Lagos State Ban on Okada – Choosing Between Mega City and Mega Poverty
I remember in the summer of 2013, I secured an internship role with a consulting firm in Ikeja with a meagre income of N40,000 per monthly. The income was not an issue but the stress of traffic congestion along the Lagos-Abeokuta expressway. A short distance of less than 50km (between Dopemu and Ikeja Along, usually consume at least one hour of my human daily productive hours. The only option available for me and other private workers is to climb commercial motorcycle (“Okada”), which is N100 different from the bus fare.
Our human consideration is that the cost of time that will be spent in the awaiting traffic congestion is usually greater than N100, making Okada business to boom along this route. Similar experience can be narrated between Okokomaiko to mile 2, an experience which was best shared by the current Deputy Governor of Lagos since it was her usual route before joining the government. This situation makes Okada an integral aspect of daily life of people living and working along these routes, one directly linked to their welfare, jobs, productivity and livelihood.
Commercial Motorcycle Business and Lagos State
The news of renewed action by the state government to ensure the seizure of Okada in the state came as a rude shock to me, and most Lagosians that rely on this means of transport to achieve both business and personal daily needs. The state anchored their argument on achieving a Mega City status for the state without achieving a Mega status for the infrastructural facilities, though the Lagos state government is still enviable in the aspect of infrastructural development among peers in the country.
The state government failed to realise that predominance of Okada in the state is a solution to the precarious state of transport management system in the state, one which made this renewed clamp-down on the Okada operators as one misplaced move with a contagion effects.
Lagos is one of the fast growing cities, in terms of population and commercial activities, in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its gates/borders are open to influx of job seekers from all part of the countries and neighbouring West African countries – all seeking greener pasture. To these people, Lagos is a city of mega opportunities which explains some unique attributes of the state within comity of states in Nigeria.
As a result of this influx, congestion became a clear feature of the state, though good in terms of investment and commercial sense, but government was unable to utilise this to drive economic growth in the state. This congestion led to among others high unemployment, crime rate, bottleneck of social amenities, indiscriminate settlement upswings e.t.c. making the populace in the state to seek alternative to ensure and achieve better welfare. Some of these alternative resulted into upspring of many unplanned business communities while some undesirable.
One of the undesirable business communities is the presence of commercial motorcycle operators at every major junctions in the state. The eminent status achieved by Okada operators in the state is an offshoot and shortfall of the state government’s inability to fix challenges posed by traffic congestion.
Thus, stressing that Okada has become a source of relief and advantage to the people in the state. Bad roads, limited terminal/access routes, and traffic congestion increased the importance of Okada as a viable means of transportation in the state.
This indicates that the reinforcement of Lagos Traffic Law 2012 is one which will never address the problem, but would rather increase the daily hardship of people who rely on Okada as a means to avoid the high traffic congestion in the state. At present, Okada operators cushion the lapses created by lack of proper (affordable) bus/taxi network distribution in the state. Simply put, Okadas get to where buses and cabs don’t get to at affordable rates which proves to be equally convenient for most people. Hence, the state government should increase the viability of other alternatives to road transport before completely wiping-out Okadas from the roads. It is good to remind the government that commercial motorcycles was introduced in the 1970s as a temporal solution to transportation infrastructure deficit in the state.
Majority of people who rely on Okadas as major means of transport are those who live in the remote part of Lagos, who are faced with untold hardship accessing major roads from/to their homes. The state Deputy Governor resides in one of these towns, and she should be able to explain how convenient it is connecting other areas from her area, as it may take you 2 hours drive from Iyana Iba to Mile 2, a distance of not more than 30 km. The need of meeting up with work hours and other engagements made the best available option now to be Okada, one which the government is taking away now from the people.
With this pictures in mind, the concern that Okada riders may lose their source of livelihood is actually a smaller picture of the economic implication of this renewed action on the residents in the state.
