Okada Ban – A perspective

As you may have been aware the Lagos State Government banned Okada riders from all major bridges in and around Lagos and also from some parts of the metropolis. The ban, which came into effect on the 1st of September 2010, affects major highways and bridges such as 3rd Mainland Bridge, Western Avenue, Kingsway Road, Oshodi Isolo Expressway , Eko bridge, Ikorodu Road to name a few.

Whether you like it or not this is bound to affect our daily lives in one way or the other, either positively or negatively depending on your point of view. I heard about this imminent ban some months ago and always imagined what life will look like without them. With this huge restriction on their movement will they gradually go extinct? Will this reduce the spike in bike accidents which have been on the increase over the past few months? Will it increase or decrease the spate of armed robbery? What will the Okada riders do now that a major source of their income has been eroded? Will we see an upsurge in Keke Marwa Owners or will it precipitate their demise too? These and many more obviously have serious economic implications for all of us.

Okada’s have been a part of our daily commute for the last decade or so providing transportation service for people of all works of life. Be it in the rural, urban or sub-urban neighbourhoods Okada’s have been part of the daily fabric of our livelihood. Most of us have relied on them to arrive on schedule for meetings, resumption of work, or meet up with a client. It has often come in handy during very oddly times such as when nature calls or rushing to meet up with some religious obligation. With their imminent extinction what other substitutes do we have? It’s not hard to comprehend; taxis in Lagos are used to carrying one passenger at a time, buses are limited to routes and Keke Marwa’s are neither fast nor comfy enough. This becomes even more significant as the ban commences from 7pm, an obvious peak period for workers on the last lap of their journey home. Its inevitable people are going to have to trek longer if they are to get home. This by all means is an unattractive proposition for someone who just wants a breezy ride home after a sweaty bus ride.

The Police are ironically not exempted from some of the effects of this ban. The Nigerian Police on an average probably derive “revenue” of up to N600m from Okada’s monthly. How did I get that figure? Assume we have just a million Okada’s in Lagos. Multiply that by N20 and by 30 days, your answer will be as good as mine. With that revenue stream looking gone for good, where will the police turn to? Your guess is as good as mine.

The Lagos State Government also stands to gain less from this Okada Ban. As predatory as they seem, Okada business is a huge source of employment for millions of Nigerians. Employment is a huge engine of growth anywhere contributing in no measure to a country’s GDP. The revenue generated by low income earners like Okada riders are spent more quickly than any other. That way they provide a large market for petty traders such as night markets, hawkers, mama put etc. The multiplier effect of this is felt from all parts of the economic fabric of the state including the state government who generate a significant amount of tax revenue from them.
One of the major reasons behind the Okada ban was their contribution to the increase in crime rate in Lagos. In as much as they contribute to crime in Lagos, they are in my opinion far from the main cause for increase in crime. Robbers operate in SUV’s, Sedans, Busses as much as they operate in Motorbikes. So do we ban cars too? In my opinion, I believe the crime rate will increase rather than decrease with the ban on Okada’s. Without proper grassroots employment programs people are more likely to be desperate to seek a source of livelihood, increasing the temptations and dangers of nefarious activities.

Be that as it may, the ban on Okada actually comes with a lot of advantages especially for the larger society and economy. Following with the tenet of capitalism as one business dies another surfaces. Whilst the Okada business is giving a slow death other businesses are bound to resurrect. Since offices will still need to have documents and letters dispatched, the slowly eroding courier services business might just have been given a lifeline. People will rely more on their services making them more relevant.
As commuters are more likely to trek, we may likely see a surge in the use of gadgets that play mp3 music, radio’s etc. People need companions just to get going so expect a rise in the usage of these items. Radio stations will use this opportunity to create programs that are more truly entertaining and enlightening. Rather than the typical mass media approach to programming, creativity should be directed towards the individual. Those who take this lead are bound to attract more listeners leading to an eventual increase in advert revenue.

We should also expect to see an increase in the usage of state and private taxis. People will have to rely on their comfort and serenity to get to their destinations rather than buses. As such, the days of single passenger taxis may soon be over in Lagos. Over the past two years we have seen a proliferation of privately owned taxis, such as the red and yellow/cabs providing excellent services for commuters. There will certainly be more which in turn leads to increased competition. With competition comes creativity. Don’t be shocked to see shorter route taxis, providing services within certain neighbourhoods.
A more than welcome effect of the Okada ban is the imminent reduction in the spate of road accidents especially at night and on our high ways. Almost every one of us has had either a direct or indirect experience from Okada accidents. The riders are not well taught, uneducated and lack any form of proper road etiquette. This alone is a good reason to ban them at night and for good. It’s no surprise its one of the major reasons given by the state for their ban. The economic effect of road accidents cannot be over emphasized. Every government desires a healthy workforce with higher than average life expectancy rate. I don’t know any responsible government who will sit by the sidelines and see its youth and pregnant women die or get deformed from meaningless bike accidents.

With this ban we should also expect a huge change in the landscape of our roads especially in our central business districts. Their absence is bound to make our roads neater, less cluttered and easy to drive. You probably won’t need to look over your shoulders for every turn into the next street or block. Contrary to usual norms, this will lead to faster destination arrivals, an important aspect of business and corporate responsibility.
Okada’s we know is not indispensable , rather we have come to accept it as a medium of transportation over the years as the population in Lagos increased, and transportation became a thing of time and chance. We have become so enchanted and carefree we rather hold our helmets in our palms than use it to cover our heads as it should be used for. Rather than walk our kids to school we rather stick them up the back of bikes, sometimes in two’s and three per ride. In a bid to reduce transportation cost and get to their destination on time, traders put their goods on bikes way heavier than their maximum load exposing themselves and innocent passerby’s to road mishaps and accidents.

It’s even become a form of travelling for some, taking them from one end of Lagos to another without a helmet, any knowledge of neither the road worthiness of the bike nor the sanity of the rider. This had to be curtailed someday and finally the Lagos State Government has come to act.

A lot more should be done to improve transportation in an around the metropolis. Commuting is a daily part of life and a fulcrum of industrialization. It’s not enough to ban Okada’s at night or extinct molue’s. Alternatives should be readily available, safer and better maintained. That way, those who loose their source of livelihood with this ban, rather than take to reprehensible activities, can be accommodated stemming from the multiplier effect to the economy as a whole which the positives of the move bring.

Ugo Obi-Chukwu

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