Memoirs of a Bolt Guy: Safety tips for our killing fields

By Victor Kwame Sampong

The incessant killings that have engulfed the city of Port Harcourt these past few weeks have left many drivers scared. E-hailing drivers have been the prime targets for car snatchers, with some of my colleagues losing their lives in the process.

The police, through its spokesperson, have several times reassured us of their commitment to investigate and bring the perpetrators to book, but unfortunately, that has done little to calm frayed nerves.

As a result, many drivers (tagged Night Crawlers by us) withdrew their services at night, leaving just a tiny few left to ferry residents from one point to the other, but at great risks and cost.

The drivers are not the only ones feeling the heat. Even residents and clients are also finding it difficult to move around easily. While some are now very much afraid of keeping late nights, others are just too scared of going out at all.

Once again, the call on the e-hailing companies to do proper profiling of their clients before gaining access to the platforms increased like never before. But it seems the cries of the Port Harcourt drivers usually fall on deaf ears as both Bolt and Uber seem to be paying lip service to what their partner drivers are going through here.

Certain areas and vicinities within and around Port Harcourt have been identified and tagged as danger zones by the drivers’ community. In our various groups, we’re being advised daily to avoid rides and trips to and from such areas, especially at night.

From as early as 7 p.m., one needs to be extremely careful when conducting business in such places. I don’t know how, but one of the e-hailing platforms, Bolt, picked up the scent and designated some of those places as ‘unsafe’ too. , When orders come in from those places or heading there, the warning signal will be displayed on the driver’s screen, letting him know that he can decline such requests without affecting his driver’s scores.

While we welcome such moves, we feel there’s still much more to be done by the companies to guarantee our safety to a large extent.

Despite the aforementioned difficulties that have characterized the work, coconut heads like yours truly, can’t fight the urge against night work. Taking a line from one of the famous religious books,”Wisdom is profitable to direct”.

There are certain personal tips I try to deploy while on the road, especially, at night and I hope these help in some ways.

When I get an order and I’m being told the pickup point, I usually park a few metres away from the agreed spot, call the client to step out, and ensure I scan everywhere from my vantage point before proceeding with the pickup. Most times, I feign ignorance and let the client walk up to me with my headlights pointed in his/her direction. When he/she gets to the car, I don’t unlock all the doors centrally. I stretch my hand across to unlock just the front one for the person to step in and immediately hit the central lock right after sitting down.

Again, I don’t go into dark alley or close. It has to be a street or road. Roads/Streets with very rough patches are also not going to fly with me. Client go trek reach house na. The thing is, even before we embark on the trip, I make these options known to them. “I no dey enter bad roads or street. If we reach there and e bad, I don turn Oo”. If they agree to this, we proceed; otherwise, disembark!

When I make a call after accepting an order at night, I don’t rush to end the call even after the conversation. After saying: okay, I’m on my way… I usually leave the phone glued to my ears for a few more seconds, instead of ending the call right away. This enables me to pick up background conversations if there would be any, without the other person knowing. Because the default setting would be the person expecting the call to have ended. So, they continue with their conversations as it were and if there’s anything suspicious, the driver would most likely it pick it up.

At night, when dropping off a client, my windows are always up and doors firmly locked, centrally. I ensure I receive payments on or before we get to the destination. The same method I use to unlock the doors as stated above applies here too. I also reverse my car, facing the exit route before even the client steps out. The gear is never in ‘Parking mode – P’, but ‘Drive – D’, with only my foot on the brake pedal preventing it from moving. This enables me to make a quick run for it if anything wan sup.

Furthermore, I like creating conversations with the person I’m riding with. Ask questions here and there, intentionally repeating the same questions in different formats to gauge the person’s reactions and temperament. While doing these, I take quick glances at their faces, hands and body movements. Dealing with people for a long time has helped me to read emotions and body movements to some extent. So, once my guts tell me something, I start looking for defensive measures.

For example, on Thursday night, I had gotten an order from somewhere in Ada George. The phone number registered on the app was unreachable. But the person kept sending in-app messages. I told him outrightly that if he doesn’t call, I ain’t responding. He called via the app, and I answered and told him to make a normal call. This was about 11:35 pm or thereabout. After a few minutes, he did and asked me to pick him up at the 1708 hotel. I drove past the hotel, reversed and faced it again from a distance, hoping to see him from where he was coming out from.

After I confirmed it was him, I let him in. He told me his destination was Casablanca in GRA as indicated on the app. But I still wasn’t comfortable with his appearance and how he was acting while in the car. So, we started talking. Intermittently, he picks/makes a call, leans towards the door (instead of inwards like most people would do) and starts whispering. While coming out, he wanted me to go through Ada George Road to his destination, but I chose the opposite direction instead and went via Rumuokwuta.

While we were approaching GRA, he said I should take him where he’ll lodge because almost all the hotels were fully booked. I told him his destination is GRA and that’s where we should go. He said but he can change it, right? I told him he could, but not on this ride because I’d like to get something at GRA too, which was the main reason why I accepted his order.

Three times, I tried to make him transfer the N2,300 the app displayed on his phone as the price…three times, he’d do it to some extent and pause. I kept monitoring his hands and phones (a small one which he uses to whisper and the big one for the transfer).

When we got to Casablanca, he said he’d wait in the car for me to get the food, then take him elsewhere. I told him I don’t leave anyone in my car while I’m away. I pointed to the food stand and told him to just step out and hang around, feed his eyes on the many pretty ladies that litter the vicinity, I’ll be done in a jiffy and return to pick him up for the second leg of our journey. That one sweet am small. He came down, used his hoodie to cover his head and told me to be fast so we could go.

I had already confirmed the funds he sent. As I moved onto Amaechi Drive, my next right was Professor Abowei, back to Tombia Road, na so I take off straight to my house. Church don close for the day be that!

These few tips are not perfect. But they still help me one way or the other.

As of the time I was writing this, some media houses in their morning news, reported that the Rivers State Police Command arrested five suspects who they alleged to be members of various car snatching and armed robbery syndicates terrorizing the city of Port Harcourt. We hope further investigations are carried out more arrests are made and the culprits of the heinous crimes committed by these people over the past few weeks are prosecuted subsequently.

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