and protested against the situation yet nothing changed.
He said, “There is no adequate mechanism to help the drivers know who they are going to pick. Riders book randomly and an individual can book for anybody. Some criminal elements have seen these loopholes and have taken advantage of it to perpetrate evil.
Reiterating the call for profiling of riders with NIN, Shonuga said, “Men with families and assets running into millions of naira are daily exposed to people with phone numbers that can easily be thrown away if they commit any crime. If anything happens, they disassociate themselves from the act.”
‘Security management essential’ A security analyst, Kabir Adamu, said that the app companies needed to engage the services of local security risk experts to manage the challenges faced by their driver-partners.
He revealed that such expert support, which was a measure adopted abroad, was at its implementation stage before it was disrupted by the pandemic.
He said, “App companies have a global security plan, but due to peculiarities in each country, there is need to have ground support. First, is to help them to understand those peculiarities and more importantly, to manage them.
“I am aware they are having many challenges in Nigeria and they need the support of the parent company to manage the experiences. Unfortunately, the process of engaging security risk management locally was halted. I don’t know why, despite the resumption of activities because of the pandemic, they have yet to conclude the process. Security management is a detailed process. First is being aware of these risks and putting in place mitigation measures.”
Adamu, who is the Managing Director of Beacon Consulting Nigeria, noted that one of the challenges was the belief by the drivers that they were not adequately documented.
He said though there could be people circumventing the process of opening accounts by providing fictitious details, he was aware that strict measures were put in place for those opening accounts with the app companies.
He, however, blamed such development on the Nigerian system.
“The ride-sharing companies are probably relying on the fact that for anyone to have an account, the person must have been documented. But we know there are persons capable of circumventing that process. However, the issue of not being properly documented needs to be thoroughly investigated. They do have processes, but just that they are not enough to prevent attacks on their drivers.
“The app companies should be able to operate in Nigeria the same way others do and support their drivers to reduce associated risk. They have to recruit local security risk management support that would help them to constantly analyse and recommend measures to mitigate the risks. There are many things that can be done on their part to increase the documentation of those that want to open an account with them.
He added, “For instance, if there are exceptions to the bank account requirements, those exceptions should be stopped immediately. Anyone who wants to use their services should have a bank account. If possible, they should adopt the NIN procedure.
“We can’t force the government to do what it’s supposed to do. There are regulatory agencies such as the Central Bank of Nigeria that have oversight over banks, and it is its responsibility to ensure that every account holder is properly documented. It is not the responsibility of app companies to ensure that.”
Adamu advised the drivers to be security conscious, avoid hot spots and share details of the ride with a colleague or trusted person as a form of self security precaution.
Uber committed to safety A Senior Account Manager with JNPR, South Africa, Karabo Keepile, who spoke on behalf of Uber, said the app company had contributed to new safety benefits like tracking with Global Positioning System, which was not possible before.
Though she refused to put a figure on the number of drivers that have lost their lives on active duty, she explained that the management needed to defer to law enforcement agents decisions on what they desired to make public and when.
“Uber’s Law Enforcement Relations Team will cooperate with police investigation in accordance with its law enforcement guidelines,” she added.
She assured that the app company remained committed to improving safety by creating accountability and transparency, urging riders and drivers to report all issues to the police and Uber to ensure involvement.
She said, “We have 24/7 incident support and drivers have access to an in-app emergency button to third party security, to get needed help. The app displays the driver location and trip details, which can be shared with emergency services,” she said.
Keepile noted that Uber regularly shared safety communication tips with its drivers through email and in-app messages, adding that it was continuously working to build better tools, processes and partnerships to raise the bar on safety.
She stated that Uber offered Injury Protection at no cost, noting that like other insurance policy, it was subject to terms, conditions and limits.
Bolt keeps mum All efforts to reach Bolt proved abortive as calls made to its support office were not answered or returned. There was also no response to the text message sent as of the time of filing this report.
Police committed to Nigerians’ safety, says spokesman The Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, said that the Nigeria Police Force understood the risk associated with e-hailing drivers’ job, assuring that the police were ready to work and collaborate with them and their regulators to ensure enhanced safety.
Speaking with newsmen, Mba said that the police treated every life, crime, infraction of laws and every threat to the life of every Nigerian seriously.
Mba noted that cases of Uber drivers becoming victims or suspects were treated with equal level of seriousness, maintaining that every crime mattered to the police.
He said, “There have been instances where innocent drivers were attacked and innocent riders were also attacked by drivers. We will continue to evolve new crime fighting strategies to deal with some of these emerging crimes and threat to life and property of Nigerians. We will work with all relevant stakeholders including cab-hailing drivers to ensure we protect them and other citizens.”
On possible security measures, he noted that in some countries cameras were fitted, especially in buses, but was unaware if such was possible in Nigeria and what the cost implication could be considering the high cost of data.
He, however, advised e-hailing drivers to withdraw their services from known dangerous areas, especially late at night.
Mba stated, “Such areas are peculiar to Nigeria, as they also exist in countries such as South Africa and the US, even with surveillance cameras installed. As an Uber driver, if you get a ride request to these known dangerous places at past midnight, why should you go there? Drivers should always have the emergency numbers of the law enforcement agencies within the locality where they usually operate, to easily call for help when faced with threats. Timely report of crime should be made at the nearest police station.’’
He also advised e-hailing drivers against operating with tinted glasses, so that people could easily notice when something unusual was to happen and intervene.