Nigerian Ride-Hail Drivers Are Striking Over Regulations That Leave Them in the Cold

“The regulations give Uber the power to increase its commission without considering driver income and the reality of Nigeria’s economy."
September 2, 2020, 8:09pm
Ride-hail drivers in Lagos State, Nigeria launched a one-week strike on Monday to protest new regulations by the state government that were largely made without their input and could introduce a greater financial burden on their already precarious gig wor
Robert Alexander / Contributor

Ride-hail drivers in Lagos State, Nigeria launched a one-week strike on Monday to protest new regulations by the state government that were largely made without their input and could introduce a greater financial burden on their already precarious gig work.

Initially scheduled to take effect on March 1, but delayed to August 27, state regulators have described the regulations as a package of reforms introducing licensing fees based on company size and taxes on ride-hail operators, as well as new registration and permit requirements to increase safety.

Chief among the state government regulations were licensing and renewal fees for ride-hail companies both large and small, and a 10 percent state tax on every completed trip. Also included in the regulations are restrictions on the maximum age of operated ride-hail vehicles to three years since manufacture as well as new licensing and certification standards, all of which advocates say will leave drivers on the hook for much-needed cash. Meanwhile, there are no assurances that ride-hail companies such as Uber and Bolt won’t push the costs onto drivers. 

“Uber refuses to pay because there’s no place in the regulations that mandated Uber to do so,” Aoyade Ibrahim, president of the ride-hail drivers’ union, told Motherboard. “The regulations give Uber the power to increase its commission without considering driver income and the reality of Nigeria’s economy.”

Now, drivers are striking with a list of demands including the reconsidering of new fees for driver licenses, the introduction of a vehicle cap to fight over-hiring and traffic, the elimination of restrictive residency requirements to drive in Lagos State, the introduction of driver and rider identity verification, an annual review of the commissions taken by ride-hail companies, and help addressing issues of "driver welfare" such as pensions, well-being, income, and safety.

In Nigeria, drivers are paid weekly and Ibrahim pegged the average payout at ₦70,000 (~$181) before expenses. Nigerian ride-hail drivers share many of the same expenses as drivers elsewhere in addition to poor roads and a long standing issue with quality control, especially for faulty automobile parts. In 2013, a government report found 95 percent of all imported automobile parts were either fake or substandard. The problem has been complicated by Nigeria’s attempts at developing an industrial policy to create its own automobile industry, with one consequence being that new cars (like those required by this new regulation) are prohibitively expensive while the vast majority of imported second-hand vehicles are also faulty.

For the past few months, concerns have been raised by Nigeria’s National Union of Professional App-Based Workers in TK that drivers and local operators would bear the brunt of the new costs from the state tax and documentation requirements, Lagos State’s governor revealed changes would be made to reduce the licensing fees by 20 percent and change the tax to a flat fee of ₦20 per trip, about half a cent. The August 14 meeting where those changes were hammered notably excluded the drivers’ union.

In a statement the day these changes were announced, Ibrahim rejected the new revisions and said the regulations were still "not only exploitative but also inconsiderate to the plight of app based workers." Ibrahim told the Guardian that drivers would still be on the hook for ₦200,000 ($517) to comply with these new regulations within the next 90 days—the near-equivalent of a month’s gross income—and there does not seem to be any mechanism to ensure ride-hail companies cannot squeeze drivers for more to cover the state’s new licensing and renewal fees for the companies.

Ibrahim also shared pictures from the Uber app of what seem to be attempts by Uber to break the Nigerian strike, namely by offering bonuses for the week and increasing surge multipliers in an effort to get drivers on the road. This is a familiar tactic: In 2017, Uber set off a US boycott called #DeleteUber when it was found to be using similar methods to take advantage of a strike organized by JFK taxi drivers protesting Trump's executive order banning migration from Muslim majority countries.

Uber did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.