On the economic front, as more and more companies, factories and other workplaces go into extinction, a greater percentage of the workforce, who are daily being thrown into the unemployment market, have launched themselves into the okada business – a business that guarantees them instant profit and it is an all-comer’s affair. It is so because anybody can venture into the business at any time. They are emboldened because all you need is to get hold of a motorcycle and hit the road at once. There is little or no government regulations of the business except that both the rider and passenger must wear safety or crash helmet.
There are different types of people engaged in okada business. Majority of them are disengaged labour force who have no other way to fend for themselves and their families than to be lured into the okada business to keep body and soul together. Then there are many others who are either school dropouts, who don’t want to venture into any other thing than to mount on okada so far it will provide something for the stomach.
Yet there are others who are products of secondary schools or some tertiary institutions who have no other place or thing to do than to settle for okada as a business. Also, you have businessmen who have ventured into okada business because it is profitable. These are investors who either bring in motorcycles in large quantities from the manufacturers abroad for sale to willing buyers or those who buy them in large quantities from local dealers and go on to assemble able bodied young boys to ride them and make returns to them.
This last category engaged to ride okada and make returns to the owner are mostly recruited from a section of the country. In the good old days, they are ubiquitous in Ikoyi, Obalende, Victoria Island, Ikeja, Lekki, Ajah, Ogba, Agege, Ajegunle and many Lagos suburbs. Once they stay long with their ‘master’, they could move up to control some of the okada riders too. This is how cells of okada riders have multiplied and grown like mushroom all over the place.
It is true that the business is very risky, considering the fatalities often associated with any accident on okada. It is often said that the National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos, has a large ward devoted to victims of okada accidents. Even if such does not exist, it underscores the severity of injuries from okada accidents. Many able-bodied souls, men and women, children and orphans, who were either riders or their passengers, have been lost to fatal okada accidents. Many more have lost their limbs and legs or suffer one form of physical deficits or the other through these bikes.
Of course, the security aspect of it is there as well. For many years, okada has become a veritable instrument used by hoodlums to perpetrate violent crimes, particularly armed robbery. The ease with which such crimes are committed while the perpetrators vanish from crime scenes without trace using okada has also raised serious security concern. Quite often, bank customers are attacked and dispossessed of their money by armed robbers who lurk around banks and other places waiting for their prey. The statistics released by the Lagos State Police Command on the involvement of okada riders in violent crimes like robbery, kidnapping and others is staggering. It is only those who have fallen victims that can quite appreciate the enormity of danger okada constitutes to the society.
Having said all these, it is apt to note that the population of okada riders in a state like Lagos is very high. Some say there are as many as a million okada riders in Lagos State alone. Imagine this number and the danger they pose to traffic management in the state. These are people who do not play by the rules at all. They operate like a cult group to the extent that any infringement on any okada rider usually incurs the wrath of his colleagues who easily employ violence to settle scores. This way, they constitute a big nuisance to the wellbeing of the society.
‘…Lagos deserves a special status. This is against the fact that the state has no compensation whatsoever for its microeconomic input in the country’
But considering the economic importance of okada to many families, most of who are on the brink of poverty, should we throw away the baby with the bathwater? Should the authorities outlaw the business completely in its entirety? The answer is neither here nor there. There is what could be termed ‘legitimate’ okada. These are motorcycles used for transacting corporate businesses like courier services and protocol services. Some departments of security agencies still make use of motorcycles for movement, reconnaissance, intelligence gathering or for carrying messages from one point to another.
Many private individuals also use motorcycle as their own private vehicles to take them to work and move them around. All these ‘legitimate’ okada riders, as it were, are now vulnerable to harassment and arrest by security agents, especially the police and KAI brigades who seem to have abandoned every other thing to chase okada riders all over the place. This is why the Lagos State government should devise a way to accommodate this category of okada riders.
Therefore, however good intentioned the ban may be, it surely has adverse effect on the life and existence of those who depend solely on it to feed, clothe and pay school fees of their children and wards. This is why I think, rather than a blanket ban, as it were, the Lagos State government can bring in tricycles for distribution to any willing member of the public on installment payment plan. This can be done through the unions, local governments and other groups without any discrimination either on party, ethnic, tribal or other primordial lines. The welfare and happiness of the people should be the cardinal principle of good governance.
In addition, the state government should try as much as possible to fix the deplorable roads in the state so as to ease vehicular movements. This will encourage those who can afford it to buy vehicles for mass transportation. No doubt, there is a dearth of commuter vehicles in Lagos State.
Similarly, strategic planners should put heads together and devise alternative means of livelihood for the masses as a way of buying them out of the dangerous okada business. We cannot continue to run an Okada country, which we are, at the moment.
A few months ago, this column featured a piece titled: “Lagos, a State and its cross”. In it, I categorically made allusion to the fact that Lagos deserves a special status. This is against the fact that “the state has no compensation whatsoever for its microeconomic input in the country”. This appears to be the only safety valve for the state to wriggle out of the financial burden imposed on it by its status as the commercial capital of Nigeria.
In the face of the mounting state expenditure on a variety of programmes such as good transportation, adequate healthcare delivery system, appropriate security system, education and many others, it is obvious that the monthly federal allocation can no longer sustain the state. Not even the state’s internally generated revenue, IGR, can adequately make up for the financial requirement of the State. “The state’s IGR, though higher than what obtains in other states of the federation, cannot meet the demand of its yearly budget.
With a projected growth rate of six percent annually, the financial requirements of the state to sustain its enormous social services to the people, is so huge… Not even the donor agencies’ funding it receives or the multilateral loans it gets can adequately provide for its shortfall. Moreover, the daily influx of people to the state from every hamlet in the country confers on it, the unenviable status of a state consistently in search of adequate funds to sustain its infrastructural needs.