Ride-hailing app, Bolt has responded to accusations that its driver was complicit in an incident of brutality meted out upon its passenger by officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). According to the e-hailing company, its driver only stopped because it is unlawful to ignore law enforcement.
Recall that Nigerians have been calling for a boycott of the e-hailing app after a driver was alleged to have been involved in the harassment and extortion of a passenger by Special Anti-Robbery Squad SARS officers.
The incident triggered other victims who took to social media to berate the ride-hailing company and accuse its drivers of aiding SARS officers in manhandling and extorting the passengers.
In a video posted on twitter, the Bolt driver in the incident appeared quite unbothered while his passenger was being maltreated. This prompted many commentators to conclude that he connived with the security operatives to harass and extort the Bolt user.
According to the Bolt passenger, he did nothing wrong and had only ordered the Bolt ride to pick up items for delivery. The young man stated that he was forced to pay N100,000 to the SARS officers.
After the incident, he reached out to the driver and Bolt to get back his items from the car but the driver reportedly blocked his number and Bolt said they could not help as its drivers are “independent contractors”.
Bolt Responds Amid Public Backlash
Bolt Nigeria has released a statement to explain its stance on the incident. According to the company, “The driver maintains that he did not have prior knowledge of the incident and was not working as an accomplice of SARS, as there was no way he could have refused to halt his vehicle when the SARS officers flagged him down.”
This, however, has not stopped many Nigerians from calling out the e-hailing company on social media regarding driver intimidation, harassment, extortion and blackmail.
A Twitter user, Darlington alleged that a Bolt driver had reportedly offered intel to SARS regarding his friend’s location once upon a ride.
Another Twitter user, Ife said that a Bolt driver had intimidated his cousin after an argument during the trip. A Bolt user, Kola also mentioned that he had also been harassed by a Bolt driver.
Going by the reactions on social media, a number of Bolt users in Nigeria have experienced some form of harassment or extortion from the ride-hailing app’s drivers.
“Highly Possible” That Some Drivers are Complicit
A Bolt driver who spoke to Technext on condition of anonymity revealed that it is ‘highly possible’ that some drivers on the Bolt platform are accomplices or working for the SARS. According to him, just like everywhere else, some corrupt drivers are looking to make extra cash even if it is at the expense of someone else.
“Some drivers and SARS work together,” the driver said. “This driving is gig work and some drivers are also policemen who want to make extra money. So you can imagine if your driver is a policeman, what that could easily mean.”
Speaking about the event in the video that triggered the whole backlash, our driver insisted that the driver in the video looked very complicit.
“First, it is wrong to open your doors to police that are not in uniform. Police are not even supposed to search you without a warrant. But at least let them be wearing a uniform because they could easily be kidnappers. Then, it is one thing for a driver to allow police harass his passenger. But for him to partake in the harassment, that makes him look like an accomplice.”
He went on to advice passengers on the alarm signals they should look out for. First is that the drivers have different signals with which they signal the SARS and police operatives. They could range from headlamp signals to phone calls, flashes and even abrupt stops on the way.
“So before starting any trip, tell your driver not to use his phone for calls or any other communication during the trip,” he advised. “If he does, you may want to end the trip. Also make sure he has enough fuel to last the trip so if he stops anywhere abruptly, just end the trip and try to get away. Finally, if it’s night and you notice some kind of excessive flashing of headlamps or honking, you may not be safe,” he concluded.
‘SARS Knows Most Yahoo Boys Use Bolt’- Ibrahim Ayoade
Taking a contrasting stance, President of the National Union of App-based Workers (NUPABW), Comrade Ibrahim Ayoade absolves Bolt drivers, insisting the problem is entirely a Bolt problem. In a chat with Technext, the Comrade said this is because the police and SARS operatives know that most of the Yahoo Boys use Bolt.
“When those SARS are looking for money, they stop bolt drivers to arrest innocent people without the knowledge of the bolt drivers,” he said. “SARS knows that those Yahoo Boys do use BOLT because very easy for manipulation and they can request with fake identity. This is the real problem, not Bolt drivers.”
While his stance is a sharp contrast to that of our Bolt driver, they both agree that episodes of SARS officers harassing passengers aren’t experiences drivers like to encounter. According to our anonymous driver who had experienced one such episode, it was a really traumatising experience.
Nigerians have criticised Bolt for not addressing the issue of the recovery of its passenger’s items while responding to the SARS incident.
Bolt drivers are classified as “independent contractors”. Bolt’s terms states that no employment agreement, relationship or partnership exists between the ride-hailing company and its drivers. Hence, Bolt cannot be held responsible for the actions of its drivers since they are not employees/representatives of the company.
The liability terms also explicitly states that Bolt, its representatives, directors and employees are not liable for any loss or damage a passenger incurs as a result of using Bolt services.
Bolt Users Call for App Boycott
Due to the SARS incident involving a Bolt driver and the several other reported misconducts, many Bolt users have called for a boycott of the ride-hailing service.
Some Nigerians shared videos/pictures of them deleting the app across social media, rating it very low or posting a “not safe to use” comment on Google Playstore.
Judging by the reactions, the Bolt SARS incident evidently irked many Nigerian Bolt users who are now pushing for people to delete the app and stop using its service.
With Bolt having over 60% share of the Nigerian Ride-Hailing Space, this may significantly reduce its market share.
IGP Bans SARS Stop and Search as Wizkid and Other Nigerians Protest Against Brutality
The Inspector-General of Police, IGP M.A. Adamu has banned all SARS operatives from conducting routine checks, stop and search duties or low-risk patrols effective immediately. This was in response to the ongoing anti-SARS campaign by Nigerians on social media including Nigerian afrobeat musician, Wizkid.
Wizkid whose real name is Ayo Balogun called out both President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos state, requesting that they put an end to SARS terror in the state and the country.
In response to these tweets and general outcry by Nigerians, the IG of police issued a statement proscribing some of the nefarious activities of the SARS. According to the official statement, all Police Force personnel are only authorised to patrol in their police uniforms or official security wear.
Going forward, it is widely expected that the ban will effectively put an end to the harassment, intimidation and extortion of passengers by Bolt drivers allegedly conniving with SARS operatives in Nigeria.
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