The Danfo Story: On Lagos’ Enduring Cultural Icon

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Last week, the Lagos State government once again announced its plan to phase out the yellow buses, popularly known as danfo. This plan, called the Bus Reform Initiative, isn’t a new one, as it was drawn up and set in motion by the Ambode administration in 2017. Some of the already visible signs of this plan include the ban of tricycles and the gradual introduction of the blue BRT buses. It’s important to know that the basis of this plan is part of the commitment into transforming Lagos into a mega city. Per the Commissioner for Transportation, Dr Frederic Oladeinde, the danfo buses do not conform with that vision. However, we’re not here to assess government policies. Rather, we’ll be exploring the cultural relevance of the Danfo buses.

Overtime, the Danfo has become symbolic of the Lagos spirit because of its adaptability to the difficult and unstructured transport system in Lagos. As a result, the Danfo has served as an inspirational source for different brands of creatives in Nigeria, especially Lagos. It has been used by artists as a metaphor for the city’s always-on-the-move, hustler energy and has always feautured in art, from global galleries to roadside murals. Notably too, if Lagos is the melting pot of Nigeria, then the Danfo typifies this. For many years our comic industries have been provided with content based off the interactions that take place in the Danfo, between passengers, passengers and bus conductors, bus conductors and the notorious NURTW, drivers and the police…the list goes on forever. Besides, who can forget the old school artistes, Danfo Drivers?

Inevitably, the Danfo has become linked to the Lagos identity and it is one of the most popular icons associated with the city. Several people identify yellow to be the colour of Lagos but the state’s government seems to think otherwise. This is why there were several artistic response to the announcement of the phasing out of Danfo buses. It includes the work of artists like Micheal Umodit who turned a Danfo into an abstract piece of art in a work titled, The Danfo Story. With it, he attempts to preserve the history of the Danfo. Likewise, furniture designer, Oreoluwa Oluwatobi, founder of Alaga Collection, was prompted to create the ‘Danfo Collection’ after the initial announcement of the plan. He claimed to have created the chair to keep the “yellow identity” that the Danfo has infused into Lagos pop culture.

The Danfo Chair by Alaga Collections

Along with this, several young and upcoming artists created illustration series featuring the Danfo. Storytellers, gathered experiences from people about their trips in a Danfo. Even Channels Television did a feature story on the phasing out of the Danfo buses. The fashion industry wasn’t left out. Brands Iike Noji Art Designs Ltd gave us the ‘Lagos Hustle in Turquoise’ limited edition silk shawl, a turquoise shawl with the Danfo mosaic printed all over it. We’re not to forget those who used their art to reimagine the Danfo as things like spaceships and so on. In short, a whole industry formed around the Danfo during that period. Since then, there has been more innovation around the symbol of the Danfo. A good instance of this is Emeka Ogboh’s collaboration with Horizn Studios and Beats by Dre. Emeka Ogboh is a sound and installation artist whose work has, in the past, drawn upon the cultural subtexts of the Danfo. For Horizn Studios, he helped create the limited edition series of Lagos themed luggage. Emeka inverts the black stripes on yellow of the Danfo bus, with its yellow stripes on black luggage. For Beats by Dre, one-off headphones with the same yellow stripes on black. Singer, Falana, partnered with the brand. Also, in 2018, Dá Design Studio created a font inspired by the famous danfo cut out stickers. The typeface, called Danfo std, according to its creators, is bold like Lagos and helps to create a common identity. The creation of this typeface is linked, in an obscure way, to the work of illustrator, Osaze Amadasun, who began to create posters based on the danfo sticker art. How can we leave out the popular Danfo Bistro? Danfo Bistro is essentially a restaurant/food truck in a repurposed danfo. While its menu is not particularly Lagosian or even affordable to the average Lagosian, its entire aesthetic pays homage to the cultural icons of Lagos, with the danfo at its centre of course.

With all these and more, when the danfo buses eventually go “extinct”, it can be said that we won’t be forgetting its impact on Lagos culture very quickly.