By Eru Kobe Godwin
Lagos is the commercial capital of Nigeria, a coastal city known for its commerce and industrial activities, influx of goods and commodities at sea and airports, creating a wide range of international trade. Commercial cities are prone to population growth, and mobility is essential in such areas, via land (road, rail) water (speed boats, ferries and canoes) or air (planes and helicopters).
One of the major forms of transportation in our country today, and Lagos in particular, is via road. Population density has led to high gridlocks and traffic jams virtually on daily basis, and such reoccurrences have a ripple effect on the general economy, be it private, government or joint ventures. As humans we always crave or look for alternative means to objectives, which led to the introduction of motorcycle-taxis (aka Okada), an alternative means of transportation, affordable and swift – though risky.
The ban of motorcycles which began in Abuja is now the norm in states like Enugu, Rivers, Cross River, Imo, Uyo and now Lagos. However, we often fail to analyse and adequately weigh the reasons behind certain steps, before adopting them. As a result, an already bad situation could be worsened, even with the best intentions. The ban of motorcycle-taxis in Lagos is not a full one but only takes effect on major roads within the state and was part of the traffic law signed, by the Lagos Governor, Babatunde Fashola in August.
It is common knowledge that Lagos state as a result of its commercial and industrial activities has grown to become a populated city – attracting immigrants from far and near. The use of Okada therefore grew, serving the need of the teeming population. Due to their size, they have little challenges meandering through the narrowest openings – in traffic, and pedestrians find them convenient and faster, as a means of road transport.
Furthermore, the waning transport system has made use of Okada’s a faster option than time-consuming buses constrained to go by standard bus routes. With the regimented routes of alternative means of transportation like water and railways, commuters use Okada to gets them to their destinations at an affordable rate and in good time.
Another advantage of Okada is accessibility; since some roads are bad and others are not tarred, it creates accessibility issues for vehicles. As long as a path can be accessed by foot, it is almost usually accessible by a motorcycle. Other than that, public buses can only get you to a predefined bus stop, from which you’ll either have to walk the remaining distance to your destination or you are forced to pick an okada the rest of the way.
On the other hand however, okada riders do constitute a nuisance on the roads with their reckless tendencies. Bike accidents can be really fatal and statistics show that most of them can be avoided with a little more care and concentration. But considering that most of them happen to be touts and are illiterate, you can hardly expect any better from them.
Again, the riders have come to be associated with cases of theft, armed robbery and violence. A robbery situation in which the perpetrators run off on a bike is really not a rare sight. The society is awash with stories of people who got attacked by an okada rider who should convey them to their destinations and people have also been kidnapped by okada riders. As such, they are also considered safety threats. To curtail this menace, state governments have had to enforce curfews of different durations as they deem fit.
Still in this light, acts of violence have been perpetrated by hoodlums, some of whom are cyclists. I have personally seen acts of violence which weren’t started by cyclists but however got fuelled by the ones who came on the scene. Needless to say, if with their motorcycles they are already involved in petty crimes, what will be expected of them when the ban makes them jobless?
The ban will lead to high cost of other quick means of mobility, like taxis. The ripple effect is also going to affect job performance, because lot of employees, who live in places where the only means of accessibility is motorbike, would have to leave their areas of work place on time to get home before darkness sets in. For the importers and distributors of motorbikes, business won’t be as usual, some staff would be retrenched because output is not commensurate with input, and unemployment will be on the high.
At the end of the day it boils down to striking a balance. At this stage, the cyclists are very useful to the inhabitants of the state. The majority of the populace consists of low income earners who cannot afford personal cars. And even if they can, they have traffic to endure. A possible way forward is to work more on improving the state transport system which – is already underway, carry out road expansions, provide alternative routes and create other means of employment for these cyclists who will be rendered jobless as a result of the ban. When all these modalities have been put in place, a ban on motorcycles can then be enforced.