(By Chuks Valentine Augustus)
FEW years back, on Ajose Adeogun Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, a certain man, after close of work on what I would call a bad day, was crossing the road; he was so careful to observe the lanes well before crossing. Having been convinced that it was safe, he made to get to the other side. A man driving towards his direction noticed him and slowed down, and waving at the man in appreciation, he proceeded.
Alas, something horrible happened – an unnoticed commercial motorcycle, popularly called okada, was coming with uncontrollable speed, and then bam!!! The man was hit badly that he fell landing his head on the ground. Attempts to save his life proved abortive as he soon gave up the ghost. Such was and still is the menace of okada in the cities and towns of Nigeria.
In truth, the okada business has done so much in accommodating and keeping many unemployed Nigerians gainfully busy, especially as there are tens of thousands of graduates every year all over Nigeria with very little or no job opportunities awaiting them. It is no longer surprising to see or hear that an okada rider is a graduate, as there are a good number of them out there. The business has for many years provided succour for different groups, since it is one of the easiest means of livelihood that many youths engage in – -there have been many okada merchants and importers, the spare parts dealers, there are also okada mechanics who specialise only on okada repairs; there are food vendors who either hawk foods or have restaurants at okada parks, there are okada ticketers, and every other employment that can come with the business.
However, like the popular Yoruba adage that says “ibi wa ninu ire”, some good things in life also have adverse effects. The okada business have over the years had many inexperienced and careless riders, who, on a daily basis, cause accidents that leave their victims either dead or badly injured. It has also proved to be one of the means used to aid crimes – especially robbery, as it can easily maneuver its way on narrow and bad roads, and also in traffic jams.
An incident occurred about two years ago at Igando in Lagos, in the hour of 5.00 a.m. We were at the stand where we normally waited to board staff bus to work, when two motorcycles passed us at full speed. The one in the front was carrying a woman who was profusely shouting for help at the top of her voice, while the one behind, I suppose, was acting as a back-up. The policemen on duty at that time, seeing what happened, took to their heels – well, I guess they were unarmed. Whatever happened to that woman is a mystery. Besides, most okada operators are in the habit of drinking strong alcohol before and during work, thereby putting the lives of their passengers in danger, though there are very responsible and careful ones as well.
However, some citizens, especially the families of those who lost their lives in okada accidents, got a bit relieved following the decisions of the governments of some states — Imo, Lagos, Delta and Edo— to ban okada operations in parts of their domain. Expectedly, this proscription did not come without mixed feelings and reactions among the populace. While some people hailed the decision by these state governments, others condemned it. I had another experience, this time in Benin. I was waiting to board a vehicle home, someday, in Benin. Several other people were waiting too; and it was about to rain. The vehicles that came around were not enough to serve the teeming number of people which only increased at every blink of the eyelid. Then, a young man suddenly shouted, “God punish Oshiomhole ooo”. A week later, a friend who works for a hospital gave me a ride home, and while we were discussing, he talked about how there used to be a lot of accident casualties at the hospital, and that 22 out of every 25 cases were always from okada accidents. He revealed that since the government outlawed okada, there have been little or no such cases, praising the same Governor Oshiomhole that the young man earlier cursed. Some of the critics of these decisions believe that motorcycle is not the only instrument used in perpetrating crimes, because what kidnappers use to carry out their dastardly operations are motor vehicles. They may have a point, but I think the issue of incessant accidents, coupled with means of committing crimes, certainly makes the use of motorcycle more dangerous.
Nevertheless, as beautiful and laudable as some government decisions, actions and policies may be, for some or most of them, the population of the poor, which is always the largest, is always at the receiving end. It is the poor that resorts to okada riding because there are no jobs, unlike most children of the rich who get jobs immediately upon leaving school through one or two connections. It is the poor woman who goes to hawk food to raise her children; the wives and daughters of most of the rich men run big supermarkets or boutiques and also work in reputable firms. Besides, the decision to outlaw okada has adversely affected the operations of some corporate business organisations that employ the services of dispatch riders who use motorcycles to carry out their legal business activities.
Personally, I condemn some of the activities of okada riders and the crimes some of them perpetrated. At the same time, I commend the efforts of the various governments in curbing them, but I believe that everybody should be carried along when making policies such as the ones that resulted in the enactment of the law banning okada in order to avoid a situation in which the poor will become even poorer and might start thinking of engaging in unwholesome activities as alternatives. Policies and laws can be made to regulate the activities of these operators. For instance, a government establishment can be set up, and every okada operator be made to register with it, have and always wear uniform and also have identity cards. Potential passengers should be advised to properly identify an operator before agreeing to board his motorcycle. The government can also, through this establishment, occasionally organise mandatory trainings and seminars for them which could indeed also serve as sources of income for the government.
While I enjoin the populace to acknowledge the fact that the ban on okada operations is to a large extent for our own good, I also urge our governments to always try and put the interest of the poor majority at heart.
May our leaders have the wisdom to lead, and the followers the wisdom to follow.
By Chuks Valentine Augustus.
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