Like most Lagosians, I have a love-hate relationship with okada riders, those daredevils on two wheels, most of whom appear to have a death-wish as they flash in between vehicles with scant regard for the lives of those they carry. Their numbers have exploded in lock-step with the population of the city, which in turn exposed the massive gaps in the transportation system, poor road network, and a masterplan long since discarded.
With initial amusement eventually turning into greater and greater concern, I have also observed the Lagos state government’s determination to make life increasingly difficult for a group of people whom, like it or not, have become indispensable in the lives of most Lagosians.
The reasons why some would support a ban on okada in Lagos, or at least a restriction on their movements in the city, are understandable. The increased risk of fatalities in event of an accident is one. Many have been seriously injured and even killed in this manner as a result of the recklessness of the riders. The sheer number of them further congests already congested roads, and they have been linked to an increase in crime.
That said, the truth is Lagos will not become more liveable if okadas were to disappear from the roads. The simple reason is that okada is merely a result of the chaos, not a cause.
Some will say that motorcycles have been successfully banned in Abuja and Port-Harcourt, but neither of these cities has the population and economic activity of Lagos. The number of people that need transportation to conduct economic activity of all kinds demands a transport system that gets to every part of the city. Lagos does not have that, and will not have it for some time to come. Moving around in Lagos is nothing short of a pain: the BRT only gets to a few places, the danfo and Keke Napep get to the rest, but in a situation where bad roads combined with floods keep people in traffic for hours, the okada is a welcome alternative to what might otherwise be a frustrating day.
This is the issue. Alternatives. A few bike rides may be the difference between a productive and an unproductive day. Many times, parking could take as much time as driving to the location itself, which is not good at all if you’re in a hurry. Cars seem to be everywhere, something that might get worse if the convenience of okada is no longer there. There is also no evidence that the BRT can handle the extra capacity. You see, a sharp decrease in one form of transportation will mean an increase in another form of transportation. Keke Napep is most likely to benefit from the okada clampdown, but they are already becoming a menace themselves, and the prospect of a significant increase in cars is something that should fill anyone with dread.
A lot of men without jobs, plus a woefully inadequate transport system has made okada central to our lives. Instead of the Lagos state government to provide proper mass transit and watch people gradually make the switch, they have chosen to put the cart before the horse. The foundation of this latest assault on okada is the Lagos traffic law, expertly analyzed by my good friend Tex, here. This law banned them from nearly 500 roads in the state, needless to say, the most lucrative routes. The 3,000 motorcycles seized belong to those who apparently violated the law. In that post Tex asked: ‘Are the enormous fines a stealth tax or fund-raising initiative?’ It got me thinking.
It is entirely possible that those who lost their means of livelihood refused to pay ever more exorbitant ‘protection’ money to ‘council’ or LASTMA officials in order to let them operate. Now that some have been made an example of, okada riders know that the state government isn’t playing and are likely to pay up. Combined with the ‘collection’ of radio and tv licenses, we see the signs of a renewed revenue drive by the state government.
There is no crime in wanting to make more revenue, but one wonders if tactics like these would have been employed in Fashola’s first term, knowing that he would run for re-election. Perhaps not. The next time you hear a story of someone getting robbed in traffic, you are welcome to wonder if he was one of the 3000 who had their bikes destroyed.