Crime Rate & Enforcement Agents’ Corruption
Another aspect to this issue is activating of crime rate in the state, both from the law enforcement agencies and those that have that lost their means of livelihood. The arguments that some of these commercial motorcycles are being used in perpetrating crime would not be tenable, as this renewed action will also inevitably increase crime rate which will primarily be due to lose of jobs. The situation can even be worse taking to account the current conditions of job-seekers in the state. Asking the Okada operators to seek alternative means of livelihood is the height of insensitivity by the state government, if there were better options they wouldn’t be in the business in the first place. This renewed enforcement will add to the already negative psychological motivation of these unemployed youths, and sending them back on the street as angry and begrudged unemployed set of individuals ready to indulge in crime to survive.
Another aspect of this renewed enforcement is the corruption on the part of the law enforcement agents which the state government must give due consider. It is a popular knowledge in the state that the men in black and their LASTMA associates engage in extortion from these commercial motorcycle operators when their motorcycles are seized. Frequent commuters along Lagos-Badagry Expressway will confirm this position, as Okokomaiko and Iba Division Police stations are notoriously noted for this act. These Okada riders had to do away with as high as six thousand naira when arrested by police. A survey around Lagos on the law enforcement and extortion should be conducted to reveal more details. This cost is incorporated into the fee charged by the Okada operators which then translate into higher cost of transportation to the residents that use the service of Okada to escape traffic congestion.
Lose of Economic Activity and Businesses
This renewed enforcement will also lead to loss of economic power and business resources by businesses dealing in spare parts and assembling of Okada in Lagos. A walk through the popular Willoughby street in Ebute Metta would clearly show the impact of this action, as the effects of the previous enforcement is yet over. This near deserted place used to be a hub for buyers and sellers of motorcycles in the state, with this new ban, businesses which are just picking up in the area will surely have to close down. This translates to lose of jobs for sales boys/girls, spare part dealers and technicians in the market.
In the chain of businesses that this renewed ban enforcement would affect is the already battered motorcycle assembling business. The Motorcycle Manufacturer Association of Nigeria, MOMAN, noted that the last ban lead to retrenchment of over 60 percent of its workforce, as there was no market for their products. The relaxation of this ban triggered an increase in business, and this renewed ban will erode any benefits the relaxation has achieved. So also is the fate of many oil marketers that have developed lubricants for the specific use of motorcycle. Most of these products achieved a relatively good sales record during last two years of the ban relaxation.
Food vendors and street kitchens are also set for a poor business environment, as the Okada operators are major customers of most of these business outlets. Thus, affecting their sales and profits and may also lead to eventual closure of some of these local canteen . This action will worsen the living condition of not only the Okada operators but also associated businesses and industries.
Creating a Place for Commercial Motorcycle Operators
The Lagos state government must understand that the place of commercial motorcycle in the architecture of the Mega City design needs to be determined, not removed. In most commercial cities of the world, motorcycle operators are factored into the transportation system design of the city. In some of the densely populated cities of Asian countries and advanced commercial cities of Europe, motorcycles are proper and recognized means of transportation. Their operations, both private and commercial, are regulated by the relevant traffic laws and agencies.
The state government must remember that the welfare of the populace is the main social contract we have with them, and achieving this should be considered the hallmark of governance. Irrespective of how elitist and modern they hope to transform the entity that govern. The government should be more responsible and understand that the situation observed while campaigning for the office round the state is still prevalent, and must understand the struggle of the average man.
I surely know Paul Kagame of Rwanda would have been faced by similar options as the Lagos state governor, Mr. Ambode, but his approach shows a clear understanding of people’s social condition and policy path to either sustain or improve it. He stated while addressing issues of banning commercial motorcycle at a popular lecture in Lagos.
“We have okada too in Rwanda. It is a lucrative business. A good number of people are doing okada business in Rwanda. But their activities are well-regulated. There are rules and regulations that define the limit of their operation.”
“We also organise them into groups, such as association of owners and association of operators. The groups help in ensuring that the rules and regulations are duly observed. Because we have rules, institutions and structures in place, we do not have much problem with motorcycle operators.” – Rwandan President, Paul Kagame.
This assertion shows that responsible leadership must understand the situation of his lead, go extra-mile to sustain their source(s) of livelihood and ensure thatheir welfare is never compromised by any law or actions of government.
The above represent my thought process on the best solutions to the assumed “menace” of Okadas in Lagos. I hope once again the current governor will take a second look on some of his policy pronouncements, and make history with policies that will lead to advancement of the state without sacrificing the welfare of those he shared a social contract with.