On Their Way Out of Lagos
By Kazeem Akintunde
Sunday, September 14, 2008
The use of motorcycles as means of public transportation may soon be banned in Lagos State
Bridget (surname withheld on request) was on her way to the Catholic Church in FESTAC Town, Lagos, where she was to be joined in holy matrimony with her fiancé. But on her way to the venue, she was held up in traffic at Volkswagen Bus Stop along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. The gridlock, which began from Okokomaiko stretched as far as the International Trade Fair Complex. Dozens of impatient motorists also compounded the chaotic situation by breaking the one-way traffic rule, thus making vehicular movement on either side of the expressway impossible.
To regular users of this road, traffic snarl is not unusual occurrence in the area. But what was unusual about this one was the sight of a bride in her full white wedding regalia pacing up and down with her chief bride’s maid in tow beside a gaily-decorated Toyota Avensis car. She was already 30 minutes late and as it is the tradition in the Catholic Church, the officiating minister had already threatened to put off the wedding if the bride was nowhere to be found.
The bride, in a bid to meet up with the new deadline given by the priest, flagged down a commercial motorcycle popularly known as okada, gathered up her gown and jumped on the passenger seat. Left with no choice, the chief bride’s maid also grabbed the next available motorbike and chased the anxious bride.
Some other members of the wedding convoy, one after the other, flagged down one okada after the other to ferry them to the church. "If not for Okada, I would have missed my wedding," she told Newswatch a month after the incident.
An editor with a top newsmagazine in Lagos was on his way to the airport to board a plane to Enugu for an assignment. His staff had already bought the ticket and made necessary reservation for him. But while on the way to the airport, he was held up in traffic along the Mobolaji-Bank Anthony Way, Ikeja. With few minutes left before the expected take-off of the flight, the editor had to flag down the next available Okada and directed his driver to return to the office with the car. "If I had not done that, I would have missed the flight," he later told Newswatch.
Many Lagosians have at one time or the other used Okada when there is the need for them to get to their destinations on time. But the Lagos State government is no longer thinking in that line as there are plans to phase out Okada as a mode of public transportation in the state.
Lanre Balogun, commissioner for rural infrastructure, told journalists recently that the state government would soon introduce new tri-cycles to replace Keke Marwa and commercial motorcycles. He said the scheme has been approved by the state executive council. "As soon as we receive the first batch of 100 out of the 500 units of the tri- cycles, the scheme would kick off," he said.
His ministry is to supervise the scheme which was conceived by the state government under the Lagos State Rural Transportation Initiative, LARUTI, "The new tri-cycles with doors have capacities to carry between four and 10 passengers depending on the area of operation within the state," he explained. Balogun listed the advantages of the scheme. This included empowering the people to earn a living and cater for their families. "The scheme will promote transfer of technology for the users who will be trained on how to effect certain repairs on the vehicle. Also the drivers of the tri-cycles will be trained as professional drivers to understand the traffic codes and ethics so that they don’t misbehave on the roads as it is done by the present okada riders," he said.
Balogun stated that their operations would be restricted to certain areas within the state and that they would not be allowed to operate on the highways.
The tri-cycles, would be in three categories. There will be those that would convey four passengers, which would cost about N350, 000. The second grade would cost about N500, 000, and would carry eight passengers while the third class which would cost N650, 000 per unit would be for 10 passengers.
The commissioner said beneficiaries would pay N100, 000 as initial deposit for each while installment payment would depend on the beneficiaries’ efficiency. He said the tri-cycle becomes the property of the beneficiary on full payment. Repair centres have been built in strategic places in Badagry, Ikorodu and Epe where major repairs would be affected.
But the Okada operators are already pleading with the state government to have a rethink on the plan to ban them. Joseph Amadi, chairman, Motorcycle Operators Association, Ikeja Branch, told Newswatch that there are more than one million Okada riders in the state, and that phasing out Okada as means of transport would lead to unemployment, which could result in an upsurge in crime. He said the introduction of tri-cycles is not an alternative to Okada as they are not as fast as the Okadas. "There is traffic congestion in the state. The roads are bad and traffic gridlock daily. But with Okada, you can get to your destination on time," he said.
Amadi also faulted the price at which the state government intends to sell the tri-cycles, adding that it is on the high side. "Where do you want an Okada rider to get between N350, 000 and N500, 000 to acquire the tri-cycle?"
Chilaka Michael, an Okada rider and the treasurer, Okada Motorcycle Operators, Ikeja Branch, was emphatic that the planned phase-out of Okada would shot up the crime rate in the state. "I was working in a textile company before it folded up. That was in 2002. After searching for another paid employment for more than three years without any luck, I was forced to take to Okada business. This is what I have been using to feed my family and the government is now thinking of phasing it out," he said.
He said rather than phase out Okada, government should embark on enlightenment campaign so that the rate of accident due to reckless driving would reduce. "The Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, is set to enforce the compulsory use of crash helmet from January 1, next year and I think the state government should think along that line instead of planning to send many Lagosians into the unemployment market," Michael said.
Benson James, 53, chairman of Motorcyclists Association, Opebi, is also against the planned phase-out of Okada as a mode of transport in the state. He said many of the Okada operators use the business to feed and take care of their families. He advised the state government to rather regulate the movement and conduct of the riders.
In 2005, Bola Tinubu, then governor of the state, had threatened to ban the use of Okada as a means of public transportation in the state due to their menace on the road, and their use for crime by criminals as well as the high accident rate of Okada in the state.
The idea was dropped when it was discovered that more than 500,000 Lagosians earned a living through Okada business and that it would create societal problem which the government may not be able to handle.
Okada riders in their quest to make quick money disregard traffic rules. They not only beat the traffic lights but also regularly drive against traffic. A visit to the Okada ward of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, the Orthopedic Hospital in Lagos or any other general hospital in the country will give a clear picture of the menace Okada riders’ unchecked activities have posed to the nation. Many people have been maimed for life due to Okada accidents.
Statistics released by the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, recently indicated that 60, 261 persons were killed through motorcycle accidents between 1989 and 2007. A total of 40,706 persons were injured within the same period in a total of 73,766 accidents.
FRSC figures also show that there are over two million Okada riders in Kano State alone and that they account for about 70 percent of road accidents in the state. That of Lagos is put at over five million while a record number of 10,471 motorcycle accidents have been reported in the past 10 years. Also, in May 2007, Arrive Alive Road Safety Initiative, AARSI, a non-governmental organisation, NGO, with specialty in collecting and collating data on Road Traffic Injuries, RTI, released an equally demoralising report that nearly 54 percent of road accidents in Nigeria are traceable to Okada riders.
Dr. Mariam Masha, executive secretary of the group, noted: "Motorcycle crashes accounted for the highest percentage of accidents on roads in Nigeria. Considering that these studies reached the conclusion that the high death rate resulting from motorcycle accidents could be reduced if the use of personal protective equipments, PPEs, including crash helmets, reflective jackets and knee and ankle caps, among others, are strictly enforced on Okada riders, the only way forward is to enforce the law."
If Lagos eventually bans the use of motorcycles, it will be the second Nigeria city to do so. Abuja was the first to do so.
Reported by Annette Oghenerhaboke and Tosin Omoniyi