A BETTER LAGOS WITHOUT OKADA

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Kayode Adekunle argues that the restriction of Okadas and Kekes is a good move

In the early 1980s while I was growing up, motorcycles were not a popular means of commercial transportation in many Nigerian cities. I knew they existed in rural areas where roads were inaccessible or it was less profitable for other vehicles to ply. But since the 1990s, many major cities started to witness a surge in the use of two-wheelers as commercial transportation.

It came with problems like recklessness, over-speeding, and accidents that often resulted in loss of limbs by those involved. Over time, some motorcyclists started to brazenly gang up and terrorise other road users. And the use of motorcycles to perpetuate crimes also became a cause for concern. Hence, it is unsurprising that many states are presently legislating against it.

Recently, Lagos announced moves to tackle the menace commercial motorcycles and tricycles constitute. The pronouncement slammed the use of motorcycles and tricycles as a mode of transportation on many routes. It felt an admixture of relief and anxiety. But, more of relief.

“From 2016 to 2019, there were over 10,000 accidents recorded at the General Hospitals alone,” said Gbenga Omotoso, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy. “This number excludes unreported cases and those recorded by other hospitals. The total number of deaths from reported cases is over 600 as of date. Also, the rate of crimes aided by Okada and Keke keeps rising. They are also used as getaway means by criminals.”

Anyone familiar with Lagos understands how the commercial motorcyclists, sometimes individually or in swarms, have brought confusion, violence and accidents to Lagos roads. The restriction of Okadas and Kekes as tricycles are called, in 15 Local Government Areas and Council Development Areas, expressways and 40 bridges and flyovers is a good move. I was happy knowing that at least some sanity was going to replace the insanity which many Okada riders represent on Lagos roads. It is common knowledge that many of these riders hardly obey traffic laws – ride against traffic, do not wear helmets and turn themselves into race demons – thereby putting their lives and other people’s lives at risk. There is also the security aspect whereby motorcycles are often used to commit crimes and ensure quick getaways. Many residents have suffered cases where their belongings like phones or bags are snatched by thieves on motorbikes. It can be worse. Hence, for these reasons that I welcome the pronouncement. It’s high time some decorum was infused into our roads and into our lives.

That said, Lagosians and the Lagos State government must understand that a lot of compromise has to take place regarding the transportation sector. The state must ensure that while it is trying to gentrify Lagos, it must also approach solutions in terms of practicality. With a population of over 20 million and still swelling by the day, Lagosians know how chaotic Lagos traffic can be. Many appointments are lost daily, just like man-hours, solely because of traffic. That prevailing situation was what made commercial motorbikes attractive. To get around the city effectively at certain times, mounting an Okada was about the only practical means. Even some ‘big men’ have been forced to leave their exotic cars to hop on motorbikes so as to catch their flights or meet up with important appointments.

In seeking to balance these realities, Lagos should take a second look at solutions. In this wise, I talk about how some set-ups like Gokada, Max and Oride have managed to execute the Okada business in Lagos. With a template that’s worked in cities like Buenos Aires, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, the riders under these platforms have managed to be saner and conform to the rules and regulations than their ‘informal’ counterparts. They do not violate traffic laws, they do not over-speed, they ensure it is only one passenger on a motor bike.

Now, some people have commented that riding Okada is not a ‘job.’ I beg to differ. It is actually a job and has become an economic lifesaver to some people who cannot find other means of employment. Like all ‘dirty’ jobs, somebody’s gotta do it. We must stop that attitude of belittling jobs such as drivers, conductors, meat sellers and the likes. I mean, for the fact that we have not scrapped the use of motorcycles totally and because it facilitates easy movement, there would always be Okada riders. And to dispel that thought that it is not only criminals or never-do-wells that ride Okadas, when riders on the Gokada and Max platforms marched to the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa on January 31 to register their protest, among them were graduates that eloquently spoke on their grievances.

Of course, the state must discourage those commercial motorcyclists that defy any form of regulation as it is these categories of persons that seem intent on truncating whatever beauty and sanctity Lagos as a bustling metropolis, has. Firstly, in compliance with the Lagos State Traffic law, motorcycles below the 200cc capacity should have no business in the state. Secondly, all interested commercial motorcyclists should not conduct the business privately. And the practice of every Kayode, Chukwuma and Abdullahi just picking a motorcycle and heading to Lagos with the sole aim of being an Okada rider must be discouraged. Rather, they should align with commercial motorcycling platforms like O Ride, Gokada, Max and others. These companies must ensure that the riders are vetted, well-trained and regularly monitored too. And all these are to be supervised by the state.

“There are cries from all sectors of the society pulling at the government over their different needs,” said Adetayo Bamiduro, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of MAX (Metro Africa Xpress) in a recent interview.

“So, we understand the predicament that the government faces but we are here to support. All we are asking from the government is to open their hands to help them help us, and help them help the people.”

Also, the angle of security cannot be overemphasised. Heck, it has even been established that some foreigners like Nigeriens and Chadians are into the Okada-riding business. It is dangerous that these set of undocumented people have seen Lagos as ‘free parking’, a place to constitute a nuisance. Hence, the decision of the state rid its area of unwanted elements is most welcome.

The government should be clearer on this latest directive as it pertains to private motorcyclists. And to be seen as egalitarian, the Lagos State government must ensure that it implements its order dispassionately. There should be no scared cows, like closing an eye to law enforcement officials who ride the same motorbikes on restricted routes, often as commercial motorcyclists.

There is no doubt that this move will bring some hardship to Lagosians who have come to depend on Okadas as a means to move around. But Lagosians must adjust. We should plan our movements ahead to ensure traffic does not hamper it. Surely, that should be price every lover of Lagos must be prepared to pay to ensure that Lagos remains the state of excellence.