Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Before FG bans okada in Nigeria

The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it has any evil in it; but whether it has more of evil, than of good”.
–Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of USA, in a speech to the American House of Representatives on June 20, 1848.
The use of motorcycles as commercial means of transport in Nigeria, popularly known as ‘Okada’ or ‘Achaba’ may soon be banned throughout the country”, so reported Sunday PUNCH of October 26, 2014. The news story which was one of the most read went on to say that, “The proposal for the ban was made by the National Council on Transport after its annual conference in Enugu State and endorsed by the Minister of Transport, Sen. Idris Umar”. Quoting a statement from the Federal Ministry of Transport purportedly issued last Saturday, the newspaper said that, “the ban of commercial motorcycles was one of the measures proposed towards adequate provision of safety and secure transport in Nigeria”. This decision was allegedly taken by all the state commissioners of transport, permanent secretaries, directors and officials in the federal and state ministries of transport across the country.
There is no gainsaying that the ban on commercial motorcycling is desirable, but is it practicable? How do I mean? The menace of “okada” riders in Nigeria is well known and documented. The operators are mostly ill-trained, reckless, uncouth and dangerous. Some of the states have had cause to ban their operations either totally or partially. They include Lagos, Edo, Abia, Kaduna, Kano, the FCT and Rivers. In 2005, the administration of Mallam Nasir el-Rufai banned commercial motorcycling on major city roads in Abuja restricting their operations to satellite towns. The Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, on August 2, 2012 signed the Lagos Road Traffic Bill into law. The law prohibits the operations of commercial motorcyclists below 200cc on 475 out of the 9,100 roads in the state.
According to Fashola, “the result and impact of this decision have been tremendous. Prior to the enactment of the law, we were recording an average of 16 motorcycle-related deaths across the state every month and an average of 646 injured patients from motorcycle-related serious accidents at state secondary and tertiary hospitals”. In comparison, “As of March this year, our statistics show only one to two motorcycle-related deaths and less than 100 motorcycle accident-related injuries occur in a month”, said the governor.
Apart from poor safety consciousness and disregard for highway codes arising from low level of education, many of the commercial motorcyclists have been fingered in acts of crimes and criminality such as robbery, kidnapping, spying, raping and many others. These are the reasons many public institutions and residential estates have proscribed them within their environs while others placed time restriction on their operations in their vicinities. Many of these cyclists are unlicensed and do not have necessary official papers including insurance coverage for their motorbikes. Their poorly serviced and maintained contraption also constitute environmental hazard.
However, say what you may, commercial motorcycling as a means of transport has come to stay. It is indeed a necessary evil. It was not like this before in Nigeria. Up until about early 90s, motorcycles, like bicycles, were private means of transportation. Proud owners used them as status symbols especially in the rural areas. They were mostly used as beasts of burden in place of horses, asses, camels and donkeys which our forefathers used as their means of transport. Many who have bicycles and motorcycles in those days were using them to ferry their wares and family members. However, poor road networks, limited employment opportunities, traffic congestion, comatose mass transit and poverty combined to make commercial motorcycling an appealing and booming business.
For instance, poor road networks have made many commercial buses and private cars to abandon some roads in Nigeria. It is these okada riders that come to the rescue of people in such communities by providing them a means of transport. Many workers have also found motorbikes a better means of transport than buses particularly on roads prone to traffic congestion. Interestingly, among the okada riders are some well-educated persons, including university graduates, who only took to it as a last resort after years of fruitless search for jobs.
Many others who are not literate are into commercial biking due to the high cost of doing other businesses necessitated by astronomic rents, epileptic power supply, heavy taxation and low patronage. Thus, as a means of combating unemployment and poverty, many humbled themselves to go into commercial cycling. Numerous politicians particularly those eying elective offices as well as those already occupying high public offices have been making an annual ritual of empowering their constituents with motorcycles as a means of income generation and poverty reduction.   In short, commercial cyclists provide a cheap and quick means of transport for the masses.
Let’s take a look at the value chain in this business of commercial cycling. Nigeria has been a fertile ground for the sale of motorcycles since its unofficial adoption in the country as a means of commercial transport. There are hundreds of importers of these contraptions from Asian countries such as Japan and China where they are manufactured. Several assembling plants are operational within the country as well. Thousands of dealers have also cropped up while spare parts sellers and repairers have also emerged. All of these people including those using it for commercial transport are family heads who from the proceeds of this business fend for their families. This is the major reason I think the purposed total ban is impracticable and will be counter-productive.
Instead of a blanket ban, I think the operations of these commercial cyclists should be restricted and limited to Trunk ‘C’ roads, that is, community roads or feeder roads. Their operations are inappropriate on major highways and expressways. Wherever will be the sphere of operations of commercial motorcyclists, the Federal Road Safety Corps and Department of Vehicle Inspection in the Federal and State Ministries of Transport must ensure due diligence is carried out on these riders and their cycles.
They must obtain the necessary certification – licences, road worthiness, insurance. They and their passengers must also use crash helmets; should not carry more than a passenger at a time; perhaps, if possible, speed limit devices should be installed on their machines. The FRSC and Vehicle Inspection officials must hold regular counselling and sensitisation sessions with these riders in order to ensure that they are of good behaviour and are safety conscious while carrying out their business. Government will also do well to effect prompt repair of bad roads while also providing safer and pocket-friendly alternatives in areas they plan to ban the operations of commercial cycling.
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