Use of motorcycles as means of transport is not new. My late father, like many other men had several, from a red BSA to a blueish Honda 175 before he bought his first car. In many universities, like OAU, Ife, University of Ibadan and others, “big boys”on campus rode bikes; and there were also a few children of the men of means who drove cars on campus.
In the 90s, use of motorcycles for public transportation became popular. From Cross River and Akwa Ibom, where it was called Aka-Uke, or Alo-Alok (where are you going), it spread to Lagos, where the name okada was ascribed to it, perhaps in reference to a defunct local airline and first became popular in the Ijesha area also off Apapa-Oshodi Expressway.
By the turn of the century, okada had become popular nationwide. With the popularity came serial woes by way of frequent accidents. The accidents were usually so bad that survivors needed special treatment, and orthopaedic hospitals dedicated special wards to okada accident victims.
The issue at stake is that the growth and adoption of motorcycles for commercial transportation is a response by the citizenry to the zero attention paid by successive administrations to road transportation, a sub-unit of the transport sector dominated and administered by members of the populace with the most basal, rapacious instincts.
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A former transport minister, late Chief Ojo Maduekwe earned himself the moniker, Ojo Onikeke, when he suggested the use of bicycles as a solution to traffic jams in our cities. He did not know he was inviting mayhem and mass murder to the roads. It is similar also to the failure of governments with the provision of potable water, which gave rise to the “pure water” industry.
Only God knows how many have been sent to untimely graves as a result of gastrointestinal infections contracted from drinking pure water, just as we will never be able to generate a figure to the daily deaths and maiming of limbs from okada accidents.
Many states recognize the danger in this situation, but have mostly reacted by banning okada from operating in their capitals, limiting them to suburbs and smaller towns. In banning them, they cited security concerns and allowed their replacement with tricycles (keke).
Lagos State reacted by limiting okada; they were allowed to operate only on certain roads. An average Lagosian will testify that there is no restriction on okada in Lagos; they are everywhere. However, as more states banned okada operations, the okada riders found safe haven in Lagos. The situation now is that virtually all parts of the city are choking under an invasion of okada riders.
The worrisome aspect is that they do not comply with any rule or regulation governing road use; any direction is a way for okada and the results are daily accidents. Where there are traffic lights, it is not for okada; they just zoom on without a care in the world. Worse than this is that most of the okada are not registered and if they are, do not carry number plates. How can this be?
Another bothersome aspect is that they seem to have made up their minds to operate outside the law. Twice this year in Lagos, they have engaged law enforcement agents in running battles, and perhaps unwilling to commit mass murder, the security men retreated and they have continued in their lawlessness on the roads. That is not acceptable.
Could it be that the state governments, especially Lagos, has surrendered to okada riders? The argument that a ban on okada will trigger a wave of armed robbery and other bad things is baloney; it is also blackmail. They drive against the traffic and abuse lawful road users in the process.
In which civilized country does this happen? Next door in Porto Novo or Cotonou, where they also exist, woe betide the rider that does not stop when a security agent blows his whistle. This is a nut for the state governments to crack because it is a municipal issue. Innovation is always ahead of regulation.
There must be a structured response to use of commercial motorcycles as means of road transportation; the descent to anarchy in the road transport sector must be halted.
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