06 February 2020 THE GUARDIAN
I hope that the Lagos State government would use the current attempt to restrict the movements of motorcycle taxis in Lagos to fully regulate public transportation in the megalopolis.
The motorcycle boys and girls are called okada riders, a fitting tribute to the business ingenuity of the original Okada Man, the inimitable Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, the founder of the first privately owned airline in Nigeria, Okada Airline. Since the bike man also takes you swiftly from one point to another like Igbinedion’s planes, Nigerians soon nick-named them okada riders. So okada came to represent the ingenuity of Nigerians to deal with the inadequacies of Nigerian public transportation system.
The ban on okada riders in many parts of the Lagos megalopolis seems a deliberate public policy. This has created dislocations in many areas akin to the disruptions that were evident in the Abuja Federal Capital Territory when okada was forbidden in the heartland of the city. That was the era of President Olusegun Obasanjo when Ahmed El-Rufai was the Minister of the FCT. Now Lagos. I hope the government of Lagos would study more the template that was used in the FCT to ameliorate the shortcomings that may come with the Lagos own.
Okada has been a persistent public nuisance for many decades. It crept into Lagos through the labyrinthine of the military cantonment in Ojo and the endless sinews of the Lagos-Badagry express way. Before you know it, okada has become a part of our life in Lagos.
In the opinion of many people, it has done more harm than good and acquired an unwholesome reputation. A proof of it is at the orthopedic hospital in Igbobi, Lagos where the limp-less and arm-less ones are living, thanks to accidents occasioned mostly by okada. The okada riders are the manufacturers of accidents and broken heads. They have become the subject of prayers at religious night vigils.
There are issues with the okada business that could not be ignored. The most important is security. Luckily for Lagos, the intervention of the Gokada and other big players in the business has shown the government what must be done. First, okada riders ought to be registered with their full data, including fingerprints, pictures, and all other necessary bio-prints. This is what I understand the new okada companies are doing. Secondly, there is the need to stipulate the minimum acceptable quality of motorcycles that can be used for the business. Thirdly is to insist that okada riders must have licence from the state government which would be renewable periodically. Fourthly is that those who have not been licenced must not be allowed to operate in the state.
It is surprising that the state government corralled the new okada companies, like Gokada, despite their meticulous documentations, with the rampaging okada crowd. Those new companies have brought orderliness and a level of discipline that one expects the government to copy and enforce for all practitioners in those areas where okadas are still allowed to operate. If the government should do this, it would keep Lagos safer and better.
What is even more surprising is that the ban also affected Keke Marwa, also named after the popular former military administrator of Lagos State, Brigadier Mohammed Buba Marwa. It was Marwa, in his days as the helmsman of Lagos, who brought in those tricycles from India. It is regarded as a better alternative for city transportation and it is more dignifying and safer.
The traditional mode of transportation for most Lagosians in the past was the bicycle. Every morning, thousands of riders would throng the Eko Bridge on their bicycles as they move from the Mainland to Lagos Island. It was one of the landmarks of old Lagos. Then in 1974, General Yakubu Gowon, who had been in power for eight years, decided to implement the recommendations of the Chief Jerome Udoji Commission on public sector reforms. One of the recommendations was the increase in salaries and allowances of public servants. Gowon not only accepted the recommendations but decided to pay one year areas for public officers. School teachers who were earning N1,200 per annum were suddenly catapulted to N2,400 per annum. Clerks and sundry merchants dumped their bicycles. Nigerians went for Honda, Suzuki, Vespa, and other motorcycles. Bye-bye to bicycles. Welcome motorcycles. That was also how the motorcycle riders became the landlords of Igbobi orthopedic hospital.
Not to have done anything about the okada menace in Lagos would have been a betrayal of public trust. However, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu needs to review the implementation. First, the government should move to provide alternatives to Lagosians, especially areas where the people have formed trekking-brigades since Monday. Secondly, Gokada and the other companies have already established minimum templates for the operation of okada in Lagos. The government should partner with these companies to ensure that all those who cannot meet this minimum standard are encouraged to do so or they should leave the business. The government should be able to account for every operator of okada, Keke Marwa and other means of transportation in Lagos.
We hope that this action would be the harbinger of good things to come. Lagos is growing at a geometric pace. It is estimated to have at least 20 million people. It is more populous than every country in West Africa apart from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. According to the United Nations, its population is expected to double within the next 20 years. Lagos, unplanned and poorly controlled, would be a nightmare with a 40 million population.
There are things to be done in the short run. These include patching all the bad roads of Lagos especially in areas like Alimosho local government that has always been treated like lesser-Lagos. It would also be good for the Lagos and Ogun State government to cooperate to fix the adjourning areas where the two states are virtually in the same neighborhood. The government should also ensure that traffic laws are obeyed to the letter. Those facing one-way should be given the Fashola treatment. They should be taken to the psychiatric hospital. We need to persuade every road user that it doesn’t pay to be mad no matter the attraction in the short run.
In the long run, we expect the government to regulate the activities and operators of danfo and molue buses as long as they continue to be part of our lives in Lagos. Their drivers and conductors need to have their full documentation with the government. They must also have a minimum level of training. This vital job should not be left to the operatives of the National Union of Road Transport Workers alone. All these documentation would be helpful in keeping our city safe.
In the long run, the government should think beyond constructing roads. In 1983, the Lagos State Government of Governor Lateef Jakande had already paid more than 200 million dollars (N75 billion) for the metro line project. It was cancelled by the military regime of General Muhammadu Buhari when Group Captain Gbolahan Mudashiru was the military governor of Lagos State. It would be a fitting payback for the people of Lagos State if President Muhammadu Buhari would fully support the efforts of the state to have a comprehensive and modern transport system including rail and water transport.
One thing we should not forget is that the okada riders are not disappearing. They are being forced to change jobs or change locations. The Federal Government of Nigeria and the 36 states governments have to create jobs. That is the basis of insecurity in Nigeria. The devil has the old formular of employing the jobless. It is not a comfortable scenario.