By Adewale Kupoluyi
The above statement seems to be a recurring poser on the minds of many people in view of the excesses and lawlessness being perpetrated by commercial motorcycle (Okada) riders in many states across the country with the attendant maiming and loss of lives on a daily basis. Why is it really difficult to check the excesses of Okada riders? The high level of unemployment in the land has no doubt pushed many Nigerian youths into commercial motorcycling. The use of motorcycle as a means of road transportation, is taken to complement motor vehicles, which is an advanced form of bicycles because it is cheap, require no fueling to operate, and can easily manoeuver heavy traffic caused by vehicles.
What do we have today? There has been no effective strategy to regulate Okada operations as a means of transportation and in no time, it had become an all-comers’ affair as criminal-minded persons began to use Okada for their nefarious activities. Many politicians often use the donation of motorcycles to the people as constituency projects. Several kidnappers, rapists, and armed robbers see motorcycles as an easy get-away transport system to aid criminal operations. Part of the reasons for the riders’ recklessness is that most of them are neither trained nor licenced to operate thus, constituting fatal risks to themselves and society. Often high on psychotropic substances, most riders throw caution to the winds and ignore traffic rules with impunity, but those making case for the continued existence of Okada had argued that most of the operators do not have the requisite knowledge of road safety laws, as they have called for better education and enforcement of traffic rules.
The story of Okada riders is virtually the same – they are known to over-speed, ride without helmets and side mirrors – as the police often watch such lawlessness without doing much to correct the ugly situation. The recurring decimal deserves urgent attention. In Lagos State, the government had announced restrictions on Okada and tricycles in six local government areas in the state in January 2020. The government had claimed that over 11,000 persons were killed between 2011 and 2019 while 600 deaths were recorded between 2018 and 2019. At a point, the casualty figures became worrisome such that the government’s main hospital had a section designated as ‘An Okada ward’. In a move to address the challenge, the Lagos State government proscribed Okada and tricycles from plying 40 bridges and flyovers across the State.
What is staring us in the face is that with the population of Lagos, predicted to double by 2050, there is the need to embark on the massive erection of transport infrastructure such as metro and underground networks to meet up with the population surge. A peep into a report of the Federal Road Safety Corps October Road Traffic Crash (RTC) Report 2016, gave another scary outlook that commercial motorcyclists have remained a major cause of fatal road traffic accidents across the country. According to the FRSC report, motorcycle accidents ranked third after cars, which accounted for 457 cases or 36 percent, followed by mini-buses with 243 or 19 percent of the total figures. The Corps had to advise the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to encourage and facilitate state governments to ban the use of motorcycles for commercial purposes. Before then, the National Council on Transport had recommended a nationwide ban on commercial motorcycles in Nigeria.
In tackling the challenge, some states in the north have banned the use of motorcycles for commercial purposes as applicable in Plateau, Kano, Katsina, and Kaduna. In 2010, Plateau State signed into law, the bill prohibiting operations of commercial motorcycles within the Jos-Bukuru metropolis. The law was initially resisted by the operators, but the state still went ahead with its implementation even though Okada riders operate in the suburbs, they are not allowed in the city centre before the state the government allowed the introduction of tricycles though motorcycle riders reportedly make incursions into the city centre by beating security agencies. In 2011, Kano State banned the use of motorcycles as a means of commercial transportation and subsequent administrations have sustained the ban. What was allowed was the riding of motorcycles by only one person and this was done to check activities of insurgents that were found to be using motorcycles to commit atrocities
Over the years, Okada riders in Kano State appears to have circumvented this arrangement while a considerable number were known to have gone into the operation of Tricycle (Keke), which was introduced as an alternative to motorcycles in the city and other major towns. Following persistent security threats in Kaduna State, as Boko Haram was using motorbikes to wreak havoc, the government enacted a law banning Okada in the state capital. It went ahead to introduce Keke while the use of Okada was limited to the satellite towns. But despite these moves, commercial motorcycle operators are still seen within the metropolis illegally and carrying passengers to restricted areas. In Katsina State, the government banned the use of motorcycles for commercial purposes between 7pm and 6am. The order, which was backed with law, applies to all except members of paramilitary agencies and police personnel.
Moving away from our dear country, the experience from nearby Ghana and Sierra Leone, suggests that the story is not too different as almost the same motorbikes create a nuisance by violating road traffic regulations. The Central Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) of the Ghana Police Service had to organise lessons for selected Okada riders, just as the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) has called for an embargo on Okada operations in the country until such time that policies are put in place to regulate their use. In what can be considered as a collaborative intervention, the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA), police, and Okada Bike Riders Association had to work together to produce Road Rules and Regulations for Commercial Bike Riders.
What the case studies suggest is that Okada problem is not only peculiar to Nigeria, but that with the joint effort of stakeholders and putting in place necessary legislation, the issue can be properly addressed. Politicians should look for other means of touching the lives of their people without flooding the streets with motorcycles. This time around, our security agents should be more effective in curtailing the excesses of Okada riders by enforcing traffic laws, designated lanes should be assigned to Okada to reduced contacts with motorists, unemployment crisis should be tackled, and effective collaboration should be embarked by riders association, police, road safety corps, to see the current challenge as a collective task that must be tackled headlong.
Dr. Kupoluyi writes from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State @AdewaleKupoluyi