Bike riders are not anyone’s idea of a professional and in Nigeria, the reason for this is no secret. Among other things, the absence of a database of bike riders, unavailability of training centres or facilities, and their often unbecoming road-use attitude leave no one in doubt that bike riding is anything but professional.
However, Safeboda is out to rewrite the narrative.
Babajide Duroshola, Country Head of Safeboda Nigeria, explained during the Nairametrics Business Half Hour show that within a year of being in Nigeria, Safeboda has conducted several trainings for okada riders on its database and rolled out several products to improve the quality of their lives.
Safeboda’s mode of operation starts from training and on-boarding the bike-riders, connecting them into the Safeboda app where they can pick rides, and then offering them other financial and lifestyle products to make their life much better than the regular informal sector workers who grapple with a lot of challenges outside their control.
Duroshola’s experience spans banking, management strategy, and business operations. He has worked with notable firms including Andela (where he worked as the first Community Manager in Nigeria), Philips Consulting and Access Bank.
He left Andela in 2019 and joined Safeboda to help scale the business from East Africa where it had existed for 5 years, to West Africa. The move into West Africa brought Safeboda to Nigeria in 2019.
Why Ibadan and not Lagos?
For many businesses coming into Nigeria from other countries, a first-stop is usually to be made in the commercial city of Lagos state. A people-centred business like Safeboda was thus expected to first berth in Lagos state, where its services are obviously needed given the high human traffic and narrow roads. But Safeboda instead chose to go to Ibadan, the Oyo state capital.
According to Duroshola, the Safeboda team had conversations with the Lagos state government and it was clear to them that the government did not favour the thought of having bike-riders on the roads, whether professional or informal. The master plan of Lagos as a megacity was one that had more buses being used for commercial transportation, not bikes.
“They didn’t seem too interested in the conversation and as a business, we then took a decision to move instead to Ibadan, which was very insane at the time. Many people did not think it would be successful. It was not easy convincing the board on why we were leaving a commercial city like Lagos for a city like Ibadan,” Duroshola recounted.
It took five months for Duroshola and his team to convince the board to let them test the waters in Oyo state. The Oyo state government on the other hand had already assured that they had no intention to ban commercial bikes, and were instead interested in professionalising the group. They started operations in Ibadan in March 2020, at about the same time the Lagos state government banned commercial bikes from plying several routes.
Only then could one begin to appreciate the decision which the Safeboda team had made. Things quickly picked up in Ibadan and in a year, Safeboda has recorded over a million rides and conducted several trainings for the riders. The company is looking to spread into other states one at a time.
What riders can expect from Safeboda
Safeboda is an on-demand services platform for anything that can be done on a motorcycle, moving people from place to place, goods from place to place, doing food delivery, and a bit of payments, airtimes, bill payments and P2P transfers.
Bike riders can pick up passengers, handle goods delivery and logistics via the Safeboda app and get paid for it. The riders are also trained regularly to comply with road regulations with safety as the watchword.
The business model Safeboda operates means that they do not need to have the bikes, but instead train, test and onboard those who already have bikes, and give them the rules of engagement. In addition, the riders are also kitted up with high-quality helmets for their protection, and reflector jackets so that even while riding in the dark, they can be seen by other road users. These tools have indeed helped ensure safer roads, and in its 1 million rides milestone, only 14 road accidents have been recorded.
There is a wallet service to help them build their savings, and credit partners to help them with productivity loans in cases where they have issues with their motorcycles. Safeboda also has insurance partners that provide the riders with accident covers and protects them from other reckless road users. The fintech feature on the app allows the riders to make transfers from their wallets on the app, recharge their phones and pay bills when they need to.
“We are building an ecosystem around the riders to improve the quality of life of the riders. The joy for me is working with the informal sector and professionalising them and making them into people who are respected,” Duroshola said.