By Ogaga Otaotu
Danfo Bus, a commercial mini bus painted in yellow with two black stripes at the side, is one of the realities that make Lagos notorious. Lagos can not do without it in a day as it conveys thousands of commuters within the metropolis. It is also a means of survival for the owner, the driver and the conductor. It is not out of place to see a danfo bus at a bus stop with the conductor shouting on top of his voice, “Ojuelegba, Ojuelegba straight, enter with your change oh, I no get change oh!”
The conductor is merely drawing the attention of passengers who may be going towards Ojuelegba to his own danfo bus and warning them to have their correct fare and avoid dispute over having to look for change. It is also a common sight to see passengers and the conductor slug it out in physical combat when the danfo bus develops fault and it’s unable to proceed with the journey as the passengers would insist on a refund of their fare.
One can not talk about what makes Lagos what it is without mentioning the role danfo plays in it. Danfo bus is at the centre of the hustle and bustle of this city of Centre of Excellence.
Danfo bus is therefore one major character that defines the character of Lagos.
This character called Danfo bus has however gone international. This yellow-painted commercial mini-bus in Lagos has been exported to the United States. Trust Nigerians with their business sense. Wherever you find Nigerians anywhere in the world, they make a loud statement with their creativity and identity.
There is a popular restaurant in Clintonhill, Brooklyn run by a Nigerian who gave the restaurant the Nigerian identity. He named the restaurant, Buka which is the name given to a roadside restaurant in Yoruba speaking areas of Nigeria. And right inside the restaurant is parked this yellow-painted Lagos danfo bus with the inscription, “Ojuelegba, enter with your change oh!”
But the question is, what is a Lagos danfo bus doing inside a restaurant in the United States? And what could be the business strategy behind the inscription on it which is typical Lagos?
The owner of the restaurant, Mr Lookman Oluwafemi Afolayan, a native of Ijomu-Oro in Kwara State, who has been living in the US for over 20 years explained the logic behind the presence of yellow-painted danfo bus in his restaurant and the importation of Lagos conductor’s motor park language.
He said “in Nigeria, if you tell anybody you are going to Buka, there is this excitement about it. Buka is not a glamorous looking restaurant but everybody knows you get the best food at Buka. And the story of the danfo bus in the Buka restaurant is the Nigerian story. How can you have a Nigerian story without the danfo? We all know what it is, danfo is a character, and you can’t talk about Lagos without talking about danfo driver, the attitude and everything that happens in it.
“The idea came up when we were trying to renovate the restaurant. I was discussing with a friend of mine and I asked him if we can have a slice of Danfo in front of the restaurant so that people can walk right through it. But we found out there is going to be a lot of legal challenge to it and I thought why don’t we just bring in the whole bus so we can create a space for people to dine inside. And he said yes, that is it. Then I decided to complete the character of Lagos danfo with the inscription; “Ojuelegba, enter with your change oh”.
Mr Afolayan may have decided to create a Nigerian identity for his restaurant, but those who patronise him are not only Nigerians. According to him, “lots of foreigners come here to eat and it’s only Nigerians who would want to eat their Eba and Ogbono soup with fork and knife. These other people when they come, because they have already read about us, they ask for water to wash their hands and dig in. What we have in Nigeria is great, we are very blessed, there is nothing close. We should celebrate it and let the world know about it”.
The restaurant business is doing well, he could testify but not without initial challenges of doing business in a foreign country. He said he started the restaurant seven years ago and it took him nine months to open it even though he started paying rent before starting the business. “It took so long to get all the required legal documents and papers to start but in all it has been good”, he added
On how he has been able to sustain the business over the years, he said the secret is good service to the clients. Pointing to one of his attendants who cleaned one of the tables immediately the customer left, he said the attendant has to clean and wipe the table so that when the next customer comes, she brings him to the table that is already set.
He argued that “in this restaurant business you have to be constantly on your toes. If you come here ten times and you had good Edikankong soup or Efo and you come the eleventh time, and it was too salty, not only will you not come back,you will go about telling your friends about it. So we are constantly providing good service to our clients”.
Mr Afolayan also plans to open another restaurant in New York but which will meet the needs of other nationals of West Africa. It will be called Buka West Africa and there will not only be Nigerian meals but also recipes from other west African countries like Ghana, Benin, Mali, Senegal. “We are almost set, although it is going to be more of a buffet style service”, he added
Having lived in the US for over 20 years, he plans to resettle in Nigeria some day, saying there’s no place like home as he is a proud Nigerian who loves his country.
His final word to other entrepreneurs: “Please do not give up on your dreams. When you dream and you tell someone who says ‘oh wow, that is a great idea’, you better go back and dream again because if it is so great he should tell you, you are crazy to want to do that. And every time someone tells you, you are crazy, know that you are on the right path”.