Is Lagos Better Off Without Okada?

Okada riders FILE

Okada riders FILE

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With a remarkable ability to meander through frustrating traffic gridlocks, the Okada can get you to a job interview or business appointment in good time or take you to your loved ones before the security man locks the gate. But that is about where the advantage stops. The other side is dark. The riders are perhaps the most reckless of road users; many of their passengers have been sent to an untimely grave and many more have lost limbs.

Following the restriction the Lagos State government slammed on use of Okada on certain routes, a significant drop was recorded in the number of casualties from related accidents, especially at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi.

A 2015 report by the hospital’s Chief Records Officer, Mr. Samuel Karunwi, which was made available to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), showed: “In 2013, 60.4 per cent males and 39.6 females were involved in motorcycle accidents. However, in 2014, 57.7 per cent males and 42.3 females were involved in various motorcycle accidents. Comparatively, between 2013 and 2014 the rate of motorcycle accidents was reduced by 35.6 per cent on Lagos roads.”

Following the report, one Sesan Adebara of the Lagos State Accident and Emergency Service had told NAN that the drop was the result of the state’s decision to curb the excesses of the motorcyclists.

Whether on the side of the law or their pockets, agents tasked with enforcing the restriction have done so with uncommon zeal. At some points, they have even interpreted the directive to mean no Okada must be seen anywhere! There is no telling how many accidents have been prevented because trepid riders feared to roam.

The notoriety of Okada riders in Lagos is legendary. They have defied attempt by government to be helmeted; they are impervious to the rule that prohibits driving against traffic; they have no regard for passenger limit; they are noisy and belligerent; they have been fingered in robberies; they have violently withstood the police, even setting an Armoured Personnel Carrier on fire at Ajao Estate. And recently, they were blamed for being the immediate cause of the Mile 12 clash in which more than 10 persons lost their lives. Some Lagosians are, therefore, of the view the state will be a better place without them.

“The first time, when former Governor Fashola restricted them, there was peace. If it happens again, I am sure we will have tranquility. Also, the crime rate enveloping the society will reduce, likewise accidents. I am sure many of these riders have something else they are doing, so I strongly believe that banning them will not mean taking away their jobs. Many Okada related accidents have sent people to the Igbobi Orthopaedic Hospital. The prevalence reduced following the restriction by Fashola. I hope Governor Ambode will walk the same path too,” said Mr. Omoluyi, a resident.

Another, Mr. Aina Olusola, also believes a total ban is good for the state given incidents of motorbike related robberies and accidents. He, however, does not think a complete ban would be an easy feat for the government, especially with the large number of people that would be rendered jobless.

“An alternative means of quick and accessible transportation should be provided. Another thing to be put into consideration is the burden it would put on the state’s unemployment load. Given the population of Lagos, it might be a difficult task for the government to pull through. And if it has to be done, it should be implemented gradually; not a one-off ban.”

Associate Professor and policy analyst in the Department of Economics at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Femi Saibu, expressed support for a total ban stressing that the net impact of the business is abysmal on the economy.

In an interview with The Guardian, Saibu insisted there is an economic trade-off of Okada business in some states in Nigeria. According to him, most Okada riders, especially the ones that have flooded Lagos are middle cadre technicians, trained in wiring, tailoring and carpentry, among others.

“But because of the quick money they make from riding Okada, they abandoned their technical training. As a result, we have a shortage of technical hands. The technical cadre of workers is abysmally lacking in capable hands,” he said.

He said: “I carried out a study sometime ago where I interviewed about 700 of them across several local governments and discovered that less than 10 per cent of these people are able to buy a tricycle or another motorcycle from proceeds of the job. If they are asked whether they would allow their children to take over the job from them, no one answers in the affirmative. That shows the job is not satisfying and cannot sustain them.

“It doesn’t generate any sustainable income per se; it only keeps them for a day. It does not qualify as economic empowerment in any form, neither does it count as a sustainable means of income. It is barely a survival strategy.”

He said a lot of people have been disabled from injuries sustained in Okada related accidents and some riders are criminally inclined. “It has not increased employment generation in the actual sense. It has merely increased economic hazard. We need a means of mass transit in Lagos and okada is not the answer. We need a system that will move many people from one place to another at the same time and with ease.”

But a blunt ban could put to sleep the engines of close to a million motorcycles, many of which riders live one day at a time. The thought of well over 600,000 Lagosians waking up on a morning and having nowhere to go or anything to do to earn a meal is frightening, especially when it is considered that the number is another ugly addition to an already standing army of jobless millions.

There would, of course, be a ripple effect; a crunch on the marginal economies fed by the Okada world. Thousands of cooperative operators who save the riders’ daily income could find themselves at the edge of bankruptcy. Then there are the innumerable food vendors at Okada parks and everywhere, whose sweet fortunes would suddenly be reversed. What should be said of the vast network of mechanics and spare parts traders that keep the machines throbbing?

Will the state government be prepared to contain the sea of commuters its decision will spew unto the bus stops? Can it trust hundreds of the ban’s enforcers who might simply have found another opportunity to augment their lean salaries? And wait: would policemen and soldiers be bound by the directive or, as usual, ride above it?

One respondent, Obafemi Joseph, noted: “because it succeeded in Abuja,” a total ban will succeed in Lagos. “You won’t find any Okada man on the streets of Abuja,” he added.

Though a place like Abuja has imposed a total ban, some people, however, argue that the case of Lagos is peculiar, being a commercial hub both for the nation and the West African region. They argued, therefore, that the means of transportation is crucial to the survival of business operations in the city.

