By the 1980s, Molue had reached the height of its popularity and notoriety. It was the only means of transportation for a good majority in Lagos. These yellow painted mass transit buses built on the base of Mercedes Benz truck 911 held sway in Lagos. The driver is the Captain, with often two fierce looking deck hands (Bus conductors) working the ship.
Getting on a Molue during rush hour is not for the faint hearted, it was one of the maddest rushes ever seen, day in day out. The bus sweeps into the midst of in many cases hundreds of passengers and then the rush begins, this rush to enter the Molue does not respect anybody, and gentlemanliness is totally abandoned in this moment of scrambling occasionally peppered with pickpockets and outright groping of some women and of course your neatly ironed shirt may not stay the same as it was. By the time the people who make it in are settled it is like nothing had happened.
For anyone who knows Lagos of yesteryears, molue is definitely a part of the memories. Molue is cheap and affordable to ride, it was helpful in moving a large number of people from the mainland to the Island in their daily commute as the Lagos state government’s provision was not up to capacity. Molue bus is crudely built somewhere around Abule Egba/ Ipaja axis of Lagos with zero consideration for safety. The drivers are not trained formally and bus conductors were not people with skills to manage a huge number of people at once, their patience level, very thin. Molue bus conductors are trained to fight and often their faces are filled with battle scars and lost teeth to show for it.
Molue has all that you want to buy especially in the healthcare department, there’s always a vendor of all kinds of medicine or magical products that can make all ones problems go away forever. Ironically, a Molue is like a moving school, with a lot of colourful paintings and words written on them. Even job notices and success tips are pasted all around the bus inside out.
The vendors often position themselves right behind the driver’s cage. and they have some of the sweetest street marketing skills you have ever encountered. On the other hand you may be lucky to be in the bus with a preacher, who is praying all the muscles in his head off and also carrying the passengers along in his songs, advertising his bible and at the same time soliciting for money to help his ‘ministry’ grow while some will outright bully and guilt you into at least paying for prayers.
Real fun happens in the Molue, relationships, friends are made, jokes and real funny dramas and tales always dished out by people you never met and some of these tales stick for life. For some it was time to sleep.
There is also that caveat on almost every Molue, warning passengers to ‘Keep Your Load’ written at the top of the windows inside and the same advice in yoruba ‘Ero toju eru e’ adjoining right at the head of the standing passenger left or right.
The issue of safety became a major concern as the spate of terrible accidents involving Molue on the highways of Lagos was on the increase. There was a case of a fully loaded Molue that caught fire in the middle of the Third Mainland bridge with a number of casualties, many of the victims could not run out of the burning bus. Another major inferno occurred under the Maryland bridge about a decade later with many lives lost.
The seating arrangement in the buses is far from comfortable, three seaters behind the driver then on the other side of the isle the double seaters and at full capacity, the bus has people dangerously hanging on the doors and some on the back fenders.
Molue has its character and the genius of the people who put them together, with the limited materials available to them must be praised. Nowadays Molues are not a common sight on Lagos roads as they were banned from crossing all the bridges into Lagos Island in 2013, to make way for the BTR/Lagbus transit, a much better and safer option.
To millennials, Molue is a relic of the past, they probably have seen only on TV. The ones that took Molue back then are beginning to forget what it felt like, even as it holds a lot of memories for a good number of people.
Molue today can be described as an endangered species, it is not on most of the routes it plied in its days, it can still be found around Iganmu, Ipaja and some faraway parts of Lagos.
Molue is a reminder of what life was for us as a people in Lagos and still is for some, it shows how far we have come and and how much better we can get. The Molue mass transit is in its lasts days and it’s history must be preserved.
It can never be forgotten and for those who have never been on it: go to Oshodi bus stop and get a ride of a lifetime to Ipaja. Make sure you enter with your ‘change o’.
Bolaji Alonge is an artist, international photographer, actor and journalist from Lagos, Nigeria. His visual language speaks of the wonders of nature and human exchange, urban culture and searches for historical continuity in a world that is sometimes heavily fractured. He is also a globetrotter who has travelled around the world during the last decade documenting exotic culture and history. In May 2017, Bolaji organized his “Eyes of a Lagos Boy” photo exhibition at the prestigious Freedom Park in Lagos.
His second solo exhibition “Urban Culture – Historical Continuity” was held at One Draw Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos in November 2018, establishing Bolaji’s brand of photography to a new audience, receiving great reviews from artists and art lovers worldwide
In February 2019, Bolaji showcased his work at Baza Studio in New York, The event was attended by the Nigerian Consul in New York, UN officials, art curators, musicians, artists, press and art aficionados.
All Photos by Bolaji Alonge for Awefirm.org