This opinion article was written by Abimbola Adelakun.
Barely a week after debunking reports that a definite decision had been taken on the operations of commercial motorcycles and tricycles, popularly known as okada and keke Marwa respectively, the Lagos State Government came with a ban on these crude means of transport in six local government areas in the metropolis. This is not the first time that there had been an attempt to outlaw or restrict the operations of these rickshaw automobiles as a means of transport as previous administrations had toed the same path, still, these okadas remain innumerable.
Reasons for these proscriptions are always ambiguous. They always float from security, to safety, to recklessness, to the riders being illegal immigrants, to the transport modes being unfitting of a mega or smart city. I remember former Governor Babatunde Fashola, while justifying the ban in his tenure, said these rickshaws were only enriching and creating employment for the Asian countries they were imported from. All these half thought-out reasons have tended towards the usual societal profiling of the poor and defenceless than a civil objective.
These restrictions or bans predate government’s announcements as okadas had been forbidden from entering many closes and streets by resident associations because they are suspected of being vessels of robbery. These communities had, long before motorcycles became a form of transport, erected fences and gates, and hired gatemen (whose kinsmen are the okada riders) because the government, that should guarantee their safety had failed them and still can’t be relied on to protect them now.
So, viewing security from the okada lens is myopic. Is the government thinking of the greater security problem the former okada riders may cause when their only source of livelihood is seized? And those champions of the ban who spray the petty sentiment that we once lived our lives without okada should also bring down those gates and fences or better still return to the Stone Age when automobiles were non-existent.
The Nigerian population is galloping much faster than public infrastructure. Moreover, life evolves. Like the ban-today-allow-tomorrow “cart pushers” that help us with our refuse in the absence of an efficient waste system, since we can’t pocket our trash as Lagos Television admonishes us, okada and Marwa are natural adaptation strategies this urban gigantism has mutated us into. The okada rider, his passenger and the supposed law enforcer, go to bed punching the wall because they are all victims of a failed system.
If okadas are to be banned for being tools of robbers, then cars too should be banned because they are used by kidnappers. If we should stop patronising motorbikes and tricycles because they enrich and employ foreign countries, then we should stop buying luxury cars because these cars are not made in Nigeria. Similarly, since other means of vehicular transit also cause accidents, they too should be banned.
This presumption of guilt on okada and keke is a tad xenophobic. The many unregistered cars that ply Lagos roads are more a threat to our collective security than licensed commercial motorbikes whose riders do pay countless undefined levies. Because these unregistered cars are shortchanging the state government of statutory income and can’t be traced if involved in accidents or security breach.
The weird delusions that all this “banning this, banning that” or making existing traffic laws more draconian have changed nothing. How effective have previous bans on street trading, indiscriminate refuse disposal, open defecation, articulated vehicles parking on bridges and other proscriptions been? A few months after the ban buzz, Lagos returns to its chaotic normal when politicians start giving out these same bikes as empowerment schemes.
Citing figures of thousands of okada-related deaths should have been mapped to the thousands more that are still dying as a result of the environment. The open sewers and uncollected refuse breed rats and mosquitoes that cause Lassa and malaria fevers that are claiming more lives than okada. The mental, psychological and respiratory hazards noise and air pollutions have caused have carefully been kept away from the public.
Frankly, Lagos roads are apocalyptic. One has to be extra careful while attempting to overtake as a hoard of okadas show up on the mirrors. Negotiating a turn is no less troubling because aside from an errant okada making a quick bend across one’s blind spot, the authorities too have turned a blind eye to bill banners, trade umbrellas and selling booths that are placed indiscriminately at junctions further blocking one’s driving view. Lagosians don’t only look left-right-and-left-again before crossing, they have to look around with bated breath to be sure an okada is not riding against traffic.
But can one do without okada when to-ing and fro-ing in the metropolis is no ton of fun? Only a few things are worse than Lagos traffic. Lagosians rise before dawn because commuting time is increasing. Many come down from commercial buses to mount motorbikes or trek their way to where the road seems free ahead to the envy of those stock in their air-conditioned cars. It is so bad that online cab services are losing patronage to their two-wheeler competitors. Twenty first century Lagos can’t continue like this.
The recently rolled out ferries and buses (assuming the perennial rollout of BRT buses ever improved things) that the government announced should have been done before any ban. We keep hearing that these okadas and kekes are not part of the ruling party’s jaundiced Greater Lagos Plan. Fine. So, is it the endless road constructions or rehabilitations that are littered everywhere in the state that are part of that Greater Lagos Plan? That is why there exists a healthy dose of suspicion about the 4th Mainland Bridge since the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, Apapa-Oshodi Road, Agege Motor Road, just to mention a few remain uncompleted after over a decade. Babs Animasaun is unmotorable. Bus terminals now appear to be white elephants while the operations of the Bus Rapid Transit system remain foggy. In fact, there is still the “Coming Soon” banner of the previous administration at the roundabout in Costain/under Eko Bridge for an uncertain project. If one now adds the lawlessness that sees one-way driving (wonder how okada made it to the Oxford dictionary and one-way didn’t), it only ungarnishes Lagos’imprudent operationalisation of governance.
A mega city does not begin on the streets with periodic task forces but in the right recruitment of civil servants that will not issue drive permits to unseen undeserving vehicles and persons just because they want to raise revenue and by capable law enforcement agencies whose work is made easier by functioning traffic lights, CCTV cameras and motorable roads.
A mega city is not the absence of okada or Marwa, it is the presence of an efficient mass transport system with trains, BRT and water vessels with predictable commuting times.