My Okada Ride in Cotonou


On Wednesday 6th July, 2022, I rode on an okada. It was my first time after almost twenty five years of abstinence. My abstinence was based on obvious reasons that borders on the risk involved due to how reckless most motorcycle operators ride. It was also based on the concern over security by some operators. Their penchant for flouting traffic regulations such as traffic lights, overloading, riding against traffic and non-registration of their cycles to meet traffic regulations requirements were other reasons. Lastly, their deliberate refusal to comply with the use of crash helmets for their safety was perhaps the most critical concern for me, in addition to general indiscipline by a handful.

Yet on that faithful Wednesday, 6th July,2022, I rode on an okada. It was neither in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory nor any other part of Nigeria. It was when I travelled abroad for a meeting. The meeting was not held in the United States nor in Canada, nor did it hold in Paris or Geneva. It was not in the United Kingdom either where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is already looking forward to stepping down to give way to a new Prime Minister for the country. It was held in Cotonou where I was divinely   conscripted to attend the Second High -level Meeting   of Ministers of Health and Transport of the Abidjan–Lagos corridor. The trip was for me an eye opener and one for which I would forever be grateful to God for the opportunity.

As I said, the meeting was not held in a fancy country that frequent travellers look forward to visiting, especially because it is within Africa. To such people, there is nothing fanciful about Cotonou. How mistaken are such views. It was held at our backyard here in Cotonou and I must confess that given the opportunity, I wish to visit Cotonou again and again for leisure, another honeymoon, conferences or whatever.

My gratitude goes to the Honorable Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who during the first leg of the preparatory meeting held in his conference room, pushed forward the invitation for a  representative of the Federal Road Safety Corps to the scheduled meeting in Cotonou. The Corps Marshal of the Corps, Dr Boboye Oyeyemi in his usual magnanimity was quick to endorse my nomination to attend the meeting.

The journey was my first visit to Cotonou despite the fact that we share a border with this beautiful country. The trip was courtesy of the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor Organizations, a sub-regional intergovernmental organization covering  five countries;  Côte d’Ivore, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria.

We touched down in Cotonou on 5 July, 2022 and went through the usual immigration process which was smooth and business-like. The drive from the Airport to Golden Tulip Diplomate where we were lodged for the duration of our stay was less than five minutes. The traffic was devoid of the usual traffic bottleneck along the City Gate – Airport in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.

I was amazed by the beauty of Cotonou; the town planning caught my attention; the quality of the roads, the walk ways which are often absent in some of our cities. The temptation was just too much that my friend Peter Onoja from the National Agency for the Control of AIDS dragged me from my room for a walk to savor the delicacies in Cotonou. The supposedly one hour walk turned out to be a more than three hours’ walk that gave us a glimpse of other parts of Cotonou.

Instead of walking, we spent time reminiscing on virgin opportunities waiting for us to dominate in the West African sub-region through providing direction in all ramifications. Traffic flow was smooth. Rarely would you hear the sound of blaring horns which has become our pastime because of indiscipline and bigmanism. Traffic lights were obeyed. Rarely did I sight traffic officers and road users exhibiting any level of indiscipline.

The real shock for me was okada riders who were seen conducting their business with a high sense of decency. Within the four days we spent; we never sighted an okada rider without his crash helmet. Although there were cases of riders with pillions without a crash helmet, at no time did we sight a rider without one. A good number of riders were seen adorning their reflective jackets. The level of comportment by the riders was just too real to be true.

After the long walk, Peter and I chose to ride back to the hotel with my humble self-riding on a bike for the first time in about twenty five years .The ride to the hotel was smooth as the rider obeyed all traffic rules such as  riding by the speed, avoided the zig -zag riding that is common among our riders. At no time did we see a rider or driver riding or driving against traffic.Even overloading was not pronounced.

I know that the country is not like Nigeria in a lot of areas especially in the   feat achieved in road safety which was even acknowledged during the meeting. Yet the country has the National Centre for Road Safety (NCSR) whose function includes coordination and evaluation of road safety strategies although there is yet to be a road safety strategy.

Now, let me tell you about the organisation that took me on this trip. The organisation was created in 2002 with the mission to facilitate the free movement of persons and goods and prevent diseases along the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor. Its vision is to transform the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor into a development corridor driven by a healthy population, fully enjoying their rights and moving freely and safely with their goods. The template for achieving this includes the adoption of a regional and holistic approach to a development corridor through facilitation of trade, transport, road safety, health and environment.

The template also includes relying on a multidisciplinary staff with over 15 years’ experience, forging partnership with regional economic committees such as ECOWAS, WAHO, WAEMU, among others, while partnering with UNAIDS, WORLD BANK, USAID, UNEP, EU, among others. ALCO, therefore, supplements national initiatives with a cross border response to HIV-AIDS, vulnerability of mobile populations and a response against epidemics. ALCO interventions mainly focus on HIV and Primary Health Care, prevention, detection and fight against epidemics, trade and transport facilitation and road safety.

The organisation has no doubt recorded several pluses from 2003 to 2021 starting from the health sector where 3,214,111 people were sensitized on HIV/AIDS, 1,672,867 tested for HIV, 696,485 sti cases diagnosed and treated, 87,556,284 condoms distributed among others which has led to significant decline in HIV prevalence among project target groups. Still in the health sector, the fight against cross border spread of epidemics  has resulted in more than two million people sensitised on COVID-19,

Six hundred and forty community and border agents trained on COVID-19, while 8 points of entry have been enhanced with logistic capabilities.

In the area of transport, it has disaggregated cargo dwell time in ports as well as number of road blocks per 100 kilometres. In summary, cross border health, governance in the transport sector, as well as trade and transport facilitation are areas where successes have been recorded.

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