By Awa Kalu
Continued from last week…
The reader, whether learned or not, should now be able to consider the legal position of the passenger whose intention is to board a bus which is not only in a suspect condition but bears the unusual inscriptions named above. Once he has had a good look at the bus and sees its condition but nevertheless pays the low fare which this category of buses usually command, will he be right to complain if the bus breaks down after just a few kilometers or indeed gets involved in an accident?
The discerning reader by now, must know that there are several angles to this hypothetical passenger’s situation. It is the usual assumption in other jurisdictions that a transporter who puts out his vehicle for a long distance journey warrants that the vehicle which is offered for the journey is in a good condition. However, in this part of the world, you see vehicles that are not just over 20 years old and are ill maintained but still on the road. The transporter needs to make a living and the passenger who can hardly afford a standard bus opts for the Akpuruka level. This is clearly a complicated contractual situation irrespective of how simple it may seem.
Most often, our imaginary passenger cannot even afford a regular seat – he opts to be an “attachee.” Attachment is a technical term used to describe the situation whereby a passenger who cannot afford the prescribed fare for the entire journey is offered an uncomfortable low stool for his journey at a very low fare. Usually, it is an agreement between the bus driver and the passenger but in specific instances, it may be beneficial for another passenger who is willing to suffer some inconvenience.
The attachment passenger is allowed to perch on the arm of his conniving passenger’s chair or to lean on him or her in exchange for a drink, money or other considerations. Notwithstanding the status of the attachment passenger, I have been told that since the arrangement is usually with the driver, the attachee gets a refund should the bus breakdown irretrievably. In the alternative, the driver would arrange with another driver to ferry the attachees to their ultimate destination. I have also been told that on account of the age of some Akpuruka buses, the owner would have a loose arrangement with the driver whereby he receives no salary but is compensated with his income from attachment passengers and additional fare charged for excess luggage.
You will be surprised to learn that some attachment passengers agree to stand for the duration of their trip and in some cases, this is for several hours. While already inside the bus, you will learn in bold letters that ‘luggage is at owner’s risk’. Yet, another surprise is that a receipt is issued to the passenger in the Akpuruka bus and in small letters, such receipts, I am told, bear exclusion or exemption clauses. Accordingly, the passenger is warned about the sanctity of the departure time. The warning is to the effect that a passenger who arrives late will receive no refund. Furthermore, if you fail to travel on the date for which the fare is paid, no plea for refund will be entertained. There is the story of a ticketed passenger who arrived a few minutes after his celebrated Akpuruka bus had left its loading bay.
The passenger, upon being informed that his designated bus had just left, decided to be in hot pursuit on another intriguing commuter – an Okada (the commercial motorcycle). Luckily, it would seem, our dear passenger met his bus at a Petrol Filling Station where it was guzzling diesel. Unfortunately, his seat had been sold to attachment passengers. He got nothing but an extended argument and was neither offered a seat nor a refund. The bus was full anyway. Grudgingly, he boarded another Okada which promptly collided with another vehicle.
Our dear would-be passenger was hospitalised for a long time. As must be clear at this juncture, a simple journey by road may lead to other legal situations. In some cases, there may be an accident which is often met by a feeble rescue attempt. In other cases, there may be stealing within the bus or at some point before the journey is logically terminated. Some passengers may take ill in circumstances related to claustrophobia, exhaustion or ordinary exposure to nature’s elements. As already hinted, several passengers indulge themselves in munching all sorts of things and may be victims of diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, or dyspepsia. Simply put, dyspepsia is a condition characterized by belching, abdominal rumbling or discomfort and passage of flatus (farting). A passenger who finds himself in this condition may request or pressure the driver to stop to enable him ease himself. There are cases where marauders found it convenient to strike in such situations. The discerning reader will find that these issues require further examination. This will be done soonest.