Mrs. Glory Mba, who runs a restaurant in Festac Town, believes a total ban will hurt commerce greatly. “They are a big part of my cooking business; they pick up foodstuffs on the list I give to them at Alaba Suru market and deliver them to my shop for just N500, and in record time. All I do is make phone calls to the sellers asking them to get the items ready. This method gives me ample time to manage my business. If the government goes ahead to ban them, it will be unfair. Not only would these men be jobless; we also would have a hard time coping with the burden of going to the market. Taking them off some parts of Lagos is enough. Lagos is a commercial city; it is unlike other cities that have banned them totally. These Okada are a big part of our businesses life.”

Another restaurateur, Mrs. Adaeze Okafor, also uses Okada riders as shopping assistants. Mrs. Okafor owns a restaurant in the Ibafon area in Apapa. According to her, “These men are heaven-sent. All I do is give them a list of things to buy at Alaba Suru market for a token amount of N1,200. I no longer have to wake up very early and still have to cook late. I am hearing that the government wants to ban them totally. They should not. They are a basic part of my business. Even the tricycles cannot deliver my goods as effortlessly as these do.”

“There is no way the government can separate us from the Okada riders. A total ban on them will affect us even more than the motorcyclists. If government stops them, there is no way we will be able to sell our goods,” said Lawrence Ibe, a motorcycle spare parts seller in the Ilupeju area.

“Over 2,000 dealers and parts sellers will be affected. We have families. We are law-abiding and we pay all revenues. The government shouldn’t just wake up one day and remove our source of livelihood,” he added.

A motorcycle repairer in the Oshodi area, Omolara Emmanuel, wants the government to hold a meeting with Okada riders in order to find a lasting solution to matters of criminality by some of the operators. According to him, “They (Okada riders) know the bad ones among them. So, the government should hold a stakeholders’ forum so that the bad eggs will be fished out rather than impose a total ban. Repairing Okada is the only business I have, and I use it to pay my house rent and feed my family.”

It has not increased employment generation in the actual sense. It has merely increased economic hazard. We need a means of mass transit in Lagos and okada is not the answer. We need a system that will move many people from one place to another at the same time and with ease.

“I want to beg the governor not to ban Okada, especially in a place like Lagos where traffic jams are the order of the day. If I go by a commercial bus, I spend over two hours for a distance that should not have lasted more than 30 minutes had the road been free. So, Okada always comes in handy. There are times of the day when they are not allowed to operate, which might be a fair deal, even though there are people who get stranded when returning late from work and end up trekking all the way home. If they are not allowed in certain locations and at certain times, we can continue to manage that. But a total ban will not be possible in Lagos,” said Chima, a businessman.

Another respondent, Mr. James, an Okada rider, fears his source of livelihood would be axed. “It is not fair that the government wants to treat us like this. We are a part of the people they govern. It is sad that touts who demand money chase us around. And then there are the police too. At the end of the day, our take-home is very small and not enough to feed our families. Even though most riders are known to be rough, a few of us ride carefully,” he said.

One commuter, Mr. Paul Oluwatobiloba, who voiced reservation, said: “What other jobs are these men supposed to do? For some of these people, this is their only source of livelihood. I feel that in a country where there are no alternatives and employment is not guaranteed, the state should just properly enforce the previous restriction, which limits their access to certain roads, until they can get some other jobs.”

Commercial motorcyclists waiting for passengers

Commercial motorcyclists waiting for passengers

Mrs. Olasunbo, a petty trader, at the New Garage area of Gbagada said her source of livelihood is dependent on the Okada riders who gather in front of her shop. “They are my sole customers and what I make here is what I use to cater for myself and my four children,” she said, pleading with the state government to rather enforce the restriction of routes.

A blunt ban could put to sleep the engines of close to a million motorcycles, many of which riders live one day at a time. The thought of well over 600,000 Lagosians waking up on a morning and having nowhere to go or anything to do to earn a meal is frightening, especially when it is considered that the number is another ugly addition to an already standing army of jobless millions.

Shakirat, a petty trader at an Okada park in Gbagada Junction, said: “The riders and those who come to the park are my only customers. As you can see, there are no houses in this area. If they are banned totally, that means this place will be empty and there will be no sales.” She pleaded with the state government to adopt other approaches, saying there are many people in the city like her, who would be adversely affected.

For Dr. Ayodele Johnson, a Sociology lecturer at the Lagos State University, “Stopping Okada because of its menace will throw more people into hardship.” He, however, added: “Personally, I will advocate a ban on Okada because it’s not a decent means of transportation; the body is the immediate victim in the event of an accident.”

When Governor Akinwumi Ambode sauntered into Alausa, office of the state administration, it was with the polish and finesse of a complete gentleman seemingly learned in managing the famed excesses of Lagosians. While many townspeople interpreted this approach to mean cluelessness, others measured him in the shadows of his predecessor, Babatunde Fashola, and concluded he lacked action.

But the helmsman might have had a change of heart and a new syllabus: the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA) has since reiterated its ability to bark and bite; headstrong traders at Ladipo International Auto Parts Market have since been visited by Alausa’s towing vans; Owonifari market in Oshodi has been pulled down; newly constituted mobile courts have hunted down offenders; the bustling Mile 12 market has been shut; and recently owners of a collapsed building and members of the state’s building oversight agency have felt the heat of a Governor proving he can both bark and bite.
Can the Lagos State government take on the ubiquitous motorcyclists in a total ban, all consequences notwithstanding?
Will it?

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