Okada No Be Wahala

In a video released on Twitter on Monday 27th of January, the Lagos State Government announced an agreement by transportation stakeholders to enforce a law banning the operation of motorcycles and tricycles from the 1st of February in six local governments in Lagos State.

In this article, I would like to explore both sides of the argument, because for sustainable development to take place in a city, the people and the government must work together. Essentially, I will be asking what are the perspectives of the people (both users and workers) and the government regarding this ban and have there been any social and economical effects overlooked on this mission to create a sustainable, livable and resilient city?

The public transportation system is an essential part of the continuously growing population in Lagos. The Lagos State Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), has described the transport system as inadequate for the unmonitored growth of the population in Lagos. Due to a limited public transport system, the informal sector stepped in to fill the gap. The transport service operators have come into a space where services are required and created a lucrative source of income while addressing the challenge of affordable public transportation.

Although we recognise the policies and development plans of our government to improve the state of transportation, we need to understand that these operators are low income earners living in Lagos. These okada and keke riders depend on their work as a source of income for their families to survive.

From the commissioner’s statement, it is clear that the ride-hailing applications are not exempted from this state-wide ban and this contradicts the provisions of section 46 of the law which excludes motorcycles above 200 cubic-centimetres engine capacity and owning a comprehensive insurance policy, from the restriction on the use of motorcycles on the state highway. Despite the law not banning such motorbikes used by some ride-hailing application drivers, they have been bundled with the unregulated individual okadas and been removed from the roads.

While we fully advocate for the sanity of Lagos it is also important to holistically consider the implications of a ban on all parties involved. Are these regulated digital platforms really the challenge?

This ban makes Lagos look like an uncertain and volatile place for business. How do we expect organisations to invest in Lagos State when our government has clearly not considered the effect of this ban on their business. Is there no consideration on the impacts to the rate of unemployment? 

Though the economic benefits to the operators and the social benefits to Lagosians have not been considered, the government has focused on the security and safety of the state. This of course is very important. To emphasise the challenge to safety and security, the commissioner also said as can be seen on Twitter: 

The figures are scary, from 2016 to 2019, there were over 10,000 accidents recorded at the General Hospitals alone. This number excludes unreported cases and those recorded by other hospitals. The total number of deaths from reported cases is over 600 as of date.”

Considering the long standing issues with the motorcycles, commercial buses and tricycles disregarding traffic rules and regulations causing fatalities and accidents, it is no surprise there have been similar bans over the years with the aim of phasing out these informal public transport operators. 

In 2012, there were also limitations in some areas of the city at certain hours of the day. Less stiff measures were suggested, which included the restriction of okada operations to roads with limited traffic and there were strict enforcement of traffic regulation on the riders. The stand taken now and in 2012 all stem from the the Lagos State Transport Reform Law. The law was initiated in line with the Bus Reform Policy as the means to achieve sanity on the roads. The law is strategically designed to regulate the operation of commercial buses and motorcycles in Lagos State. 

Also, let’s not forget the molue buses that once riddled Lagos roads but now can only be found in remote areas of the State. Maybe we can learn from the molue example. In 2001, the state government began the process of phasing out the molue buses because of the nuisance they caused in Lagos. Similar to the okadas, the molues served the needs of the public but were barred from operating in 2013 from Lagos Island, Iddo, Ebute Ero, Apogbon, Obalende, CMS, Idumota, etc. The situation was equally difficult at the time for both the drivers and people that depended on it for movement but the process was gradual and easier to take effect because in 2008 the BRT system was introduced as an alternative means to move. 

This is the take away from this story for the present situation, the government provided a functional alternative and like osmosis (not magic) and with the assistance of the ban, people migrated to the BRT. Government needs to apply a participatory approach in this situation, give us an understanding of the long term plan to help ease the transition and prevent an aggressive response from the population. 

What is the alternative? Are we expected to walk? If so, will there be better infrastructure for walking in Lagos? What is the plan for the people who have lost their jobs? The safety they want to guarantee is at risk with more unemployed people on the streets. At this point, regulation is a better solution to this problem than completely phasing out these businesses and accountability can be held by registered companies such as the ride-hailing apps. In addition there should be driving schools for all motorised vehicles over a certain speed and with TIN, BVN, National ID, Drivers License and all other identification and registration documents we have all been made to register for, both state and federal levels of enforcement should not have a problem enforcing and reprimanding people that break traffic rules and laws.

The need to enforce traffic regulations is clear and for the government to regulate this industry the other major stakeholder (the okada and keke drivers) need to be organised and have a governing body. At present, from our research and after speaking to various keke and okada drivers, their associations focus not on workers rights but on monetary gain. Being organised allows the government to regulate when it has an organisation to hold accountable. Since this is not the reality at present, companies such as Opay, Gokada, MaxNg etc. are companies and can therefore be governed and regulated. Therefore Lagos State Government should consider working with these ride hailing companies, restricting them where needed and ensuring they obey the law. 

Representation and coordination amongst the operators in Lagos State is also something the transport workers should consider. 

In addition Local Government needs to play their part. Short trips done within one local government area should really be governed by the Local Government. They should regulate and register the needed type of public transportation mode, for example motorbikes or 6 seater buses, that are allowed to work within their Local Government. 

While there is no alternative, Lagos State Government through the Ministry of Transportation and LAMATA should prioritise walking and cycling infrastructure. So even if we have to use our own physical energy to move from A to B, we can do it safely and securely. 

With just a couple of days in, we have seen and heard of people walking very long distances, buses putting up their prices, long queues at bus stops, unbearable traffic congestion, uber hikes, young children hitch hiking, women struggling with their children to get to school and work, theft as people walk in the evenings and young girls being harassed. With all of this, Lagos State Government has not offered a solution or even next steps yet, so we await to see what happens next. 

Written by Tega Ogodo

One thought

Leave a Reply