The Federal Government is proposing a nationwide ban on ‘Okada’ (motorbikes). According to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, the proposed ban on motorbikes will cut the supply of logistics to the terrorists.
Although the intention is laudable, the fact that this popular means of mobility is also a strong trade logistic and commuting asset for the masses and an extensive line of traders across the thickly populated metropolitan cities in the federation already nullifies the reason tendered for the proposed ban. Based on sound logic, the probable outcomes of the ban may fall below the target. The planned ban, therefore, calls for a critical analysis.
Escalated urbanization and increasing rural exodus of people in search of better careers and business opportunities have seen the few commercial cities in Nigeria become thickly populated. This movement from rural to urban areas always reshapes a city landscape. New land areas are explored for settlements, the market expands to meet the needs in the new areas, and public facilities such as schools, healthcare centres, and road networks are expanded to these locations to capture the needs of the new residents.
Top Nigeria cities of Lagos, Kano, River, Kwara, Edo, Kogi, Ogun, Oyo, and the FCT amongst others are characteristically commercial-centricity, the constant rush, the demand for faster mobility for timely delivery of goods and services to last-mile locations, the robust expansion of residence to hinter locations, the poor state of hinter roads, and the constant search for solutions to the incessant loss of valuable man-hour have made a larger section of the city dwellers to keep patronising motorbikes.
As well, motorbikes have brought succour to women traders who use them as a valuable short-haul transport system to keep trade flow active in the highly invaluable informal sectors.
For instance, Madam Nkiru is a trader in dry foodstuff. She lives in Agbede, a suburb in Ikorodu, and travels several kilometres to the city centre to get her supplies for sale. Every Tuesday, she goes to Oyingbo market for her supply of Stockfish, Ogbono, crayfish, and dry melon.
She gets her supply of plantain from Owode Elede every Wednesday and Pumpkin leaves from Sabo in Ikorodu. Every day Madam Nkiru sets out for the market, she requires the services of Ibrahim who picks her up with his motorbike by 4:00 am to Agric bus stop. Due to the inaccessible motorable road to her stall, Ibrahim makes an average of three trips with her wares, when she returns. Sometimes, he will engage other motorbikes to help with moving the wares to the stall.
With the impending ban on motorbikes, Madam Nkiru will have to walk about 8km to get to the nearest motorable road. That also means she will have to leave home earlier, which is unsafe. Another option for Madam Nkiru is to go to the markets the nights before and sleep out in the cold. That also is unsafe. When she returns, how does she move her wares to her stall?
For Ibrahim, he is automatically out of job, exposing his wife and three children to hunger and uncertainty. Ibrahim, got his motorbike on hire purchase, for which he has to remit regular payments. How does he fulfill these obligations? And there is the investor who has empowered unemployed Nigerians with motorbikes on hire purchase, how does he recoup his investment? This investor has a family he fends for, he has people in his employ whose families depend on them for survival. What becomes of them?
When the ban gets implemented, Madam Nkiru is most likely going to buy less quantity of wares, which means she will lose the discounts she enjoys, her health is going to suffer, her customers will have less to buy, prices will increase, and her family will have less to feed from. Nowhere in this scenario has terrorism been curbed except that it has created an opportunity for the disengaged able-bodied men and women to be lured into crime including terrorism.
While there is no data to show how much the motorbike business contributes to the GDP, we agree that banning this effective transportation system would disrupt the trading activities in the informal sectors especially. Considering the informal sector contributes 50% of the nation’s GDP, the ban would affect the country’s economy.
Let’s take Lagos state as an example. The state attracts more settlers than most states in the country. Although the state is small at 3,345 square kilometres it holds the highest national urban population of 27.4 %.
It also contributes 10% of the country’s $432.3 billion GDP. The state’s human population size is larger than the combined population of five African countries, namely Liberia, Gabon, Namibia, Botswana, and The Gambia. In formulating trade and commerce strategies, a large population is often a precursor to organising thriving commercial activities.
Lagos sits as one of the largest markets for goods and services it is believed to be outperforming its strongest competitors such as Cape Town and Nairobi as one of the strongest hubs for business startups in Africa. But Lagos isn’t strengthened by the formal economies alone, like all the commercial cities in the country, the state’s economic strength traces back to the women and men who trade in kiosks and shops across trading hubs of Ikorodu, Badagry, and Iyana-Ipaja amongst others.
Similarly, Kano’s economy is driven by SMEs and smallholder subsistence farmers for whom motorbikes have become a formidable system of logistics in moving farm produce to the marketplaces. The same goes for Abuja where traders and consumers patronize motorbikes extensively in conducting trading activities in Utako and Nyanya. It is the same in Akure, Ilorin, Ibadan, Lokoja, and every local trading landscape.
These fast‐growing local hubs have always been challenged by sparse infrastructure provision. The constant movement of goods and people across the few state roads available continues to pile pressure on both the road infrastructure and the users. Private cars clog the few highways. Delays in the delivery of goods or lateness for business appointments are common across some of these cities.
This acute shortage of wider mobility infrastructure has continued to force public-private interventions but none of the innovative transport infrastructures has been able to proffer sound solutions to last-mile issues across the country.
The truth remains that investors can choose to fly aboard any choice airline in Kano, Lagos, Abuja, PH, Calabar, Sokoto, Ibadan, and Ilorin to name a few. Smart businesses can select from a wide range of logistic options to move their goods and personnel across local cities. The blue-collar workforce would continue to tap in and tap out of the available state-run commercial buses. The socialites could ride in a cab.
The question then is what happens to the traders like Madam Nkiru using the ‘apian’ ways, untarred road surfaces to move goods across the marketplaces and hinterlands to break the bulks to make sales for the investors who use the air transportation, and their management workforce who ride in the buses, trains, and cabs?
More so, it can’t be reasonably justified that a ban on motorbike operations would halt the terrorists who have defied military air aerial attacks, and keep flawing state strategies for almost a decade now.
The economy has taken enough hits already, disrupting the trading network would wreak more havoc on the system without halting terrorist operations.
In the final analysis, the informal economy will be most hit. The local economy rests largely on the shoulders of the informal traders, most importantly the women who hoist their umbrellas to peddle branded wares along Kubwa or sell branded flours in tiny local shops in Ketu, traders who spread their tomatoes under the sun in Kano, and move wares across short spaces on Okada in Benin. There is hardly a more effective First and Last Mile (FLM) transport solution to meet the trading mobility needs of these women currently.
Hence, if Okada is banned in Nigeria, the impact would be felt strongly by these traders and those up the value chain such as the investors and their employees. This well-knitted value chain layers subtly on each other. The daily/ monthly sales returns in the thickly populated local markets feed the banks and factories to a large extent, the government.
* Awolowo is a Public relations practitioner in Lagos.